Rethinking: “Fake It Til You Make It”

In a sermon last month I mentioned my concern for the phrase “Fake it til you make it.”  Ok that’s an understatement, I voiced my great displeasure with this maxim. If there was a way for me to remove this and “There’s a reason for everything” from our maxim, we’d have a better world ;)

Perhaps I’m over-stating but i also can’t help but think how this statement is over-used. It’s a phrase we hear all the time. From my observation it’s a bit of self-coaching, confidence-booster. I think it’s trying to say, “I know I don’t got it but I’m gong to act like I do until I do (because I’m really hoping I will eventually).” It’s not so bad right?

“Fake it til you make it” sounds cute until you hear a surgeon say it. Or imagine the anxious moments of stepping onto an airplane, the crew stands at the door, and as you peak into the cockpit, there’s a sticker taped above the cockpit windshield “Fake it til you make it.” I’d get off the plane.

While this also reminds us of the need to be well-trained and the importance of certifications (and to do our diligence in training others), we all know there’s a learning curve, a need for experience and the realization that we have never really arrived. So do we fake til we make it til then? Which brings up another concern, just how long do we keep faking it? Until we “make it”, right? If we never really “arrive” in life, when do we stop faking then? Or is that the great reveal to our existence – we never stop faking because we never really make it?

I’m hoping for something more.

Since mentioning this in my sermon, a few friends have teased me about it, someone taped the phrase to my door and a good friend sent me this TED Talk video with a woman named Amy Cuddy. Oh great, now I’m disagreeing with a TED Talk speaker – even if you have a case, it’s hard to win one of those. “It’s on TED’s, it must be right.”

I watched it, it’s very compelling, beautiful and powerful- grateful to my friend for sharing this message of overcoming with me. It’s about confidence, body, language, how body affects our mind and how our mind affects our body and it’s about moving forward in life. There is so much that I appreciate and agree with what Amy is saying. That said, I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing.

Faking and pretending alone never helps us grow. In fact, they diminish our ability because they give us a false-sense of confidence and security. Here’s why I think it’s concerning – merely imitating or acting like your objective is not going to lead to the progress that we hope to achieve. What’s happening in the stories of my friends who like this phrase and (like Amy) is that they’re learning in the experience over time. At some level they know this. Frankly, it would more truthful to walk around saying, “Experience it so you can be better at it” but of course, that’s not very catchy.

Even as Christians when are told to imitate Jesus and I know no one is implying that we do so inauthentically. But how does this actually work then? For example, it’s hard to really love others so “fake it til you make it?”  No one is going to say they are pretending to love others. What we are saying is even though we will inevitably fall short, let’s keep trying to grow in this way. We’ll fail, we’ll try again, through the process we’ll grow.

Further, for the Christian, relying on the leading of the Holy Spirit is the only way to actually imitate Jesus. This is what we see happening in the lives of the disciples in the book of Acts. The difference with Peter is not that he suddenly becomes a better orator and this is why he preaches so effectively on the day of Pentecost; rather, it was the power of the Holy Spirit working though him. To me, none of this is faking, all of this is trying and relying on the strengthening and leading of God to grow inwardly and care more outwardly. Again, “fake til you make it” falls short for me.

As it relates to my vocation, I’d rather have myself and my fellow pastors offer real prayers of inadequacy, and asking God to use us in spite of ourselves than to mutter this catch phrase before grabbing the mic or sitting down to offer counseling.

So what should we say instead?

I don’t know, that’s up to you. As a postmodernist, I’ve embraced enough subjectivity to allow you to define your own terms and use your own words. So I can see why it works for some of my friends and for how Amy Cuddy unpacks it. 

My concern is rooted in the believing there will be growth in the faking. Because a lot more is happening and as the growth emerges, faking is an unhelpful word. So, this was more a public service announcement that the common understandings of faking/pretending are not going to deepen your skill on their own. The faking isn’t what makes you grow, it’s the hustle, failure, regrouping, trying again, growing and prayer that’s helping us to make it.

So what works for you? As always, feel free to add your push-backs and insights below and if you have 20 mins, watch Amy Cuddy’s talk (thanks to my friend who shared it with me).



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