You're going for a key interview and terrified you're going to fail. You're about to give a key pitch to investors and you're sweating through your shirt, worried they'll see you as the imposter you really are. You've probably heard the famous advice to "fake it 'til you make it." But you're not even sure what it really means--or, more importantly, how to do it well.
In my role as a professor, mentor, and coach I've worked with hundreds of young professionals struggling with this question. Here is what I believe are the key tips for "faking it 'til you make it" in a sensible way that will help you grow into the professional you aspire to be.
1. Fake it with others, but don't fake yourself.
If you're going in for that big pitch to your boss or to an investor, you don't necessarily want to reveal every one of your worries doubts and inadequacies. It's perfectly fine--sometimes even really smart--to fake your way through a scary situation. But don't fake yourself into overconfidence. Forgetting what it took to take this scary leap and that you are still a novice with quite a bit still left to learn.
2. Balance faking with learning.
The whole point of the "fake it 'til you make it" strategy is to benefit from what psychologists call the "self-fulfilling prophecy"--the idea that by pretending that you feel confident, you'll actually start to feel confident. But this transformation doesn't happen magically. You also need to dedicate time, effort, and attention towards learning, which is the true engine of self-development. Make sure that in the aftermath of your performance to do whatever you can to learn from what happened. Treat "mistakes" as data for improvement instead of something to sweep under the rug. You just had the courage to try something really hard. Don't be ashamed; feel proud! And see how you can improve.
3. Don't fake alone.
Faking can be a lonely experience--working so hard to project a confident façade, when underneath it all, you don't feel confident at all. So, the third tip is to not fake alone. Fake in collaboration with a coach or mentor who can help you learn to "fake" judiciously and strategically. You'll be surprised at how useful it can be to get feedback from others. And you'll quickly learn that you're not alone in faking it or in grappling with the challenges of doing so in a way that works for you.