How to Pretend Your Way To Success


It was a crisp autumn morning and I was walking to my client’s building up in the nicer end of the city to begin my first day of the job that I had studied to do for the previous three years.

I had done some menial labour for the last few months with the company that employed me, but a talent void was created within the company when one of the client technicians resigned, and I got pulled into that void.

Well, to say I was pulled into the void probably isn’t as accurate as to say that I leapt in headfirst. I had been answering phones for 3 months, and I was desperate to start doing the cool stuff that I had studied to do.

And so, with all of the youthful exuberance that my 20-year-old self could muster and a stereotypical Millennial’s air of unearned self-grandeur, I applied to step into the shoes of an on-site technician with one of our largest clients.

After all, what could possibly go wrong?

It was announced the following day that I had been accepted to take the promotion. They just had to get someone in there as soon as possible, so there was no time to advertise externally. The team that I was moving into could scarcely believe that I had been given such an independent role with my lack of experience, and my new boss couldn’t hide his skepticism either.

While I was, of course, grateful to them for giving me the opportunity, the reality of my appointment being the company making the best of unfavourable circumstances certainly wasn’t lost on me.

But none of their trepidation hit me at all. I went to work alongside the guy who was leaving the company for his final week before he finished up, and I still didn’t see what the big deal was.

He packed up his things before the weekend, and I was so unconcerned with the whole arrangement that I moved house that weekend.

It was only on that walk to the client’s site without anyone else from my company that I started to feel slightly uneasy. This escalated into an internal state of panic by mid-morning when I was called into a meeting to troubleshoot a technical fault and provide my analysis.

Truth be told, I barely knew what systems I was supposed to support, never mind the current incident or what the potential root cause of the problem might be.

I remember reflecting about how I really hoped that this wasn’t what happened in other industries, as I would not like to have an emergency operation performed on me by a junior surgeon who was facing the gradient of learning curve and general bewilderment that I was.

Thankfully, I was able to think on my feet and buy myself more time to analyse the situation, which was greatly helped by my client understanding that this was my first day alone on the job (and thankfully drawing the conclusion that this was the only reason that I didn’t have an immediate answer).

But I felt like a fraud.

I genuinely had no clue what I was investigating.

To use an analogy, it wasn’t even that I didn’t know where to begin my detective work, but I wasn’t even sure that a crime had been committed, never mind where to begin dusting for prints or searching for a motive.

The reason that I am sharing this story is not because I am some masochist who enjoys self-deprecation, but I stumbled across a piece by one of my former mentors who suggested that the approach of “fake it ‘til you make it” is a flawed methodology.

For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, it basically suggests that in order to go through a fundamental personal change or adaptation that you desire, you can achieve this effectively by mimicking the behaviours of those who have already achieved the change or success that you seek, and playing a mind game with yourself by asserting internally that you have already made that change.

This prominent writer’s reasoning for shunning the method is that those who use it, by definition, lack intention.

Now, I will agree that intention matters. If you are faking being a doctor to pick up chicks and get a stack of money, but lack any medical training or accreditation, then I will agree that this is harmful. I think you would struggle to find anyone of sound mind who would defend this kind of egotism.

But as with most things in life, the key is intent.

And let’s not miss a fundamental flaw in the original assessment – if you are faking something until you make something, you already have intent! Otherwise, why bother faking anything if there is nothing that you hope to achieve?

Of course, there is a difference between good and bad intentions, as I outlined above, but it is not intellectually honest to suggest that people who pretend to be something else do not possess a motive for inciting that change – to suggest so is an asinine proposition.

Sure, you might say that I could (or perhaps even should) have thrown my hands in the air in the scenario that I found myself in, packed my bags, put on my coat, driven home and never answered any calls from my company or client as to my whereabouts.

I can’t say that the thought didn’t cross my mind towards the end of day one.

But how can anyone grow stronger without putting themselves in challenging circumstances, particularly where there is no potential harm to others?

Anyone who has an elementary understanding of bodybuilding knows that you do not gain muscle without first stressing that muscle, and that concept holds true for your character as well.

So what did I do? I faked it until I made it. In a process that took months, I started to convince myself that I had more experience than my résumé betrayed.

It is important to stress that this was an internal phenomenon only. I did not make grand claims without basis, nor did I falsify my experience when asked. It was simply that I began to think like an experienced person in my field.

My intent was of course to learn my new environment and analyse the problem as quickly as possible.

If I began panicking about the difficult questions flying my way, I would ask myself:

“What would a more confident, experienced version of myself do in this given scenario if they didn’t know what to do?”

The answer to that situation was of course, research.

And by that afternoon, I had established which systems were mine to manage, what the nature of the fault was, and I had identified that the fault resided outside of my sphere of control. I even had a list of potential root causes for my client to investigate, thanks to all of the research that I did while “faking it”.

This is the field that I am now successfully working in today, thanks to my willingness to “fake it” a few years ago.

And I have found it useful in other areas of my life. Until May last year, I had never published any of my writing. But I began to think like the writer that I hoped to be – a fictitious future projection of myself, and I have found myself being inevitably pulled towards that mindset.

In other words, there is gradually less faking and more actualization.

Faking it until you make it isn’t the preserve of phonies.

But shying away from self-development out of fear of facing your ego is absolutely the definition of cowardice.

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