Let's Pretend! (And Other Ways to Get Somewhere New)

The next time you feel like an impostor, remember you are probably in a room full of them, so have a private chuckle and go for the ride. Before you know it, you will not be pretending anymore.
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"Sure, I can do it."

How many times have you said that and then wondered if you were suffering from dementia? You just agreed to run for president of the PTA or do a presentation on a topic you are clueless about or start a business from scratch or a myriad of other things you have no business doing. You probably feel like you are perched on a mountain in Acapulco about to take the famous dive into the narrow abyss down below. What do you do? You pretend. You fake it until you CAN do it.

Whoever said you needed to know what you were doing to be able to do it well? Someone must have, because so many of us feel that we cannot do certain things until we are experts at it. There are so many of us who suffer from the "impostor syndrome," sure we will be discovered as the utter failures that we are -- sure that everyone is looking at us and thinking: "Who the heck does she think she is?" Well, who she thinks she is doesn't matter because if it did, most of us would never accomplish anything. What she does matters, and it can change who she thinks she is.

As young kids we were encouraged to pretend and to use our imaginations to further our play and our growth. As adults, it's reserved only for spiritual retreats or role plays during a training class. If we do it at work or in our personal lives, it borders on pathology or a lack of integrity.

I think it all comes down to our definition of expert and our value of knowledge. We believe that knowledge is power. In some cases it is, and yet in others, knowledge limits possibility. If you KNOW that no one has succeeded at something, then why should you try? At the same time, we think that being an expert means having all the answers. Not necessarily. Being an expert means making it your business to know about something and making it your business to find out more about it if you don't.

I was 29 years old when I decided to make coaching my career. All I could think about was: Who was going to trust a 29-year-old ex-actress (read flake), who looks 23, who has no business experience and no advanced degree with their life and career goals? No one. And no one did, until I decided to fake it. I stopped seeing myself as that person and began to take on the qualities of someone who had a skill and a passion and who knew deep down she could make a difference AND charge money for it. I still had no evidence that I could be successful, but taking on the belief that I could be, I stopped mentioning my list of shortcomings and proceeded as if there were none. Behaving in a way that reflected that (in other words, becoming it by pretending I was "there") began the journey that brought me here.

Diane was a client who was a local news reporter. Her ambition was to be the anchor. She occasionally had the opportunity to substitute in the anchor seat, but she never really let herself take ownership of it because she did not want to been seen as vying for her colleague's job nor did she feel ready or qualified to have the position.

"When will you be ready?" I asked.

"When I'm a little older or maybe after I've subbed a few more times," she replied.

Argh! I thought. "What would it take for you to own that seat NOW?"

"I'd just have to do it, but how?"

"You go in there and you pretend it is your job and your permanent spot. You are not there to steal it from anyone, but you must give it 100 percent, even if it means you fake it."

So Diane did it, just once, and the competing local station called and asked to see her in their office about possibly becoming their anchorwoman.

Obviously, there are some things you just can't fake, like being the Acapulco diver, performing brain surgery, and flying an airplane. However, most of us stop ourselves from far less risky tasks or occupations because we think we are not qualified enough.

I am by no means implying that we all become liars and charlatans. We need to be "responsible" fakers. That means we hurt no one in the process and we even fess up to faking it when that is appropriate. For example, I was at a conference where a senior executive gave a keynote speech and admitted that he had never done anything like it before. He ended up being one of the most popular speakers of the conference because people appreciated his candor.

Waiting or expecting perfection are just excuses for not living.

The world is full of studiers, and it is full of doers. Studiers are happy to sit on the sidelines until they feel expert. Doers do. As Shirley Maclaine once said: "I come from the school of once you know enough, you do it." Like her, you'll want to be both. But be forewarned -- you will have opposition from those that cling to knowledge as the only proof of competency. Never mind them, just keep forging on.

The next time you feel like an impostor, remember you are probably in a room full of them, so have a private chuckle and go for the ride. Before you know it, you will not be pretending anymore. You'll have metamorphosed into the role you were faking and will be looking for the next mountain to climb.

For more by Laura Berman Fortgang, click here.

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