During this past winter break, I had a conversation with a couple friends about the concept of “faking it ‘til you make it,” the idea that one can imitate confidence so that as this faux confidence produces success, success may generate real confidence.
One friend started talking about someone she knew who got into Harvard Business School, not on merit but rather because he was able to put on a Harvard worthy façade, whatever that may entail, and nudge his way in.
As she was telling me this, I was nodding my head vigorously with a big grin on my face, thinking, “Man that’s really impressive,” and when she finished, I excitedly responded “Kudos to him!,” not realizing that she was actually telling me the story in disdain and utterly disapproved of this guy’s methodology. Awkward.
I quickly tried to explain myself. I described how when I was pitching to the investors on ABC’s TV show, “Shark Tank,” I did not necessarily know the specific numbers they had asked me for. Rather than admitting that, I gave “guesstimated” answers.
Call me a fake, but I did so with extreme confidence, because there was no way I was going home without a deal just because I didn’t know a couple numbers. And it worked. I walked out of there with a $50,000 investment.
My friend then got up and walked away with the clear look of disapproval on her face. I later learned that the reason she was so upset by what I said was that it came across as me taking pride in bluffing.
A couple weeks later, I happened to stumble upon an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Authenticity Paradox,” in which the author Herminia Ibarra writes that while authenticity has become a gold standard for success, it can also hinder your growth and limit your impact. Career advances require a person to step out of one’s comfort zone, which can make the person feel unauthentic because their “natural inclination is to latch onto authenticity as an excuse for sticking to what’s comfortable.”
You may be faced with a challenge that you are unsure how to handle, and you can approach it one of two ways. Admit your hesitation, or internalize that hesitation, tackle the challenge head on and fake it until you can navigate with confidence.
The latter takes a lot of courage and can feel artificial at first. However, Ibarra writes, “the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and ultimately become better leaders is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”
It would certainly be much easier for me to stay in my comfort zone and admit it when I feel unsure about something. But, if I did that, how could I ever climb? How could anyone ever climb?
I went into the “Shark Tank” feeling, on the inside, like the terrified 20-year-old woman I was with a couple of prototypes, zero sales to show for and no business plan to prove a single thing.
On the outside, however, I exuded the confidence of the young businesswoman I knew I could become if I had a powerhouse Shark for a partner by my side. The last thing I wanted was to lose that opportunity just because I was not quite where I needed to be yet. So instead I pretended, with unwavering confidence, that I knew exactly what I was doing even though I was shaking inside.
When I think about “faking it ‘til you make it” in terms of how it may play out for others, my fellow senior classmates preparing to enter the professional world alarmingly soon come to mind. I have filled out several job applications within the past few months and sat down for interviews.
I have learned from my experience running a business and negotiating with smart people that first impressions form quickly, and they matter.
Employers know that very few of the recent college graduate job applicants actually possess the skills listed in the job descriptions. Do you really think your major is actually arming you with the particular skill set you need for the job you’re applying to? No. But the difference between someone who gets hired and someone who doesn’t is your attitude.
University of Minnesota psychologist Mark Snyder identified two psychological profiles that identify a leader. The first are “‘high self-monitors’ — or chameleons, who are naturally able and willing to adapt to the demands of a situation without feeling fake. Chameleons care about managing their public image and often mask their vulnerability with bluster.”
The second are “low self-monitors” or “true-to-selfers” who prefer to express exactly how they feel even when it “runs counter to situational demands.”
I don’t take pride in bluffing. But I do take pride in being a chameleon. Which one are you?
Kaeya Majmundar is a College senior from Chicago, Illinois.