Faking It Til You Make It
"Identify your weaknesses and work on them"
During a recent interview, I was asked about my thoughts on “Faking it til you make it”.
Whilst I think the answer most people give is “Yes of course you should”, in the moment I realised I felt differently.
Firstly, because I haven’t “made it”, and secondly it’s never been helpful to hear.
The trouble is, “Just fake it til you make it” is such good advice to give other people.
It’s said with a casual confidence, as if it were an easy decision to implement.
We have no emotional connection to their situation, and no responsibility for making a change.
It seems obvious.
It’s likely that you’ve said this about an area of your own personal strength.
That’s why the best athletes often make bad coaches – things they found straightforward aren’t so simple for the other 99.9% of the population.
When you’re on the receiving end, it feels patronising.
Do you think I chose to be anxious?
Do you think I deliberately let my nerves spoil my efforts?
Of course not.
This is an involuntary reaction, and one that’s often grounded in a solid foundation.
We feel nervous because what we’re doing is important.
Possibly because we didn’t put in the work.
I’ve delivered plenty of flat presentations over the years, and seen my friends do the same.
Each time has generally been due to a lack of effort – either because of poor preparation or losing focus in the moment.
There are remarkably few examples of times where someone has done a great job and then genuinely thought otherwise.
Yes, people say modest things and they see all their own flaws, but they’re also visibly relieved that it went well.
The ones who were prepared wouldn’t have been greatly enhanced by “faking it”
The ones who weren’t prepared wouldn’t have been able to “make it” because of their extra confidence.
I feel there’s some truth sitting behind the “faking it” idea, but in four smaller components:
1. People care less than you think
The vast majority of people want you and your idea to succeed.
The ones hoping for you to stumble are seldom the ones who you need to win over.
Nobody likes listening to a bad pitch.
Nobody likes saying no to your sales team.
Some people like saying mean things about you online, but they weren’t going to be your customers anyway.
Everyone has so much going on in their lives, your mistakes and slip ups aren’t that noticeable or memorable.
If anything, the issue is that you’ll be either remarkable or invisible.
2. You can dissect complex tasks and quickly achieve the pivotal parts.
Several people have called this “the age of the instant expert”.
When presented with a new challenge, it is easier than ever to break it into components, identify what to shortcut, then engage professionals to handle the bits you can’t do alone.
Whether it’s a crowdfunding campaign, a logo design, a presentation or a shop fitout, there is an abundance of inspiration and talent.
One page websites are a great example of this – a simple, clean design can make even the most half-baked idea seem like an established entity.
Instead of pretending your nerves don’t exist, identify the critical components and spend a bit of money fixing them up.
Think of it as investing in better sleep.
3. If you’re nice to people then they’ll generally give you some leniency.
That can either change their demeanour, or get them to tell you what you’re missing.
By asking for feedback, you’ll get a rapid understanding of what your customer/audience like and dislike, along with a good idea of what they consider the gold standard.
I’ve had this with several of my projects – people were happy to hear me out and point out where improvements could improve customer satisfaction.
One constructive review helped us redesign our programs, and those issues were never experienced by customers over the next five years.
4. Doing something poorly teaches you very quickly.
Putting yourself out in the public immediately highlights any weaknesses that require improvement.
It’s like finding leaks in a bucket by filling it with water – what was previously invisible to the eye becomes painfully obvious.
Fortunately, these are usually much more apparent to you than your audience.
A comedian will think that most of their jokes are pretty funny, until they test them with an audience.
That reveals which ones are showstoppers, and which ones fall flat.
That’s why they do test shows in quiet markets, where they can learn from their mistakes and strengthen their show, without it appearing in the media.
For the same reason, a poor performance that teaches you a valuable lesson can become your last poor performance…at least in that particular regard.
I still get to make new mistakes every week.
That’s why “Faking it” is overly simplistic advice.
The intent is “don’t worry” and that’s probably a good sentiment, but it comes across as if not worrying was as easy as turning down the heat in the shower.
A better approach is to remember that there’s less at stake than you think, and that fixing mistakes is both inexpensive and rewarding.
In this regard, your nerves can fuel your development – encouraging you to take the time to address your weaknesses.
Having said that, people often ask me about how to look more confident, and I tell them the three best tips I learned from other people:
- The more nervous you are, the louder you should talk.
- The more nervous you are, the slower you should talk.
- Leave periodic gaps between sentences and don't look at your notes
(it makes people think you've dropped a bombshell and they'll start paying more attention)