“Fake It Till You Make It”: A Good Advice or a Setup for Failure? | by Vinita | Jun, 2022

The higher the goal, the higher the fear, the higher the courage

Credit: Author

When you’re just starting out or doing something new for the very first time — step up from your current role, a new job, or a task that you’ve never done before — will you have complete confidence in your skills and abilities? Will you never have any self-doubt or fear of the possibility that you’ll screw up this great opportunity?

Most likely, you’ll doubt yourself every step of the way. You’ll feel inadequate in your skills and abilities. You’ll worry about not meeting others’ expectations and being found out as someone who isn’t fit to be in this position.

Those fears are real and not something unique to you. Anyone who has ever been in those positions has felt the same way. They didn’t take on the role feeling confident. They didn’t have all the skills and abilities before taking on a new opportunity. Confidence and competence were not a given, they acquired them along the way.

The most common piece of advice when you’re struggling with feelings of inadequacy or feel like you don’t belong is to “fake it till you make it.”

Fake your confidence.

Fake your competence.

Fake your motivation.

Proponents of this advice will tell you that faking it initially will get you going. Once you start acting the part, your mind will automatically tune in to this new behavior.

That’s true except that instead of building genuine confidence, your mind tunes up to the belief that you’re indeed a fake. Faking it by posturing, pretending to be confident, and ignoring those nagging doubts can offer some temporary respite from those feelings of self-doubt, but once you’re done putting on a show, being inauthentic to yourself negatively impacts your perceptions of yourself. Imitating confidence and competency has long-term implications.

Alan Ibbotson, founder, and coach says that we should bury the phrase completely —

“It literally means you can’t do it or be it, and you are pretending. For some, they are signing up to be a fake and a phony, a liar and a cheat, someone who isn’t concerned with what others think or even with being authentic in their success — they just want to get away with it, operating on the hope that eventually they’ll make it.”

In trying to cope with your feelings of inadequacy, consciously choosing to behave in a way that is fake reinforces indeed the belief that you’re a fake. “Fake it till you make it” also compounds feelings of imposter syndrome because saying that you were just faking it makes you internalize those negative beliefs about yourself.

Once faking it becomes your de-facto strategy to deal with feelings of fear and self-doubt, you start denying your real skills and abilities. Disacknowledging your achievements not only intensifies those negative feelings and leads to low feelings of self-worth, faking it enough turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consider for yourself.

Let’s say you just finished a big project and your team congratulates you for doing a terrific job. What would be your reaction if you believe that you just faked your way through it? You’ll discredit all the hard work you put into making things happen, deny your accomplishment, and feel like a complete fraud. By identifying yourself as a fake in the “fake it till you make it” advice, you inadvertently end up calling yourself a fraud — someone who actually isn’t competent and was just putting on a show.

Faking it of staying vulnerable and real is definitely damaging to your confidence in the long term.

Instead of faking your way through discomfort, practice courage to build confidence and competence in real life.

“The higher the goal, the higher the fear, the higher the courage. ⁣ People love to say, “You gotta fake it till you make it.” This implies that the fake you is someone better than who you inherently are, and this is simply not the truth. The real you will never emerge without courage.” — Richie Norton

Push forward — be real — without faking your way to wherever you need to go.

Give yourself space and time

Seeing others exude confidence in their role and approach tasks with ease can make you doubt yourself. You may think “I am the only one who doesn’t know what they’re doing while everyone else seems to have it all figured out.”

Blending in such situations by faking your way through discomfort may seem like a safe path. You don’t want to be left out. You worry that if you don’t pretend, others will see right through you and you’ll be an outcast.

Trying to fit in your most vulnerable moments limits your growth — you pretend to know what you don’t know, refuse to ask questions, and learn from others.

Instead of fitting in by hiding your anxieties, practice courage to show vulnerability and stand out. Identify the gaps in your knowledge and skills, acknowledge what you don’t know, and seek help from others. Ask how they navigated the challenges when they were in your position; how they dealt with those feelings of self-doubt.

You’ll be surprised to know that behind that confident exterior is a terrified inner child who still occasionally struggles with the same feelings of self-doubt.

No faking is required when you stay authentic — give yourself space to acknowledge your gaps and the time to fill them with real knowledge and skills.

“There is a world of difference between doing your best and pretending that you are doing the best.” — Sabrina Horn

Sit with your fear

Confidence and fear are not mutually exclusive. It’s wrong to assume that when confidence shows up there’s no place for fear.

