Fuck “Fake It Till You Make It”

The school narc's tenure was short.

Hello, there. Been a while, huh?

I screwed the pooch by leaving you hanging after I dropped the bomb that Most Marketing is Total Bullshit.

Why? I lost my mind when it came to working, work-life balance, and the like.

Newsflash: work-life balance is a fucking myth. It doesn’t exist.

Yes, you theoretically can “balance” work and personal time.

Until you forget that creative work is still work and time spent is not directly correlated with value (either entertainment or monetary). That’s a fancy-as-fuck way of saying: don’t binge-watch your life away while you “work” on your novel.

Solving a tough client problem and drafting up the first copy of your book take the same kind of energy – you just tend to enjoy one more than the other.

If you’re lucky and consider work fun (like me), you’ll still get out-of-whack: you have to recover energy somehow.

Ash Ambirge wrote a brilliant post about how knowing yourself and your end-game makes it easy to figure out what you want and should do next.

If you’re aiming high, you often have to do things that you haven’t figured out how to do yet. Most of the advice you’ll see is, “Fake it ’til you make it.”

And that’s fucking nonsense.

You can’t fake the important things that constitute work worth doing.

It might apply to shallow work you can pick up quickly enough so whomever you have duped doesn’t catch on (or, at best, with someone sufficiently gracious to allow you to learn on their dime).

But deep work? Nah.

My buddy Paul recommended the book Creativity, Inc. in which Ed Catmull, President at Pixar, says: “Early on, all Pixar movies suck.”

Ed and the folks at Pixar and Disney work relentlessly to figure out how to make the movie not suck.

You can’t fake competence in directing films while making the movie. Skill and vision are essential components to ensure it either sucks or doesn’t.

What’s the secret sauce, then? If Pixar’s directors are not faking competence to make movies, what elevates first-draft suckery into Oscar-winning gold? If you’ll allow me to coin a phrase:

Do It Till You Prove It.

Ed Catmull also dropped this bomb on us: “when you distil a complex idea into a T-shirt slogan, you risk giving the illusion of understanding – and, in the process, of sapping the idea of its power.”

Allow me to deconstruct my T-Shirt Slogan for you: dishonesty is the pre-req to fake it till you make it.

Honesty is a crucial component of creativity – in effort, criticism, and limitations. Dishonesty is antithetical to creativity. Creativity is required to solve problems (as when doing work worth doing).

You have to lie about your skills in a feeble attempt to fake it till you make it.

We tout this axiom like it’s a badge of honor, like the kid who wrote “Age of 18” on a piece of paper, stuck it in his shoe, and went to the recruitment station so he wouldn’t technically be lying when they asked him if he was over the age of 18.

It’s not. Nine times out of 10, the kid gets himself and his whole unit killed. His equivalent is the assclown who didn’t pull his weight on that group project you hated.

A boatload of honest work toward a goal, seeking honest criticism, and honesty about your limitations will get you a lot closer to your goal than half-assed fakery or resting on your laurels.

Detrimental creative catchphrases like, “Do work that scares you” and “No pain, no gain”, without context, make you do stupid shit, like take on projects way beyond your ken.

Work that matters demands that you apply yourself, to do the work. You can’t fake it, there’s no hiding. The truth will out.

What goals can you accomplish without a metric fuckton of applied, honest work?

That’s why I wasn’t blogging.

Around May 2015, I became determined to finish my first children’s book.

The work-life balance thing means I read bedtime stories most nights with my son. I love it. I love reading to him and seeing him turn the pages and point to characters he knows. I wanted to give him his own characters, things unique to our family. I’d wanted to do this for him before he turned 1.

That didn’t happen.

I had this vision of becoming a children’s book author. I had the same sort of vision when I was turning 25 and wanted to be an author. I tore chunks out of my site Psychotic Resumes, which I’d spent the previous two years writing and re-writing (here’s that metric fuckton of work part), stayed up 2 or 3 nights in a row, and busted out my manuscript.

I handed it to my friend, who knew how to do the Kindle and graphics thing, and wound up with my very first book in time for my 25th birthday.

Here I was, about to turn 30. I hadn’t published the five books I’d wanted to write. I hadn’t written the sci-fi epic worthy of John Hodgman’s hypnotic narration (after listening to Year Zero in 2014, I made it one of my life’s goals – this year will be the year). But damned if I wasn’t going to have my son’s book ready in time.

A whole slew of weird limitations stood in my way:

  • I wanted to, and then didn’t want to, pay a professional designer to illustrate my 25-page kids book (quotes ranged from $500 to $3,500)
  • I didn’t know how to draw it myself, and learning how seemed like it would take a lot of time and special equipment (it did – here’s the full story)
  • I didn’t know how to lay out the book, so I had to teach myself Amazon CreateSpace (not hard to learn)
  • I had no idea what to do about the ISBN or other documentation about the book (also not hard to learn) * I – despite being a marketer – had no idea how to market a kid’s book (still figuring this out)

Each step of the process was arduous, time-intensive, and potholed with knowledge gaps. I got my shit together and learned what I needed to – there was no faking it, it still wouldn’t be done otherwise.

I’d swapped one creative endeavor for another – I’d totally engrossed myself in figuring out how to self-publish a children’s book, fully off-balance. I’d written, illustrated, and self-published Mess Hunter, my blog was totally fallow – and it was totally worth it.

Fuck fake it ’till you make it. Go all in: do it ’till you prove it.