I Faked It Until I Made It
Inhabiting my imaginary, confident ‘me’ saved my business and my health. It could do the same for you.
It’s the time of year when I see so many people entering a new year with their own challenges. Health — mental and physical. Dealing with significant personal and work change. And pressures — so many pressures. We enter the new year to cries of new year, new me. Yet so many are feeling less than confident about the year, even about the entire future, right now.
I know that feeling well. For thirteen years I owned my own events and wedding business. Around ten years in, I hit an all time low.
I was disillusioned, depressed, tired and in physical pain. My joints hurt. I was working crazy hours. I was lost in a sea of cut throat competition, following the crowd and essentially invisible among the ‘same old’. Every event and wedding looked the same, just a different colour. Pop up businesses were undercutting themselves just to be able to announce they covered the most events that week. I had had enough.
I am not even sure why, but I decided to go along to a business event. A speaker and workshop session, centred around getting set for business growth. I had no plans to grow anything, but I knew I had to make some decisions. I was a signature away from selling out to a company — a company who had a really bad reputation. That’s how low I was. But something felt ‘off’. I was holding back. This was my last chance to re-evaluate where I was and discover whether there was another way to make me like it, and myself, again.
Two things at that workshop gave me some serious food for thought.
The first was a discussion about aligning your entire supply chain with your ethos. Your values. That was powerful. The message was simple. Collaboration with the wrong type of business is damaging. If your supplier cannot present the same quality of products, or more importantly, the same customer service standards as you, then find someone who does. Otherwise you are presenting mixed messages. Your customers will see through it. Guilty by association.
But it was the second concept that really changed my outlook.
Fake it till you make it.
Firstly, let’s be absolutely clear. This is not lying about your experience or skills to gain something, be it a job, a customer or a client. It’s not blagging your way to a better outcome. If you head there, use it badly, chances are you will be found out eventually.
No. Fake it till you make it, is about recognising there is something inside you which is holding you back. Perhaps it is confidence. Maybe it is fear. Fear of failure? Fear of being laughed at? Fear of having nothing of value to give?
One example the workshop used was to think about a person, a role model, someone who inspires you and then compare yourself with what you perceive to be their success, their qualities. And then look at the reasons you feel you could never walk alongside them, in their world.
For ten years I had run my business with a ‘hobby’ mindset. I would always describe it with the word ‘just’. I just work from home. I just dress weddings. I am just self employed. And I blended in by delivering the exact same end product as everyone else.
But I knew that my approach was already not like everyone else. My dream was to become synonymous with a unique quality service which would bring the type of clients who wanted something outside of the humdrum monotony. I wanted to deliver a level of service just like my ideal ‘role model’. Be seen as a player in a very different arena.
Inside I knew I was as competent as her. I was good at my job. I already delivered tailor made solutions. It was how my business began. I just realised I wasn’t good at selling me. I lacked self belief. I was scared to project my own confidence in my own abilities. Scared to be unique. I had hidden behind everyone else, because I was terrified of standing out. I could never be that woman.
How many of us, in our own business, refer to the term ‘we’ when there is only ourselves? Why do we do that? Do we perceive that our customers will trust us more if they think we are part of a larger team? I wasn’t a ‘team’. Or at least I hadn’t been, for quite some time.
I knew right there and then, I had to get back to bespoke if I was to survive — and learn to love it again. I had to take a leap of faith and jump off the conveyor belt industry I had somehow found myself consumed by. It was a little like starting again. And it was scary.
And so the other area the workshop focused on was our fear. We had people in that room who were on the edge of starting a business. On the edge of growth. On the edge of diversification. For all of us, the fear was huge, and it was stopping us from taking the next step.
Fear of failing or fear of leaving the familiar safety is commonplace. We have experienced new things since before we even left the womb. Yet as we progress through life we lose our childish fearlessness and become more sensitised to what might go wrong if we try.
It was time to deploy mission ‘fake it till you make it!’
I went home and within twenty four hours the business sale was pulled. I was getting back in the game.
The first thing I did was give my website to a third party and asked a copywriter to write about me. The real me. That in itself was a massive thing. I was a web developer and a copywriter in my spare time. I knew my business and myself best. Except I didn’t see it best. My copywriter and my web developer helped me to see myself differently. I saw what my clients see in me, not what my impostor had trained me to see in myself.
First came the confidence to take my business right back to the start and create a bespoke tailor made service. That bit was relatively easy, bespoke was the element I had always loved most. Now I just had to start thinking like a professional and a successful businesswoman in my industry. Because, I just hadn’t let myself believe it.
Letting the world see the Marie behind the business was scary. That meant photos and details about me, the person, and not just what ‘we’ do. I didn’t do photos of me. I was way too self conscious. Deep breaths. It had to be done.
So I literally climbed inside my own head and started to think like the person I wanted to be. I watched a programme on TV where Alex Polizzi helped a struggling wedding stylist re-brand herself and her business and take it to another level. A timely showing which helped me see I wasn’t alone in being scared to advertise my business as quality. And to allow people to see who they were buying into, every step of the way, to produce their special day.
I had to imagine I was confident in my own skin. Confident, even, in my own clothes. I had hidden beneath branded workwear for years. I even wore a name badge because I thought people needed reminding who I was. I ditched them all. The clothes, the badge. Gone. I had to find a way for people to come to know and remember me. To build on the strong reputation my business already had, and to lose the fear I would fail and become nobody. Ten years — if you don’t know me by now you never will.
It worked. My business rose up out of the repetitive, cookie cutter wedding world. It was no longer about the volume of jobs, but about aiming to be among the best in my field. I won an award and was interviewed by the Federation of Small Businesses for the newspaper. My business had become synonymous with those who wanted something which made their event stand out from the crowd. We were in sync — my service was unique and I was no longer following the masses. I was happier too. More content.
And when I finally decided to give it up for good, it came from a strong place. A great place. I retired the business in 2018, a decision built not out of frustration or of pain, but out of an outlook for a new bright confident future.
I helped a further four women build similar businesses and did some mentoring too. Now that would never have happened in the earlier days — when I treated myself more like my own labourer than a successful business woman of knowledge and experience.
You may well have entered 2020 with similar feelings. Knowing something has to change, but not sure how you will achieve it. You may be desperate to pursue a dream, but lacking the courage to try.
As we get older, sometimes our self confidence gets rewired. Life learned fears get in the way and steal our dreams.
Imagine when you were 14 months old and about to take those first wobbly steps. Or about to down your first legal alcohol in a bar. Get your first job. Leave home for university. Or have sex for the first time ever. Whether you were tentatively nervous, or puffed out chest full of ‘I have got this’, you managed it.
So try and remember the feeling just after that moment. The feeling of achievement. Now think about the belief you had, which brought you to the point where you decided you were ready. Okay maybe the baby steps is too far back to draw upon. But riding your bicycle without stabilisers. Trialling for the school football team. Imagine you are the younger you, when you had less fear.
And if you can’t imagine finding the confidence you needed to try, then fake it. Start by just practising being the person you imagine yourself to be, in a fear free world.
Remember — fake it till you make it — is not about being a fraud. It is about imagining yourself walking in the shoes of a slightly more confident you, over and over again. Until you can shed the shackles which stop you from making this your best year yet.
©Marie T Smith (She Wordsmiths..) writes for a number of Medium publications. She has already been credited as a top writer in Food, Travel, Cooking and Satire. She is also a published writer in Travel Magazines and a keen photographer of wildlife. She Wordsmiths is where it all began and is where she manages her newsletter updates.