Sometime in about my early 20s this became my go-to phrase, my mantra even. I don’t remember when I first used it, but I used it a lot. And I still use it to this day.
In fact, I lived it even before I knew it as a phrase.
I was a super shy teenager. Up to about grade 6, I think I was pretty comfortable socially, but when I went into grade 7, I was painfully shy. In the town I grew up in, we had a primary school (grades K-2), elementary school (grades 3-6), and then high school (grade 7-12). So grade 7 meant a new school – the big school, with the big kids.
I felt completely lost and out of place. In fact, I don’t recall having any friends in grade 7. My previous best friend had gotten cool over the summer and she was with a different group. I was completely out of my element. I’m sure I must have had at least a couple of casual friends, but I didn’t have a social group and didn’t have a bestie. I was extremely self-conscious, too. Ahhhhh…adolescence!!!!
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Somewhere late in grade 9 or early grade 10, a couple of girls befriended me and started asking me to do things with them. When it was just hanging out at their houses, I was OK. But there were other social things (like going to dances or the local arcade/hangouts) that were completely out of my comfort zone – especially if I was meeting them there, as opposed to meeting at their house and going there together.
One night, my dad dropped me off at one of the hangouts where I would be meeting Stephanie and Shirley. I stood outside a while, walking back and forth along the street, trying to get up the nerve to go in – by myself! – before finally giving up and walking the 45 minutes home. I just could not make myself open that door. I don’t remember the excuse I made up when Shirley and Stephanie asked what happened, but I definitely did not admit that I had chickened out.
Anyway, at some point, I decided something had to change, and I was going to have to do some serious pretending in order to get me there. Without realizing it, I was faking it, hoping that eventually I’d be more comfortable in those large-group social situations. And I did. It worked.
Well, over 30 years later, I will admit that I haven’t fully gotten there. I still prefer more intimate social events. But when I have to go to larger events, I can handle it better than my 15-year-old self initially could. Plus, I now know that at least part of my social reticence is because I’m an introvert and that’s OK. I’m comfortable doing stuff on my own and when it comes to social situations, I know that I don’t always have to say yes. Oh, the perks of getting older!
Gradually, I applied the mantra to many more things, personally and professionally. It has truly become something I live by. Sometimes I use it in situations where there are things I don’t particularly want to do, but are important to someone I care about. Sometimes it’s a professional situation where I need to portray a level of confidence that I don’t necessarily feel.
I also struggle with depression and anxiety and sometimes making it through the day involves a lot of faking it. In that regard, it can actually be a life-saver to keep from spiralling.
And frequently, I use it as part of advice I give to others who’ve come to me for input on something. And I am only able to offer it as advice because it has helped me so much over the years.
Now…as much as I have found these words helpful, that doesn’t mean I think should be applied in every situation. You don’t want to have your entire life be “faked”.
I only apply it when it’s something really important to me (or to someone I care about) and something I really do want or need to do. I also only suggest it to someone else in similar situations.
For example, going back to when I was a teenager, I really, really wanted to get out of my shell. I knew that sitting at home, waiting to all of a sudden get over my shyness and self-consciousness was not going to happen. I was going to have to just do it – act as thought I was already confident and comfortable with the social situation – if I was ever going to get any sort of genuine level of comfort with it. And I was right.
For me, because all the times I fake it are important, in some way or another, the desire is genuine, so I don’t feel like I’m being fake, even if the emotion at the time isn’t really genuine.
Essentially, it’s a matter of finding the balance of faking it…without being fake.