Have you ever heard the phrase “Fake it till you make it”?
Perhaps a friend told you to fake it till you make it at school, a mentor said it to you when you started a new job, or even your parents preached it when you tried a new hobby. Pretending to be someone until, one day, you suddenly become that person is common advice that society tells you will give you the confidence to tackle new challenges. Recently, many have preached it as the cure for imposter syndrome, especially in the tech community.
Fake it till you make it is dead.
There is a much better way to install confidence in yourself and fight against imposter syndrome. Let me share this knowledge with you as someone who has used this method to overcome imposter syndrome. Now is the time to take actionable steps to grow your confidence and not feel like an imposter.
Why Fake it Till You Make It Fails
Before I can introduce you to a better way to combat imposter syndrome, it is important you understand what imposter syndrome is and why faking it fails so many people.
If you have ever worked at a technical job, you have probably encountered imposter syndrome. It is the nagging voice in your head that tells you that you’re not good enough, that everyone around you knows a lot more than you, and that you don’t belong here. It can eat away at your confidence and isolate you from your peers. Studies have found that 25–30% of high achievers suffer from imposter syndrome, and around 70% experience the feeling at some point in their life (source).
So how do people cope with it?
A simple Google search on coping with imposter syndrome produces over 12 million results, predominantly creative lists of psychological tricks. However, a common piece of advice always given is to fake it till you make it. Pretend to be someone you are not in the hope that, if you pretend for long enough, someday you will be that thing.
This wishy-washy guidance airs on the side of mystic prophecy rather than actionable advice. Common questions for someone giving this advice might be:
- How long do I need to pretend for?
- How do I pretend to be someone I am not?
- Who decides when I am actually what I want to be?
These questions are often answered with phrases like “You will know when you know.”
Great. Thanks, Yoda. I’m sure that will cure me of my overwhelming anxieties and lack of self-confidence!
The fake it till you make it myth fails people for three main reasons.
Reason #1: It Makes You Feel Inauthentic
You feel inauthentic whenever you pretend to be someone else. There is a feeling of uneasiness that you are not presenting your real self, thoughts, or opinions. This unease you feel is natural as pretending to be something we don’t identify as creates cognitive dissonance in our minds.
“Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort a person feels when their behavior does not align with their values or beliefs.” (source). If you change your values and beliefs so drastically when faking it to make it, you will always have a nagging feeling of dishonesty.
Following the fake it till you make it philosophy only exacerbates this social tension and prevents you from practicing your social skills. On the outside, you might look great, but on the inside, you are in turmoil over what the “ideal” person would say or do. The only way to feel truly relaxed and content in social situations is to be your authentic self.
Reason #2: It Makes Your Interactions With Others Feel Inauthentic
Presenting a fake version of yourself robs you of a genuine social connection with the person you are interacting with. Social interactions with peers are very valuable in today’s society, where most employees work from home. They allow you to form strong bonds and network with others, which benefits your career and social well-being. Without them, your social anxiety will only grow.
If you present a fake version of yourself to a peer, they can almost immediately tell that you are being inauthentic through your non-verbal communication (body language). This makes them feel uncomfortable around you and perceive you negatively.
The fake it till you make it philosophy assumes we are all on the level of international spies when it comes to pretending to be something we are not, where we can hide our non-verbal’s and pretend to be anyone. Unfortunately, we are not. To have good social interactions, we must put our best foot forward and be genuine.
Reason #3: It Destroys Your Identity
To have genuine social connections and develop interpersonal skills, you must build your identity and not hide behind someone else’s. If you are too busy faking it to make it, you won’t have the opportunity to establish your own identity, your own persona, or your own unique selling point.
Having your own identity is something we all struggle with. It takes time to establish our values, beliefs, and skill sets. If you don’t invest in creating your own person and, instead, hide behind the “ideal” person’s mask, you won’t build confidence in yourself. You will build confidence in the person you are pretending to be.
Every social interaction should be an opportunity to improve your social skills. Soft skills like this are incredibly important in the modern workplace. Developing these skills and creating a strong identity will naturally increase self-confidence and help combat imposter syndrome.
Build Confidence the Right Way
So how can you build confidence the “right way”?
Simple. Do the work!
If you show up every day and do the work, you will get better at the work. That is a promise I can make you.
Let’s take a look at this philosophy through the lens of trying to throw a basketball in a hoop 1000 times:
- On that first try, you will probably miss it. If you’ve never thrown a basketball into a hoop, you probably suck — you have zero confidence in your abilities.
