Fake It ‘Till you Make It

It’s an adage familiar to any aspiring jazz musician. When you start trying to play jazz, you’re pretending, but pretend for long enough, and you’re doing it for real. Fake it ’till you make it.

Since starting my first degree some six years ago, I’ve felt like something of an outsider in academia. Some of that is due to being a mature student; some is due to being an atheist in a divinity department; and some is due to the “unusual” subject matter of my research. But some of it is just a feeling that all the others are cleverer than me. Now that may well be true; but I asked a few of them, and they all felt exactly the same way.

So we’re all pretending to be scholars, and if we pretend well enough, it gets to be true.

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7 thoughts on “Fake It ‘Till you Make It

  1. Carole Cusack May 28, 2011 / 12:24 pm

    David, I’ve meant to comment on this blog for ages, because a while back I posted a comment on Chris’ blog (very uncommon for me), and now is a good time, as last week I was extremely alarmed to discover that you and Chris have decided to ‘follow’ me on Academia.com (which I foolishly joined without thinking on the invitation of an American friend). I have asked the awesome Zoe Alderton, my current favourite research assistant, to sort out stuff on my Academia page, and incidentally teach me how to use it – and also LinkedIn, which I also foolishly joined ages ago when invited – just can’t say no – except to Facebook, of course 🙂 So in a while there might actually be something to follow!!

    There’s something interesting about the situation in which you feel that everyone is cleverer than you, that you’re a fake and a fraud, just waiting to be found out, and yet you are actually doing what an academic does every day – which is, that actually by doing things you become that thing, just like rehearsals make great Hamlets. Constantly rehearse being an academic, rehearse having ideas, rehearse teaching and writing, and all those things will become internalized and ‘natural’ (hugely problematic idea, of course) to you. I’m looking forward to seeing you in September.

    • adamkadmon June 8, 2011 / 10:18 pm

      David Foster Wallace (emphasis mine): “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships.

      The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some in-frangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

      Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story.

      The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

      • religionandmore June 8, 2011 / 10:20 pm

        If there was a ‘like’ button for this comment… then I would click it… to use the modern lingo!

    • adamkadmon June 8, 2011 / 10:34 pm

      I’m rewriting this reply because when I wrote it at first, it disappeared into the ether. I don’t know if Carole got it, or whether it’s just gone. The next day, my computer died. These occurrences may not be unrelated.

      Some educational psychologists use a four-stage model for how we integrate and internalize learning – I’m not sure how “canon” this is, but it appeals to me. The first stage is unconscious incompetence; we do not know what we are doing wrong. With some work, we move to conscious incompetence, in which we become aware of the errors we are making, and begin to rectify them. With application, we move to conscious competence; we can perform the task without error, but it takes effort. The eventual aim is to achieve unconscious competence, where we no longer have to bring the task into consciousness, under normal circumstances. Like driving while thinking about dinner and listening to the radio. My guess is, I’m somewhere in between the middle two stages.

      Now, I must stress that I have had two careers already, and I felt like a fraud in them too, so I know that this is a psychological, not actual, phenomenon. But it means that I also know that if I pretend – or as NLP call it, model competent practitioners – for long enough, I’ll get good. I never had any interest in cooking, it was just the first job I got a trial at when I was in high school. But I wanted work, so I got to pretend. And somewhere along the line, it seems that I got good enough to support myself, for a decade now.

      Looking forward to September too, Carole. Thanks for commenting.

      • religionandmore June 11, 2011 / 10:43 am

        Very succinct points, sir. I think I’d be firmly rooted in stage 2 🙂

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