I have no problem with authenticity. Really, I don’t. I surround myself with some of the most honest (sometimes brutally) people around. I try to live as honestly as possible too. It’s just that our social culture can often overuse a term to the point where it gets tossed around and “hashtagged” so much that its real meaning gets lost. Take bravery, for example. It used to be that you needed to go above and beyond your obligation or ability to be considered brave. For instance, a kid in high school standing up for another student being bullied is justifiably brave. Nowadays, you can be called brave merely by posting a non-enhanced picture of yourself on Instagram. Suddenly, warriors are everywhere.
It seems to me that the word authenticity is becoming similarly overused. We are encouraged to stand behind the virtual podium of social media and announce our flaws, weaknesses and fears to the world. Admittedly, it feels good to be showered with sympathetic comments and “you got this” types of encouragement. People care. However, does that really help you in the long-term? Can dwelling on our fears and struggles magnify them and give them too much power over us?
For years, I have dealt with a fear of driving on highways. I’ve tried many techniques to get rid of this fear and most of them have failed. When my son wanted to go to a high school that was far from our home, I needed to either figure a way to overcome this anxiety fast or get him a Uber account. So far, the only approach that has kept me from pulling to the side of the road and getting into a fetal position is the “fake it till you make it.” Essentially, I just pretend I am someone else. Not a fearless race car driver or stunt woman but just a regular person with places to go who doesn’t give driving a second thought. Playing this simple mind game with myself has really helped me. I still get some butterflies but I’m able to get my son to and from school everyday without too much distress.
I also used the impersonation technique when I recently had to fire an employee. I’d never fired anyone before and was extremely nervous about it. I feared her reaction and I feared losing my temper as her infraction was negligent and her attitude about it was callous. Even worse, I was afraid that she’d see through my hesitation and exploit it for her benefit. I needed to channel someone who was extremely cool and collected under pressure. A person who took care of business as efficiently as possible and without any trace of emotion. I choose Claire Underwood from the show House of Cards. Now, I’m about as different from her as night and day, thankfully. However, becoming Claire Underwood for those short fifteen minutes really helped me get through a very uncomfortable situation.
I’m not suggesting that we go around pretending to be someone else all of the time or with the people closest to us. Everyone needs the freedom to be themselves around people they trust. But sometimes, the only way to get out of our comfort zones is to fake it till we make it. Next time you are faced with doing something that seems too overwhelming, consider what your favorite superhero might do. Who knows, you may find that you are brave after all.