Make It Before You Fake It
On social media and in business, anyone can pretend to be an expert — but it’s not always a good thing.
We have been told for decades why the power of positive thinking is integral to success. Authors like Norman Vincent Peale to phenomenons like The Secret by Rhonda Byrne which was a riff on The Science of Getting Rich by Wallace D. Wattles have extolled the virtues of claiming the life you want through positive affirmation. Peale, Byrne and Wattles are right to an extent — intentions and affirmations are in and of themselves powerful tools. However, “faking it ‘til you make it” may not always be — especially in social media.
It started benignly, that crazy person you know constantly posting motivational quotations when you know they’re not too motivated. Then it grew to that acquaintance from high school adding the hashtag #influencer everywhere with the hope of creating a brand. OK. Then it expanded to people claiming they were business success coaches, senior executives and CEOs despite having no business experience whatsoever. The zenith of this would probably be the Fyre Festival phemonenon. An idea was created on social media around a proposed business venture to sell belief in the greatest festival ever. What they were really selling was aspirational glamour and ultimate happiness. The idea to be included among the elite. You could argue that all advertising is like this, but I believe this case was different. It was “Fake It Til You Make It” with no intentions to actually make anything other than some people rich and other people defrauded. It was a business, with no real plan.
So, why does this matter?
In my humble opinion, ethics in social media matters and is going to become an increasingly important subject in the next decade. Thinking about how we post and why we post matters. Looking at impetus matters. Am I posting this out of ego so that you will think I’m more important than I am? Did I lie about my title so that you would think it’s more senior than it is? Am I posting as a form of false advertisement so that you will think I’m something that I’m not. Am I posting to indirectly offend other people because I don’t want to talk to them directly? Do I need you to think I’ve made it so that I will finally believe it myself? Hmm.
The link between social media and it’s negative effects on mental health has been clearly documented. One quick Google search will give you plenty of results on the subject. Yet, what I don’t see anyone saying is that so much of this has been created because many of us are taking the notion of “fake it til you make it” to an unrealistic extreme.
Why does that matter?
It matters because deep down inside many of us struggle with the notion that we’re simply not good enough. In business, it’s called, “Impostor Syndrome.” In life, it’s an insecurity that can breed depression, anxiety and sometimes, death. In health, it keeps many therapists in business as we work through issues ranging from childhood trauma to addiction.
With that knowledge in mind, I believe we have a responsibility for the kind of content we create and the kind of content we consume. I also believe that social platforms have a responsibility for how their algorithms serve us content and impact everything from what we buy to the friends we have. (One thought that always bothers me is — there’s a real likelihood that many of us don’t talk to some people more than others simply because we do not see their content in our feed as regularly due to an algorithm.)
I have been an outspoken critic of social platforms that make it difficult to delete your content, your account or curate your experience. The human experience is a fluid experience. Always changing and growing. The person who we were when we started an account might become very different from who we end up five, ten years down the line.
So what’s the alternative to living a life of “fake it til’ you make it”? I believe a good start is an antonym. I have a practice I use in my life where I take negative emotions and work on countering them by employing their antonym. When I feel fearful, I try to be more courageous. When I feel anxious, I think about how I can be more carefree and mindful.
Fake as a verb is defined as “to pretend” or “to conceal the defects of or make appear more attractive, interesting, valuable, etc., usually in order to deceive.” The antonym of this is “to tell the truth” or “reveal.” The antonym to the noun version of the word is “authentic.”
Every day, we fake it til’ we make it to some extent. When someone asks, “How are you doing?” casually at work. We always answer, “Fine.” But what would happen if we actually said, “You know what, it’s a bit tough right now. I’m trying to solve this problem with the business and could use some help.” I actually had this moment recently with another senior executive. We were on a seemingly benign introductory biz dev call. She mentioned something about it being a tough week at work. I concurred. We then delved into a conversation around our responsibilities as managers regarding mental health and navigating through change. I didn’t know this executive well. It would have been easy for me to skim the surface with her. However, our ability to be authentic with one another immediately endeared me to her. In fact, that call became the highlight of my day with how refreshing and honest it was.
In business, on social media or even as creatives— if you’re not authentic with other people, they won’t trust you. If they don’t trust you, they won’t follow you. If they don’t follow you, that means you’re not really leading or you’re not genuinely creating a brand. You can claim whatever it is you want, but in the end — results matter more than rhetoric. Perhaps the axiom, “the truth will set you free” is the real tactic we all should be adopting to grow our influence in life and in business.