When I worked as a magazine editor, I had a great friendship with our publisher. Her name was (and still is, actually) Brenda. She was in her mid-40s and one of those women who just oozes confidence. She had a wicked sense of humor, a commanding presence, and a really, really nice shoe collection. She’d done very well for herself – an editor by 26 (like me), a decades-long career in journalism, with a knowledge of the industry that made me want to sit at her feet and soak up everything she knew. She was one of those people who knows how to get what she wants by treating people well, but also has an ever-so-slightly intimidating edge – just the right amount to keep people from messing with her.
Anyway, I was sitting in Brenda’s office one day, having a discussion about an upcoming issue of the magazine, and we got onto the subject of fear.
“My greatest fear,” said Brenda, “is that one day, everyone will realize I have no idea what I’m doing. They’ll all figure out that I’m just an impostor.”
I was floored.
“You too?” I asked.
When I started out in my editor role, I was so easily intimidated. I just knew that everyone I talked to – designers, advertisers, sponsors, interviewees…everyone – knew exactly what they were doing. And they knew that I didn’t. I was sure they could smell my fear from twenty paces and, at any minute, any one of them could out me.
Impostor! Liar! Fake!
When Brenda – a seasoned journalist and experienced businesswoman twenty years my senior – told me she had the exact same fear, I realized something that changed my life:
Everyone is Faking It.
The restaurant owners who played hardball as we negotiated the terms of our sponsored cocktail hours. The people at the national magazine office who called up to have a go at me for not running a page they thought I should run. The photographers who wanted their photos published. Brenda.
All big fakers.
And that’s how I learned not to be such a scaredy cat. If 50% of being good at your job is knowing what the heck you’re doing, then the other 50% of being good at your job is convincing other people you know what you’re doing. I suddenly realized that all these big fakers were more concerned with making sure they were faking it well than they were with trying to figure out if I was faking it or not (And I was. A bit.).
Sure, I knew what I was doing. I’ve got a Master’s degree in Journalism, for heaven’s sake. I’ve got seven years of experience in the industry. I’ve interviewed world-renowned musicians, covered murder cases, and edited a magazine with a readership upwards of 75,000. (Am I convincing you yet? I’m a bit rusty at this whole faking thing.)
Brenda knows what she’s doing, too. Trust me. She really, really does. Because, despite her worst fears, you can’t fake it to that many people for that long and get away with it.
The thing is, although we think what we’re faking is our qualifications, our knowledge, what we’re really faking is our belief in ourselves.
Once I learned that everyone – even the Mighty Brenda – was faking it, I suddenly didn’t have to try so hard to fake it myself. Those meetings with the tough-as-nails restaurateurs became a piece of cake, because I was pretty sure they were preparing for them the exact same way I was – by sitting in their cars beforehand (or in their kitchens, whatever), gathering their thoughts and their notes, and reminding themselves that they did know what the heck they were doing; they did pass all their classes in culinary school; they did make a mean yang chow pork and shrimp fried rice(or write a mean lede).
Now it may seem like what I’m telling you is that you can fake it because everyone else is. But, as it turns out, that’s not it at all.
You see, when I figured out everyone was faking it, it suddenly hit me that I didn’t have to.
My false confidence slowly started to turn into real confidence. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore. I didn’t have to walk around thinking everyone had it figured out except me. They didn’t.
The best part about realizing everyone is faking it, is that you get to stop faking it yourself. You get to be totally, authentically, comfortably confident in what you know and who you are.