The problem with the “fake it til you make it” approach.

Fake it til you make it!

Sometimes it works and sometimes…not so much.

How many times have you heard that great piece of strategic advice?  I am sure I have heard it over a hundred times in my lifetime but to be honest, it didn’t resonate with me until it came from Sir Richard Branson (founder of the Virgin Group, which controls more than 400 companies). Fact is anytime a “Sir” says something, people tend to listen with a little more interest and I did! It’s only a 13 second video but here it is…

So, first and foremost, far be it for me to disagree with a guy who has enjoyed the success Sir Richard has enjoyed. In fact, I do agree with him. Faking it til you make it makes sense when you are in an “attack the learning curve” frame of mind. If you are entering an on-ramp and exiting at the next off ramp then all is good. The challenge of faking til you make it lies in the fact that we are all creatures of habit and we all have a knack of making the art of faking it a habit.

Settling for something that is mediocre is normal human nature. We see something we want, understand it takes a lot of effort and time to get it and then decide to settle for something else that is not exactly the level of the other thing, but it will do. We have all experienced it. We are creatures of habit and the more comfortable the habit the harder it is to break. The multi-million dollar self help industry is born from this reality. That is the trap.

We beat ourselves up because we are not the next Roger Federer, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk or Ellen DeGeneres. Sure they are all successful but its not like the clouds opened up when they were born and some higher power declared them destined for greatness. At one time they woke up believing that on that day they would change their world. We all do the same. We wake up poised to change the world and then by 9 am we have run out of gas, and opted to reverse our energy and put off to tomorrow what we could have done today.

I love the conversation between Susan Sarandon and Kevin Costner in the movie “Bull Durham”.  Sarandon plays Annie Savoy and Costner plays Crash Davis.

Annie: you see in a former lifetime I’m sure I was Alexandria, the Czarette of Russia. What do you think?

Crash: How come in former lifetimes everybody was someone famous? How come nobody ever says they were Joe Shmo?

Nobody wants to be Joe or Jill Shmo but the majority of us are because we become competent fakers. We are indeed special but if becoming a star or maintaining your stardom requires an effort, the sheen from our star often fades.

The reality is we will endure more failed missions than successful ones. Life is inconvenient. How we managed that inconvenience will determine our success. What we do when it’s time to fight or take flight determines whether we are special. In that critical moment when we find ourselves in the fake it til we make it mode, we take off like a sprinter and soon slow down to sloth speed. We rationalize and negotiate with ourselves. No matter the outcome, you are guaranteed to win that negotiation. If you choose to battle then you will battle. If you choose to procrastinate then you will indeed procrastinate. You are guaranteed a victory when you negotiate with yourself.It may not be the best case scenario but it is a victory nonetheless.

Like an athlete building muscle memory, when we consistently opt for the  “fake it til ya make it” approach you will soon get used to faking it! Before you know it…the faking becomes your reality. Your original destination was the express lane but some how you got stuck in the collector lane.

I am often struck by the galleries that follow professional golfers. As great as the golfers are I often wonder how many in the gallery are wondering if they could have been the one inside the ropes competing rather than on the outside cheering, if they had just focused on attacking the learning curve when they took up the game of golf. Did they opt to “fake it” and then got comfortable faking it to the point that it became the comfortable threshold of their learning experience? They learned enough to survive on the course but chose not to develop an expertise that would have allowed them to strive on the course? Is the margin for error that slim? They could have been the man but now they are shouting, “You the man!” from the periphery. Now, not everyone of them can hit a ball 350 yards or park an approach shot like a valet parking a Ferrari in New York City but isn’t the victory found in the act of trying?







I played professional football. Now, before the trumpets resound and the crowds cheers, it was the Canadian Football League and I made $33,000 before taxes my rookie year. this after being drafted 9th overall! In college I was able to fake it. I had no idea what defense the opponent played. I had no idea about their tendencies or what they were trying to accomplish. I was getting away with being the better athlete.

