Fake It ’til You Make It?

Recently, I’ve received emails from several readers with the often-quoted career nugget “Fake It ’til You Make It” in their email signature. I’ve heard the phrase many times from people talking about their career strategies.

As with any little nugget, there’s a nice core of an interesting idea there, but actually translating a six-word catchphrase into something that can actually help your real career and real life goals can be quite tricky. Let’s take a look.

What Does “Fake It ’til You Make It” Mean?
Wikipedia provides a succinct definition:

“Fake it till you make it” (also called “act as if”) is a common catchphrase that means to imitate confidence so that as the confidence produces success, it will generate real confidence[1]. The purpose is to avoid getting stuck in a self fulfilling prophecy related to one’s fear of not being confident, e.g., by thinking, “I can’t ask that girl out because she would sense my lack of confidence.”

In other words, fake it ’til you make it is a call to arms to act confident in your endeavors, because that confidence will eventually lead to success. It’s a good example of the power of positive thinking – if you talk yourself into acting confident, others will think you’re confident, and that will build your own confidence.

It is not a call to actually fake your work. Faking your work will eventually lead to disaster and a complete undoing of everything you’ve wanted and worked for. Instead, it’s a call to be confident about yourself and your work.

As I’ve stated before, positive thinking alone is useless. If you don’t couple that positive thinking with action, you’re not going to succeed.

Having said that, fake it ’til you make it is one of the elements of “positive thinking” that I agree with. When you do things, do them with confidence, even if you don’t quite feel it yourself.

Eight Simple Steps to “Fake It ’til You Make It”
So, how do you do it? It’s a handy catchphrase and all, but how can you actually turn that catchphrase into something that can help you personally or help your career? Here are eight tactics that work.

Stick to your areas of expertise. It doesn’t matter what the audience is – if you’re representing your particular area of expertise, you have every reason to be confident. Thus, save your opportunities for speaking up until you can represent a topic that you know very well. Doing so means you don’t have to focus on presenting stuff you’re uncomfortable with – instead, you can focus on presenting the things you already know well. You have no better opportunity to exude confidence than when you know the topic at hand very well.

At the same time, work on expanding your areas of expertise. Don’t simply be content with your current body of knowledge. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn new things, expanding your area of knowledge and thus your area of confidence.

When you reach the edge of what you know, be honest about it. It’s easy to have your bubble of confidence busted if you step outside of what you know. Suddenly, you’re representing information that you’re unsure about – and that’s going to show. Instead of falling into that trap, admit you don’t know. Instead, tell the questioner that you’ll find out and send the information to them, then move on to another topic that (hopefully) is more within your area of expertise.

Share what you know. One great way to build professional confidence is to be in a situation where others come to you for guidance and answers. How do you get there? The best way is to share what you know with others, consistently and without condition. If you do this regularly, people will begin to look to you for knowledge – and there are few better confidence builders than that.

Stick to reputable, positive information where you can. One big key, though, is to share good knowledge. Focus on sharing information that actually works instead of rumors and heresy. If you provide reliable information to others, they will come to rely on you much more readily than if you’re offering up questionable things.

Present, present, present. Whenever any opportunity comes up for you to present information within your area of comfort, take it. There are few better ways to build confidence than to present what you know well.

Practice, practice, practice. When you get that opportunity to present, though, don’t just fluff through it. Practice. Figure out exactly what you’re going to say. Run through it several times. Run through it with an audience and take their comments seriously. If you can polish that presentation, it will just add to your natural confidence – you know what you’re talking about and you know that the presentation is good.

Roll over the speedbumps. Many people are quite good at starting off with confidence, but if they stumble at some point, their confidence gets shattered. They fall into a downward spiral and the air of confidence is destroyed. Here’s the truth: everyone stumbles a bit from time to time. If you make a mistake, don’t amplify it. Just skip it, and move on. Get back into your groove as fast as you can.

So, go out there and “fake it ’til you make it.” Just be sure you have something of value to back it up. Good luck!

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