Why You Should Fake It Till You Make It


Majed Ammari (11th), Reporter

In a recent essay for The New York Times, Adam Grant writes about the “Age of Authenticity,” when people “want to live authentic lives, marry authentic partners, work for an authentic boss, vote for an authentic president.”


“But for most people,” argues Grant, “‘be yourself’ is actually terrible advice.”


Grant goes on to describe an intriguing personality trait known as “self-monitoring,” which has to do with how much a person aims for authenticity.


He explains:


If you’re a high self-monitor, you’re constantly scanning your environment for social cues and adjusting accordingly. You hate social awkwardness and desperately want to avoid offending anyone … But if you’re a low self-monitor, you’re guided more by your inner states, regardless of your circumstances.


According to Grant, “low self-monitors criticize high self-monitors as chameleons and phonies.” But although there’s a right time and place for authenticity (like with a romantic partner), research shows that we often pay the price for being too authentic.


For example, Grant cites a comprehensive analysis of 136 studies of more than 23,000 employees in which high self-monitors “received significantly higher evaluations and were more likely to be promoted into leadership positions.”


Additional research shows that high self-monitors advance faster and earn higher status at work, likely (at least in part) because they’re more concerned about their reputations.


Does this mean that you have to be a self-promoting fraud to get ahead?


Not at all. Studies support the theory that high self-monitors dedicate more time to finding out what others truly need, so they can be more helpful.


But if we needn’t bear our whole authentic selves, then what should we be pursuing?


Grant credits literary critic Lionel Trilling with the answer: Sincerity.


“Pay attention to how we present ourselves to others,” says Grant, “and then strive to be the people we claim to be. Rather than changing from the inside out, you bring the outside in.”


For example, consider research by Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at the business school Insead (quoting Grant’s essay):


When Dr. Ibarra studied consultants and investment bankers, she found that high self-monitors were more likely than their authentic peers to experiment with different leadership styles. They watched senior leaders in the organization, borrowed their language and action, and practiced them until these became second nature. They were not authentic, but they were sincere. It made them more effective.


Or, as Harvard professor and best-selling author Amy Cuddy put it:


“Fake it till you become it. Do it enough until you actually become it and internalize.”


Don’t get me wrong: I’m not encouraging you to hide your true self. In contrast, I believe best practice is to slowly reveal yourself–making sure to do so at the right time and place. This helps people get to know the real you–without them rushing to judgment.


Meanwhile, figure out who you want to be. Then, work hard to become that person.