- On the 30th try, you are beginning to figure out how to get the ball in the hoop. You need to align your hands this way, move your body that way, release the ball at this moment, aim here, etc. — you have some confidence in your abilities because you’ve tried doing this before.
- On the 200th try, you know how to get the ball in the hoop. You just need to execute it, and you will be successful — you have reasonable confidence in your abilities because you know what needs to be done. All you need to do is execute.
- On the 1000th try, you are consistently getting the ball in the hoop — you know what to do, and you have executed this in various scenarios with different conditions. The confidence in your abilities is high.
Of course not! The formula was simple. Do the work, and the confidence will come. Do the work, and the results will come. Do the work, and you no longer feel like an imposter.
For instance, if you’re a programmer suffering from imposter syndrome, the first step is identifying why you feel this way. Is it because you don’t know a certain programming language, your data structure and algorithm skills are lacking, or you struggle to communicate with your peers? Once you know why you can put your worker boots on and get to work.
This could mean spending hours learning that new language, spending days getting better at data structures and algorithms, or spending weeks improving your communication skills. Make a plan to improve and dedicate the time to improving. If you spend hours, days, and weeks improving your skills, this consistency will build your confidence.
Why? Because you will have the results to show.
- When Dave asks you about that new programming language, you can show him a project you completed using that language.
- When Barry asks about data structures and algorithms, you will know it because you spend days revising the topic.
- When Alan asks you to present, it will be a walk in the park because you’ve given hundreds before.
Doing the work brings evidence and, most importantly, this evidence is the authentic you that you can use to build your confidence. Don’t build your confidence on mind hacks. Build it on tangible results that show your authentic self. This is where showcasing your work comes in.
There is a hypothesis known as the 10,000-hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell popularised in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success”. Gladwell asserts that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply practicing for at least 10,000 hours, albeit correctly. It takes 10,000 hours to master any skill. Imagine the level of confidence you would have after 10,000 hours of practicing a skill!
Showcase Your Work
Doing the work is great. It improves your abilities and builds confidence. However, imposter syndrome can be pernicious, and its anxiety-inducing tentacles can come for you when you least expect it. This is why it is vital to showcase your work.
Showcasing your work means finding a tangible result for the hours of work you put into improving your skills.
- It could be a blog article about a new concept you are trying to learn.
- It could be a home lab project that shows your technical knowledge.
- It could be an open-source coding project that shows you mastery of a new programming language.
- It could be a YouTube channel that documents your journey of learning a new skill.
Any of these vehicles can help you turn your hard work into something tangible that you can show others, and it is this tangible thing that you can rely on when imposter syndrome starts creeping in.
Let’s say you have just started a new job installing and configuring firewalls at a company. On your first day, your boss tells you to install a new firewall to segment potentially vulnerable Internet of Things (IoT) devices from the main network. Suddenly, imposter syndrome creeps in. You haven’t worked with IoT devices before. You haven’t deployed a commercial firewall before. You haven’t been responsible for protecting hundreds of corporate employees before.
What do you do? How can you fight this imposter syndrome and get on with the job?
Well, you have deployed firewalls before. In fact, you have deployed various open-source firewalls at home hundreds of times. You’ve faced the common issues when deploying firewalls hundreds of times before and successfully overcame them. You’ve showcased this work on your blog and YouTube channel through hundreds of home lab projects you’ve completed. By scrolling through your channel on the Internet, you see a person who is brimming with confidence and can deploy and configure any firewall.
That’s you. You’ve got this. This is like any other day.
Other Benefits of Showcasing Your Work
Aside from helping you get over imposter syndrome, showcasing your work can provide you with a plethora of other benefits
- It can help fill out your resume with projects that demonstrate your technical knowledge when looking for jobs.
- It can help you bring new skills or expertise to your existing job and become a more valuable employee.
- It can even land you a side hustle.
You should always try to reap the most reward for the hours you spend doing something. Don’t work alone in the dark for hours, days, and weeks with nothing to show for all this hard work. Share your projects with others, share your insights with others, and share your confidence with your future self, who might just be struggling with imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome can be a hard demon to conquer, especially if you work in the fast-paced world of technology. The lie of fake it till you make it is not a good weapon of choice. I implore you to stick with the tried and tested methods of hard work and consistency to build confidence in your authentic self.
It is truly amazing what consistent effort can bring you. It gave me a fantastic job, a lucrative side hustle, and, outside of my career, an amazing marriage.
See what consistent effort can bring you and showcase your results along the way!