Often times in college, I’ve heard (and used) the phrase, “Fake it till you make it!” People use this as an encouraging phrase to counsel someone who is currently struggling, but we might actually be telling each other to ignore the parts of our lives that make us who we are.
If the real you didn’t put in the effort, does the real you deserve the credit? Who is the “real you” and how do you know what that looks like?
Let’s start by exploring what “faking it” looks like.
We use defense mechanisms to communicate to ourselves and others that we are happy when we really aren’t. Saying things like, “it’s fine,” or “it gets better,” when things go wrong because we want to shove our feelings down when really we should embrace them. There are countless times when it’s NOT fine, and it DOESN’T get better, but we fail to address those truths by avoiding acknowledgement of them.
Beyond internally communicating, we write posts on social media that don’t accurately represent ourselves. Yes, it’s important to put your best foot forward, and no, it’s not proper social media etiquette to post all your feelings on your Facebook wall every day. But there is a balance to be struck.
Is it wrong to reinvent yourself online or even in person? No, but with great power comes great responsibility. The responsibility of considering the reasons why you’re posting what you’re posting, why you’re saying what you’re saying.
Consider that the dichotomy between your emotional needs and cravings operates similar to that between your physical needs and cravings. Studies show that when your body craves greasy food like pizza or French fries, you’re actually lacking minerals. Your brain opts for the short term pleasure of sinking your teeth in to a slice of cheesy goodness as opposed to the long term benefit of curbing your craving with calcium-rich foods.
Emotionally, the same thing can be suggested. Our brains are constantly craving attention via the sweet, instant gratification of a Tinder match or a like on our latest Instagram. What we really need, though, is authenticity. Real authentic connections that might not be as satisfying instantly, but will definitely contribute to the wholeness of our wellbeing in the long term.
Now let’s map out what authenticity looks like.
It’s easy to see when someone else is faking it, but how do we recognize it in ourselves? Often, we make rationalizations before and after our actions take place, particularly the actions we feel don’t best represent us. It’s part of the defense mechanisms we use to present ourselves in the best light. Smiling through the pain, being nice to the coworker you dislike, offering advice to someone in pain instead of empathizing with them. We have been conditioned to think that all of these things are the behaviors of strong people, smart people, good people.
I want to juxtapose this with the behaviors of real people. Real people are strong and smart and good, but sometimes they are not. Real people say “actually I’m really upset about the grade I got,” after putting extensive effort into a paper. Real people address the issues they have with coworkers they dislike. Real people cry during a good movie. Real people feel real emotions in real time.
Communicating with other people is how you learn from them, which ultimately feeds into how you learn about yourself. If you’re not engaging in real connections with others, then you’re limiting your own experiences as well as theirs.
Stop rationalizing your actions (or inactions) and start being accountable to yourself and others.
Be here; be real.