I distinctly remember the very first professional stage manager I worked with. His name was Bruce, he wore a stopwatch around his neck, and he smoked like a chimney. Truth be told, I remember very little else about him, other than he was very on top of making sure all Equity breaks were taken at the appropriate times.
That was back in the day when I still thought I would be a performer, and didn’t really know what a stage manager did. Since then, the other stage managers who have been my bosses have made much more of a direct impact on me. I have truly looked up to most of them, and respected them as my direct supervisors. They all seemed confident and at ease with their decisions and follow-through.
Now that I am now a supervisor of a team, I find myself wondering at least once a day, “When will I actually feel like a boss?”
My first experience as General Stage Manager for my current show presented itself in the form of a 6-month temporary stint while my boss went out on maternity leave. When I admitted to her that I felt like an imposter, her advice to me was, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” This was not my first time in a head stage manager position, but it was my first time in charge of a huge production and with a stage management team to help lead. So I had already lived by the “Fake it ‘til you make it” slogan many times already, but this felt like a whole new level.
Urban Dictionary defines the phrase “Fake it till you make it” as: “To act like you are something so you can, in fact, become that thing.
For example: I had no idea her parents were white trash as she always acted so classy. Fake it till you make it!” This falls a little too close to my feeling of being an imposter. If I fake it so much, am I really making it or am I just fooling myself and maybe (if I’m lucky) everyone else around me?
Since I probably drink far more wine than I should, I actually relate more to this description from the book AA to Z; An Addictionary of the 12-Step Culture: “a suggestion often made to newcomers who feel they can’t get the program and will go back to old behavior. The suggestion implies that if the newcomer acts according to the steps and teachings of the program, then the program will begin to work and the anxiety will fall away.” There’s probably not much difference between this definition and the one found in Urban Dictionary. Both of these publications are completely iron-clad, too. It must be true, I read it on the internet. And don’t ask me why I’m able to quote a passage from an Alcoholics Anonymous self-help book. I can stop whenever I want to.
“Are you really okay?”
I am acting like I am okay.
Please don’t interrupt my performance.
I guess I always felt like being in certain positions would mean you would feel certain ways.
Realizing this was not true for me also made me realize that there are probably plenty of others who feel the same way. Is everyone just stumbling around, hoping that nobody notices that they have no idea what they’re doing? I wondered this same thing while watching a news program today, looking at a bunch of people who are not much older than me making extremely important decisions that impact the lives of millions of people. Do they also feel like they are faking it ‘til they make it? If so, that’s pretty fucking scary. But you know what? That’s probably exactly what at least some of them are doing.
This thought-pattern doesn’t start and end at work, either. Every day, I find myself surprised that I have children who seem to think I should know what I’m doing.
While attending one of my first birthday parties for a kid (you get invited to kids’ parties only after you have your own kids), two children that were not related to me were arguing over whose turn it was to ride a tricycle. I watched them go back and forth, and then suddenly noticed that they were staring at me. I realized that they were expecting me to jump in and mediate the situation, simply because I was a grown-up and a mother. I stuttered out something like, “You’ve been on there a while, give her a turn and then you can have another turn.” I’m fairly certain that my faking at being a responsible mom did not fool those kids for a second.
But it may not be a completely bad thing to feel like you’re faking it.
Author Steve Tobak wrote, “If you’re a knowledgeable and experienced professional just trying to boost your confidence to help you achieve the next rung on your career ladder, I would argue you’re not faking anything. It’s normal to feel a little anxious about facing the next big challenge. It’s not a bad thing. It’ll actually keep you on your toes.”
I definitely feel anxious whenever I try something new, for any number of reasons. But this also puts me on high alert so I’m never just coasting through a new task. Maybe I’ll never feel like I’ve made it, but maybe that’s a good thing. It’s very likely that I would stop trying if I got too comfortable. So I’ll just keep faking it, and hope that not too many people catch on.
Also by Mary Barnett: