The concept “fake it until you make it” has always bothered me. The idea of pretending to be someone you’re not, to know something you don’t know, to dress in a way that is not reflective of you. I’m not talking about ignoring social mores and dressing sloppily for someone’s wedding rather than appropriately. I’m talking about day in day out lack of authenticity. It’s no ones fault, we all do it. It’s a prescription we’re tacitly given. Faking it as a means for getting what you want from the world and to supposedly help things run more smoothly is the idea. But does it really get us what we want? Are things really running smoothly when our insides are denied? I pose this question on the individual level but also as a nation.
Can you imagine asking a little child to “fake it”? No. It sounds ridiculous. We just guide children and expect them to do the best they can and to be themselves while trying. We would never tell a child, “Don’t share with that person how you are, just say fine or great.” Yet as adults that is exactly what we have trained ourselves to do. Never let them see you sweat. Remember that slogan? Don’t let them know that you’re worried, or that you don’t understand, or that you goofed, always try to appear smooth and unruffled. I see people do this every day. And of course I do it too. But while we’re doing that something much more insidious is going on beneath the surface. We are denying our real lives and perpetuating a feeling of separateness. We give the other person who has worries, fears, goof ups, and some awkwardness just like us, all the more reason to feel alone. After all we are “fine” what’s wrong with them.
The Secret We All Share
The problem is that faking it is so pervasive that we find it difficult to share our true face and we find it startling when someone does. As Elizabeth Lesser talks about in her amazing book Broken Open we move through the world with this “open secret” that keeps us feeling separate and alone. The secret is of course that we are all just bumbling along with our own foibles, awkwardness, self-doubt, and petty aggravations and we think that someone else has it so together. If only we could look like the people in the magazine who appear to have it all figured out. But the fact is, no matter how accomplished someone is, we all carry this open secret within us. So as a society we continue feeling separate and alone hoping that no one will notice our true selves beneath the pretense.
This philosophy and its subsequent behavior sends the message to society as a whole that if you have not achieved or become what you wish for that there is some level of shame in that. God forbid you admit that you don’t know something or that you really can’t afford those $300 sunglasses.
What about the radical notion that it’s OK to be where you are, to accept that you are not perfect, and that there is still growing to do. Life is a work in progress. The point is not to stagnate but we don’t need to pretend to have arrived already.
What do you think? Do you allow yourself to reveal your unruffled self? Do you feel a sense of separateness when you talk with someone whose wall is up high? Do you think faking it hurts us?
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