Fear and confidence live side by side. Being confident doesn’t mean ridding yourself of feeling fearful. Real confidence is built by sitting with fear — accepting your real emotions — and then going out and doing the thing anyway.

Dr. Ivan Joseph, an award-winning performance coach who has coached national and world champions and Olympians defines confidence as “the ability or the belief to believe in yourself to accomplish any task, no matter the odds, no matter the difficulty, no matter the adversity . The belief that you can accomplish it.”

This is indeed one of the most common ways to describe confidence. In this definition, confidence is a feeling: a feeling that you can do well or succeed at something.

But, there’s another definition of confidence that we often overlook. Derived from the Latin word ‘fidere‘ which means “to trust,” confidence is also defined as trust that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Put this way, confidence is an action. It’s not a feeling of absolute certainty that you’ll achieve the outcome, an absence of fear from possible failures, or a lack of self-doubt about what might possibly go wrong.

Rather, the courage to act despite feeling those feelings; trusting yourself to take action no matter the end result. Put this way, confidence is not bailing at the first sign of failure, first challenge, or the first encounter with adversity. Confidence is also persistence: the ability to get out there, do the work, and stick with it no matter the difficulty.

When you only think of confidence as a feeling, it can take you down a dark path conjuring up negative thoughts and coming up with all the reasons why you can’t do something. By considering confidence as an action, your mind shifts to effective problem-solving instead of being stuck. It helps you come up with strategies to overcome obstacles, advises you on how to improve and build new skills, and what you can do to learn, grow and develop.

Failures and mistakes are no longer disasters. Confidence in your ability to act helps you approach them in a constructive manner making you better prepared to deal with them when they arise.

This is what Russ Harris, an author and a leading authority on stress management calls “The Confidence Gap.” He says people get stuck in it when they hold on to the belief that “I have to feel confident before I can my goals, perform at my peak, do the things I want to do, or behave like the person I want to be .”

When already dealing with feelings of unworthiness and self-doubt, if you wait to feel confident before you do what matters, you might have to wait for a very long time. Genuine confidence doesn’t come from a lack of fear. It’s built by changing your relationship with fear or as Russ Harris puts it —

“The actions of confidence come first; the feelings of confidence come later.”

Every small step enhances your abilities. You build real skills. What was once difficult turns easy. But your journey doesn’t end there. You’ll have new goals — bigger and better responsibilities. And just when you thought you made it, fear will reappear. Take it as a sign you’re doing worthwhile work, you’re making progress, you’re getting better.

Be open to learning

Succeeding in whatever it’s you want to achieve isn’t about a perfect strategy aligned with perfect execution. It’s about pulling your resources together when you fail, devising a new strategy, and getting rolling again. It requires improvising, learning, and adapting along the way.

Pretending to be someone you’re not by faking it minimizes learning. You go after things that limit exposure and reject anything that does not seem safe. You put your energy into hiding mistakes and avoiding failures as opposed to taking risks and embracing the opportunity. Playing safe protects you, but it also limits your growth. Covering up mistakes eases your pain in the short term, but it also intensifies your fear of failure in the long run.

When you’re open to learning without pretending:

  • Instead of berating yourself for making a mistake, you start accepting mistakes as a natural part of growth.
  • Instead of being rigid about following a certain direction, you start showing flexibility in thinking and action.
  • Instead of trying to do it all alone, you become open to the idea that you’ll need help along the way.

The attitude that you’re still learning takes away the focus from proving your worth to building real competence, and from feeling inadequate to realizing your true worth.

Learning makes you patient, persistent, and resilient — three essential components to build genuine confidence without faking your way through success.

  1. When doing something for the very first time or when taking on a new challenge, it’s natural to feel fearful and doubt yourself.
  2. Fake it till you make it is the most common piece of advice to get over those feelings of unworthiness, inadequacy, or self-doubt.
  3. Faking by pretending to be someone you are not having negative consequences. Repeated often, your brain starts considering you as a fake even when you possess real skills and abilities.
  4. Denying your accomplishments by thinking you’re indeed a fake leads to feelings of low self-worth and further intensifies your feelings of self-doubt.
  5. Instead of faking your way to whatever it is you need to achieve, practice courage to build real confidence.
  6. Don’t hurry through the task in front of you. Give yourself space to identify gaps in your knowledge and time to fill them with real skills and abilities.
  7. Don’t let your fear get in the way of taking action. Action comes first. Feelings of confidence come later.
  8. Invest in learning — identify where you’re going wrong, what changes you.

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