Pretty Fly and Faking It
Break out your Vanilla Ice CD and embrace your inner Pinto-driving “white guy.”
Our “smart TV” (or the NSA agent in charge of it) has a fondness for My Chemical Romance music videos, specifically “The Black Parade.” No matter what video gets started on YouTube, it’ll eventually play through some random rotation of things to get to MCR. Another video it likes is The Offspring’s “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” which means I’ve seen it too many times.
Aside from issues of cultural appropriation and objectification of women and other things that weren’t on the public’s mind back in 1998, there’s actually an oddly profound concept at work in both the visuals and the lyrics: Fake it (whether you make it or not).
Earlier this month, our newest group of brown belts at the dojo had their workshop to learn how to be teachers because they’ll all have to start their teaching internship this year before they become eligible to take the black belt test.
This time around, all the black belt candidates will be juniors, but the emotions and personalities that arise during the internships seems fairly consistent between children, teens, and adults. Some love performing, love attention, and love being in front of a room commanding a group. They take to running punching and stretching series like a cat takes to napping.
Then there are those, like me, who have always hated public speaking, fear performing, and wish we could somehow avoid this requirement. There are interns who freeze, whisper, cry, or suddenly forget all the stretches they’ve been doing every class for years.
For those, the idea of faking it until you make it sounds crazy, unachievable even after I tell them I spent years faking it until I finally one day realized I didn’t have butterflies about leading class.
Except, The Offspring don’t just advocate faking it until you make it, but rather “if you don’t rate, just overcompensate.” It’s something the myriad “authenticity movement” gurus probably aren’t going to encourage, but it’s how a lot of successful people get there. It’s also how most men have been apparently playing the hiring process for a long time. They’re applying for jobs when they only meet 60% of the requirements listed on the posting while women have been assuming they need to meet 100% to be considered, much less hired.
Americans love self-confidence. We’d elect a con man who exuded confidence even when shouting nonsense rather than someone who paused to consider words and tried to use facts. (We also kind of told women that even meeting 100% of the qualifications wouldn’t matter for them, but they seem to have decided they’re having none of that and running for offices in record numbers in response.)
Faking confidence you don’t feel is hard, though, if you’ve been raised to be honest, if you’ve been honed to be “authentic,” if your “personal brand” is rooted in “realness.” Besides, isn’t “being vulnerable” a way to market to people unsure of themselves? They all feel like contradictory messages, and most of them are aimed at women. (I’ve not seen a lot of self-help books or coaches telling men to post about their struggles on Instagram to gain followers.)
Women already walk a tightrope between assertive and bitchy, nice and pushover, authoritative and shrill, expert and know-it-all, friendly without accidentally flirting, all the while brushing off advances without accidentally causing the ire of someone violent or powerful. That’s on top of the expectations for appearance that we either try to abide by or ignore at our possible peril.
Now we’re trying to balance authenticity and faking it, too?
And that’s not just to keep the self-help gurus happy. Over and over, women report that authenticity, honesty, and open communication are important to them in the workplace. Those traits aren’t always valued by employers, though, and that difference can lead to a lack of confidence. Because, ironically, faking it (in hopes of making it) can lead to less confidence instead of more, especially if you value honesty.
Perhaps this is one reason why, with the rise of the gig economy, so many women who have the means to do so have gone out on their own, either as “side hustle” or a full time freelance/consulting business. Not only has job security become an endangered species in most industries, the disconnect between fake and real makes it hard to get in and get ahead.
Perfectionists are often stereotyped as overachievers who never miss a beat or a step. The truth is a lot of perfectionists are invisible because their standards for themselves are so high they can’t achieve them. They have novels and paintings and apps and inventions and songs sitting around their houses and hard drives waiting to be perfect.
Which isn’t so different from women waiting to meet 100% of the requirements to apply for a job.
Entrepreneurship leaders and thinkers will tell you that “shipping” beats perfection. That pushing publish or print or send is better than hiding your ideas and projects until you think they’re perfect.
Applying and being rejected is better than not applying and missing an opportunity.
Perfectionists find this difficult to do. Women struggle with the confidence to spend time on an application for a job they assume they aren’t qualified for, especially when they generally perform hours of extra work as it is. And for that reason, perfectionists could use a dose of faking it, coupled with maybe the authenticity to admit something might not be perfect, but it’s good enough and that’s okay.
The trick is having the confidence to push that button no matter how imperfect or how unqualified one feels, to overcome cultural or family programming about value and honesty, to override personality traits that stagnate growth and limit possibility.
The irony of “Pretty Fly” is that while “he may not have a clue and he may not have style,” he’s playing the game of life on the least difficult setting so what he lacks, he really can make up for in denial. Still, he’s presented as ignoring all the hints that he’s not as awesome as he thinks he is and he’s having a great time because of it. He’s happy to be faking it.
Which brings me back to my new brown belt class and guiding them forward to their test. Part of what they have to do is overcome their fears, but just faking it only goes so far. If you have the underlying skills necessary to do a job, but haven’t done it before or don’t have the right degree, etc., you’ll likely do fine in the position, but it’ll take work to get good at it. Same for them. They have the underlying skills, but it’ll take work to get good enough for the test.
In the meantime, they can learn to fake it. And I can learn to as well.
Hey, you’ve reached the end! Awesome. Do you know how rare and special that makes you? How ‘bout a clap or two. Give yourself a couple, too. Claps for all.