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.


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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