The Problem with “Fake It Till You Make It”

From Jeff: This is a guest post from Darrell Vesterfelt. You can connect with him on Twitter (@dvest).

In the world of social media, we are constantly in front of other people. There’s a lot of pressure to always be “on,” which breeds a pressure to perform. In response to this, a “fake it till you make it” gospel has formed.

Broken Keyboard
Photo Credit: Johnatron via Compfight cc

I get the sentiment. Sometimes if we don’t “fake it” we’ll never have the confidence to create anything. But this message is incomplete and has some dangers to it. If we aren’t careful, adopting this gospel can hurt us and even our messages.

You can’t fake it and be yourself

We all project an image of ourselves to the world. This image is generally made up of half-truths, qualities we value and want to be true but sometimes aren’t. Or at least, they aren’t always fully developed yet.

For a long time I wanted people to think I was a professional blogger, and I was, but I wasn’t painting the whole picture. I talked about my work but didn’t include the less attractive parts of my lifestyle, like how I was living on a futon in a friend’s spare bedroom.

My not telling the whole truth made it more difficult for my audience to connect with me. What they were connecting with wasn’t really me; it was the persona I was projecting.

Real connection happens when, and only when, you’re completely honest. [Tweet that]

The real me would have been more relatable than the “me” I was projecting. In this case, my fake-it-until-you-make-it attitude was self-defeating. Faking it made me lose sight of two important parts of my writing:

First, I lost sight of my message

In some seasons of life, I’ve been so focused on people seeing me a certain way that I’ve lost sight of my message.

There was a time when I was no longer writing what was true to my message. Instead, I focused my writing on what I thought others wanted me to say. And my message got lost.

This happens to a lot of us, especially in the world of social media. We’re constantly in front of people, so we often feel the need to put on a show. And in so doing, we tend to hide the weaker parts of our personality, the parts we assume nobody wants to see.

The irony is our weaknesses are what make our messages believable, because they are what make us as storytellers and communicators relatable and reliable.

Then, I lost sight of the craft

Part of being a good writer is being a good write-er.

Honing your craft, developing your skill — these things don’t come easily. If you’re focused on faking it until you make it, you’re using time and energy for that, and have less real estate for learning and growth.

Part of being a good writer (or a good anything for that matter) is continually humbling yourself to become better at what you do.

In college, I was really intentional about developing my writing skills. I’d just started blogging, and the resources were there, so I took advantage of them. I took electives in writing that forced me to write everyday, to share my work with others, and to read good writing.

After college, I guess I assumed my season of learning was over. Having checked “learning how to write” off my list, now I could move on to bigger and better things like building a platform.

I stopped writing everyday, stopping reading resources, stopped getting my work critiqued, and eventually saw how it negatively affected my craft.

And here’s what I learned…

If you can’t write, you can’t share a message — even if it’s a good one! And if you don’t hone your craft, your message will fall on deaf ears.

Eventually, though, I got back on track. But it took a long time to find my message again and refocus on the craft of writing. And if there’s something I’ve learned from this journey with blogging, it’s this:

Don’t lose your message because you’re concerned with developing a persona.

The world needs what you have to say, but only if you can get over yourself — and your need to be recognized — and just say it. So please get started sharing your message with the world. But whatever you do, don’t fake it.

What do you think the balance is between being honest and faking it until you make it? Share in the comments.

Darrell is the author of UNBLOGGER. He is also the co-founder Prodigal Magazine and Prodigal Press. You can connect with him on Twitter (@dvest) or at his blog.

Hi, I’m Jeff. Can I send you something?

Hi, I’m Jeff. Can I send you something?

For a free guide on growing your blog audience, enter your email address in the form below.

52 thoughts on “The Problem with “Fake It Till You Make It”

  1. Good topic. The only time I have ever “faked it until I made it” (and it was good thing to do) was in terms of developing healthy new habits in my life. There have been times when my heart was not completely on board with an idea but I knew it was the right direction to go. So I essentially faked it til I made. But it definitely has to be done in way where we acknowledge our limitations and weaknesses too. You can’t wear a “I have it all together” mask and expect to grow.

    1. I agree Eileen. Tom Watson was the founder of IBM. He is well known for talking about acting like the business he wanted to become. He attributes his company’s success to that attitude.

      I think you are hitting it on the head when you talk acknowledgment of our limitations.

