The Truth About 'Fake It 'Til You Make It'

The way to boost confidence and create positive outcomes is to be prepared, take risks, and learn through experience.

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By Steve Tobak

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There is so much B.S. online you would not believe. You'd be surprised to know how much of what people say about themselves is either embellished or complete fiction, especially among the entrepreneurial crowd.

People exaggerate their knowledge, experience, accomplishments, and compensation. They call themselves #1 bestselling authors of nonexistent lists, professional athletes that never played in a single game, and serial entrepreneurs that were really just freelancers.

Don't even get me started on all the online content that's nothing but complete and total nonsense. Folks just make it up as they go with little or no actual knowledge or experience to support what they write.

I'm sure some of you are wondering why people do that. A few cynics probably think I'm the one who's full of it. And the rest are saying, "Well duh, that's just 'fake it "til you make it.' What's wrong with that? Everyone does it. How else do you get ahead?"

For those who think I'm the pot calling the kettle black to create some controversy and capture eyeballs, I like the way you think. Never lose that skepticism. Keep questioning everything you see and hear. You still might enjoy the post but I doubt you'll need it.

Related: Can We Quit With the Stereotypes Already?

For everyone else, let me break down the good and bad of "fake it 'til you make it."

First, the good. If you're a knowledgeable and experienced professional just trying to boost your confidence to help you achieve the next rung on your career ladder, I would argue you're not faking anything. It's normal to feel a little anxious about facing the next big challenge. It's not a bad thing. It'll actually keep you on your toes.

If you're so insecure that no amount of accomplishment ever seems to fill that deep, dark hole of self-doubt, there's a term for that. It's called imposter syndrome, and it's way more common than you think, especially among high achievers. Why does it happen? How should I know? I'm no shrink.

All I can tell you is, if success doesn't give you confidence that you've got something on the ball, that you deserve the compensation and accolades others have bestowed upon you not to mention the confidence they have in your abilities, then consulting a professional might not be such a bad idea.

Now let's flip this around. If you really are faking it – pumping up your ego with delusions of grandeur when, in reality, you have little or no talent, capability, or experience to back up your claims or the way you represent yourself – that will not end well and I'll tell you why.

Related: 10 Reasons Why Your Personal Brand Sucks

On some level you do know the truth. We always do. Try as you might to bury it, it's still in there and your subconscious knows it. And that creates chronic anxiety that will hurt your performance. You'll come across as deceitful and disingenuous. You'll likely make big mistakes, shoot yourself in the foot, and self-destruct. Happens all the time.

In any case, it will only serve to erode your confidence and that's not the outcome you're looking for.

Look, it's one thing to seek confidence in your abilities to rise to a tough new challenge, but those beliefs should have some sort of basis in reality. When Robert Browning said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp," he wasn't implying that you can actually reach the stars by will alone. The real world just doesn't work that way.

The only real way to boost confidence and create positive outcomes is to be well prepared, take risks, and learn through experience what works and what doesn't work. If you're completely honest with yourself about how things turn out you'll gain confidence from your successes and wisdom from your failures.

If nothing else, life is mostly about taking chances. It's about stepping into the unknown. None of us have any real control over the outcome. But if you focus on what you're good at – what you really love to do – and work hard to develop a marketable expertise, you won't have to fake anything to make it. You simply will.

Related: Know When to Trust Your Gut

Steve Tobak

Author of Real Leaders Don't Follow

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at, where you can contact him and learn more.

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