In working life it’s incredibly common to face situations where we are unsure of ourselves, lacking the confidence or security to project our best selves to our colleagues. Whether we’re starting a new role, coming back to work after a big promotion, or interviewing for another job, the spectre of imposter syndrome often lurks in the background telling us that we aren’t good enough.
‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ is a phrase that has been heard countless times, from self-help manuals to motivational speeches. The idea itself is simple: create a persona which is confident, or successful, or whatever it is you’re trying to project, and put on that mask to hide your inner worries. Do this enough, so the wisdom goes, and eventually the mask will become indistinguishable from your real self.
Yet as easy as it sounds this method isn’t always quite as successful in the real world. After all, when we ‘fake’ something we’re doing just that – suppressing the truth. Anyone who has ever tried to conceal their true feelings in an awkward situation will recognise this instantly. Why is it when we know we aren’t supposed to giggle that the joke seems so much funnier? The conscious effort of suppressing our true feelings is so great that we are very rarely successful at it; body language, tone of voice, and other mannerisms all conspire to give us away.
Instead of ‘faking’ try replacing this concept with the notion of ‘acting’ – acting intentionally and acting ‘as if’. What makes a great performance isn’t the ability of an actor to lie to the audience or to pretend that they really are the role they are playing. Rather, they attempt to find the truth within a role and bring it to the fore, tapping into an emotional reality that they know and understand in themselves.
Unlike the process of faking confidence, summoning an imaginary person to project a feeling we don’t actually feel, acting ‘as if’ we are confident draws on our own emotional history to put us in touch with times when we really did feel successful and self-assured. Close your eyes and think back to a time when you felt that confidence naturally, effortlessly – what were you doing, who were you with? Take time to really feel the sensation in the present moment as it felt at the time.
Tapping into these experiences when we feel unsure or doubtful of our ability allows this inner reality to assert itself. It might not be easy, but by drawing strength from a place of honesty we give those around us the confidence to believe in our performance too. As we overcome more obstacles, we gain new experiences to draw from and, slowly but surely, we go from re-enacting confidence to fully living it – no faking required.