      Thanks for reading.

  2. Well said, Darrell! My biggest internal debate had to do with how much about me I should reveal. As a new blogger, I wanted to be authentic and transparent but I held a secret that, while relevant to my audience, was a complete embarrassment to me. If I revealed that, my family would know…YIKES!

    I took the leap of faith and so far, it hasn’t come back to bite me. I suppose you can “reverse fake” by withholding relevant information. That’s still faking if you ask me.

  3. Faking it has never worked. I have a ‘dark’ side (not like Dexter), but is afraid that revealing that side might be too much of myself. Will writing my stories as fiction help?

    1. I think it is important to uncover the motives of the fear of revealing that side. I think that might be a good place to start.

      For me I had to ask myself why I was afraid to tell people certain things about myself. It ultimately came back to some selfish motives founded in fear of rejection. Those that reject our true-self are people I ultimately don’t want around.

  4. :Love this. Your real story, your real message are much more important than putting on a “persona.” Otherwise you really are just putting on a mask. Eventually, someone will see through it.

  5. Thanks, Darrell. This topic really resonates with me. When I first determined to put my life out there for anyone to read, a skeleton from my closet jumped out in the comments and literally set me back months with condemnation and criticism. Thank God for forgiveness and His grace. It took family and friends reminding me that my past has nothing to do with today to get me back on track. I’m still feeling tentative about what to share and what to keep personal.

  6. I think being open with your readers about your own weaknesses and failures is one of the most powerful ways to connect with them – we’ve all had that “whew – it’s not just me, then!” reaction, when we’ve read an article in which the writer owns up to the kind of problems we’ve experienced ourselves – it can be very reassuring. But it takes courage to lay yourself open like that, which is hard when you’re just starting out.

    1. One of the most powerful human needs is the need to be known. When we share our shortcomings we let people know that they are not alone, and that they can be known in their circumstances.

  7. As a blogger, I have chewed through a number of touchy issues, and every time I am tempted to fudge the truth for any reason, I remember how thoroughly betrayed I feel when I learn that someone I trust has lied to me. It can be ever so benign, and it can be all “for your own good,” but lies destroy relationships. I want my readers to know that I may not always be right, but I am always truthful.
    I try to keep in mind that I am writing in obedience to God’s call through the voice of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

  8. Fake it till you make assumes that when you make it all will be ok. This does not take into account that my greatest fear is that if get to know me and you won’t like me. So I keep ‘projecting’ well (faking it) in hopes that you will like me.
    Ultimately, my success does not define me nor does it provide security.

  9. Dear Jeff,

    Fake it is a spot-on post, thanks for your to-the-pointedness. With words screaming around the world at electron speed, the mountains of b.s.seem to be more dense than ever; but, it’s an illusion. In analog times and way back round the fire when story telling went public, human shuck and jive was plenty thick.

    Your thoughts triggered a look at one of the most amazing literary works ever, a living shot of the depth and clarity found in the humility of people who are ACTUALLY amazing rather than a mere dog and pony show.

    T.D. Kennedy

    Faulkner’s Nobel Speech:

    I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work – a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

    Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

    He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.

    Until he relearns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. . . .

  10. I’ve been a witness to the epitome of faking it recently: plagiarizing. It fascinates me that not only can someone post something without citing the source, but go beyond that to receive acclaim for it. I’m sad (naive?) at how common this is. But it has forced me to point the finger back to myself and ask, “Why should I not feel compassion for this person who is so obviously broken and insecure?”

  11. Good stuff here, Darrell. I was doing some serious faking it recently, until I wrote a post on my blog last week and presented my whole true self to my readers, in spite of the fact that I knew many of them would not agree with my stand. It was hard, but in the end, I was relieved that I said my piece. It feels better to present my whole self, rather than just a part.

  12. This is SUCH GOOD ADVICE. Yes! CAPS! Because I LIVE MY LIFE IN CAPS! And that’s the real me. Sometimes. Unless it’s a day without caps. Then it’s quiet and introspective. And sometimes, even at the age of 52, I’m not sure which facet of my life to share. I think I’ll try to be BOLDER! You know, LIKE CAPS!

  13. I don’t think it is always relevant to be honest and at times takes the emphasis away from who should be focussed on; the audience.

