“Vulnerability equals shame.”
That’s what we’ve been taught.
That’s the way we’ve learned to live and work and interact with each other.
We have developed a culture that is designed around masking authenticity behind layer after layer of bullshit, hiding it away under pretence and pretension.
And I think it sucks.
One of the mantras that you’ll come across in countless business books and life advice columns is, fake it till you make it. The idea is that you want to generate an image and a reputation of success, to build momentum by pretending you already have it.
In theory, this is meant to convince people that you are the real deal. In practice, it means that you begin every single relationship by leaning on a foundation of lies and deceit. It’s unhealthy, unrealistic and completely unnecessary.
Laura Huang, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and and the author of Edge:Turning Adversity into Advantage, talks about the imposter syndrome that will inevitably accompany acting like an imposter.
“It’s important to remember that we all have something that others are judging us on. In the long-term, on a macro level, posturing and faking it provides only temporary value. What ends up being more long-standing is a belief that inevitably holds people back — a feeling of uncertainty and self-doubt. The fear that you will be stereotyped will be more pervasive than any amount of “elite brass” that you can channel, and you will start to anticipate situations in which you may not be as valued as you should be, in turn leading to more self-doubt.”
1. Saying We when you mean I means hiding your true value
If you’re starting a company today, it’s tempting to use We, when you mean I; a huge number of us, as startup founders, fall into that trap. We’re companies of one, but we talk as though we are a cast of thousands, gathering in massive auditoriums to work as some kind of military unit. When, realistically, it’s just one person working their ass off in a spare room or on the dining room table.
Let’s be clear. There is nothing wrong with being a company of one. And there is nothing wrong with shouting about it, celebrating it, owning it and believing in it. Will some potential customers be driven away by realising just how small you are? 100%. Undeniable. They will be. But so many others will be drawn to it and drawn to you, recognising the value in your expertise and your knowledge, and understanding that a company of one can offer value, connections and service that a company of many would avoid like the fucking plague in the name of scale.
2. Faking it is fucking expensive
Writer and journalist Christina Desmarais talks about the cost, both opportunity and financial, of keeping up an image.
“Lots of people live in big houses and drive nice cars they can’t afford. But when you live beyond your means, you’re robbing yourself of the peace that comes from having a firm hold of your finances.”
Pretending you’re a success isn’t cheap. The trappings of success can not only bankrupt you, they can actively prevent you from building the stable, healthy and happy life you’re trying to convince people that you already lead.
If you believe that your value is dependent on a smoke and mirrors exercise of consumer debt and shiny things, you’re only hurting your own long term prospects; and the outcome is that you’re convincing the people around you that you don’t need their help, that you’re an island surrounded by a sea of money and accomplishment.
3. Faking it means convincing people you don’t need them
I will come out and say it. I am not self made. I have been supported, helped, dragged out of piles of shit, picked up, cleaned up and pushed forward by so many beautiful and inspiring humans that I couldn’t thank all of them and thank them enough if I had the rest of my life to do it.
What’s my secret?
I don’t pretend that I don’t need them.
If your’e faking it, people don’t, won’t or can’t see that you need a hand, that you need a leg up, or that you need support. You’re going out of your way, and spending so much energy pretending you’ve got your shit together, that you don’t leave any room for someone to step up and support you.
Ron Ashkenas, Partner Emeritus of Schaffer Consulting, says that the need for independent success shows a level of immaturity that stifles collaboration and suppresses potential.
“Have you ever seen a young child try to dress himself? For my three-year old grandson, the buttons are most difficult. He concentrates on each as though it’s the world’s most important problem and only he can solve it. And while his determination to do it himself is admirable, the result is often a late start to the day and a shirt with undone buttons.
It’s easy to smile at a three-year-old who refuses to ask for help. But how do we deal with colleagues who exhibit the same behavior — who insist on working alone and resist help from others?”
When we’re busily faking our ability to be entirely independent and do it all ourselves, or acting as though we’ve already made it and we don’t need anyone else, we’re not only limiting our capabilities — we’re limiting our mindset.
The fake it till you make it advice is well meaning. Sure. But it’s advice that has been drafted and disseminated in a culture that celebrates fakery while desiring and craving authenticity.
A better approach is to weaponise radical authenticity, and refuse to tell anything but the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you your own personal choice of deity.
As an angel investor, I proudly reflect the size of my investments by calling it what it is, and calling myself a micro investor. I have no need to pretend I’m writing million dollar checks. It’s a lie that wouldn’t help me in any damn way. As a founder, I don’t need to pretend I’m running a team of one hundred. When I say We it’s because there’s a tiny handful of us working and collaborating together.
That kind of honesty means that people see someone they can believe, and believe in.
And that level of trust cannot be bought.