Why Fake It ‘Til You Make It Is Terrible Career Advice

fake it til you make it

Why Fake It ‘Til You Make It Is Terrible Career Advice

When I graduated college in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in advertising and communications, I had a clear idea of where I wanted to be in five years. I wanted to work for a marketing agency in a management or leadership position focusing on creative marketing strategies. A week from today, I start a management job for a creative marketing agency. I guess you could say I’ve made it, so far. On paper, I’ve achieved the dream. I can check “achieve post-grad five-year-plan” off the bucket list. I must have methodically and strategically taken the right steps to climb up the ladder. I must have fooled enough people into believing I was worthy of achieving my goal. I did try the fake it ’til you make it approach, but ultimately it was the opposite path that helped me get to this point in my career. And that path has been anything but straightforward and strategic. 

The Journey to Authenticity

In college, I had a very different idea about who I was as a person, what I wanted in life, and how to get it. Success meant playing by the rules. I watched what successful peers did, and I tried to do the same sort of things. On the inside, I’m more of a quiet, sensitive person. Not exactly the stereotypical ladder-climbing CEO personality. But I figured that didn’t matter because I could just fake it. This approach worked — temporarily. I could keep the mask on long enough to convince an interviewer that I was outgoing and friendly enough to get along with the team, while also possessing the perfect amount of no nonsense determination that didn’t border on cutthroat.

While my interview persona worked on some (I did land a few jobs after all) it didn’t necessarily work in my favor, each time. I once landed an interview with the Creative Director at a well-respected advertising agency. I was eager to talk about my copywriting and content management skills but was quickly told that I seemed to have the personality for account services. Perhaps to him, this was a compliment on my social skills, but to me, it was an insult to my work and expertise. At the end of the day, it seemed to matter less about what I was capable of doing, and more about how I presented myself to others.

By 24 I’d spent over a year in a toxic work environment and finally found a great job only to be laid off five months later. I made ends meet with $800 unemployment checks and barely showered while wondering, “What am I doing with my life?” I went into full-on quarter-life crisis mode. I fled the state and took a seasonal job at the beach that mostly consisted of cleaning toilets, making granola, and checking Facebook. I needed to get away, but when I came back, I still felt purposeless. The problem, I realized, wasn’t that people were misunderstanding me or not giving me the opportunities I deserved. The problem was that I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted. I was still acting like the person I thought I was supposed to be, instead of the person I am.

Discovering The Authentic Self

Discovering who I am and what I want has been a journey in and of itself and I’m nowhere near passing a waving flag at the finish line. But as I connect with more entrepreneurs and success-driven individuals, I realize I’m not alone. We’re all freaking out a little about who we are and what we want on the inside; some of us are just better at faking it than others.

Personally, I can’t fake it anymore. It’s exhausting, and it takes time away from the work that I actually want to be doing. I recently attended an event with like-minded individuals and came away with wonderful new contacts and business opportunities. While I did prepare by creating freelance business cards ahead of time, I was so immersed in quality conversations that I only remembered to hand out one. But I did, however, form genuine relationships with people. None of it felt forced, fake, or sleazy. It was fun and natural because I was myself.

So, who am I? I’m someone who is good at connecting with people. Not in a stereotypical business person type of way, but in a way that’s genuine to who I am. I’m good at listening and thinking deeply about how I can help others. I’m creative. I’m a good writer. I have unique ideas. I’m agreeable, but I’ll stand up for what I believe in. I’m empathetic and strong. I love to learn and challenge myself to grow. I’m honest and kind. I work harder than I let anyone realize. I have plenty of room for improvements, but none of those require me to change who I am.

Should You Fake It ‘Til You Make It?

Fake it ‘til you make it is good career advice if it means to appear more confident, but not if it means to change who you are. The best employers I’ve had, and business connections I’ve made, have been through being my authentic self, not the role I believed I was supposed to play.

I may have gotten where I wanted to be five years ago, but this is hardly the end of the journey for me. The dreams I have for myself now are bigger than anything I could have imagined in college. And I do not doubt my abilities to reach them. I believe that if you’re authentic, kind, honest, and determined, anything is possible. But if you sacrifice any one of those things for the sake of conformity or expectation, you’ve already settled for mediocrity.

“If you work really hard, and you’re kind, amazing things will happen to you.” -Conan O’Brien

fake it til you make it

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