Fake it until you make it is one of those catch cries that gets my back up. For me this expression goes against everything I stand for, in particular being real, authentic and who you are at all times and in all contexts.
For years I have heard this phrase mentioned in numerous situations. Most often this phrase is a suggestion for psyching people up to get out and try to be someone that they want to be but just don’t have the experience or guts to do yet. The phrase is meant to be a bit of positive thinking, visualisation and manifestation wrapped up in one. I know this as I have even been on the receiving end of such advice from well respected coaches.
Yet for me using the 'fake it' phrase teaches people that you can get by in life if you pretend to be someone you are not.
Currency and relevance for now
Right now society’s big topic of conversation is how the current economic crisis affects people and business. The double whammy, depending on your perspective, is the rising unemployment combined with business downturn. Whether you are an employee or a business owner the world is changing as we get up and do whatever we do to earn a living and create the flow of money to fund our choice of lifestyle.
Employment and faking it
So it is in this context of changing business that I would like to consider two groups of people.
This group consists of employees and business owners who no longer enjoy the work that they do. These people are holding on to their work for fear of losing their source of income, security and having to deal with change. This group gets caught up in the faking it energy by staying in their work physically pretending to be engaged when months, even years ago, they checked out mentally, emotionally and spiritually from their work. They stay because it’s easier and safer.
Group two: The non working lost
This group consists of people not ‘working’ in any format because they don’t know what to do, where to go or how to be happy in their work. Included in this group are former employees who lost their job through redundancy, termination, downsizing or whatever euphemism is used. The group also includes business owners who may have cashed out or sold their business or perhaps even lost their business. This group gets caught up in the faking it crowd because they are still trying to cope with the absence of work as they knew it by holding onto what no longer exists or trying to replicate the same experience again. Some can also be in denial and pretend that all is great on the outside when inside these people are suffering their own personal crisis of meaning. At another level they have yet to let go of the identity they have with their ‘former working self’.
Both of these groups are of course subsets of larger groups which include happily employed people and motivated engaged business owners.
Are you faking it?
Assuming the existence of the two groups, how do you know when either you or someone you know is in one of these. Sure the obvious signs might be a person's employment status. But going beyond this status there are other signs.
Using anecdotal evidence gained form conversations, hearsay and random Internet stumbles I notice an increasing trend of job insecurity related to more and more faking it behaviours. For example, some of the comments that I have heard over the past few months include:
“I only go to work because I need the money.”
“I hate my job but somehow we have to pay the mortgage”
“If I had a choice I wouldn’t work at all”
“The business has my name on it so how do I let it go?”
"We have to move here because it’s the only place my husband can get a job.”
"We have to move here because it’s the only place my husband can get a job.”
“The staff have been here so long they wouldn’t know what to do if they left or went somewhere else.”
“I still feel responsible for what I created even if I don’t work there anymore.”
“This workplace is a safe haven and sense of security for these people”
“If I had a different boss maybe it would be different”
“The pay-check is good and it comes every two weeks so just when I am ready to jump, take the risk and go, it reminds you why I stay – the money”
“I miss the perks but not the work.”
“I sold my IP, so now what?”
“I have to stay at this job, I am going to have a baby and if I change employers I won’t get maternity leave.”
“I work in this job because I have to. My husband lost his a few weeks ago.”
I choose to write these statements here because 1) the rate at which people are sharing such comments is increasing and 2) people are expressing frustration, negativity and unhappiness around what they do or don’t do for work more than ever.
Ok so why all the pressure? Well the world economy is changing the employment market. Yes everyday jobs are going. The word on the street is that new jobs are not necessarily being created to replace these either. So we have a bit of a gap emerging for talented people who desire to apply their skills in situations where they are valued.
We see stories of mass sackings in the papers, hear disheartened recently made redundant employees sharing their shame on the news and receive anecdotal updates (otherwise known as gossip) of newly unemployed in our community.
The numbers are relative
The numbers tell a story but one that depends on perspective. I am focusing on the two countries I relate to – USA and Australia – due to my experience working in both. However I also acknowledge the wider global impact of the current changes.
