Should you fake it till you make it?

Tuesday 01 October 2019
We’ve all heard it, whether parodied or handed down as actual advice – but is ‘fake it till you make it’ a slogan to live by?
theatre stage and curtains

“Fake it till you make it” is a phrase that has been thrown around since the 1970s. It urges us to pretend to be confident, competent and successful until we become all of those things in real life – but in 2016, this advice went viral.

This was thanks to social psychologist Amy Cuddy and her TED talk on the subject. Her talk on the nuances of body language didn’t just touch a nerve in the management sector – it provoked a sensation among humble employees hoping to get ahead.

Power poses

Cuddy recommended a simple life hack, which she described as ‘faking it until you become it.’ Research shows that adopting ‘power poses’ before having to perform in stressful situations leads to successful performance. Her advice has now been viewed almost 17 million times and the idea has caught on.

“Change your posture for two minutes,” Cuddy advised, recommending adopting the ‘Wonder Woman’ pose (putting your hands on your hips and stretching your legs wide) – or a ‘Tall and Proud’ stance (which involves spreading out your arms like Usain Bolt does when he wins a race). “It could significantly change the way your life unfolds.”

Though, a question arises from this advice: should you have to pretend to be different to how you really are underneath in order to get ahead at work? Is it necessarily better to seem outspoken, incredibly confident and sure of yourself – or is there too much emphasis placed on hiring those who appear to be all those things at the expense of employees who might be able to bring a great deal to the workplace in a quieter, more introverted way? Do we prioritise extrovert personality types over more reticent and contemplative characters? And, crucially, do we need to hide our fragilities or mental health struggles in order to get ahead at work?

Using your voice

Author Susan Cain has also given a very successful TED talk on the power of introverts. She argues that corporate culture rewards extroverts and this is counterproductive because the loudest person in the room isn’t necessarily the one with the best ideas. She points to the global economic crisis and the behaviour of the big banks as exhibiting the most egregious side of ‘faking it’.

In her book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking she describes how – in certain situations – introverts can feel compelled to act out of character in order to succeed, based in part on that ‘fake it ’til you make it’ mantra. Her advice is not to expend too much emotional labour pretending to be a person you’re not in an environment that doesn’t suit you. However, in a personal Facebook post, she asks, “Should you ‘fake it til you make it?” and answers herself: “I generally think so, but beware of the hidden costs of faking happiness and other emotions.”

Getting there and staying there

The message seems to be: fake it in order to make it – ‘it’ being getting that promotion, acing that presentation and negotiating that pay rise – but when you’ve achieved those short-term aims, don’t lose your sense of self by faking how you feel underneath. Those with more sensitive natures can bring tangible benefits to the workplace too.

Looking for ways to boost your confidence at work? We’ve got advice on how to manage outside of your comfort zone or use our tips on building your confidence by logging into the Career Development Centre.

Image: Unsplash