Three Times When Fake It Till You Make It Worked for Me

Everyone has heard the idea “fake it till you make it,” but does it really work? And is it a strategy you should use? Isn’t it all empty bravado and unearned confidence? Below are three personal experiences where “faking it” wasn’t a costume I was hiding behind but a springboard to leap forward toward genuine achievement. I wasn’t feigning a perfect landing or looking for a perfect score. These were controlled falls forward – opportunities to tap into a potential I didn’t fully recognize at the time.

Rather than pretending to be someone you aren’t, I see faking it till you make it as audaciously stepping into the shoes of the person you aspire to be. So, if you’re creating a new life strategy or trying to get out of a rut, start by faking it – it will do more than make you feel good.

Fake It Till You Make It: A Shortcut to Success

Chimpanzee with a rope

Modern education has drummed into us that we must first understand something before trying it out in the world. Read the textbook, then do the exercises. Listen to the lecture, then write the essay.

It’s for this reason that you might look up online “how to smoke a cigar” before going to the lounge for the first time. But this isn’t the way people learned in the past, and it goes against the way we naturally learn today.

“Non-human primates are often thought to learn tool skills by watching others and practicing on their own, with little direct help from mothers or other expert tool users.”

Stephanie Musgrave, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Miami

The way that non-human primates (monkeys and apes) learn is the way that most people learned until modern education became the norm.

A young chimp will see an adult fishing for termites with a stick and will imitate by picking up a stick and trying it themselves. In medieval and ancient times a child would watch their parent making clay bowls or building a table, and eventually would start doing it themselves.

Ever heard the phrase “Monkey See, Monkey Do”?

There were no textbooks, no long explanations, or the need to sit and take notes. There wasn’t a lack of self-esteem on the part of the child, just enough self-confidence to believe that they could give it a go. They faked it till they made it.

It’s an ancient neural pathway we still have. So walk into that cigar lounge, look around, and just do what everyone else does.

Of course, there are times when you probably shouldn’t fake it – if someone yells out, “Is there a doctor in the building?” Let the actual doctors take this one.

My First Job: Competence from Day One

Man in Suit and Tie

It was 9.10 am, and I sat watching the IT department’s door. I turned on my new laptop and looked around at Robin and Neil’s messy desks. Without them, I had no idea what to do. It was my second day.

I opened up Outlook and found an email from the Finance Manager in New Zealand.

“Greg, I need to hop on a call with you in 10 minutes.


I looked at the sent time – 9.06 am – I looked at the clock in my taskbar – 9.14 am. I looked back to the IT Department door.

Sure enough, Skype started ringing.

“Hey Greg, we need to do our end-of-the-month, but AX isn’t taking into account any of the new tax codes. How do we post these? Do you think we need some custom reports made so that we stay legal?”

I wasn’t an accountant, and I hadn’t learned anything about AX on my first day. I had just walked around the office meeting everyone, then went out for a three-hour lunch with the guys in IT.

I had a choice.

I could tell Gerry I had no idea, and he should call someone else. Or I could fake it till I make it. I went with the second option.

“OK, no worries, Gerry, we can get that sorted out for you. Which tax codes aren’t showing up?” I took notes of almost everything he said in my vim second brain. “Before we go down the making-custom-reports route, let’s see if we can get these tax codes working. I’ll see what I can do and get back to you this morning.”

“Greg, you’re a life saver!”

I had no idea what I’d said or if we could even solve his problem. But I knew that Gerry thought I knew my stuff.

Neil came in a few minutes later. I asked him if he knew anything about the tax codes in New Zealand.

“Oh yeah I need to add those!”

I sat and watched Neil add the new tax codes and learned a little about how AX worked. It took less than five minutes.

“Gerry, try posting again. It should be all working now.


I quickly got a reputation as the new guy who really knew his stuff and got things done, but I was just faking it till I made it.

Learning Chinese: Eliminating Self-Doubt

Chinese Writing

Feeling like an imposter when learning a new language is completely natural. You only understand bits and pieces of what people say to you and never have the right words to respond precisely. This happened all the time when I was learning Chinese; even after living in China for years, there would still be occasions when someone would say something, and I had no idea what they said.

You get two choices:

  1. Revert back to English. “Sorry, I didn’t understand. What did you say?”
  2. Fake it till you make it: try your best to reply in the language. Use the context of conversations, the situation, your surroundings, etc. If you’re at a wedding and a stranger walks up to you, smiles, and says something, they probably aren’t asking you if you can juggle; they’re probably introducing themselves or asking how you know the bride and groom.

Choose option one, and they may repeat it in English, which won’t help your listening skills, and then you’ll likely respond in English, which won’t help your speaking skills. Then, the rest of the conversation will continue in English, which won’t help your language skills at all.

The alternative is to pretend you understand and try responding; one of two things will happen.

  1. If your response made no sense, they would realize that you didn’t understand and might repeat the question slower or in a simpler way – this is great for your comprehension. Your brain will make connections between the words you didn’t understand and the simpler words you do.
  2. They will assume you understood and keep talking; you get a second chance to try to understand what they mean by what they say next. Even if you can’t, you’re still in the language and can keep practicing.

Imagine you’re at that wedding and that stranger asks what you do for a living, you don’t understand them but assume they are introducing themselves, so you respond, saying “I’m Greg, I’m Michael’s friend.”

How do you think they will respond? Will they say, “No, I asked you what you do for a job.” Probably not. They’ll more likely say, “Oh, I’m Jane, nice to meet you Greg, so do you work here? What do you do?”

This second time, you might hear the simpler phrasing and understand that they asked about what you do for work so you can keep the conversation going.

Catholic Church: Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Pews at a Catholic Church

I don’t know if you’ve ever walked into a Catholic Church or attended mass, but if you have, you’ll know it’s kinda confusing.

There are people lighting candles, genuflecting, making the sign of the cross, and dipping their hands in holy water. Then there’s the actual mass itself, people standing up, sitting down, kneeling, saying prayers (sometimes in Latin), and responding to the Priest in unison.

It’s overwhelming! And you quickly feel like a fish out of water.

The best way to overcome that is to fake it till you make it. Find yourself a pew and do whatever everyone else around you is doing.

Even after months of weekly attendance, there was still so much I didn’t know, so I was still faking it. After a while, however, I started to piece together the things I was doing.

  • The holy water was a reminder of my baptism.
  • The kneeling was showing reverence for Christ’s presence and sacrifice
  • The genuflecting was to show respect for the presence of God in the Tabernacle
  • The responses were implemented to encourage more active participation by congregations.

There’s no way you can grasp all of that the first time you walk in. And if you don’t fake it till you make it, you probably won’t last long enough to learn it little by little.

Start From Your Strengths

When you feel insecure or you’re worried that you’re not good enough, try starting from a place of assertiveness and self-worth. Sure, maybe you don’t know what you’re doing the first time you step into the office, but instead of starting from a place of weakness, start from a place of strength.

Instead of saying, “I don’t know what I need to do in this new job,” remind yourself:

  • “I’m really good at talking to people, I can find out everything I need to know.”
  • “I pick things up fast, I’ll figure this out easily.”
  • “I’ve done a similar job in the past, so I’m already halfway there.”

This type of self-talk will help build confidence, which you’ll need to fake till you make it.

Gregory Gaynor Avatar

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done.

Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.