So, take for example the situation in the USA employment market. According to the US Bureau of Labor, unemployment in February 2009 was up to 8.1% compared to 4.8% this same time last year. In terms of people numbers – which to me really speaks of the impact – we are talking 12.5 million people are currently unemployed. To put this number into perspective for Australians this total of people is equivalent to 57.9% of the Australian population (based on estimated population of 21,611,852 as per ABS.)
A reflection of the impact of the business and people double impact is the increase in ‘mass layoff events’. I was surprised to learn that the US Government tracks such items. What stands out is the increase in these events particularly in the last quarter of 2008. The US experienced the largest increase in one quarter of such events since they have been tracking the data.
Let’s put the Australian picture in perspective now. In January 2008 the unemployment rate was 4.1% compared with 4.8% in January 2009. The current rate represents a total unemployed population of 540,200 people.
So what about the statistics
I only quote the statistics to highlight that for those unemployed or not working for various reasons – you are not alone. For those of you hanging on at work wondering if you are next, well then there are many who have gone through the one way doors already.
Statistics to me just tell one part of the story. They are nice for policy makers, government officials and perhaps those employed in the offices tracking statistics.
There are REAL people behind these numbers
At a more human level there is a person behind each of those numbers. This is something often missed in the quotation of stats from company PR departments, HR budgets and management and board paper updates.
Whether there is one person, 540,000 people or 12.5 million people, the impact at an individual and personal level is great, not to mention their circles.
Because I have the privilege of helping people in both the groups above I know that the impact can also vary. When a person experiences a major career transition point they initially couldn’t care less about the thousands of other people in a similar situation. In their moment of ‘distress’ and ‘shock’ their world suddenly blows up into far greater importance.
So from the perspective that each person is entitled to their own experience I accept that the change underway will unsettle many.
Some thoughts and observations....
One of the misperceptions in the media or everyday conversation is that if a person is earning a lot of money then they will be ok if they lose their job, business or have a major career change.
This is not necessarily the case.
What normally happens is that people adjust their lifestyle and standard of living according to their earning potential. Most people I meet leverage their earnings to fund the purchase of property, travel, kids’ education, donations to charities, etc. What this means is that the money does come in but it goes out too. So when the money isn’t coming in then suddenly a person with a high level of outgoing commitments no longer has the means to meet these obligations.
Putting aside judgment about the choice and use of these funds, individuals in these situations can experience a great deal of stress not knowing how they are going to continue maintaining this lifestyle. The necessary adjustments to scale down can also create additional challenges psychologically.
For some, it’s a matter of perspective, for others it’s not so easy
This type of statement is easily said to the person who loses their job for the 4th time in their career. In fact it is not uncommon these days to hear people say they wanted the redundancy and a chance to restart in their life.
Yet for many, being made redundant or losing their job for the first time is a huge blow to the self esteem. Yes it is also a blow to the ego, but I am not going into that discussion right now. For many of us we have our identity tied up with the work we do. Our career is who we are, especially for those who have dedicated themselves to their work. Yet when we no longer can say that who we are is what we do we are lost.
So for anyone to tell us to ‘get over it’, well this is just asking for the anger already present to raise it’s ugly head. Watch out for the person battling the inner emotions of job loss, trying to hold themselves together and keep their identity in tact when it has just been shredded to pieces.
I am not my work so then who am I?
Let’s go to the deeper level of the question. What really lies beneath the frustration and emotional upheaval of changing job situations is the question lurking around the corner – Who am I? When we hide behind role identity either in a company as an employee or as a business owner etc we can easily avoid the answer. We can create the outer persona, prop ourselves up in front of others and play the game. This game is much easier than coming out to the world as our selves.
Yet when stripped of the comfort and shielding of the big name an employer provides, the brand identity of that company we own or the distraction we get through our work we are left with just one thing – our own company. We are suddenly very alone in the world and forced to be with our self. This opening of a relationship occurs by default, not choice. We are suddenly free of time, appointments, diary commitments. Our daytime activities are less and our free time more, when prior to the unemployment situation we had the opposite. Initially the freedom is liberating, yet the contrast can wear on people soon. Little things like our phone not ringing or emails not popping up in the in box can be unsettling. We are cut off from a group where were part of a community and no longer get the work updates.
