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4 alternatives to fake it til you make it

I don’t know about you, but I hate the phrase, fake it til you make it.

Something about it seems so, well… fake.

The thinking with fake it til you make it is that even if you don’t know what the heck you are talking about or doing, you can act as if you do and that cover of fake confidence will eventually lead you to actually become confident because you will have developed determination and fearlessness as a result. Supposedly, fake confidence breads success which in turn creates real confidence and more success and round and round we go.

Don’t get me wrong… I 100% see the value of being confident in cases where you are not. Everyone is ‘faking it’ to some extent and it is an absolutely necessary trait to have at times.

But, it is only a placebo. And like most placebos, it doesn’t last long – despite how long you’d like it to.

Here lies the potential problem with this mindset. If you’re not careful, you can end up keeping on this mask of confidence in place of actually taking actions to develop your skills and experience.

I have learned a ton over the past 3 years in my sales role at a Chicago startup. Heck, I have closed countless deals where I didn’t know something for sure at the moment, but delivered what I did know with enough confidence that it sealed the deal. In these instances I leaned on what I knew and projected enough confidence in it that it overshadowed any lack of confidence in other areas. But it wasn’t always that way.

I learned the hard way that relying on fake it til you make it will catch up with you. That I guarantee you.

The meaning of fake it til you make it? It is fleeting.

The problem I have found with the fake it til you make it ideology is that it encourages you to only project confidence – it doesn’t really encourage you to continue to develop the skills, knowledge and know-how that you already have. You hide the real-you in place of confident you and as a result, you begin to hinder further development of your true self and the qualities you have already begun to develop.

The end result? You begin to lose site of your true abilities, your craft, your goals.

Here’s how I think of it.

If I’m spending my time and energy on faking something short term, I’m diverting time and energy away from long term growth.

I have seen this play out on many occasions. Ever heard the phrase promoted beyond his/her ability? It’s the same line of thinking.

If you devote your energy to faking something and begin to see results, you’ll probably stray further from your true self, ability and execution. Eventually, this will catch up to you…

Take my own experience with PRSUIT.com, for example. I have always had big aspirations for this publication and initially (as many do), I stuck to the routine of selling the vision. Selling the scale of the publication. Selling the way it was turning into a seven figure media empire. Yada yada yada.

While all this selling and what you might call ‘faking it’ resulted in some great press and acknowledgement from places like CBS, Chicago Tribune etc,. it was not progressing the publication. I was diverting my attention and energy away from doing the actual things I needed to do like developing contributors, social media presence, driving traffic etc.

In the end, it only resulted in fake confidence and as a result, fleeting success that did not actually develop my skills or the long term progress the publication.

So, what’s the solution then?!

Stop faking the things you don’t know and instead focus on showcasing the things you do.

Here are 4 things to do instead of the classic fake it ’til you make it strategy.

fake it til you make it - man in woods

1. Be honest. Be humble.

In my opinion, there is one true way to act confident in a situation where you know nothing.

Be honest. Be brutally honest. Be confident in your honesty and be confident in your lack of familiarity!

This is truly the anti-fake it til you make it and is a trait I look for in anyone I meet or do business with. Are they willing to own their lack of confidence?

Instead of trying to feign confidence or know-how in an area you are anything but confident in, being humble in your lack of familiarity is a genuine trait that goes extremely far in my opinion.

The best way to handle these situations is to be humble in your lack of knowledge but confident in the way you present it. To me, that is far more beneficial and effective than feigning confidence.

For example, you’re in a meeting with a new advertising technology startup and they begin to talk about new programmatic bidding algorithms, yada yada yada. You have no idea what that is or the slightest clue as to what it means.

So, instead of nodding your head or spouting off some remarks about how these new algorithms are great and advanced, the better play would be to be honest!

I don’t have the slightest idea about what those programmatic bidding algorithms and I’d love for you to explain it like I was five. 

Embrace it! When delivered in this way, it leads to genuine conversation and allows you to transition to point #2 which will further allow for you to emit confidence while not faking anything.

2. Ask questions

Ask questions instead of faking it. No one can ever fault someone for asking good, confidently voiced questions.

Use whatever limited knowledge you have and ask leading questions. Even if you know absolutely nothing about the topic or interaction at hand, you can always ask confident sounding questions.

Here’s how the rest of the above conversation might go.

When did these algorithms begin to be developed?

What kind of companies use them?

What advantage do they provide?

Where do you see them going?

How many types are there?

What has been your experience in leveraging them?

Check your ego at the door. You can’t talk confidently about something you know nothing about. So instead, let your curiosity take over and fire questions away. Fire away as confidently as you can and this will overshadow your actual lack of familiarity with the topic. And best of all? Getting answers to these questions will give you knowledge and allow you to actually develop yourself… how crazy is that?!

3. Show passion and enthusiasm

Similar to the honesty principle in point #1, embrace the fact that it is entirely normal and expected that you don’t know everything. Don’t feel self-conscious about it.

Think about the underlying reason behind why you might want to fake it til you make it. Likely, you are trying to engineer someone else’s perception of you, your skills or your experience. You don’t want to be underestimated or looked down upon.

Knowing something or acting on something isn’t the only way to imbue confidence in yourself.

You can still create a confident character by exuding  passion, enthusiasm and connection.

The way you deliver your words and carry yourself, in my opinion, can have all the effect you need to project competence. With all of the above, portray passion and enthusiasm in the way you interact.

The best way to do this is to realize that you have so much left to learn. By doing so, you will naturally follow your curiosity instincts and if you can do so passionately, it will replace any lack of confidence you might have had initially and replace it with a burning desire to learn.

4. Stop overthinking

One of the reasons I have found that people tend to revert to fake it til you make it mode is because they are trying too hard and are overthinking. It is sometimes a knee-jerk reaction to over-analyzing the stakes at hand.

I need this to happen!

Everything is on the line!

If I don’t close this deal, then ____ will happen.

If this client doesn’t like me, I’ll never get another client again.

Instead of allowing this sense of “endgaming” to overpower you, take a minute and contextualize this moment within your larger goal set and long term journey. Doing so allows you to stay present and embrace the tactics above rather than jumping into fake it mode to secure a fleeting good impression.


I’d love to know more about the steps you take in life to become more confident as alternatives to fake it til you make it. Email me: case@prsuit.com.

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No fluff or "pie in the sky inspiration." Just real stories.

Written by Case Kenny

Case is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PRSUIT.com; Reach him at case@prsuit.com

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