The One With Faking It

One of my favorite events every year is the US Open tennis tournament. We usually purchase tickets months in advance, so we have no way of knowing which players we’ll get to see. But there is one thing we do know.

It’s August. In New York City. We expect it to be hot. But on this particular day, it was H-O-T. Like surface of the sun hot. We searched for any scrap of shade, but we were out of luck inside the two large stadiums. I dared to look at the weather app on my phone, which just made it worse: 96 F/ 37 C. I felt myself melting into the plastic seat on the verge of becoming a puddle like the Wicked Witch of the West.

It was time for a break. We left the Bryans in their doubles match and headed to the open-air food court with giant awnings for shade. A lot of other people had the same idea. While I stood in line for ice cream absolutely willing to pay the equivalent of the GNP of some nations for two scoops, a conversation started with my neighboring line-mates. We discussed the heat (naturally), the players’ stamina in the heat, and the cashiers’ lack of stamina in the heat.

You never see her sweat.

You never see Serena sweat. 

 

Andy seems to sweat a lot.

Andy seems to sweat a lot.

The cashiers at the ice cream stand looked like they were having a rough go of it, despite being surrounded by sub-zero freezers. One woman stood with hands on hips and closed eyes for a good minute before I started to wonder if I should call for an ambulance. Okay, if I’m being honest, I wondered if I should nudge her so she could take my order.

The guy in front of me turned with skeptical brow furrowed. “Fake it til you make it, honey,” he stage whispered, clearly loud enough for her to hear.

I’ve heard this adage before, probably even said it myself. But I’ve been wondering if it’s sound advice. Sometimes, I think “fake it til you make it” works. In the case of the cashier, perhaps pretending that she’s temporarily relocated to Siberia would help her get through her shift without dwelling on the heat. When I had a minor cold, forcing myself to shower and take a walk in the park made me feel human again.

Some think that the phrase stems from Aristotle: “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a certain way.” In situations when we feel less confident,  maybe “fake it til you make it” avoids a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. When I was learning a tennis serve, continually hitting into the net drained my confidence, but when I started imagining I was Serena Williams, I felt more assured and poised, thereby gaining the confidence to do the very thing I didn’t think I could do.

A couple of weeks ago, some commenters touched on the “impostor syndrome”—when you don’t feel you’re worthy or don’t feel you’re in the same league with your peers. Maybe reaffirming that we are worthy by “faking it” allows us to feel like less of an impostor (ironic twist). And that ultimately helps lead us to our goal. I’m thinking about all of us writers who seem particularly afflicted by this, but it could apply to anyone: tennis champions, real estate agents, basket weavers.

But I don’t know if faking confidence or pretending to feel better is a good idea. If we cover up our true feelings, we’re not really dealing with them.  Redirecting doesn’t always work. It’s hard to pretend you’re in Siberia when you’re really sweltering in Queens. And it’s hard to be Serena Williams when on my best day I serve like Tiny Tim. Maybe we’re doing ourselves a disservice and end up draining our confidence, which the opposite intention, because we know we’re masquerading, even if others don’t.

What do you think? Is “fake it til you make it” good advice? 

Have a great weekend, everyone!

 

 

 

 

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28 comments

  1. I guess I do think there are times this actually works for me. I’ve read that even if you don’t feel happy but pretend to smile it actually boosts your spirits and makes you happier — I’ve found this to work for me. And I remember when I brought home my first child home from the hospital, I was utterly fearful I’d have no idea what to do, and I’m not sure I faked it but despite my terror (yes!) I was so invested that I made sure that my infant son always felt like I knew what I was doing (as he got older I admitted at times I was unsure in my parenting choices). As for imposter syndrome, which I see differently than faking it, I’m mostly “impostering” with myself, not others…although I feel unsure and unable to really see my accomplishments, I keep putting my work out there (fiction and freelance), and I think it’s made me a stronger writer over time…while I pose, I’m working like crazy to get better, to prove to myself I can do it.

    As for heat or tennis, NO WAY! I’d have given up if I was that poor woman serving ice cream and I am in awe of Serena’s talents. No amount of faking will give me that, I’d not even live up to Tiny Tim standards!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, what a terrific point, Julia. Often just putting a smile on your face makes you feel a bit happier. If you project feeling good, it does help lighten your mood, even if just for a little while. Similarly, when I sit down at the computer to write, I try to project a positive attitude toward my writing (and my ability to write) even if I don’t always feel this way.

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  2. I think there are times it’s necessary. I think any time I have to speak in front of a group I start with a little faking into before I can ease into a rhythm and true confidence. For sure the entire first year I was a high school teacher I was faking it every day.

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    1. When I was in college I worked at a putt-putt golf course leading children’s birthday parties. Wrangling ten 7-year-olds wielding golf clubs had me quaking in my shoes. A co-worker told me, “Pretend you own the room. These kids can smell fear.” Ha.

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  3. I think in situations where we are battling our fears and lots of inner “chatter” it is helpful to fake it. By taking action, our fears and doubts are silenced and that’s a good thing. Other times when skill or ability is involved you really can’t fake it. Or, at least I can’t!! –Patti

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    1. Great point, Patti. Quieting the negative inner chatter is so important. It all seems to stem from there. I know that’s what often zaps my confidence more than anything else. I find making that chatter positive and encouraging really helps.

