Imposter and the Network
Tell a budding entrepreneur to “fake it til you make it” and just before they adopt their power pose, you’ll invariably see the tension in their shoulders drop, their facial muscles relax, and their whole body loosen up as they shed a couple of pounds of anxiety in exchange for your blessing and validation.
With those six little words, they have your permission to pursue whatever it is they are doing, an invitation to play in the ballpark of aspirational startups. With those six little words, you’re helping them to overcome at least some of the insecurity that might come with pathological imposter syndrome.
When things get tough, and they wonder what their next move is, they delve deep into the collective wisdoms of all the veteran entrepreneurs, mentors and other advisors they’ve met, read, followed, liked and watched, and they remember, “fake it til you make it.”
And when they do make it, and tables turn such that they are the advisor, the most conveniently delivered personal advice they can offer other busy new entrepreneurs in the short windows that they have their attention is, you guessed it, “fake it til you make it.”
Unintended consequences of a soundbite
There’s something that doesn’t sit well with me in this picture. Not so much in the generous and supportive way the advice was originally and specifically intended by Amy Cuddy, but in the perhaps unintended consequence of what it lets slide.
Even in the Cuddy sense, faking it isn’t about making it, it’s about becoming it. It’s not simply about feigning or boosting confidence, but about personal development.
For the advice to have any value when practised, it requires an openness to learn and grow, a certain humble sincerity, and a core integrity of character to keep mindful of who you are, what you’re trying to achieve and how, which inevitably will involve how we relate to other people.
When the advice is taken without bearing these in mind, it makes me wonder what it really says about the value placed on both self-respect and the connections we make with people on the journey to becoming.
The entrepreneurial mission becomes an end to pursue regardless of how you get there; and the permission to be fake grants a proxy for genuine self-worth.
What to do instead of faking it
So, instead, to avoid confusion and bad faith, let me tell you that I don’t want you to fake it til you make it.
As much as anything, I don’t want you to take me for a ride. I don’t want us to waste our time building a relationship that turns out to be a house of cards.
How you choose to live is your choice, but if you’re faking it, you should know you have options. I don’t want to be complicit in your own self-deception. I’m not interested in sharing those ill-gotten rewards, or in being subject to its undesirable consequences.
I’ll never ask you to, so don’t fake it til you make it for me. Or with me.
Don’t not fake it for me though.
Be authentic to yourself.
Be honest with yourself.
Be your best self.
Act in such a way as to preserve your integrity. It’s all you have, and it’s how I’ll remember you.
You might feel compelled to fake it because somebody (maybe even yourself) expects you to have all the answers. That’s not usually practical, or desirable. Certainly, become at least competent within your field, but if you don’t know, at least don’t feel like you have to pretend that you do.
Don’t present yourself as if you have nothing more to learn. Don’t give me a reason not to trust you as a person by faking it. Be honest with us both.
When you don’t know, trust your community – your mentors, advisors, customers, colleagues and friends – to help you figure it out.
This is the power of the network, and it is founded on trust.
If you are authentic with yourself, have genuine relationships with others, and behave with integrity towards your community, they will not only trust you, but they will believe in you.
And when the time comes – as it inevitably does – that you don’t believe in yourself or you start doubting yourself, while ever your community believes in you, you can draw from that to rebuild your own self-belief.
This is the superpower of the network, and it is founded on integrity.
In these and other situations the network can be immensely powerful. Your responsibility to this source of your power is to make sure your network doesn’t become imbalanced or stale.
If it does, you run the risk of pawning honest feedback, constructive support, challenge, critique and the growth and learning that comes with those for blind sycophancy, lethargic thinking and self-aggrandising hype.
The echo chamber is the shadow of the network, and your best safeguard against that is diversity.
But that’s something to explore on another day.
6 Feb 17