The Dark Side of “Fake it Till You Make It”

Faking It

I was interested in the media coverage of L’Wren Scott for many reasons, but the New York Post piece discussing her “fake it till you make it” lifestyle really brought to focus the many issues swirling around her life and death. I don’t know Scott’s work, I didn’t feel saddened about her death because of the people with whom her life was intertwined; I felt sad that someone worked so hard for a life that ended by her own hand in such a tragic, sandcastle-in-the-tide way. Slowly eroding until the empire she worked so hard to build dissolved unceremoniously away and now? She’s just gone. And I think that the points made in the NYP article speak to us as a society and that we should really take heed.

Whereas not long ago, celebrities’ lives were the only ones on public display, we common folk now have outlets like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogs where we’re able to carefully curate a life we want others to see as our reality. And in turn, those others start to craft the picture of what our lives must be like day-to-day, and start to wonder why their own may not match up to what they’re seeing.

I know nothing about Steve Furtick, the man credited with saying this clever line, but it is such an important sentence: “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” You see only what another person allows you to see, not what is happening inside their lives or minds, and this is why suicides can often rock those who thought they knew the victim. You can never know, because we’re all spending so much time faking our lives that we’re eaten alive by reality.

Faking it is a kind of psychological placebo, isn’t it? A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. There’s a definite upside to faking it, and there are many who feel that “faking it” is how we all achieve the “making it” part. The more we are convinced of something, the more likely we are to work towards that end, even subconsciously. This is why happiness (and sadness) seems to often beget itself. And it’s how celebrity (and marketing) in general works. The more we see something, the more important it seems to become. The more we see a product, the better it must be. The more we see a celebrity, the more important they must be. But it’s all just a carefully crafted image.

We evaluate ourselves based on this crafted image, and that’s the dark side. Someone else must be better at life to have such a picturesque existence. Someone else feeds their family better food, goes on nicer vacations, wears nicer clothes, attends all the right events. Someone else is obviously happier, more successful, more put-together.

We look at those regular folks who have become internationally-renowned artists, bloggers who’ve scored book deals, hometown dive-bar singers who signed major contracts, and we wonder, “Why not us?”. Why not, indeed? Beyond the fact that an awful lot of hard work, talent, and tears goes into a successful life (in most cases), having the courage to extend oneself to reach your goals takes a lot of fearlessness. In addition, it’s my theory that most people who “make it big” have to spend many years convincing people around them that they’re worth of being big — they fake it till they make it. Just like us. But to what end?

We hear a lot about “FOMO” (fear of missing out), and I think that applies well in our social media space and leads to much of the unhappiness we feel about the lives we see around us. We must be “on” constantly, for fear of missing the moment, the opportunity, the chance.

We spend an awful lot of time comparing our lives to those we don’t even know. Take the Real Housewives example in the NYP piece. Those women went into huge amounts of debt living sham, camera-ready lives to provide us with some kind of bizarre, fake insight into what we were expected to believe were their realities. How twisted is our sense of importance that this is what we come to believe is entertaining? On international television we watched these real people perform (underpaid) circus tricks so we could be fooled into thinking that somewhere, there are women living these crazy lives of excess, when in reality, that’s so far from being the case. Why can’t we have that life? If I turn down an invitation, could I be missing out on my big break? If I don’t keep up appearances, will I never reach my goals? It becomes a life-force-crushing, soul-sucking vortex of negativity when we start trying to live our behind-the-scenes lives as these highlight reels, truly.

We see people on Twitter (many with fake followers they’ve paid to acquire), and assume they must be important enough to follow, so we hop on board. We see people chosen to act in movies and shows and think they must be admirable enough to idolize, so we jump on board. We see people around us living the lives we’re working hard to attain, and we find ourselves lacking.

It’s a little like we’re living in The Matrix, and we can either accept that what’s being served to us is reality, or we can peek behind the curtain and understand that there’s a dark side to the “Fake it till you make it” revolution, and take comfort in living our wonderful, honest, authentic lives.

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19 thoughts on “The Dark Side of “Fake it Till You Make It”

  1. I think there is great logic in the Amy Cuddy “fake it until you become it” sensibility but you make a good argument that the faking part is far to often the end of the journey. Let’s face it Twitter and most social platforms are kindergarten based popularity contests. The content is very typically second to the size of the audience… despite being bought fake or never listening. If you hang with the right people and make good content I think time always forces the curtain open.
    Thanks for making me think on a Sunday:)

    1. Always happy to encourage a little thinking. But not too much. 😉

      Thanks for reading, Chris.

  2. We all have those moments that we dip down into comparison and feel like we come up short. Thank goodness I have family and friends to remind me of the joys of being a background singer and back up dancer – a role I am happy to live. Thanks for this insightful piece, Alex. Well-said, well-written. xo

  3. There is much truth here. It’s also a good reason for disconnecting from the surreal world on SoMe as often as possible: I am totally guilty of looking at the lives of others and lamenting my own existence and it can start sucking you down a really dark and scary rabbit hole.

      1. I guess it’s human nature – just like FOMO – we have to be smarter than that and stop ourselves… (Am I smarter than that? Hope so… 😉

  4. I think I have embraced the honesty angle, at least in most of my online life. In fact, I don’t think I have it in me to pretend when things are not okay. Almost to a fault. 😉 But this is all very true and wonderfully expressed.

    1. I’m honest, too, but that’s not really my problem… my problem is more with comparing my life with that of others. It’s a useless thing to do, and I guess I wrote this to remind myself that comparison truly is the thief of joy. 🙂

    1. That’s true, but I think it’s on us, as consumers/readers /viewers to form our own realities, and not allow those others to impact our views of ourselves at all.

  5. I have felt jealous and thought it’s time to move. I know that the grass isn’t greener somewhere else and what I was reminded to do was be grateful for what I have and start creating my own stuff. It showed as a reminder that I was stuck in my head, dwelling on my sadness. Thanks for the insight, Alex 🙂

  6. I read that article with fascination this weekend. New York is like a hyper-magnified version of the rest of us. Most of us live outside our means ( the financial crisis in recent years taught us that) and the stress that causes on our bodies and minds is tremendous. I like to think that we’re collectively getting wiser though and that through discussions like this we are pulling back the curtain on the dangers of presenting only the “perfect” sides of our lives. Thanks for linking to my piece.

    1. You’re right: the more we talk about it, the less power this stuff has over us. Thanks for your thought-provoking piece.

  7. Great insights Alex, I have always loved your writing. 😉 Unfortunately, there is a real dark side, and we all get caught in it at one time or another. Hopefully, having these discussions pulls that curtain back more and more and we can take comfort in living our ‘authentic’ lives.

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