The Worst Business Advice

There’s this piece of advice that is routinely given to young entrepreneurs, young professionals, and anyone else who struggles with self-doubt. It has often been retorted to me in moments of authenticity where I share my doubts. On the surface, it’s great advice.

Fake it until you make it.

This line appears in books, discussions, conference talks, and repeatedly in my own head. Through college and my early career I would repeat this line to myself whenever I encountered an interaction that was outside my comfort zone. It helped to calm my anxiety working with executives, giving presentations, and making critical business decisions.

It works. This line has brought me pretty far in my career at a fairly early age.

But there is something dangerous about this adage that is rarely discussed. It functions on three very flawed assumptions that will put you in the hamster wheel of life if you aren’t careful.

1. It assumes that there is a shortcut to experience.

Each job you take, project you work on, every colleague you meet is an additional chance to learn something new. If you are constantly trying to to shortcut these experiences, you’ll miss out on real opportunities for growth. There is no shortcut to experience. This isn’t something I wanted to admit early in my career.

2. It assumes that there is a single point in time where you’ve “made it.”

There is no destination, so stop trying to make one. Goals are very important for your career growth, but stop making them a litmus test to validate your worth. Success is elusive. Define your own version of success. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said:

To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.

Stop chasing the metric of success that somebody has defined for you. Rebuke the expectations of others and create your own path.

3. It assumes that you aren’t good enough as you are.

The most hurtful of these assumptions is where you don’t feel worthy as you are. Don’t let anybody convince you that you have to be different than you are. If others fail to see your value, move on. If you are in a place where your limitations are considered a weakness, you aren’t in the right place.

Believing that you have to “fake it” forces you to create a persona to convince others of your value. It separates you from your true identity and pushes you further the false person you think you need to be.

But don’t let this sound like I’m advocating complacency.

Very far from it, actually. Complacency is quite possibly the worst spot to be in professionally. Even failure is better than complacency.  Complacency means you’re stuck, failure means you’re trying.

The “fake it until you make it” advice has good intentions. It pushes people outside their comfort zone to accomplish things they don’t think they can do. It inspires them to dream big and take action towards making their dreams come true.

You should absolutely dream big and take leaps to make them come true. But instead of faking it, seek mentors in areas where you find gaps in your knowledge and experience. Be honest with yourself and fill the gaps. What better way to build your own self-worth and confidence than by identifying and filling gaps in your experience. Don’t fake it, just make it.

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