Growing up, my mom gave me so much advice. Some of it was usable: always wash your face before going to bed, no matter how tired you are. Never buy a coat without checking the buttons and zipper. Flowers will stay alive longer if you put a teaspoon of sugar in the water. Don’t pick at zits on your chin, because the chin never forgets, and it stays red for a really long time. Never run over a bag on the highway, because it might be filled with kittens. (Yes, this is a true story. Someone had dumped a garbage bag of kittens by the side of the road in Arizona when she was growing up. I’m scarred for life.)
Some of it was deeply questionable/bullshit: you’ll need to learn to cook, because your husband isn’t going to. Pleated, tapered jeans flatter everyone. Keep your skirt down and your panties up until you’re married. If a dog is wagging its tail, it wants you to pet it. (HOLY SHIT IS THIS EVER UNTRUE, AND I HAVE THE SCARS TO PROVE IT.)
But, like most moms, she meant well, and wanted me to have a happy life. She doled out advice all over the place and hoped I’d use her experience to avoid awkwardness, dismay, and years of pointless blundering. And she succeeded! Because there is one piece of advice she gave me over and over again. It has helped me immensely, and here it is: fake it till you make it.
Lemme explain. “Fake it till you make it” is not about faking happiness until you trick yourself into being happy. It’s not about acting like you’re too cool for school until other people also believe you are, and then basing your life around a made-up personality. It’s about confidence. It’s about meeting situations that you feel intimidated by head-on, telling yourself that you’re ready for them, and putting I-can-DO-this intentions out there, until you’ve done such a good job convincing yourself that you suddenly can handle the challenge before you.
When I was nervous about going to an audition (I used to love musical theater), or worried everything would be different on my first day of high school, or terrified of going to a party where I didn’t really know anyone, my mom would say: “Krissie Raye. You have as much right as anyone else to be in that room. Fake it till ya make it, honey. Pick your head up and show ’em what you’ve got.”
In other words, you know you’re a cool person! You know you’ve got something to add! You just have give yourself a chance! And people who radiate confidence don’t usually spend the whole night hiding in the bathroom at a party (this used to be me), petting the cat in the corner of the living room all night because without the cat-as-prop you might have to talk to people (um, also me), or avoiding potentially frightening social situations by just not going to them (tiny cough). I found out that if you adopt the actions—the physical actions—of being a confident person and pretend you’re playing the role of Someone Who Doesn’t Feel Awkward, it works wonders!
But how do you do it? Here’s how.
1. Stand tall.
Not in a philosophical sense: physically stand up straight, you guys! Head up. Shoulders back. The act of standing up straight, with your shoulders back, exposes your heart. You fear no attack! It shows people that you’re in the room. You are a force to be reckoned with, and you’re not shrinking or cowering from the way others make you feel. Here you are. All 5'1" (or whatever) of you.
Here’s an example: A few years ago, one of my close friends was having a birthday party. A huge birthday party. At a recording studio downtown that was going to be shut down for the event. It was going to be epic. The problem? My friend had casually Facebook-invited everyone she knew, and that included a girl (let’s call her Sally) I had, um, a history with. Once upon a time, Sally and I had shyly admitted we liked each other, gone on two dates, and made out, rather extensively.
WELL. I realized I wasn’t as interested in Sally as I thought, so I kind of…tapered off with the cute, flirty texts. And then told her I wanted to be friends instead of date. So what did Sally do? Sally went around and told lots of people that we’d fucked, that I was “boring” in bed, that I was “obsessed” with her, and “wouldn’t stop texting” her. Let me reiterate: WE NEVER HAD SEX. And Sally was a person with a lot of friends, and they were also coming to my close friend’s super-mega-fun birthday party. (Thanks, Facebook!)
So if I wanted to go to my friend’s epic party (I did, badly), I would be walking into a room full of queer girls who thought I was insane, bad in bed, and obsessed with their friend. Fun! I went anyway. I was very nervous, but I threw my shoulders back at the door and lifted my head and and walked into that party. Yes, I was there. You couldn’t miss me. And I had a great time that night, dancing with my real friends, and guess who tried to come drunkenly dance with me, with everyone watching? Yeaaahhhhh.
2. Talk to people.
Does this feel like an obvious point? It might seem obvious, but if everyone who felt nervous in a social situation did this, then situations wouldn’t feel so scary, period. Are you a little shy? Don’t know anyone in the room? It’s OK! Everyone is new at some point. Look for the first person who looks nice and introduce yourself. Say something super simple, like “Hi, I don’t know anyone here, my name’s Mia,” and smile, and I’m telling you, suddenly you will feel better. You’re taking action against feeling awkward! Pretending you’re confident turns into feeling confident. It works, Mom! You’re a genius!