That changed when I I was drafted by Saskatchewan. When my name was called, I walked up on stage to meet Bill Baker. He was the teams GM and as a former player he was given the nickname of “the Undertaker”.  As we shook hands he said, “Welcome to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, you are now a free safety!”. WTF! WTF! I am a free safety. I just played 3 years of college football and without wanting to brag, I had built a pretty good resume. I was a 2x All-Canadian, conference all start, conference MVP, conference Rookie of the Year etc. I was a pretty good receiver! Yet, they drafted Jeff Fairholm (U. of Arizona) 2nd overall. So, I am now a free safety. I could have faked it in training camp and returned to school but I was done with university life and quite frankly, I  think the university may have been done with me as well!

I wanted to play pro football so badly that faking it was not an option. I had to go into attack mode! By avoiding the trap of faking it I was able to learn and in turn compete at a smarter and faster level. Eventually, I was traded to the Ottawa Rough Riders and shifted back to receiver. Talk about looking at the game from a completely different perspective. Everything made sense. I understood the chess game within the game.

When I left football I had no idea what I wanted to do but you would have thought I would have learned some life lessons along the way!

I signed up for a computer programming course at the local technical college. The world of I.T. where I lived was considered Silicone Valley North and there were tons of opportunities available. I spent a year and $17k to learn that I hated computer programming. The suit didn’t fit. I faked it and did not make it! Ironically, I went back to football and when I did I immediately realized that it didn’t fit me anymore as well.  Rather than tap out, I faked it for a year, made some money and re-calibrated my exit strategy.

So, faking it is an option but it only way bears value when it is a transitory step in your strategy.

Faking it until you make it only works if you are intent on getting out of the faking it lane as fast as you can. It works only if it is a layover between where you were and your next destination. No one wants to spend time at Newark International Airport, Kennedy or LaGuardia! They are hubs that lead to greater adventures.

So, how do we avoid the fake it til you make it trap?

What does it mean to you? We are all going to spend our time doing something. We look with envy at those around us who seem to be doing what they actually want to do. Who knows if they actually are? They may be full of crap, living the pretend Facebook perfect life. Who knows? I do know that if what you choose to do means something to you, you are more apt to go the extra mile. The art of developing your expertise and the energy that surrounds that effort transcends any need to fake it. The will to dig in is genuine. If you are invested you are a sponge. If you are a fence sitter you are a stone.

Game plan. Have a clear and concise exit strategy. Have a game plan that features hard and fast deadlines that will force you to get to the next level. Put some pressure on yourself to compete. Don’t get comfortable. Set incremental goals and don’t waver from them. If you are close to satisfying them then great. You have the option to give yourself some extra time. If you are nowhere near the neighborhood of satisfying the goals then you may want to ask yourself the “is this really for me?” question.

Be realistic. Set goals that you can reach. Expertise does not come in one fell swoop, its incremental and modular in nature. I remember back in grade 3 when I convinced my parents to buy me a geometry set. I vowed I would use every item in the case. I would use both of the set squares, I would protract with the 180° protractor, I would rule the class with the 15 cm ruler, I would never get lost thanks to the metal compass, and so on with the 9 cm pencil, pencil sharpener, eraser and the 10 mm stencil. As expected, I did not use all of them…in fact I barely used any of them.

Find another fake it til you make it adventure: If the suit doesn’t fit then don’t wear the suit. Find something that fits or comes close to fitting. There is nothing wrong with moving from one challenge that may not fit you to another that may fit you. Life offers very few absolutes. Finding what is worth your time is an imperfect science.

Faking it until you make it should be a very uncomfortable comfort zone experience. At the end of the day, the goal is to create your own right time and right place.


Ken Evraire is an award-winning leadership coach and team builder, a talent specialist with Cistel Technology in Ottawa, Canada and is a former professional athlete. 

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