Authenticity: Is It Okay to Fake It ‘Til You Make It?

By Kristen Harris

We’ve all heard the advice, “fake it until you make it.” But isn’t that a little false? Or pretentious? Maybe even outright lying?

While this advice might sound a lot like “don’t be yourself” or “act like someone you’re not,” Amy Cuddy has fascinating research about how changing your body language can actually change your brain. Not only is faking it a good idea, it can actually help you become who you want to be.

We all have different personas. I’m a business owner, an artist, a wife, a pet lover, a reader, a yogi, and many more things. Each of these personas are authentically me, but a different version or portion of me needs to show up in each situation. There is balance required in how we show our different personas, how carefully curated they are, and how hard we work to protect our private sense of self.

This idea of different personas really comes into play when we’re in a new role, whether it’s in the workplace or a personal situation. If it’s a role you want, it’s important to step up and own it. First impressions matter and are formed quickly. In new and unfamiliar situations “faking it” is often necessary because we’re not yet the person we will become in that role.

Some people are chameleons and adapt easily. They quickly assimilate into new situations, easily picking up cues from others. If this sounds familiar, lucky you! One caution–be careful to not radically change with every situation to the point that you come across as disingenuous. People still want to know who you are at the core, what you truly believe in and value.

Many people believe in being their “true self” no matter the situation: What you see is what you get. They put it all out there, basically telling the world “love me or hate me, this is who I am.” While this may seem admirable, it’s actually limiting. We all grow and evolve as people throughout our lives.

While “who you are” may never change, how you behave should. It’s important to learn how to evolve your style for each situation. There is a balance between being yourself and being who others need you to be. In certain situations, you need to be strong (calm, in charge, confident, a leader, an expert…fill in the blank). Assess the situation, figure out what is needed from you, and be willing to enter the danger. Step into that role, even if it feels awkward, scary, or uncomfortable. Fake it for as long as needed, either until the situation changes or you actually become that person.

Figuring out how to “fake it” in a way that still feels authentic requires experimentation. Try on a few different versions of yourself, while remaining confident that they are all still the “real you”.

Three ways to find what works for you:

  1. Observe Others. What works for them (or doesn’t work)? Observe a variety of diverse role models. Emulate different people you admire until you find pieces that work for you. For example, at a networking event go with someone who seems confident in that situation. Observe what they do, then try it for yourself.

  2. Keep Learning. Take time to assess what behaviors are working for you. Also look at what is what is not working, and find ways to improve. Set goals for learning and interaction in various situations. These can be more informative than goals solely based on performance or execution. For example, go into the networking event with a couple of goals for how you’ll interact. Afterwards, reflect on what worked and what didn’t.

  3. Evolve Your Story. We all have personal histories and defining moments that impact us. Try on new stories about yourself. Acknowledge your history, but also be willing to let it go and open yourself to a new narrative that matches who you are today. Let go of self-limiting beliefs about yourself and others. Believe your personal story, while embracing how it changes over time. Final example, before the networking event think about your 30-second “elevator speech;” what’s the best story to share who you are, tailored to this audience?

The word “fake” can be such a negative, but the reality is that we are all interesting, varied, multi-layered individuals. The “real you” is made up of many different personas, and you get to choose which one you bring forth in any situation. Experiment to see what fits today, and let it keep evolving.