“In my humble opinion – ‘faking’ or ‘acting’ the part in your job is a short-term career hack at best and long-term imitation at worst. I know we don’t love admitting to our skill gaps, but a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing can only fool you for so long.”
I was about 19 in my first sales and service-related job when I was taught the self-promoting mantra ‘fake it til you make it’. I was young, enthusiastic and had a passion for working with people. It was my first ‘real’ job and it required persuasive selling techniques. I was excited and I wanted to learn everything at once! But, I was not exactly exuding confidence, so I was encouraged by my manager to ‘fake it’.
Did I find it helpful? The answer is YES! Although I was not a big fan of the phrase initially, and didn’t like the concept of ‘faking’, I learnt to appreciate the idea of ‘acting’ the part whilst developing the skills. Acting the part was only ever going to be a short-term strategy until I gained confidence in my abilities. It was also a time of learning to sit with self-doubt, uncertainty and accept insecurity. It was not comfortable, but ‘acting’ or ‘faking’ it felt like a survival mechanism and as far as I was concerned, I had to survive in order to thrive in the world of work!
You may also be familiar with the phrase – ‘face it til you make it’. To me this is a more positive and virtuous approach to professional development, as we move away from ‘faking’ and more towards the behaviours that promote responsibility – like showing up, facing the challenge, and taking action to learn what we need to learn to succeed in our role. Essentially, whether you like the idea of ‘faking’ for a short time or ‘facing’ up to your career challenges, you should be continuously growing, not hiding or sweeping knowledge gaps under the carpet.
So why is continuous growth and professional development a great way to boost your career? Well as I have suggested, it is one way you can transition from acting a part to the real thing! When we are doing honest self-assessment and making continuous progress by working on our strengths AND our skill gaps simultaneously, we stand out from those who are not. We become agile and always one-step ahead; we also remain current and relevant and this can lead to greater career opportunities.
4 Ways to stop faking and boost your career
1. Give it a go and model someone you know
When I have been thriving, it’s because I was diving into opportunities. Firstly I was willing to give things a go even when I felt fear and secondly because I chose highly successful and authentic people to model my behaviour on (If you cannot find a role model in your place of work, look outside it). I have found one of the best ways to step up and grow my career is to find someone who represents a version of the person or the qualities I hoped to possess in the future. This way you have a focus, we don’t know what we don’t know, there is nothing worse than trying to ‘make it’ with no real idea of what making it looks or feels like.
2. Align and define your professional ethics
I learnt quite quickly that there are professional limits (what you will and will not accept) these limits are defined by sturdy ethics and professional attitudes. Your Ethics are non-negotiable beliefs or values that you hold yourself accountable to. It is extremely beneficial to align with your professional ethics – as they become your standards. They can guide your choices in the toughest of times and provide comfort in times of doubt. This way you can follow your standards rather than fitting someone else’s.
3. Do it for you
Keep it one hundred with yourself, validate and recognise yourself for your wins as much as possible such as noting all your projects, strengths and achievements somewhere for future reference. This is a way to turn inward and become intrinsically motivated. It is great to think critically and constructively about your areas of development but unrealistic expectations can have the opposite effect and actually demotivate you. Similarly avoid building a career on proving your worth to others. Take on feedback yes! But Show up for you, aim for working towards your expectation not just trying to fit other people’s expectations or perceptions of you.
4. Keep an open mind
This requires openness to feedback and continued learning. It is seeing your gaps from someone else’s perspective and being willing to work on them not only for your job but also for yourself as a professional who wants to take strides in their career. Openness can lead to rapid growth and helps us to manage change and information overload in the workplace.
If you continue to fake your way through your career without developing the actual skills, you are risking being left behind in the world of work where attributes such as growth mindset, flexibility, agility and adaptability are the most valued assets a person can possess.