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Yes, You Can Fake It – But Eventually You Have to Make It

Karl Palachuk

Karl W. Palachuk
May 24, 2020

Fake It Make It

I know you’ve heard the phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it.” There are many examples of where this applies.

Most commonly, we give this advice when someone has stepped into a new role but is experiencing self-doubt about their ability to be successful. This is very similar to the so-called “Imposter Syndrome.” With imposter syndrome, you are qualified, but you don’t feel qualified.

Most commonly, people who feel they need to fake it are qualified – just not experienced. For example, you may have finished finished your education degree and now you are starting your full-time job as a teacher.

I remember taking our daughter home from the hospital when she was born. We just walked out, got in the car, and left. My wife and I looked at each other a bit confused. We didn’t have to sign anything. We didn’t have to pledge to take care of here. We had NO idea how to be parent. But they just let us drive away with this new human being to care for.

Another common example is when you take on a new role and you’re not sure whether you’re capable or not. I think this is far more common. After all, we all start out with zero ability. When we’re born, we can’t talk, we can’t walk, and we certainly can’t run a company with 100 employees!

Somewhere along the way, we learn skills, we gain knowledge, and we take on bigger and bigger challenges. Eventually, we become good at many things. If we’re lucky, we become excellent at a few of them.

Here’s the thing you have to remember about knowledge and skill (two different traits): We all start out BAD at everything!

Before you were good at driving, you were bad at driving. Before someone was good at painting, she was bad at painting. Before someone was good at leadership, he was bad at leadership.

Think about your favorite hobby or sport. Do you remember the first time you tried it? You sucked, right? Of course!

You probably don’t remember the first time you tried to hold a crayon or a pencil, or the first time you tried to ride a bike. Whatever you do to make a living, there was a first time you did each and every task that now makes you successful.

You have to try new things. That is literally where growth takes place.

But sometimes we are called on to try new things that are way outside our comfort zone. That’s where the advice comes in: Fake it ’til you make it. But I would add this one important caveat: Put a hard time limit on faking it.

If you read a lot of motivational material, you might never come across this truth: Sometimes you just never get good.

If you’re doing something for fun and it sucks, then there’s no harm done. But if you’re doing something so you can earn money and make a living, and you suck, then you need to stop.

Like it or not, the world does not owe you a living. So if you are the worst carpenter (actor, musician, teacher, etc.) in town, you need to go find something else to do. Continuing down the wrong road is not good for you or anyone else.

I mostly make my living writing, speaking, and training people. Those are all things I either didn’t do or didn’t do well in the past. Over time, I have tried making money in many other ways. Either I never got good at some things, or I never figured out how to make money doing them. So I quit.

I know you’ve heard the advice: Do something you love and you’ll never work another day in your life. Well, that’s only true if

  1. You’re good at it
  2. Someone’s willing to pay for it.

If you love gardening, you suck at it, and no one is willing to pay you for it, then you will work hard the rest of your life and never make a living. I know it seems hard to believe, but there are many people who spend years doing something un-successfully and never learn that it’s time to stop.

Remember, there are four important variables in this equation.

  • Things you do
  • Things you do well
  • Things people will pay you to do
  • Things you enjoy

The real intent of the advice to “do what you love” is that you should find something that you love and that people are willing to pay for. Just remember, that last part is not a given.

Bottom Line: It’s good to keep trying new things. Don’t worry that you don’t do them well. You always start out not knowing how. Eventually, you will learn how. And you might even get to be very good.

I’m okay with “Fake it ’til you make it” – as long as you make it eventually. If it becomes clear that you’re never going to make it, please stop.


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