    I run down my Facebook feed sometimes and see some individuals unleashing a tirade of emotion about where they are right now, Only to then release a piece of advice or article about how their audience can change their life (I’ve come from a fitness & personal development background). People may talk about vulnerability and authenticity, at the same time the brain can not help but create a perception and if you are seen as a people helper, if doesn’t help to be perceived as being emotionally unstable (at that point in time).

    I love when people tell a story of a challenge they experienced AND THEN how they resolved that, it shows a real learning point that others can implement into their life, but I feel it is sometimes valuable to be selective with who you are honest with.

    One persons faking it is another persons way of being adaptable in a complex world of varying personalities.

    Aaron Morton

  14. Darrell,
    I am so glad that I took the time to read this blog. It was powerful and authentic!!!

  15. To me it depends on your attitude with the fake it until you make it. You expressed leaving yourself and your message. That’s tough, and a great self-reflection on your part. But there is an element to simply calling yourself something you’re not quite yet. Something you’re becoming and evolving into. It’s like you are taking a stance and committing to achieving/actualizing something specific.

  16. Great post, faking it can sometimes be stubbornly holding on to your pride. When I let go of mine and accepted that I’d screwed up, became truthful to others about my failures then my path seemed clear and I felt a sense of peace. My true friends became closer and some just washed away with all the falseness. Faking it just isn’t worth my energy or time. Then again when it comes to job interviews.. it can pay off. I think applied to my life as a whole this makes sense. Thank you.

  17. Being true and honest with your audience is always the best way to relate. People want to hear your story. They want to know who you are. Flaws are approachable and real. “Celebrities” and “perfect” people don’t connect in the 2.0 world. Great post!

  18. As the Internet has given us all the information right at our fingertips, it gets easier and easier to fake it–and also to simply believe you’re an expert at something from knowledge alone, and discount experience.

    As you say in the post, I think “fake-it-til-you-make-it” is a great way to get yourself to take action when you’re scared, allowing you to make confident choices and actions even when you’re really not. But when the fake becomes part of what you tell the world about yourself, or holds you back from seeking advice from those more experienced (a greatly undervalued thing these days), that’s when it crosses the line.

  19. Thanks! I needed this today 🙂 I believe in order to truly connect with your readers you need to be “you.” It’s okay, I think, to “fake it” as you get started, but I think readers are looking for writers/bloggers who are “real” and not “fake.”

  20. Darrell, thanks for this. I think it demonstrates how writing is transformational–if you let work on you. When we share our work, receive criticism, go back to the drawing board, realize that we are trying to sound like so-and-so, realize that we are trying to portray only the best side of ourselves, all of that stuff, we have a chance to become someone new and better.

  21. Awesome post Darrell, and one I really needed. I often try to hide my personality online because I’m scared of being vulnerable, so I act like a completely different person.

    I’m really going to work on becoming more transparent in my writing in order to develop a deeper and “real” connection with my readers.

    Thanks for all of the work you guys do, it’s really making a difference.


  22. Powerful and inspiring. I couldn’t agree more yet the humbling and the fat trimming to reveal my true message continues to challenge me most. I also find it the most rewarding part of writing, though, and living out loud. And living in general.

  23. Enjoyed this tremendously. This line,

    “Real connection happens when — and only when — you’re
    completely honest”

    helped me complete a post that I was not sure about publishing – but did.
    Thanks for the KiTP.

  24. I truly feel writing about things of interest is better then boasting success. The success will come and you will be much better received. There is nothing worse then presenting yourself as an expert if you are not!

  25. Excellent points. I never really appreciated the “fake it til you make it” approach. Unfortunately, I’m known for expressing my opinion too blatantly, so I do a lot of editing and revising before I even post comments, let alone on my (not much used) blog.

  26. Spot on, too many people are subscribing to fake to you make it and the surface may seem to have success(are they happy being fake), without happines and being genuine, we fail at buiding realtioships…

  27. Brilliant piece, I’ve never understood the “fake it until you believe it” mantra that echoes in every field. If your not recognising your short comings and masking them with a persona you want isn’t it creating an illusion of what you are.

    I think the concept works if you can get to a stage where you are working on your craft and build self trust in yourself and your ability to commit. That it’s almost second nature. That where I think the mantra may work.

    I think that stage is missing from what I have heard on “fake it to you believe it”.

Comments are closed.