“Fake it till you make it” is advice that is being circulated by career advisors for years or even decades. The idea is that you should never be afraid to jump on an opportunity and get to a role that you may not be entirely qualified for. And then somehow muddle through until you figure things out. In the meantime, hide your incompetence from others. Before they figure out that you have no clue about what you are doing, you will become better.
It sounds sort of reasonable until you dig into the details and consider what this strategy gives you and what it takes away.
What it gives is the opportunity. If you pretend you can do something and those offering the opportunity don’t see through you, you can get it. Whether you deserve it or not, whether you are qualified or not, you get a chance to do what you wish.
Studies have shown that when you act overconfident people are more likely to trust what you are saying. It doesn’t matter whether you are right or wrong. It is the impression that counts. It is called the status-enhancement theory of overconfidence. This theory, supported by the research of Jessica A.Kennedy, Cameron Anderson, and Don A. Moore, indicates that overconfidence helps people attain higher social status. What more, people retain this status even when it is revealed that they were wrong in their assertions. Overconfidence works.
However, this strategy takes away some things necessary for truly long-term sustainable success. You won’t have the actual skills, and that is going to make your job difficult. You will need to carefully watch everything you do to make sure you don’t slip. Even when you act overconfident, you won’t have the real self-confidence to get the job done since you know in your heart you have no clue what you are doing.
When people realize you are a phony, you will lose their trust and credibility, at least to some extent. Maybe not all of them will react his way, perhaps you will retain your rock star status in the eyes of some, but more and more people will start doubting you. Getting back the trust you once lose is incredibly tricky. It may cost you future opportunities. What you lose, though, is integrity. You will show a weak character, and even though you may acquire undeserved status, you will not feel satisfied with your life.
Fake it till you make it is a shortcut. Nature doesn’t like shortcuts. You are trying to go around natural laws. You are trying to shortcut hard work and learning. You are trying to cheat your way to the top. Don’t.
If “Fake it till you make it” is not the best strategy, what is? What about following these simple steps:
- Don’t pretend
- Acknowledge your shortcomings
- Work on them and ask others for help
- Work hard and make mistakes
- Persevere and don’t give up
Don’t pretend, and don’t hide your incompetence. If you can’t do something, you should acknowledge the fact and figure out a way how to get the skills you lack.
By acknowledging that you need to improve some skills, there is a bigger chance of you actually improving. You won’t lie to yourself. The problem with pretending that you know something is that you can start believing it yourself. You may convince yourself that you are already a rock star, and you stop working hard on improvements.
When you are comfortable sharing with others that you lack a particular skill, you can ask for help. When you share with your team that you are new to a specific technology or industry while it is clear that you are bringing something new, people are more likely to accept you. You ask for help. You will get it.
What more, you may even get more respect as someone willing to admit their shortcomings and work on improving. People around you will be more positive about you as you are giving them an opportunity to be useful and feel needed.
Work hard on the right things and get frequent feedback. A lot was written about deliberate practice and for a good reason. If you let the world know what skills you are trying to improve, you can also ask for feedback. Frequent and relevant feedback is critical for quick progress in building up your skills.
There are no shortcuts. Hard work is what it takes to get to the next level in any skill development. What is equally important is to persevere. When you are learning something new, there is a decent chance you will run into roadblocks and make mistakes. You will fail. And that is fine. It is part of the learning process.
You should get comfortable with failure even when the others around you may mock you or raise an eyebrow. As you get better, they will eventually stop and may even start supporting you when they see positive progress. Once again, you will win the respect of people around you when they look at your hard work and ability to overcome adversity.
With this process in mind and with the commitment to act with integrity and don’t be a pretender, you may miss an opportunity or two, but you will get much more out of the opportunities you will land. In the process, you will win the respect of the people around you, and you will build self-confidence. Respect and confidence will dramatically increase your chances of getting more exciting and challenging opportunities in the future.
What is your opinion about the “fake it till you make it” advice? Do you believe it is a good advice worth following and in what situations does it work? Do you believe there is a better way to achieve success?
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