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  4. I completely understand trying to psyche yourself out to get through a difficult situation such as surviving being outdoors in the sweltering sun, but as for faking a skill one hasn’t developed, I try to avoid doing that. I’m more the type who tries to figure out how to do something. I’m a big fan of doing research and asking questions. The few times I’ve been in a position to fake something, it’s backfired on me miserably. It’s not worth it. My motto is more “Once bitten, twice shy.”

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    1. For me, sometimes I wonder if it’s beneficial to fake or suppress emotions. If I’m truly sad about something, isn’t it better to allow myself to be sad about it rather than to pretend I’m not. Of course I can see both sides of this coin.

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  5. Good question. I’m not quite sold on the ‘fake it till you make it’ philosophy. It’s one thing to try and be more confident about a set of skills you actually possess, but pretending you have certain capabilities which, in fact, you lack, is a very risky business…

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    1. I agree with that — pretending you have skills that you don’t possess is risky business indeed. Maybe “faking it” is more about projecting a confidence that you don’t possess at the moment. But that can also be risky business I think.

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      1. There’s also a cultural dimension to it… ‘blowing your own trumpet’ and ‘faking it’ are seen as acceptable (and even desirable!) in North American culture, but in most European and Asian cultural environments, it can be viewed as bragging and likely to make you quite unpopular. Depends on the context, of course.

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      2. That’s a great point. Society often puts pressure on us. Here, I think if you don’t show confidence it’s a sign of weakness. But in other locations if you are confident, people are turned off. How to find the middle ground?

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    1. Thanks so much for directing me to the Ted Talk.

      “Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.”

      Here it is, in case anyone wants to watch it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Huge fan of Cuddy! I do think sometime we just have to do a thing in order to know we can do that thing. And some times it takes a bit of psyching ourselves up to jump off the cliff. If faking becomes a way of life and is done to take advantage of others or manipulate others than fundamentally wrong. And doing a power pose – for yourself (not to intimidate or dominate others) does work. Try it in front of a mirror some time.

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  6. When my boys were much younger I had to fake being unafraid a lot! I was often worried they’d get hurt, but didn’t want them to be scared of everything. Thank heaven it worked, but they tend to be daredevils now. 🙂
    I also think it helps to put a smile on your face when you’re down, especially if you’re going to be around a lot of people. If I’m with my best friend, I won’t pretend–can’t fool her. She can hear the change in my voice.

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    1. I agree — putting a smile on your face can lighten your mood. Sometimes it really helps you look on the bright side of things. I know when I’ve had a cold or am otherwise under the weather, just putting on some nice clothes and going for a walk makes me feel much better.

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  7. I’m a big fan of faking it til you make it. I’m faking it all over Berlin right now in the hopes that one day, I will actually make it! I doubt anyone realises I’m terrified – hope not anyway 😉

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      1. I hope so! Might have another interview as well… fingers crossed! Saw my DREAM job yesterday – proofing movie scripts. Unfortunately, it had been posted in August so I probably missed the boat. Will just keep hitting refresh until something similar comes up 😉

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  8. Maybe Fake it til you make it is more an Act As If thing. As in, I am a writer, because I get up and write every day; claiming a label for yourself, even when there is no outward acknowledgement or recognition yet. You keep on, acting as a writer acts, and eventually you actually become the writer you are in your own thoughts.

    The only flaw I see in this line of speculation is this: crazy people who imagine themselves to be Queen Victoria never truly become her – and wouldn’t you think they would, if we can imagine our dreams into reality, and if conviction carries any weight? lol

    Oh yeah wait, we have to be realistic, right? (And isn’t that the parental mantra that has damped many a dream?)

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    1. I think the Act As If idea also plays on that Aristotle quote (which very neatly applies to writers and artists): “Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a certain way.” It helps to shoo the negative thoughts out of mind, as Patti pointed out.

      The halls of business schools all over the country are filled with realists. 🙂

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  9. I absolutely agree with fake it till you make it. Sometimes it just gives you that extra boost you need. Confidence is not a bad thing to fake in a lot of situations. I am an optimist so this really isn’t hard for me. But I do teach it to my 16 year old daughter, who like most teenagers does feel lacking in ways that she truly isn’t. I tell her no one knows the self doubt you are feeling they can only read your face… so act the part you want to be.

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    1. I’m so glad to have people weighing in on this topic because I’ve been debating the pros and cons for a while now. You bring up an excellent “pro” in the case of your daughter. She’s not pretending to be something she isn’t.

      “Act the part you want to be” — great advice!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow… what a great discussion you’ve dished up. For me, personally, I’m a horrible liar/fibber and I would put “fake it till you make it” in the same category in so much as there seems to be something a bit disingenuous to the ‘faking it’ part. If I can’t do something, I certainly don’t want to be called out on it and have to prove that I was telling a lie — even a white one, at that. Now, as for Patti’s comment about internal chatter and the role of psyching oneself up … I DO agree with that. So if THAT is the definition of faking it till you make it, maybe I’m a better liar than I thought. Ha ha.

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    1. I was just watching the PBS special on the Roosevelts. In the late 1800s, Teddy goes to North Dakota for about 4 years. Upon his return to New York, he talks about how much that time changed him. He says, “There were all kinds of things of which I was afraid at first. But by acting as if is was not afraid, I gradually ceased to be afraid.”
      Serendipitous for our discussion. I think that sounds like the best definition so far. 🙂

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