Have you ever accepted a role disturbingly far outside your comfort zone?
Say, your new role requires you to speak in front of hundreds of people regularly. And you're dreading it because you know you freeze in front of large crowds!
How does the usual advice go? Fake it till you make it, right? But fake what, exactly?
According to Wikipedia, "Fake it till you make it" means to imitate confidence and competence. Until, eventually, you get real competence followed by real confidence.
The obvious trouble with faking competence is that if you do get found out, you lose all credibility. And knowing that, faking confidence would be nothing short of gaslighting yourself.
"Fake it till you make it" will more likely reinforce your feelings of inadequacy. And make the impostor syndrome worse.
I want to propose a different approach.
What if instead of faking what you don't have, you leaned on what you do have?
And what if, instead of calling yourself fake, you found the courage to be real?
1. Lean on your strengths
Don't sell yourself short! We all have something to offer. If you don't already know, you just need to find out what that is.
When I was starting my coaching practice in 2019, I had many doubts. I didn't have any formal coaching certifications, which was triggering major impostor syndrome.
But I had experience being coached myself, I coached many of my former employees and colleagues as an engineering leader. And I even minored in education and psychology in college!
More importantly, I asked around and reflected on what I'd heard.
I sent a couple dozen of my friends and former colleagues the following message (feel free to borrow it as is):
Hey friend! My executive coach is having me ask people who know me well and whose opinions I respect. What do you think is my number one skill, something that comes easy to me that others find difficult?
It would mean the world to me if you could respond with a sentence or two by the end of tomorrow. Thank you!
Ask 10 to 20 people to get a good sample. Because not everybody will respond. And not all answers will be equally insightful.
After receiving the replies, see if there is a common theme. What surprised you about the responses? What didn't surprise you?
I had scores of my clients do this exercise by now. From experience, the answers are rarely surprising. Most of us already have a vague idea about what we're good at. What does surprise folks is that others notice their superpower.
I learned that I "have an uncanny ability to see the real issues behind what's being said". And can "help people change and grow" "without telling them directly what to do".
Do you think it helped me feel more confident about pursuing a career in coaching? You bet it did!
2. Replace faking with practice
Of course, leaning exclusively on your strengths is not always enough.
Are you content staying at your current level for the rest of your life? If not, then you're guaranteed to find yourself in situations where to be successful, you'll need skills you do not currently have.
In those situations, you'd be wise to adopt a beginner's mindset. Rather than pretending to know something you don’t, acknowledge where you need improvement and take steps to enhance your skill set.
When you're open and intentional about learning, it's easier to dedicate time and effort to honing new skills. Engage in deliberate practice and welcome constructive feedback. You’ll gradually build competence and confidence in those areas. And others will be more willing to help and more accepting of your current level.
Remember, the word "incompetence" doesn't just mean inability to perform, it implies improper or unethical behavior.
People don't judge the beginners, they judge those who fake the skills they don't have.