Do you ever say something so often it becomes automatic? It’s part of your talk track. A phrase you regurgitate when you encounter the same situation over and over, forgetting to ever question why you say it or what it really means.
There are two common work cliches I cling to as the keys to success in my career. But I realized over dinner with new friends and while falling in love with a new book that these pillars I once saw holding up my success were actually casting shadows on my achievements.
I was at dinner with a group of women discussing our current roles, and one woman asked me, “How do you get to that job? It seems like you got there quickly”.
Then I said it…
“You have to fake it till you make it.”
I’ve repeated this line more times than I can count throughout my career. I’ve even offered the line as career advice to those I’ve mentored. I lean on this work cliche as the crutch to how my career path formed and climbed over time. It wasn’t until this dinner, this one Friday night, that I realized how wrong I’ve been. How wrong we all are when we use this cliche.
We are stealing from our success and diminishing our best qualities when we give credit for our accomplishments to “you have to fake it till you make it”.
In theory, it makes sense. You DO need to go after stretch goals and dive into new situations where you may have no idea what you’re doing or how you’re going to solve a challenging problem or meet high expectations. When we come out on the other side successful, it can feel like we faked our way through it.
But you didn’t fake anything. You were placed into that challenging role or offered the difficult project because you are smart, you exhibit grit, and you know how to work with ambiguity. You are trusted to take on high-stakes situations and figure it out. Why aren’t these the things we say instead of “you have to fake it till you make it”?
“Just wing it”
I’m currently reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I didn’t know I could enjoy a book about writing until I picked this one up. As I turn each page my admiration for the author is growing. But then, last night, I turned to page 59 and found myself wanting to reach out and shake her.
She describes her journey through the development of a character for one of her novels–a character who is an avid gardener. Anne, however, struggles to keep any plant alive. She reaches out to a man at a local nursery to help her design this fictional garden. She visits friends’ lavish gardens. She calls the man at the nursery many more times getting every detail just right.
I’m enthralled with this process, loving every detail of how the character comes to life, and then she says “people who read my novel believed that I loved to garden… until I’d let them know that I had only been winging it, with a lot of help from people around me, people who knew a lot more about gardens than I, friends that would cover for me, just like in real life”.
No, Anne, you didn’t wing it. You spent months learning about roses, fruit trees, and vegetables that would climb white trellis fences. Your research made the character and her garden come to life, and you did it so well you convinced your audience that you have a green thumb.
Anyone you admire, anyone who speaks flawlessly on stage, anyone who has a polished answer for every question, I promise you, they do not “wing it”. They dedicate time to prepare, practice, and perfect. They master their craft so well it looks effortless.
We have to stop using this cliche to diminish the dedication we apply to our work. If someone congratulates you on a powerful presentation with a tough audience, it can be tempting to say things like, “Oh, it’s just something I threw together last minute” or “I’ve just become really good at winging it”.
You poured your heart, mind, and time into your presentation, project, performance–share that experience with others. It teaches others looking up to you that practice and preparation will lead to success. It’s authentic.
Cut the cliche.
I’m making a commitment to remove these cliches from my talk track. Instead of downplaying any success I experience, I promise to share the fight, the dedication, and the struggle it takes to get there. Let’s stop making success sound easy and start authentically sharing the true picture of success.