My first few weeks at college were very scary. I felt like all these little groups were forming (smokers, partiers, pre-med kids, etc.) and I didn’t have a group. I stayed in my dorm every night and cried a lot and wrote a lot in my journal and worried about why I didn’t feel like I had any friends, and everyone else seemed to have lots. No one was hunting me down in my dorm room and demanding to be friends with me. Weird. Eventually I realized that everyone else was as new as I was, and I might have to put myself through some uncomfortable-for-me social situations—e.g., introduce myself to strangers—in order to actually meet people. About a month into college, I…TALKED TO A GIRL IN MY LOGIC CLASS. I turned to her while the professor was demonstrating a complicated problem and said (ready for it?): “Hi. I’m Krista. Do you, um…get this?” The girl’s name was Jess, and it turned out she didn’t understand our assignment, either. Jess and I formed a logic study group together, and three similarly illogical people from class joined us. My first college friends! We eventually had so much fun in our study group that I ended up with a C-minus!
3. Get authoritative.
“Fake it till you make it” can work in lots of different situations, not just social ones. You can use it help you sneak into places you don’t belong, like research libraries where you don’t have a pass and hospitals after visiting hours and building floors you’re not supposed to be on. Don’t hide from people who actually belong there—stride past them with purpose, pretend you know exactly where you’re going, and act like you belong there, too. Other people will believe it, and rarely will you be stopped or questioned. Look like you’ve been doing what you’re doing for ages! (This can sometimes cross the line into doing things you really shouldn’t be doing, but for the most part, a little chutzpah never hurt anyone.)
Is there something you want that would help you immensely? Ask for it with an air of authority, as if you’re expecting to get it and you get it all the time! My friend Kelly is awesome at this. Just like Herminone Granger, who confidently asks for (and gets) access to spellbooks in the Restricted section of the Hogwarts library, I’ve seen Kelly get first-class upgrades on planes rides when there is no call whatsoever to give them to her. It’s unreal. Where most people might, at most, tentatively ask the airline check-in person, “Are there any upgrades on this flight?” Kelly saunters up to the counter and says with a smile and with this amazing authority, “I’d love to be in first class on this flight. What seats are open?” as if she’s certain of getting an upgrade because she always gets an upgrade. AND SOMETIMES SHE GETS AN UPGRADE. Because she’s so believable!
My friend Jen is also very, very good at this. She gets into shows around Chicago for free all the time, just because she locks eyes with the guy at the door and says, “I’m with the band.” I’ve even seen her just walk in. As in, everyone sees her go in, but she seems like she’s already paid, or she belongs there. It’s crazy. She breezes by the door, and everyone else pays $12!
4. Realize that other people are faking it till they make it, too.
A while back, I was in a room full of 20-somethings who had all just been hired to do the same job I had: travel around the country setting up educational seminars. In our first meeting together, we had to get up and talk about ourselves, and our previous experience with traveling, in front of everyone. And I was last. Everyone who went before me seemed so together. Witty! Funny! Smart! Sophisticated! My god, their past experiences! Their years spent abroad in China, Spain, India, Turkey! Their hilarious anecdotes about trips gone wrong! I was freaking out: how could I compete with these stories? Until I suddenly remembered: I had been hired, just like them. I, too, must have something to offer. Something that’s as cool as what the other kids have to offer. That thought helped immensely, and I was able to just be my (still pretty nervous but OK) self in front of that room.
Afterwards, I told one of the girls, Lisa, that I had been nervous to talk in front of everyone, and she laughed and said, “Oh my god, me too! And I went right after that guy Mike who lived in Mexico for so long! Did you see my hands shaking, it was awful!” She had been intimidated and nervous? ’Cause she had pulled it together in front of everyone. Wow.
Here’s the thing, you guys: LOTS OF PEOPLE FEEL LIKE YOU DO. Almost everyone gets shy, or tongue-tied, or feels freaked when you step into a room of people who you might perceive as cooler than you, or more talented then you, or more stylish than you, or smarter than you. But all those extra-cool, smart, stylish, talented people are looking at you the same way, thinking you’re so cool, stylish, smart, etc. Nobody knows anything about anyone, deep down, so pretend to be a confident person until your real, inner confidence can come charging out for all to see!
5. Consider your assets.
Take stock of what you’ve got. All right, not everyone is brilliant or gorgeous or makes perfect style choices every day or is good at thinking up pithy, quotable statements. But—this is my mom talking again—everyone is good at something! For real! You may be entering a situation that intimidates you, but you have a reason to be there, and you have something that no one else does. Maybe it’s your sense of humor. Maybe it’s your ability to include people. Maybe it’s your sensitivity to the feelings of others around you, or your ability to recount entire plot lines of movies in terrifying detail.
When you realize what you’ve got going for you, cue the eureka moment: YOU’RE NOT REALLY FAKING IT AT ALL. ♦