Fake It ‘Til You Make It: An Ultimate Goal?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

How many times have we heard the expression “Fake it ‘til you make it”? It usually involves those who have secured positions in companies where they feel they are not up to the challenge. It’s not as if they are like a great pretender (not to be confused with the 1950s hit The Great Pretender). People feel that they have to work doubly or triply as hard as others lest they be discovered that they are not qualified. If you are one of them and you exhausted yourself to the point of unhealthy habits to achieve something, you may not get that warm, fuzzy feeling of confidence that you can do it again. If the same assignment was given to someone else, you firmly believe he or she could do it as capably, quickly, better and more efficiently.

This brings to mind the what is referred to as the impostor syndrome. This has been written about many times. In fact here is an article that encapsulates the definition. No one is immune from this syndrome no matter how experienced or qualified or confident they may be or think they are.

Impostor syndrome strikes some of the most successful people. Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks; Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning actress; and Sheryl Sandberg the COO of Facebook are three examples that no matter how famous you’ve become or what you achieved, awards you have won, or the amount of money you made, there will still be this nagging sense of dread hanging over your head. [In Sandberg’s case, it could be more than just a nagging sense.]

Speaking with other people combined with my own experiences, here are some ways to overcome the syndrome or the battle to fake it:

  1. Find and use a mentor. Be open with someone, whether a close friend or a professional coach and express your honest feelings and sincere attitude about the most sensitive matters at hand. The more you stay isolated from others, including peers, the more you may suffer in silence and exacerbate the syndrome.
  1. Examine your fear(s) more closely. You may discover that what you are feeling is as natural as breathing. If you don’t feel suited for the job, it is usually attributed to a level of stress. If you can discern between the stress resulting from new responsibilities and what can be a conditioned response to impostor fears.
  1. Assess how you conduct your work. If you determine that you have to work harder to mitigate feelings of not being worthy for the position, then reassess what actions/approaches make you feel more self-confident.
  1. Think about your successes. Make a list of your skills and abilities and how they translated into achievements in your previous jobs. Think rationally about why you achieved what you did and it will be just as meaningful to self-validate as it is to gain validation from others.
  1. Associate with like-minded people. The value of this can never be underestimated. However, in this age of diversity in ethnicity, age and gender, you will need to avoid prejudging or being prejudged. Be yourself, be true to your beliefs and morals and let others recognize them. You and they will create an attraction. This allows you to more accurately see other people as they are; warts, foibles and all. If you can accept them with their flaws, it helps you to accept your own as you become more understanding and self-aware.
  1. Have and exercise a sense of humor. This is important to create camaraderie, reduce tension and create a more comfortable work environment. It reduces stress and, at the same time, can eliminate the impostor syndrome.
  1. See others for who they are. Practice seeing other people as they are, with their own needs and foibles. See their strengths and weaknesses. Learning to see and accept flaws in others will allow you to see yourself in the same way, with compassion and understanding.

We spend so many hours each day on a job that is a function of two parts: 1) Liking what you do; and 2) Liking who you work with. The latter is so much more important because you can learn from others. Part of learning from others is learning about yourself, where you fit in, if at all, and if you are getting any fulfillment through your job.

You only go around once. There’s no need to live a life that is stressful or causes you to become someone you are not, irrespective of whether you are a CEO or the company receptionist. You can fake it, but to what end?


About the Author

 Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose.