Faking It

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‘Fake it til you make it’ is a decent slogan, but aren’t we supposed to be honest about our own abilities? Sure, but the problem with that approach is that it’s too reliant on an accurate self-perception.

A Quick Anecdote

In high school, I met one of my best friends and learned that he was a very talented guitarist. I’d wanted to start a band for some time, so I told him that I played the bass and we should jam sometime.

I did not play the bass. I had very basic picking skills from learning classical guitar in middle school, but I was at best rusty, at worst, a total novice. I spent about three weeks practicing daily and learning new songs, hoping that when my friend and I met to play together, I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

We spent the next 3 years making music together. I joked for some time that I had tricked him into forming a band with me, and he admitted that he felt for a long time that I was overestimating his skills. So, what was the reality?

Two Impostors Walk into a Bar

Impostor syndrome is much-talked-about, usually in the context of how to work through it or beat it. What if we didn’t try to fight impostor syndrome though? Instead, if we get comfy with sucking at something but doing it anyways, we can walk into a space ready to give it our best, and not let insecurity slow us down. Maybe nobody in the space will know the difference.

It occurred to me as I was writing this that this level of confidence: believing you are just capable enough to be in a space, or perhaps just below where you need to be, might require a bit of negative capability.

Faking it like this leads to one of two outcomes. Either the people in the space with you accept that you do, in fact, have the talents that you don’t believe that you do. This will occur with shocking frequency. (It was certainly my experience starting that band, and also when I went to business school.)

The other possibility is that you really aren’t meant to be there, and you have to receive that criticism and move forward. This is still a good outcome, because by failing at a high level, you’ve learned and improved more than you would have if you were succeeding in spaces that were below your talent level.

Really, ‘Faking it’ just means putting yourself slightly beyond your own comfort zone, and allowing outside feedback to tell you whether you belong there, rather than counting yourself out early.

Some Great Tweets by Smart People on This Topic

(these are both threads, so worth clicking on)


This is one of the things I’ve learned in therapy.

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