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Dive 50: “Fake it until you make it” has hidden costs no one talks about
Hey, it’s Alvin!
If you ever sought advice on how to be successful, you would’ve most likely come across this piece of gold:
“Fake it ‘til you make it.”
What the “gurus” and “life coaches” won’t tell you is that it’s more like fool’s gold. Following that advice almost always leads to misery in the long run.
I mentioned before that psychologists call me a “Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP). You can read more about what that means in Dive 21. Because of that, I often spend more time than most people observing a situation before acting.
That could be seen as “being cautious” or “lacking confidence.” I only learned about HSPs in my twenties. So, I just thought I lacked confidence throughout my childhood. I saw a flaw in myself I wanted to fix. And there was one advice I’d often hear:
“Fake it ‘til you make it.”
Just pretend you’re confident. Stand up straight, shoulders back and down, look up, give firm handshakes, and speak with conviction even if you don’t know what you’re talking about. The idea is that if you pretend you’re confident long enough, you’ll eventually become that confident person you’re faking.
This is supposed to work no matter what you’re trying to become.
If you want to be better at public speaking, just start faking it.
If you want to be an adventurer, just start pretending you are one.
If you want to be successful in any way, just start acting like you are.
I tried faking confidence. And it started working. I got used to standing up tall, walking with long, bold strides, and I became a school club president who could give questionably inspiring speeches.
I convinced myself I was confident.
After all, that’s how “fake it ‘til you make it” is supposed to work. But something deep down inside began gnawing away at me. Something didn’t feel… right.
Then, university happened. My first year ended with three failed courses. And I was nearly expelled from university for my poor grades. That shattered my confidence. Because up until that point, I was an ‘A’ student. That’s how I saw myself. Whatever confidence I previously got from that illusion was gone.
From that point onward, restoring my confidence by “faking it” got harder. Because I couldn’t pretend my failures didn’t happen.
I started feeling… exhausted.
That’s when I realized there are fundamental problems with “fake it ‘til you make it” no one talks about. I want to share these insights with you, so you don’t fall into the same trap.
1. Faking it… forever
It’s “fake it until you make it,” but people rarely stop. Why is that?
Well, what does it mean to “make it”? Most people don’t have a concrete goal. And while they’re caught up acting their part, it never occurs to them that they should set one. Those people will continue their fakery until the day they die. They’ll literally never make it because they never defined what it means to “make it.”
Some set goals but move the goalposts. After all, if you made $1 million, why not $2 million? Made $2 million, why not $5 million? When have you attained enough success - whatever that means to you? This is a question people struggle with beyond “fake it ‘til you make it.” It’s beyond the scope of this post, so let’s revisit this another day.
Some people faked it, made it, know they made it, but still can’t stop. They can’t stop because the one who earned all their successes was not their real self, but their fake self. They can’t stop because they fear that once they reveal who they really are, they’ll lose everything they gained by fakery.
I have relatives who are now retired. They still brag about having premium bank accounts and elite credit cards. Why? Who are they impressing? It can’t be their colleagues - they’re done climbing the corporate ladder. It can’t be me - I don’t care about any of that. The only people they impress, now, are themselves and their “friends.” But they gained their “friends” by fakery, so what would happen if they dared to reveal their real selves?
This is the main reason fakery causes misery.
A fake life is driven by constant fear—fear that others will find out the truth about who you really are. For this reason, a fake life is a fragile life because reality shatters illusions built by lies. It’s only a matter of time.
For all these reasons, it’s hard to stop faking it once you start. And it’s not just the constant fear I hate. I don’t want to fake it forever because…
2. Faking it is exhausting
“Fake it ‘til you make it” goes by a different name in the world of performance art: method acting. Method acting is a skill. It takes practice. That’s why most people are terrible actors.
And they know it.
I tried acting like a “successful” person for years. I often did it for job interviews because I suck at them. The problem was I couldn’t get into character well. I’d get questions during an interview, and wonder, “how would this character answer the question?” I bombed lots of interviews that way and is partly the reason I don’t condone lying in interviews.
But, even if you’re good at acting, professional actors agree: acting is exhausting. One reason I stopped “faking it” was because I grew tired of trying to think of all the ways my character should behave and then acting it out. I just wanted to be me. Keep it simple.
And this is a key difference between a professional actor and an everyday faker. Once the actor is off the set (or stage), or once the filming is done, the actor can stop. There’s a solid line between where and when acting occurs, and where and when it doesn’t.
The everyday faker doesn’t have that. As long as the faker is in public, there’s a risk someone who knows them will see them. So, their behaviour must be consistent every single moment they’re in public. In the past, the faker could maybe stop when they got home. But what if they live with someone else at home?
When a person is faking it to make it, the fakery is almost constant. That’s kind of the point. But it’s also exhausting because deep down inside, somewhere in your subconscious you know… oh you KNOW… it’s NOT YOU. Constantly keeping up appearances can wear you down.
3. Faking it to procrastinate self-improvement
Earlier, I mentioned that a fake life is driven by the fear of being exposed for who you really are. But why would anyone fear that? Because deep down, it’s a fear of inadequacy. It’s a fear the Real you isn’t good enough. That’s why people start “faking it” in the first place. But that fear never goes away because “fake it ‘til you make it” stops you from addressing it directly. Because it shifts your focus from Real you to fake you. So, while you spend all your time working on fake you, Real you ain’t getting any love. And like your muscles—if you don’t use it, you lose it.
“Fake it ‘til you make it” makes you LOOK strong outside, but weak INSIDE.
So, let’s recap. What’s wrong with “fake it ‘til you make it”?
It’s hard to stop faking it because of constant outside forces threatening to expose your lies.
Constant acting makes you physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted.
There’s no incentive to improve the Real you. So, you stay weak inside, which makes it hard to stop faking it (see #1).
I was tired of acting.
So, I wondered, “did anyone else feel this way?” In fact, I did find others online who felt the same way. They reassured me and others that this is “normal.” This is just part of what some call “impostor syndrome,” and “everyone” supposedly feels this all the time.
Are you kidding me? Am I supposed to just play pretend forever?
I couldn’t stand it. It sucked.
I was miserable and had no confidence.
“There HAS to be a better way,” I thought.
And through some life experiences, I found one.
I’ll share with you the secret to a happier life in the next edition. See you then.
I hope you enjoyed this dive Below the Surface of “fake it until you make it.” Reply to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or comments. I’d love the hear from you.
Thank you for reading. Stop faking it. And I’ll see you in the next one.