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April 10, 2019

“Fake it ’til you make it” is BS.

I’ve never really appreciated the oft used phrase “Fake it till you make it.” There, I said it.

Why not, Jeff?

Okay, since you asked… During my 20 years in the Army I changed jobs and locations more times than I can count – the Army likes to keep things spicy that way. At the beginning of pretty much every position, rank, and new duty location I was assigned to it was always full of pretty steep learning curves. “Embrace the suck” is a term often thrown around. It’s all ‘experience building’. Military life is very unpredictable and fast paced, and when you arrive in a unit or new job it’s like jumping into a car and driving while the car is still being built. (by the lowest bidder, but that’s another conversation).

The real fun comes when after spending about a year or so in a position and begin to feel like you’ve got your feet on the ground, got a handle things, and in the flow – Basically “Okay, I got this, I’m good at it, and I’m producing some quantifiable results. Yeah, the real fun happens about then because more than likely you’ll be assigned to a new job, often with very little overlap time going in, and your predecessor is either already gone or is more focused on getting on to their next thing. That’s super stressful at home base where most of the work involves training; the stakes go way up in combat. There is a ‘zero mistakes’ mindset in those situations. But life throws curveballs and like we’d say in Army Intel – the enemy always has a vote.

True story example
When I was a the lead Intelligence officer of an Artillery Brigade in Baghdad, Iraq our unit was assigned to take over another Area of Operations (AO) in a different part of the city – the largest and one of the most complex swaths of Baghdad. I had about seven people working for me whereas the typical Infantry brigade has an entire Company, about 100 Soldiers strong, supporting that mission. We were all pushed beyond what we could realistically handle. My Soldiers and I were exhausted after being on the ground for almost 12 months already. Faking it til you make it meant troops lives could be at risk; they relied on our Intel to stay alive. You had to make it on the daily. So we get to that AO and the outgoing dude spends about 1-2 hours with me over the course of about 10-12 days; he was too busy doing whatever in his office. He assured me everything was running smoothly and they had a handle on the enemy composition and activities in the area. This was, while reassuring, not really helping me at understanding what my day would/should look like to effectively support my commander. To make matters more fun, I was now in a position slotted for someone with much more experience – I was a fish out of water. Nah, more like a fish in a frying pan.

So about five days after we officially took control my boss comes in my office and matter of factly says – “The commanding general’s helicopter will arrive in 20 minutes and he wants as deskside briefing from YOU on the enemy in the area. It’s normally takes weeks go get something like this tuned up and ready for someone of that level. This General later went on to become the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – the President of the United States’ top military leader. After shitting my pants I grabbed my NCOIC (top enlisted Soldier) and we got our briefing queued up – one that the five days since departed intel section had left us; from what we knew it was the ground truth. I felt like my boss threw me under the bus. He was always pretty much of an asshole, so it makes sense. Since I was only a Captain I was never invited into meetings with the brigade field grade officers and felt completely ostracized.

Anyway, This General was smart, tough, respected, and zero bullshit – as most Generals are. I liked the guy. So we brief him up and things seemed to go okay. We answered his questions the best we could, but this was not an opportunity for giving him any ‘alternative facts’ to make him feel better about things. He left on his helicopter and we felt pretty good. That is until the next day when I’m informed there was a Major from Division staff that is coming down to take over my section. I was now the assistant, and while I felt a major sense of defeat and a big dose of humility in this demotion of sorts, the biggest thing I felt was a sense of relief. Finally, we were getting some help we needed.

Fast forward many years. So now I’m in a brand new career that is a total 180 degree turn from being an Army officer. I mean how much more different can a yoga therapist be from an Army Intel officer? The learning curve has been steep, but at least now I have time to really develop my skills, gain confidence, and really make a meaningful difference in lives. Even better is that I get to help people in the military who are in fish in a frying pan situations.

The lesson in all this to me is that, while it’s a cute saying, we can’t fake it until we make it. That’s not reality. To really make it we need to be honest with ourselves, admit our lack of experience, where we need help, let go of the zero mistakes mindset, and put our best efforts in doing the best we can. We’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to learn from them, and we’re going to one day become experts. Who might be able to help us refine our technique? What fundamentals do we need to incorporate? How can I be kind to myself today? What am I doing or not doing that is preventing me from doing this? Should I (you) just give up and do something else? Maybe, but probably not.

Yoga and life have taught me so much about this concept. If we have the guts to try handstand (or take on any challenge) we’re going to fall and flounder, a lot. It’s going to happen again, and again, and again. I guess If we don’t ever try handstand (or a new thing) we can never fall out of it, but there is the dilemma. What learning opportunity are we withholding from ourselves if we never try?
The real lesson comes by realizing that by showing up in our lives, or on our mats, each day and doing the best we can we’ve, right there, in that moment, we’ve already made it. No faking required.

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