Making it without faking it - building an authentic presence

fake news

I have a lot of time for Professor Amy Cuddy. Her 2012 Ted Talk – ‘Fake it Till You Make It’ – is credited with over 40 million views. It is listed as the second most viewed Ted video and has had a powerful influence on many of us – particularly women crushed by a glass ceiling that, at times, seems to be lowering rather than cracking.

She is no stranger to adversity. A serious accident as a college student led to a temporary drop in her IQ of approximately 30 points and doctors’ advice that she would struggle to complete her undergraduate degree.

I’m sure those doctors regret missing the steely determination which saw her not only complete her undergraduate degree but go on to complete a doctorate at Princeton. She is now an Associate Professor in the Negotiation, Organization & Marketing Unit at the Harvard Business School. No mean feat.

In 2015, Cuddy turned her Ted ideas into a well-received book focusing on body language and its influence on our brains and our behaviour.

‘Presence- Bringing your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges’ is a terrific book, effectively pursuing her theme that if you act powerfully you will begin to think powerfully. Her ‘Fake it till you make it’ encouragement in her Ted talk morphed into her final chapter, Chapter 11,  now called ‘Fake It Till You Become it’.

So I’m a fan.

However, times have changed and I find there are parts of Cuddy’s work that don’t sit well with me now.

What seemed powerful and relevant in 2012 and even in 2015 now seems out of step with the language that inspires us today.

Because now we are living in the ‘fake news’ era.

We are bombarded with that expression by a world leader whose own disdain for truthfulness has spawned websites dedicated to exposing and counting his daily volume of untruths in twitter feeds and public statements.

The ‘Fake News’ claims encourage us to disbelieve information presented by the institutions we once trusted readily. Whether we believe the assertion or not, it has affected how we scrutinize information.

The website of the Edelman Trust Barometer reports that:

 ‘Globally, nearly seven in 10 respondents among the general population worry about fake news or false information being used as a weapon, and 59 percent say that it is getting harder to tell if a piece of news was produced by a respected media organization’

These concerns mean that an exhortation to do anything fake now comes with a lot of baggage and does not hold the power to persuade.

It is time to be more thoughtful about our language, particularly those of us who already have a deep-seated, personal connection with imposter syndrome.

My advice to Cuddy is to keep her message but change the frame. Her research remains valid and her encouragement for us to develop our own positive narrative is powerful. However it is time to focus on authenticity. It is authenticity that enhances our power and makes us memorable in a positive way. It is authenticity that we are all hungry to see but so rarely find.

So we need a new title for Chapter 11. What about ‘choose what success looks like and own it’ or ‘Finding and being my boldest self’ or ‘discovering my authentic self’. Probably not as catchy as Cuddy’s language but it is more useful language for where we are today.

(Photo credit: Linkedin, Creative Commons, Flickr)