Fake It* Til You Make It

[Click here to listen to the podcast of this post.]

I’ve never liked the saying “fake it til you make it”. I remember in high school our Principal Mr. Fielding told us one day at assembly that we should all make an effort to smile. Whether we were happy or not, he wanted to walk around the school and see everyone smiling. If we couldn’t put on a genuine smile, we should “fake it til we make it”, he said.

I found this a really difficult concept to accept back then. Particularly at what was a pretty awkward period of adolescence, the last thing I felt like doing was slapping on a fake smile for my Principal!

But, as is the case with these kinds of things, years later I have found wisdom in this message by re-framing it a little. I’ll explain.



This week I’m writing the blog from a little apartment that I’ve rented in the heart of Madrid. I’m here for a week’s holiday, livin’ la vida loca and chipping away at the novel I started writing in November last year.

Madrid holds some very happy memories for me. This time almost three years ago I had an experience that significantly changed the course of my career and my life in general. It almost didn’t turn out so positively though, and the difference was that I made a choice to “fake it* til I made it”.

I’ve shared the background to this trip before on the blog. At this point of my journey I had just come from a month in Egypt (with a bout of food poisoning!) and I’d stumbled across a residency opportunity called Interactivos at a place called Medialab Prado.

I signed up for the three-week residency knowing very little about what I was getting myself into. Meanwhile however, deep down I was subconsciously looking for a change from a career perspective and I was open-minded to “trying on” something new.

The first day seminar at Interactivos '10

The first day seminar at Interactivos ’10

The residency started with a two-day seminar on the theme of ‘Neighbourhood Science’. It was mostly in Spanish (y mi español es un poquitito mierda!). I knew nobody there at that stage and so for those first two days the whole experience made very little sense to me. I felt isolated, incredibly uncomfortable and a little bit stupid and naïve.

A turning point came for me toward the end of the second day. I’d reached a tipping point with my awkwardness in the situation. I looked around the room at all of the people I didn’t know and who didn’t know me and I thought to myself,

“I could just get up and leave. I could just pack up my bags, leave Madrid, walk away from this workshop and nobody would ever know or care.”

A funny thing was going on in my mind at that point. I was qualifying my choice. And I’m proud to say that I chose to be awesome. I acknowledged the discomfort and the fact that I felt out of place there and regardless, I chose to just try it on for a bit longer. Essentially, I decided to “fake it til I made it.”

A couple of days later I was working with my group on the project Virtual Urban and even though I still didn’t really have a clue what we were doing for most of the time, I’d let go of the outcome and given myself permission just to see this as a glorious experiment. And I started to fit in anyway.

Virtual Urban installation at La Tabacalera

Virtual Urban installation at La Tabacalera

It turned out to be an incredibly fulfilling experience. The project was about making visible the non-physical aspects of a neighbourhood in Madrid (incidentally Lavapies, where I’m staying this time round). The final installation was an awesome virtual reality world of 3D symbols superimposed over existing neighbourhood imagery.

I made some amazing friends during the process and the experience also opened my mind to truly broad collaboration and using technology.

To me this is the wonderful thing about travel. It allows you to try on new behaviours outside the context of what’s familiar. Travel provides an environment where you can become anonymous and with that comes no judgment and no expectation of how you should behave. You can just be yourself. Or you can try on new behaviours to see if they fit.

Some new behaviours fit. Most don’t.

For example, on Friday night I went to a meditation class here in Madrid that I’d stumbled across as I was walking around during the week. I’ve been trying meditation on my own for the last six months with pretty positive results. However this was a kind of Hindu meditation that involved repeating mantras and singing. It wasn’t my cup of tea! I tried it on and it wasn’t for me.

Another example. I did an improv comedy course for twelve weeks a couple of years ago. It definitely put me outside of my comfort zone and I learnt a lot about being creative in the moment. When the course ended, the rest of the group continued to hang out and go to weekly meet-ups and they were surprised when I didn’t join them. But I realised it’s not my thing. I tried it on, and it’s not for me.


*Fake it

To me, “fake it til you make it” isn’t about being false, it’s about trying on new behaviours and experiences. If we don’t experiment and try on new behaviours we can’t discover the great depth to our characters. We also can’t discover where our boundaries lie and what we will and won’t accept in the future.

So I choose to replace “fake it” with “try it on”.

  • How can you “try it on til you make it”?
  • Are there experiences that you are curious to try out but have never had the courage?
  • If you have the opportunity to travel, great! But if not, how can you put yourself in an anonymous environment where you’re free to experiment without perceived judgment?

Til next week, try it on and see what happens!

Be Awesome!



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