Thursday, January 31, 2013

Fake it 'Til You Make It...A Habit?

How many times have we heard this mantra? "Fake it," someone will knowingly smile at you as you struggle with a new challenge, "'til you make it!" This is an especially apt catchphrase in education - a field in which the smallest sign of weakness comes across as an invitation to be trampled. If you're standing in front of a room full of students and realize that you didn't make the copies for the day, you throw that bad boy on the SMART board and tell them you're saving paper.

In some scenarios, faking it is absolutely necessary to save face and establish respect early in an unfamiliar situation. My question is this: why are we not encouraged to actually try to put the leg work into building up the knowledge base and skills necessary to actually - oh, I don't know - make it?

There is, in my opinion, a VERY big difference between having to "fake" your confidence here and there and faking your understanding of your job or your knowledge of a situation or topic.

Let's look at a very recent and very public example of someone who was caught faking it. As someone who has to sing in public at times, I get why Beyonce lip synced at the inauguration. It was cold. It was unrehearsed. It was lots of things that made that job super difficult. Am I mad that she gets paid a bajillion dollars to lip synch while I get a pittance for spending 60 or so hours working each work? YES, but I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm mad at society's misplaced value system instead of Beyonce herself.

American culture is one that values bravado and charisma - arguably more than it values most any other human qualities. As an introvert, I'm lucky that my natural skill set includes the ability to use words effectively because I otherwise might not be nearly as sociable as I sometimes manage to be (let's not talk about mornings, okay?) in my daily interactions. We like to pretend that we value intelligence, hard work, and natural ability, but these things mean little if we don't have the ability to be interesting for long enough to  transmit the signs of these qualities to those we're trying to impress.

Call me a humanities major, but I'm of the opinion that everything and everyone is a product of social construction. I am short because I am not as tall as other people/my feet do not touch the ground in standard-sized chairs/I can't reach anything on the grocery store shelves designed for regular-sized people. I am nerdy because my interests align with a particular group of interests relegated to those deemed "nerds" (I am okay with this) and vary from those of other social groups. I guess if we're trying to be specific, I think all meaning is a social construction of semiotic* meaning.

*I promise that's as difficult as this will get - I just know a lot of English majors read this, so I'm not trying to hear them tell me I oversimplified (though I super did).

Since I believe that my identity is pretty much dependent upon everyone else's identity, I totally get it. Sometimes you've gotta fake that charisma and bravado. I really can sympathize.

What I've been wondering lately, however, is at what point we settle into the comfortable pattern of faking it. How often do put off professional development opportunities or self improvement because we're comfortable with faking it? If others think we're succeeding, aren't we really?

Here's the problem: you might be faking it with everyone else, but the one person you're definitely not fooling is yourself.

Let's bring this a little more uncomfortably close to home:
How often to do pretend we are interested in what someone is telling us about the cute thing his cat just did?
How often do we fake excitement about a plan or project?
How often do we allow ourselves to stay in emotionally unfulfilling relationships because they're comfortable?

Some amount of social "faking" is necessary. I mean, I usually DO love cat stories, so I'm not trying to ruin a friendship by being rude just because I'm not in a good mood that day. Some people might tell you this is not exactly true - when I'm in a bad mood, EVERYONE knows it. Sorry, kids.

What is not okay is when you start to find comfort in faking it.
When you start to stagnate in faking it.
When you stop trying to find yourself because you're faking it.

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