The Dangers of “faking it until you make it”

There is a popular phrase, albeit somewhat fading, that says you have to fake it until you make it. Often used to encourage people to try to be what they’re not to get where they want to go as the ideal way of getting there.

Let’s think about it a little. If you’ve never been the leader of your team at work, you have to fake being the leader of your team until you become the leader of your team?

Often used in self-help circles, the notion of faking you’re at the next level of life you want has been the ticket for many to “reach” the higher levels they want.

But then, reality often sets in. The mind is a very powerful machine that will eventually spit that lie back at you. Example. You’ve faked being the leader of your team a while. You’ve hoped and wished for the promotion. It doesn’t come. Instead, you’re left dealing with the feelings of fraud, disappointment, even resentment. Worse, your peers may have shifted their feelings towards you. After all, you were pretending to lead. Now they know you’re not the leader you advertised yourself to be.

The notion first reached this blogger’s attention in the arena of the advice of dressing for success. You’ve got to dress not for the role you’re in but for the role you want. While that works in many traditional offices, it is not as cleanly applicable in the more casual workspaces that favors the tech look or sporty casual look. Coming into the office with a suit while everyone else is in a hoodie and jeans may not work as favorably as it would have twenty years ago.

In that framework of dressing for the role you want, the catch phrase of faking it until you’ve made it caught on with the peers of this blogger. In many discussions, we’ve concluded that the phrase made very little sense for us. While others went on to blog about it and other topics, today is your lucky day to hear my perspective on this topic.

The Dangers of “Fake it ‘til you make it”


In a world looking for genuine, transparent, and real, aka authenticity, fraudulent representations of oneself carries reputation cost. Should I show up pretending to be the solution to people’s problems and I turn out to know nothing… the damages to trust, reputation, brand, etc, is huge. Sometimes unrecoverable. One gets labeled as fake at the very least.

The inner emotional struggle that one feels from knowing one is not being real, essentially telling lies, can damage self-esteem and confidence in ways that may be subtle at first but substantial over time.

Compromise with one’s integrity in the seemingly trivial presentation of who one is can easily create a slippery slope of compromises about everything else one deems ethical, moral, or right.

Then there is the question of defining how one has made it. If the whole journey is fake, or a lie, then how can one know they’ve actually made it to the destination? What if that destination is also fake. What if the real destination is not as one thinks it to be? Was it luck that made one get to the destination? Can the journey be recreated using “real” steps?

More practical however is the fact that the human mind loves creating habits. The habit of faking becomes the norm. Doing real deep thoughtful work is replaced by doing just enough superficial work to fool oneself to believe it’s the genuine article.

Shortcuts become the standard. Quality is secondary. Investment in fundamentals means nothing in the pursuit of the appearance of success. There is a reason why many don’t like shady people. There is no foundation of trust that can be sustained. It’s a high risk proposition to know someone who is shady. Not to mention the influence that they push on you about being shady yourself.

If Faking it is not the way to make it, then what?

If you want to be great, do greatly. If you want to be awesome, be awesome. You want to lead, be a leader. There are steps to take. Take them. Master them. Build the foundation and then build the high-rise. In due time, you’ll enjoy being what you are… great.

Let’s break this down a bit, for Motivational Monday.

A teen heading to college is not a college graduate. The aspiration is to become one. You can’t fake being a college graduate (not counting those who have bought fake diplomas to fool people into assuming they are college grads). The only way to actually be a college graduate, is to actually graduate from college. Do the work. Get the grades. Walk out on stage. Get your diploma. And be a college graduate. Applies for online degrees as well.

That teen made a decision to be a college graduate. They put in the work. They stayed up late. They learned the skills necessary to master the coursework. Then, in time, over time, they became the college graduate they aspired to be.

The mindset shift is subtle but the results is massive. Had the teen not thought about being a college graduate, graduation might have not been the focus as well as the result. Many aspire to get into college. Once in, they don’t move the goal post to passing classes or graduating. They coast on about and eventually the rigors of the system usually washes them out. Their aspiration as to be in college. They never adjusted the goal to being a graduate.

very overly simplified model for illustrative purposes

If the goal is to be the team leader, the work in developing team leading skills has to be put into place. The mindset has to shift. One has to believe being capable of being the team leader. The work starts at the ground level. The fundamentals of the skill has to be learned. With each step of the skill set learned, the embodiment of leadership traits grows. In time, one’s leadership skills grow sufficiently enough that the organization gives recognition of what is… a leader.

The wishing and hoping that the title of leader will make one a leader is the very reason why many who get promoted to leadership levels do such a horrible job of leading. We all know of horrible bosses we’ve once had. A true leader built up the skills and once recognized for the skills, the position seems a natural fit.

It was not faked. It was earned. It was not overnight. It took time. In that course of time, the trust and credibility was created and perfected.

Now, if one is thrust into a position outside of one’s skills… does not mean one can’t succeed. One now just has to do the work of becoming the success they are now entrusted with becoming.

The key work is becoming. One can become anything one set’s their mind to. Provided one is willing to put in the work. Do the work and in time one becomes the product of said work.

Faking it until you make it is an exercise in foolery. Working smartly and diligently to become is the only real way to ensure one stays leveled up where one has aimed to be.

Translation. Be great. Don’t fake greatness. In time, the one who put in great work will be great and the one who faked it will be discovered faking it.

Go forth smartly and wisely this week to be what one wishes to be. No matter what that may be. Be awesome!


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