Exit 3. Learn it till you earn it.

About a month ago, I was talking with someone about how I don’t give a very good first impression in certain situations, and that makes a certain aspect of life hard for me.  (I know I’m being vague here, but I can’t really go into specifics, given the sensitive ongoing nature of some things that are happening in real life right now.  If you know me in person, you can ask me privately.  That’s not important to the point I’m making today.)  She told me something along the lines of, “If you want to make a good impression, you’ve got to learn exactly what these people are looking for, and say and do those things.”  I said that I’m not good at BSing.  She said, “Then get good at it.  You’ve got to fake it till you make it.”

Fake it till you make it. I HATE THAT PHRASE WITH A FIERCE AND UNDYING PASSION.

There are two reasons I hate that phrase, one general and one specific.  The general reason is that faking it isn’t who I am, and fake people annoy me.  If someone doesn’t want the real me, then I don’t want to waste my time on them.  And I don’t want to waste my time with fake people who won’t let me see who they really are, although usually their real selves come out in some ugly way eventually.  More specifically, though, that phrase sticks out in my mind as part of an infamously memorable conversation I had 10 years ago.  I was attending a church that had a lot of problems.  I had been accused of things that were really misunderstandings and half-truths.  The details of what happened are the topic of another story, which I may tell someday, but essentially I felt like my state of social awkwardness was being treated like a sin I needed to repent from.  People were uncomfortable around me because I was a little different, and I was being told whom I was and wasn’t allowed to talk to in order not to make people uncomfortable.  (There are still a few people from that church who I’m in Facebook contact with; if any of them are reading this, please understand that I hold no grudges against you or this church, but that is honestly how the actions of that time made me feel.)  After all this crap hit the proverbial fan, I stayed at that church for three months, trying to figure out if maybe I had done something wrong, and I had some helpful conversations where I learned things that I did that may rub others the wrong way.  In one such conversation, someone was telling me that one of my traits that turns others off was that, when asked how I’m doing, I actually answer the question.  “When people ask, ‘How are you?'” she said, “they don’t really want you to answer how you are.  It’s more of a formality.  They just want you to smile and say fine.  No one cares if you’re having a bad day.”  I said that that seemed horribly fake, shallow, and disingenuous.  “You gotta fake it till you make it,” she said.

Honestly, I think what this individual was trying to tell me 10 years ago is that there’s a time and a place to talk about why you’re having a bad day.  And I agree with this.  I can see where some might find it unsettling if, say, a stranger in line at the grocery store whom I had never seen before were to start talking about their bad day.  And I know that I do have a tendency sometimes to dump all my problems on people I barely know.  This probably is something I should work on.  But this wasn’t about dumping my problems on strangers.  This was about being at church talking to other regulars at church who I know.  If I can’t talk to my brothers and sisters in Christ about my struggles, if I have to be fake and put on a happy face to cover all the hurt and brokenness, then the problem is with them, and with this church if this sort of mentality is encouraged there, not with me.  Let’s look at what might have happened if the people in the Bible had this mentality.  The passage starting in Mark 10:46 might have looked like this:

Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his diciples, together with a large crowd were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus waved, and said, “Hey, Bartimaeus!  I hope you’re having a great day!”  Then he kept walking.  The disciples asked, “Why didn’t you help him?”  “Because his begging makes me uncomfortable,” Jesus said.  “That guy has serious mental issues.  There’s medication for people like him.  He just needs to fake it till he makes it.”

Or the passage starting in John 11:17, when Jesus comes to visit the recently deceased Lazarus’ family:

On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.  When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.  “Jesus!” Martha said to him.  “Hi!  How are you?”  Jesus said to her, “I’m fine!  How are you?”  Martha answered, “I’m great!  Mary and I had a girls’ day, we went and got our nails done and went to Starbucks!  It’s kind of sad that my brother is dead, but hey, everything happens for a reason, right?  God is blessing my socks off!”

These are extreme examples, I know, but in concept they’re really no different.  This is not the Jesus I know, and a church that acts like this is not a church I want to be a part of.

Back to the other conversation, the one that happened recently: I have had another opportunity since then to make an impression in the sort of situation that prompted this discussion, and I don’t feel that it went well.  This lack of good impression is something that is negatively impacting my short-term goals in life, and thinking about this later in the day, I realized that I really need to start taking this more seriously and learning how to make a better impression in these situations.  And that got me thinking about faking it till I make it again, and how I can’t do this, I just can’t be fake.  But I realized something more important: I can learn how to do better in situations without being fake.  Before my friend used that phrase, she said that I needed to learn exactly what is expected in these situations and act accordingly.  I can’t be fake, I don’t want to pretend to be someone else solely to impress people, but what I can and must do is learn how to present myself so that my best side, and my most appropriate side for the situation, is what people see.  And this will be something I will work on in the immediate future, so that I can continue to move forward in this short-term life goal.  Learning and practicing for these situations isn’t necessarily synonymous with faking it.  So instead of using that phrase, I’m going to say “learn it till you earn it.”  I’m not faking.  I’m learning how to present myself better, how to make sure that the impression I leave is the side of me that the situation requires, but still really the real me.

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing all of this… I appreciate your transparency. Sounds like you are doing a bit of soul-searching in this post (and maybe this blog) in terms of articulating your values and principles and what happens when those are in conflict in your communities. I like the “learn till you earn” and gives a better spin than fake/make.

    Greetings are a funny thing, right? Many cultures/languages have a “how are you doing?” as a general starting point of a conversation and I’m not sure it’s fake to tell people, “I’m fine” when deep inside I’m not fine. I say this because generally that greeting is more a formality rather than an invitation to deeper relationship. I feel fine about that. It’ s a bad phrase but it’s the phrase that’s out there. I don’t want to share all of how I am doing with most people–similar to why the word “friend” is bad when we use it in Facebook. I think it’s actually most honoring when we exercise self-control and limit who gets the deeper parts of us–the concern i have with millenials and social media is that we’ve lost that and everyone can have access to me at the exact same level.

    The other piece i think that you bring up is that you have a “prophetic” (i think it’s the appropriate word) edge–that you keep people accountable to their words. You want people to not fake it and you want people to be completely themselves and that their words match what they intend. I think there is something refreshing of being with people who don’t want to go through formalities but actually are aiming for a deeper relationship. It might be worth exploring that angle for yourself as you also explore what it means to manage formalities because that’s how we operate.

    Hope you are well my friend!

    1. Thank you for sharing. Yes, I’m doing a lot of soul searching in a lot of things these days, especially with all that’s going on. Like I said, I know I have a tendency to share too much in situations that aren’t necessarily the most appropriate for that, and there’s a hard line to draw between knowing how much to say vs. being fake. I appreciate your thoughts. I’ll fill you in privately on what exactly is going on; I don’t remember how much I’ve told you.

  2. Another way to answer “how are you” is to say something like “Could be better, but such is life” or “‘So So, but what can you do”‘. Something that is true, but brief and doesn’t necessarily require the listener to go down that line of conversation if he or she doesn’t want to. That way they can inquire more if they want to but the conversation can also just move along.

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