Fake it 'til you make it. Act as if you are exuberant and outgoing. Get out there and network. Open a sales conversation, give public speeches, make a big new circle of friends. Greet everyone with engaging small talk and give a firm handshake. Paste on a grin and don’t ever let on that inside, you’ve got panic-levels of anxiety and your heart has just dropped to the floor.
Because when you act like you’re winning, you become much bigger than you really are. You start identifying with that world and feeling like the confident person you’re pretending to be….at least, that’s the theory.
I happen to think that “fake it ‘til you make it" is extraordinarily bad advice, especially for Introverts. Here’s why.
It’s Stressful to be Someone You’re Not
Faking it 'til you make it may work in the short-term, but trying to sustain it in the long-term is unbelievably stressful. We all have our preferred ways of doing things. And because those ways are normal for us, they require the least amount of energy. We can do them without burning out or disappearing from ourselves in the process.
Faking it is supposed to magically smooth away our feelings of self-doubt and low confidence, but in reality it puts extra stress on the body. People who continuously act a pretense, outside their natural personality preferences, at some point will start to feel anxious, exhausted, angry and plain-old frustrated. It’s a bit like pulling the plug in a bathtub; you won’t notice much difference in the water level at first, but eventually everything will just drain out.
The relief is in unwriting the cover story and going back to our natural ways of being. When you get to be yourself, you perform better and feel better. This is true even for those Introverts who are deeply self-deprecating and have little confidence in their own true style.
It Pleases Others, Not Yourself
There are times when you need to focus on the needs of others, as every parent, caregiver and employee knows. It’s virtually impossible to be successful in your relationships or in certain careers (nursing for instance) unless you prioritize other people when they’re feeling down and need a little tenderness.
But that is completely different to feeling like you have to please everyone else all the time because "what will they think of you if you don’t?” Too often, we quieter, more insecure types feel we have to behave like pseudo-Extraverts for the sake of our careers (because "what will they think of us if we don’t?”). We feel like we have to fake being super-keen to attend parties (because "what will they think of us if we don’t”—that we’re people-hating hermits with an irrational vendetta against finger buffets?)
The real danger in this obsession to “fake it” is not necessarily that life will catch us out and give us a harsh reality check. No, it’s that we’re fuelling our own insecurity. We’re convincing people, and ourselves, that there’s only one right way to behave in a situation—and that way isn’t our way.
Intellectually, you know that isn’t true. There’s no way that focusing on what you need and how you prefer to do things can detract from your talent, professionalism or credibility. If someone does not like the way you prefer to do things, then they’re the ones with the problem—not you. You should have the freedom to express yourself without fear of rejection because this is your life, your relationship, your business, your house and you are entitled to be as you are.
So why do you put pressure on yourself to traverse personas all the time?
It Doesn’t Advance the Conversation
Sometimes, acting differently from your natural self is one of the many hats you have to wear. This is not unique to Introverts. People with all sorts of personality traits have to slip in and out of different personas to achieve the task in hand—Feelers have to get get their roommate to pony up the rent (even though they hate the confrontation), Perceivers have to follow strict deadlines to get the job done (even though it stifles their creativity), Judgers have to loosen up and go with the flow (before their spouse strangles them with the nearest color-coded spreadsheet).
Most people don’t report feeling any negative effects of tweaking their personality styles in different situations, and it can actually feels less burdensome to act up your Extraverted, or your feeling, or your perceiving side in that particular context to be socially adapted. We are, after all, a combination of all the personality traits and should be able to call on our less-dominant traits when the situation requires.
The problem is, introverts are encouraged to display extravert-type behaviors from a young age. For instance, being dominant and assertive (extraverted traits) are often linked to leadership positions and higher salaries at work, and being more gregarious (also an extraverted trait) is often linked to being liked and getting on with clients and social groups better.
I don’t like this stereotyping. How can we, as members of the introverted half the population, ever gain an equal footing in this world unless we act with integrity? How can we show the power of introversion unless we check our automatisms and behave as we truly are? Acting like a pseudo-extrovert leaves a bad taste in my mouth because it feels submissive, like I’m acknowledging that Extraverts are the superior personality. They’re not. But it’s only by being openly ourselves that we have the chance to open up this conversation.
Everyone “fakes it 'til they make it” to some degree and it isn’t always a bad thing. If your boss asks if you know Java and you say “sure!” then stay up all night reading “Java for Dummies,” that’s not going to cause you too much harm (and could actually do your career a lot of good.)
But there’s a difference between faking a task competence and pretending to be something you’re not.
As Introverts, we tend to frame our fakery around specific personality traits, like confidence, expressiveness, enthusiasm, energy and sociability. An Introvert who’s “faking” public speaking, for instance, might fixate on her social anxiety and lack of confidence, instead of calling out the true deficit—a lack of experience at public speaking.
I think it’s time to flip this switch. Instead of worrying about how we come across to others—whether we’re exuberant enough or friendly enough or worth this person's attention—we should focus on the steps or actions we need to take to improve our weak areas in the short term. No faking, just putting one foot in front of the other until we feel authentically confident around whatever it is we’re struggling with. What task competence do we need to learn? How do we learn it? This is how we Introverts can tap into real confidence and build authentic credibility, right from the start.