Fake it until you make it…Not so fast. (Finding real success.)


One of the most common pieces of advice for starting a new business is to, “fake it until you make it.” Again and again, many motivational speakers and business people alike speak of this as a virtue for high achievement. I disagree.

The idea of “faking it until you make it” is that you create a persona that is intriguing and influential. Universally, it is believed that enthusiastic and confident people are effective and trustworthy. It is also understood that most people are not confident in a new venture. So, the advice is to act as if you have already accomplished your goals, for the thinking that got you to where you are now will not get you to where you want to be.

This limited thinking is described as your responsibility. You in your life experience have created it. This does not attract clients or other successful people. You must change this to be successful. To do this, you become an actor. You fake a successful attitude and appearance. When you have done this successfully, people will become interested and enrolled in what you are up to, leading you to real success.

Part of this idea is correct, most people have developed a limited point of view from their past. If a person is typical in their experience, chances are they have not had a tremendous amount success. It is even safe to say that most people have been through a lot of failure. We all have or know of people that have lost jobs, been divorced or have faced foreclosure or bankruptcy. Going through these experiences creates a natural resistance to what is possible.

So, yes, from the “fake it until you make it” philosophy, most people are not enthusiastic and confident about a new venture, and from this disposition are not able to gain the needed influence to be successful.

However, contrary to the philosophy, most people in this position are not able to thrust themselves into a new venture with the autonomy to “fake it” as is suggested. If a person is already disempowered, it is highly likely that trying to fake it will only result in failure, magnify their disempowerment. Throwing oneself in with the wolves will usually result in being devoured. Even if a person did pull off a good show of faking it, most people can sense the lack of authenticity. Their reactions will not be of acceptance, but of resignation or even resistance. The person faking it often then becomes hardened and cynical, having deeper reservations about their future and what is possible.

Equally as bad is when a faking person does “make it” and ends up in a position with a lot of influence in a way that is, well, fake. They look successful but are an empty shell. They play the part because they get some satisfaction from social recognition, but in their heart, the faker is disillusioned and disconnected.

In my coaching, I have worked with many people who, at one point, followed this path. One real estate agent in particular shared her experience with me. She told me that she used to believe in and consistently preached to other agents the need to “fake it until you make it”. She followed her own advice and created an appearance of success to reach what she thought would bring her happiness. Working hard to create this image, she married a mortgage broker who believed in the same value. They put all of their efforts into making success happen with this formula. From those efforts, they did manage to make a lot of money.

However, it was not enough. They felt the emptiness of it and instead of going for real success they continued to play the game to increase their image of success. He bought a brand new Maserati and she a BMW 7 series. They then bought the most expensive house they could mortgage. The pressure to keep up with the image/payments brought both of them to their knees. They began to compromise their integrity even more. She began unethical, as well as illegal, practices in real estate. When the Real Estate Agency investigated, they stripped her of her license and banned her for life. She and her husband both then had to file bankruptcy; they divorced four months later.

This type of thinking is clearly a lie, not just to others, but to oneself, as to what is really valuable and powerful. Your honesty in the world is more important and impactful than anything else. Your emotions are, in many ways, valid. Negative emotions are signals that you need to find more gracious answers for yourself. Finding deep connection and enthusiasm is a far more powerful approach to success. Connection and real enthusiasm happen because of honest affirmations that are based in reality, not faked.
So don’t fake anything. If you are sad, be sad. If you are scared, be scared. If it seems impossible, accept that it very well could be, in your current state. Adding more fear and failure to this ineffective sense-of-self will only magnify its effect on your life.
In addition, if you consistently escape and live in denial, you will not be successful. If you continue to ruminate over a negative past, you will not be successful. If you blame others, you will not be successful. If you pretend to be very capable and put yourself too far out and fail, you will certainly not be successful.

Instead, start with an honest look at what really makes you feel centered, valid, and happy. Contribute to that activity as much as possible. It may be small at first and may not generate money but is invaluable in giving you a sense of worth and capability that will carry over into other areas of your life. Manage your outlook through consistently contributing to it, so that you may continually return to being centered, valid, and happy. As you grow your focus in your interest, share it with others. Align with those who are authentic and have the same passion as you do. The synergy and connection in these relationships will validate you tremendously. Continue to grow these experiences and you will become more confident, influential, and daring. With a broad base to draw your validation from, you then can take on bigger responsibilities and opportunities for real success.
Your venture in business should parallel this method. If it does not, you need to take a serious look at how impactful you want to be, for contributing to something that does not grow your confidence, validation, and happiness is, at the very least, a waste of time. Certainly, if you fake it, you will not be anywhere near as effective.

The best example of the authentic method of success I know is a friend of mine who had a passion for helping others. She started her career as a substitute teacher for a local school district in the 1970s. She loved the kids but wanted to do more. So she started a free counseling service out of her home. She felt a great sense of authentic connection with those who came to see her. She poured her love into them and helped them with their struggles. As she did, she became more and more confident in her abilities. She began enlisting volunteers to help her. Donations began to pour in. She was then able to pay for staff. More people came for counseling. She became bolder. She was able to rent an office space. She then trained other counselors. More people came. She began taking her clients overseas to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, opening their experience up and showing them a world perspective on helping others. More donations, more acts of good will, and more courage came to her. She began to recruit international people to help and they set up centers in their respective countries. After thirty years, she retired and had 156 centers in 30 different counties with hundreds of schools, wells, and orphanages set up all over the world.

Did her and her husband try to look successful based on this success? No. They still live in the same house they had when they were both starting teachers and have always driven old cars. All of the donations continued to go to where her real power came from, helping the people. Her work is what centered her, validated her, and made her happy.

Was it easy? No, there were many diligent hours of sacrifice over decades to make this happen. There were many major setbacks, too. People died that where crucial to the cause. Others left for other ventures. Some of their centers in other countries dealt with famine, civil war, and even genocide. Did she become less bold? No, for she had thousands of people that loved and celebrated her efforts in caring for them. She also had hundreds of staff who also supported the cause. She never missed a beat, despite all of the hardship.
She is one example. There are many more, not just in altruistic ventures but regular business as well. Think of any genuinely successful person and they are almost certain to love what they do, from the smallest details to the biggest challenges; it centers, validates, and makes them happy, giving them tremendous courage and focus to do even more.

So, my questions to you are: How, in your own way, can you do the same? How can you continue to be the best version of yourself and gain real power through an interest that centers you, validates you, and makes you happy? How can you grow your influence in this interest and develop real confidence, courage and success? How can you navigate all the trappings of fake success to live a life well lived? For there is no “faking it” that ever adds up to real success; being real is the only way to make it.

I began coaching people in 1996 for an international non-profit organization. Previously, I worked as a mechanical engineer and physics teacher but found through my work in the non-profit, I was much more passionate about empowering people. So I decided to make coaching my occupation. My education includes: a bachelors of science in mechanical engineering from Oregon Institute of Technology, A master in education from Portland State University, counselor training through GSM International, three years of living curriculum and coach training through Landmark Education, and coach training through The Tony Robbins Institute.