Why “Faking it Until You Make It” May Not Be Enough

Several years ago, I met a woman who had quit her job, read a stack of self-help books, hung up a shingle as a motivational speaker and advocate for women’s leadership, and began making the rounds in the speaking circuit.  Charismatic and energetic, she spoke about the need for women to be heard and lead. She positioned herself as an “expert” and began to host events for women leaders.  As people had more and more exposure to her, the attendance grew less and less.  The events relied more on her energy and enthusiasm more than they did on actual substance and content.  Attendees grew wary and word spread quickly.  The verdict:  she lacked credibility.

In my line of work, I encounter people (and interestingly, they are predominantly women) who are thinking about embarking on a new career after experiencing “burn-out” in the corporate world or in a job they just aren’t happy in.  They dream of not having a commute and doing their “own thing”.  Many have already quit their jobs without having a clear picture of what they are going to do next, but with a vision of personal freedom and maximum impact in the world.  Often after a few months of reading self-help books and taking yoga classes, they claim they are ready to start something new.

“I want to help people”, is a mantra many recite, along with, “I want to inspire and motivate people”.

“I want to share my own story and teach and coach people to live the life they dream of”, I often hear described as their aspirations.

I am all for self-empowerment and the removal of self-limiting beliefs and obstacles.  In fact, I help my clients break through self-imposed barriers and create new realities or come from a place of intention and choice instead of victimization and blame.  But even with all the inspiration and self-empowering questions and talk, I also am sure to provide a reality check.

Yes, you can be what you want to be.

Yes, you can create a new reality.

You can do something different.

But whatever that different thing is – you must spend the time to learn and practice it.

To be credible in what you are embarking on.  To be —competent.

We spend so much time talking about developing confidence.  We hear the advice to “just do it” and “fake it until you make it”.    But those phrases seem to have been taken way out of context and to another extreme.  They serve as substitutes for deeper substance and competence.  The result is often long on confidence and bravado, but short on competence and depth.  Credibility doesn’t just come from confidence or passion alone.

There are many elements that make up credibility, such as honesty, trustworthiness, etc.  With some of those table stakes qualities as givens, there are fundamental areas that are necessary to be seen as credible in an area.

I am reminded of the three C’s of credibility from a great book on leadership credibility, “Credibility”, by Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner, written in 2003.  They are:

  1. Credo: Having a point of view—knowing what you are advocating, stand for, and/or are passionate about.
  2. Competence: Having the necessary expertise, knowledge, skills, and abilities to do something
  3. Confidence: Having the self-assurance about one’s own abilities to do something

While is important to have the credo or passionate view-point/cause aspect and to demonstrate confidence in whatever you are doing, it is imperative that you don’t neglect the competence factor in your new endeavor.

To build competence, ask yourself what fundamental knowledge, expertise, certifications, etc. are necessary in your new field of endeavor?  (You don’t need to overdo it, as some become paralyzed with believing they never have enough knowledge or competence.)  But merely ignoring or brushing over this fundamental aspect will greatly impact your ultimate credibility.

“Faking it until you make it” may very well apply to confidence, as you can fake confidence until you become more self-assured.  But faking competence and ignoring building it will wreak havoc on your ultimate credibility over time.

By all means—do the new thing you want to do.  Be passionate and confident.

But also focus on building your competence in the area that you choose.