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Fake it until you make it is not faking it

Battle Impostor Syndrome by Authentic Action not Authenticity

You are not your habits

“Fake”, that sounds terrible doesn’t it?

Especially in a world that keeps telling us we should be valuing authenticity, that we should be our most “authentic self”, being fake is the ultimate sin.

We start down this path for authenticity in our search for meaning. Once our basic survival needs are met, it is part of the human condition to inevitably turn to the spiritual sustenance we need in order to satisfy the question “why am I here?”

We feel frustrated that we are not fulfilling our potential. Something is missing from our lives. And we are told to follow our passions, that we are all meant for something.

If only we knew what that was.

A reasonable place to start seems to be trying to discover who “we are”. As if that is a collection of static attributes that, once we know them, we can map to what we “really want”.

Fake seems the opposite of all of this. Being something that you are not.

But the logical conclusion of this idea seems to be that we can never allow ourselves to grow. Because if we can’t do something, then this simplistic definition of authenticity seems to say that trying to do it is not being true to ourselves.

Some things may be inherently easier or harder for us than for other people but there is very little that is static about us beyond our physical metrics. We are tall/short, we have certain eye, hair, and skin color. We may have physical or mental advantages or challenges.

We have habits, ruts even, that we seem to be stuck in. But for the vast majority of us those habits are habits because we are reinforcing them. Usually unconsciously because we are being driven by fear or trying to avoid shame but also because we are starting off with this static definition of who we are.

We mistake our habits (which we can change) for our values (which we cannot).

And if we start off defining ourselves as someone who can’t change, then we cannot even change our minds about that!

It’s the perfect trap: We are static so therefore we can’t change to become non-static.

Impostor Syndrome

This attitude lies at the root of “Impostor syndrome”.

That is, sometimes when we are seemingly outwardly successful (or trying to be), we don’t feel that internally. We feel that if people saw they way we “really are” inside, that we would somehow be kicked out of the club.

This happens when we’re taking a risk by doing something new where we are potentially opening ourselves up to shame and embarrassment.

The avoidance of shame is a powerful drive because humanity’s success is due to our ability to work together. The whole tribe being greater than the sum of its individual human parts. So at our caveman core, we “know” that getting kicked out is dangerous. Shame arises from our instinct to stay a part of the tribe.

One way this could happen is if we say one thing but do another. A caveman that cannot be relied upon is a danger to the whole tribe. Thus we are instinctually driven to do anything to avoid that judgement.

We feel suspicious of our own success because it seems that it is built on a house of cards whose foundation is this simplistic definition of authenticity. Our success has not become internalized in our concept of who we are and that mismatch creates a lot of internal tension.

It seems that the only way we, as inherent losers, could really be our true selves is if we are sucking. That if we try and better ourselves, we are somehow falling into the sin of being fake.

Authentically, not Authenticity

To break out of this we need to approach authenticity in a different way. We need to think of it as a process of creation not discovery. We need to think of ourselves as dynamic ever-changing people not static prisoners of our experiences and knowledge.

While it is true that we may not be fulfilling our potential, the thing about that potential is that it is inchoate. It has no form. It is energy not material. It is what may be, not what is.

So what if we define authenticity not as attributes of our person but instead as attributes of our actions?

An action by definition is a flow of energy, a change of state. Action has a start and a stop, it allows for a change in direction. It’s the difference between being an arrow and aiming an arrow.

The way we engage with the world is a product of our values, our context (ie our environment and experiences) and our decisions.

We don’t have control of the first two, but we always have control of our decisions. Even when we are “forced” to choose one pathway over another that is because we are deciding that the alternate path is not tenable.

By focusing on authentic action we open ourselves up to the agency and engagement required of a truly authentic life. The dynamic interplay between core values arising from your foundational experiences and the realty you are living now. The actual reality, not the one colored by your fears and insecurities.

We are able to focus on the possibilities open to us as humans in the world instead of getting lost up our own asses hunting for our inner El Dorado.