Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Why “Fake it till you make it” is bad for you and for the whole internet

Raise your hand if you want to fail? I don’t imagine many arms going up. Within all of us lives a desire to succeed, to win, to achieve, to accomplish our goals. However, there is an unintended side-effect to this natural impulse. The more you pursue success, the harder it is to achieve.

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There is a movement sweeping the internet that is not only degrading the integrity of the web but also all who participate in it. It is called, “Fake it till you make it.”

The basic premise of this philosophy is you should act like the person you want to be in order to become the person you want to be. If you want to be an expert web consultant, than pretend to be one. Because of the distance and anonymity created by the internet, this is more possible than ever. Make a great webpage. Manufacture a few quotes. And, presto, you are an expert.

The problem is this turns the internet into a web of fakers and charlatans. All of the energy goes into creating a good impression (a good exterior) and little of it goes into developing a good interior. In other words, we cheat the real in order to project the fake.

And we do this because we want to succeed.

We want to be read.
We want to be rich.
We want to be free.
We want to be famous.
We want to be influential.
We want to be successful.

The worst thing about the “Fake it till you Make it” philosophy is that it works! With a good social media strategy and slick photos, you can become somebody (anybody) on the internet. You can be successful. But in the end, you are only a mirage. Like Frank Abagnale in Catch me if you Can, you lose who you really are.

Why do author’s struggle after their first book hits the bestseller list? All of their energy went into becoming a successful writer and none went into ensuring they had something to say. Leaders promoted too quickly realize (too late) they don’t have the character to handle new expectations. The dream of success can become a nightmare.

This is the problem with faking it in order to make it.

Viktor Frakl, a prominent 20th century psychologist and Holocaust-survivor, warned about the danger of aiming at success.

“Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”

— Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

In other words, aiming at success is the surest way to miss it.

So if we shouldn’t aim at success or fake it till we make it, what should we be doing?

Take all your energy and all your focus and aim it at your heart. Your character is like the foundation of a house. If you build a skyscraper on a foundation intended for a single-family home, the walls will eventually come down. Make sure your success does not outpace your character.

Let success be the byproduct of character growth not the manufactured product of smoke and mirrors.

In agricultural terms (for all you farmers out there): a healthy tree produces healthy fruit. The reverse is also true, an unhealthy tree will not produce healthy fruit. So instead of buying good fruit at the market and duct-taping it to your diseased branches, spend time watering, feeding, and rehabilitating the tree.

Because what is inside will eventually come out.

Another wise man once said:

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. … A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” —Jesus

So why don’t we stop pretending and start taking care of the tree. In the long run, we will be surprised by the fruit that results.

What is one thing you can do this week to grow in character?

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  • Really enjoyed this post, Josh. I think a lot of my struggle comes when I try to compare myself with the paper patterns that are already out there. I come up short and then am not feeling like a success at all. We need to identify for ourselves what success looks like. For me, it is touching hearts in a way they don’t forget.

    • Joshua Irby

      Yep. I think we who create need to put on blinders to prevent us from looking to the right or the left. We need to look straight ahead at what we are creating and make it as awesome as we can. When I spend too much time looking at the work of others, I have trouble doing my own work. By the way, I like your definition of success.

      • I’m trying to find my brand. Doing the steps to see if it emerges. I found that there were a bunch of children’s books inside of me. I’ve just completed my third one. They were hiding underneath the pain.

  • Thanks Josh. I love your line about taking all of our energy and aiming it at our hearts. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of pursuing success and comparing ourselves with others. It sure doesn’t feed growth of good character, but it does fertilize and grow the very character traits we abhor in others like jealousy, envy, hate and a myriad of others.

  • So good. Thank you! I think it is mostly accidental that people focus on getting everything shiny and perfect instead of what matters. At least it has been for me but I have (at several different points) realized I’ve gotten off track by fixing my eyes on the wrong thing. It reminds me of when I lived in China, the students riding bikes on campus would get so amazed at seeing a foreigner they would stare at me and inevitably run right into me because that’s where they were looking. None of us enjoyed it. 🙂 Focus is key!

  • So good here. Great reminder for me to go beyond being a logo, and be a human being.

  • Josh, this is magnificent! I love the analogy of taking care of the tree and the fruit will follow. One of the frustrating things about writing is that there are so many “experts” out there that it’s sometimes hard to know who to listen to. “Subscribe to my three thousand dollar writing course and you, too, can be a successful writer! And at just three thousand dollars it’s a real bargain! I could easily charge ten thousand dollars for this, but I want to help you!” I’ve lost track of how many of those emails I’ve received. And it’s so easy to get trapped in the hamster wheel of “becoming successful” that you lose the vision that drove you to write in the first place, and start focusing on the mechanics of being successful rather than the message inside of you that needs to be shared. (OK, soap box rant done.) THANK YOU for reminding us (me) that we need to stay focused on the things that are really important. Blessings, my friend!

  • Josh, it’s exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you so much for speaking the truth. i was tempted to listen to all those “gurus” but as they started to send me more and more emails to sell their methods, I realized that it was the wrong way… I hate pretending and lies. i hate this philosophy that brings men in the center of everything. I need to remember that I am a child of God and belongs to him because He redeemed me from the system of this world. I really need to be surrounded by safe people who care for me not because I can be somebody one day but just because I’m me. Thank you Josh 🙂

    • Joshua Irby

      I am so glad it was an encouragement to you. There is a lot to say about doing strategic things in promoting a blog or book, and I don’t discount that. I do think we cross the line when we become inauthentic in order to gain an audience. How long can we keep that up? And if you succeed you have to keep it up to a wider audience? That sounds a lot more like hell to me than heaven. Keep up the good work. Be yourself. Don’t give up.

      • Thank you so much for your message, have a blessed week-end !