“Fake it ‘til you make it!” It’s a pretty common phrase, especially in the business world and entertainment industry. I’ve heard many guest writers and business leaders attribute their success to this mantra. It’s a pretty simple concept: If you pretend to be confident and successful for long enough, you will eventually become confident and successful. Buy expensive clothes even if you’re getting paid minimum wage; they will think you are rich and capable. Never let on that you don’t know about whatever is being discussed. Just say things like, “You’re so right, and that’s what the (insert: Conservatives/Liberals/French) will never understand” or “I liked their first album better,” and then inconspicuously exit the conversation. It doesn’t matter if you’re sad on the inside — be happy on the outside. Basically, just be yourself, but a better yourself…so actually, not yourself at all.
But it still works, right? The people who swear by the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality all seem so successful and happy. For example, take that one guest speaker from a couple weeks ago. He had a fancy suit and was super nice to everyone. He even told me my views on health care reform were genius, but they would never get passed in this country because the conservatives are too…oh, wait, now I get it.
There are some major problems with this mentality. The line of when a person has “made it” is pretty arbitrary because there is always more to make. Why quit what has worked in the past?
And then there’s the fear of what kind of effect “faking it” has on others when it spills into other areas of your life. Imagine one of your parents saying, “We never really cared for you that much, but we pretended to, hoping that we might eventually grow to love you” or your favorite professor saying, “Yeah, that stuff I taught the class that nobody understood — I don’t get it either. But I’m glad you thought my suit looked good.”
But the greatest damage is in what “faking it” does to the person constantly playing pretend. I’m not a huge John Mayer fan, but he has a song called “Tracing” that describes the loneliness of faking emotions in an empty relationship. He describes the song as saying, “When is this going to kick in? Cause this feels like it’s never going to kick in. When is this sex going to turn into love? You think one runs into the other; it really doesn’t.”
There’s a bitter hollowness that comes from lying to yourself and everyone around you. You get the feeling that no one really knows you, or that you don’t even know yourself. Even if you make it on the outside by lying to yourself, you never really make it where it counts.
About a year ago, I was talking with one of my friends about to graduate. He described his college experience by saying, “It was alright. There were some good moments, but I was pretty unhappy for the last three years. College kind of sucked. But, whatever. It happens. Life moves on.” That answer blew my mind. College is supposed to be the best years of your life, and there he was so honestly and casually dismissing it. It shook me up.
For my first two years at Stanford, I wasn’t always completely happy either. I enjoyed some things and made friends, but I didn’t really feel like I had a purpose for being here, and I spent a lot of time looking for excuses to take time off and be in the real world. I felt like I didn’t really fit in, and, to be honest, I didn’t want to fit in with what I understood a typical Stanford kid to be. I didn’t like these feelings of discontentment, but they were there nonetheless.
Rather than addressing them, I decided to fake it. I put on a smile and exaggerated how great everything was out of some absurd fear of “failing” the college experience. But the brutal honesty and self-awareness of my friend encouraged me to be really honest with myself, and I started being honest with others. When asked, I would say that college was alright, and I describe both the good and bad. My impossible expectations were lowered, and I’ve actually enjoyed myself much more since then. “Fake it ‘til you make it” may fool others, but I prefer to confront, embrace and make the best of the truth.
You won’t have to fake it with Chase. Email him at ninjaish “at” stanford “dot” edu.