We can’t fake it anymore that’s what hurts some of us
So we end up in this situation now where we can’t pretend to be the person in the workforce anymore. No longer can we answer the question who are you with “I’m Bob Manager” or “I’m Sue Investment Manager” or “I’m Jim, CEO of Big Global Company”. No now the answer is... “I am Bob”, “I am Sue”, “I am Jim”. The answer on the surface is so simple yet so challenging. If you are not comfortable being you then saying who you are without the comfort of role, title, context may be difficult.
What does being who I am mean?
When you strip yourself of the external roles that define you than what are you left with? A typical working arrangement would mean you spend 40 hours of your week at work, an additional 10 hours commuting to the workplace and another 14 hours of home and family time borrowed for your work. Assuming we allow 7 hours a night for sleep then you could use about 62% of your waking hours doing a job. When we are in the work, we have no time to think of anything else. Being who I am means being consistent in the work hours as much as the non work hours.
When faced with no work, we suddenly get the gift of these 64 hours back. Then it is our turn to do the work for ourselves.
Being your own person is like being your own boss
So in the wake of leaving employment of any sort you are suddenly thrust into the reality of being your own boss. You are not being the boss of a company per se, but the boss of you. You could say your new role is CEO of Me Pty Ltd or Me Inc.
If you are well versed in your business skills then its time to stop and take stock of where you are at. Just as you would in business, it is time to focus on you and consider what is working and what is not.
The parallel of you equal to the company is self explanatory. The broader your business skills the more you can apply them to you. Yet, the more specialised your skills are the less likely you can step back and be adept as CEO of ME.
So what do you do?
First I preface my comments with a belief that everyone at some level knows what they need to ‘do’. Yet I believe that before we can ‘do’ we need to ‘be’. By this comment, I mean get really comfortable in our own skin for a change. Start to accept where we are at and understand what makes us tick. Know what makes us want to get out of bed in the morning. Until we really understand the internal motivation and drivers for our existence in the world our actions are simply reactions and motions of habit. We will continue to place blame external to ourselves rather than take responsibility.
What you do also depends on your situation
Losing our job or staying in a job because we have to stay are situations not too dissimilar in their states of being. The only difference being where our time goes. When our day is currently occupied by the hours spent in a work arrangement that no longer serves us then we are not really effective.
So what keeps us trapped is fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that there will not be another job around the corner, or another source of income to sustain us. Fear of losing control. Fear of not knowing what the future will bring. Fear that you can not plan and predict the outcome of our life and lock it in. So fear gets in the way of us being free to be ourselves. To counter this we need to start heading down the path that is right for us without concern for what might be ahead.
Consequences if we don't change
For the ‘employed unhappy’, well you get to stay in jobs that you don’t like. You sit in jobs and perform at less than expected levels because really you just want to get out unless there are some major changes. Then for the employers well they end up with low performing and inefficient workers.
For the ‘business owner past your use by date’ you no longer have the enthusiasm to innovate, create or play in the market or industry in which your business exists. It’s time to move on but you are stuck knowing how.
For the ‘unemployed lost’ well you now have more time than ever to think about the consequences of your decisions. In fact you are at risk of over thinking, worrying too much about what happened and worrying too much about the future. The consequence is greater unhappiness unless you do something.
For the 'lost business owner' well you may be missing the action, have no idea what to do with not only your time but your skills and talents that lay dormant.
In all of these scenarios each person runs the risk of focusing on and energising the loss of the situation rather than the opportunity.
So we are all told that there are silver linings. I do believe this. We also know that the sun sets and it will come up again. There are cycles, ups and downs, good and bad. When it comes to dealing with employment related transition in times of uncertainty then the only place to find the silver lining is within ourselves.
To truly find the silver lining the first step is to decide that you no longer want to fake it until you make it. Instead you can choose to be who you really are right now and live YOUR life.
Then and only then can you really open up to the opportunity of the transition period that you and the rest of the thousands and millions of others are in.
A final reflection
Consider that when the world as you know it no longer is there you have the chance to create the one that you want. When you were in the world that had it’s hold on you well then you had no time nor space to be free to consider and open up to the possibilities of “what if”. As you embrace your possible or real employment transition situation begin to consider the upside rather than the downside.
Let's go there...