So, years ago I heard the phrase “Fake It Till You Make It.” The idea is that you pretend to be something you aren’t until you successfully become what you are pretending to be. Though offered with good intentions by someone I respected, I cringed at the thought. I found the concept to be disingenuous, shallow and inauthentic. Years later, I began hearing about a thing called “Imposter Syndrome” After hearing it described, it was clear to me that those who suffer from the most intense bouts of “imposter syndrome” drank some version of the “Fake It Till You Make It” cool-aid.
“Fake it till you make it” is tailored to result in the development of imposter syndrome. In whatever a person is attempting to achieve or succeed at, be it sales, or painting or writing, they feel like a fraud while trying to convince themselves and other they are the genuine article. This is to say they feel fake. Regardless of the degree of external success, the individual does not feel successful on the inside. For those who do not have external success, the feeling of being a fraud is intensified that much more.
It’s hard to motivate yourself to go out into the world an work towards a goal if you believe you aren’t authentic in those pursuits. Beyond hard, there are: times it in nigh impossible. This kind of self-deception can lead to devastating disappointment and depression.
Given the initial gut-clench reaction I had to this advice, I opted not to follow it. I chose a different way of approaching my ambitions. I chose to adopt a modified version of “Practice makes perfect.” Why modified? Because back in the day when the phrase was coined “perfect” had connotations of ‘complete’ or ‘whole’ rather than “flawless.” Though flawless execution might be a worthy goal, it is not always a realistic one. To avoid confusion, I modified my approach to “Practice Makes Progress.”
So, how does that work? And how is it any different from faking it? When practicing a skill or activity, I do so acknowledging my inadequacies, my insecurities, and my uncertainties. I do not try to convince myself or others that I am “perfect” (flawless or complete) in what I’m attempting to do. I give myself permission to make mistakes with the caveat that I’m learning, improving and growing from those mistakes. This approach allowed me the honesty to realistically recognize the difference between what I am and what I desire to be. It exposed the gaps between the two, and provided a direction for growth to bridge those gaps.
I am 4′ 10” tall.
If my passion were becoming a professional basketball player, I would need to have an extra-ordinary amount of natural athletic talent to compensate for my stature in order to become a professional basketball player. I would also need to demonstrate that talent repeatedly to convince others that I would be an asset and contribute to the success of any team I played for.
If I my talent were average, yet I spent a lot of mental energy trying to convince myself and others that it was above average, I would absolutely feel like a fraud. The Fake It Till You Make It philosophy asks a person to do just that.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying a short person with average athletic skill should not play sports. I am saying it is necessary to be realistic about the amount of success such an individual would be able to achieve in such a scenario. Are the returns worth the effort? Or is there more satisfaction in just playing the game for fun? Or coaching? Or scouting?
Given the limitations I have (height, and a distinct lack of athletic skill), it would never be reasonable to see myself as a professional basketball player in the making, regardless of how many hours I spend dribbling. It would not be reasonable for me to expect others to see me as a professional basketball player in the making.
To do so is to be unrealistic to the point of being delusional. It is to be fake. It is to be an imposter.
As someone who desires to be a novelist, I practice putting words out into the world. This practice makes me a writer, but it does not make me a novelist. Publishing a novel will make me a novelist, but this hasn’t happened. Yet. Every class I take, every seminar I attend, every new writing technique I learn is another step in reaching the goal of being a novelist. Does this mean I never suffer from doubts? No. I have my moments of insecurity and this is normal. At times, it’s even helpful. Insecurity tells me I have a weakness. There is an area that is not secure, and it needs to shoring up. Examining the source of the insecurity can offer insight on places where growth can occur.
This progress is genuine. It is authentic to pursue the skills, disciplines and attitudes needed to fulfill an ambition. It is okay to be in the process of becoming, and by being honest about this rather than faking it, the mechanisms of imposter syndrome are short-circuited.