Fake it Till you Make It

Before I became self – employed, I worked for a small baltimore company as a designer. My first job for the company was re-designing and developing the back-end forms for BGE.com’s business services. These forms were 100's of fields long, required complex validations, and had to be coded using standards – based markup. I got hired to do this job, since I had expressed experience in CSS and xHTML markup. This project was my first introduction into that company’s “Fake It Till You Make It” mentality. They had taken on the job and promised a solution they could not deliver on, at least with their current skill – sets. 

“Fake It Till You Make It” (FITYMI) became a rallying call between the four designers whenever we got a new project the owner had sold. Video animation and editing, sure, we can do that. Complex Flash applications, sure, no problem. At the time, the only down – side was the long hours we’d have to put in to make something actually work, but the FITYMI rule didn’t really come into the fore – front for me until I and one of the other designers became self – employed.

My friend started his self – employment about a year before I did. He was working out of the basement for clients that he had freelanced for. There was a lot of the “Royal We” thrown about, and sometimes he would jokingly ask me to go on meetings with him so that is looked like he had employees and was bigger than just him.

We can do that for you

My biggest problem with FITMI was in meetings, when discussing needs or solutions, and saying “sure, we can do that.” I didn‘t really think anything of it at the time. My wife called me on it, when in a meeting with her and her business partner, I dropped it. I fell into the mistake again when setting up this version of the website, listing the services and processes that I provide as things “we” could provide. It came so naturally. Then I read this article, and promptly changed as many of the “we's” as I could find. This business is really me and the odd intern, and there was no reason for me to be dishonest about it. The two things I really liked about the article were a few of the author’s points on why FITYMI wasn't awesome: By faking it, we fail lto share our struggles, and By faking it, we fail to learn what it takes to REALLY make it. I’ve always wondered about how other small companies and self – employed people are doing, and yet no one ever really wants to talk about it. Same things about failures, not many people readily talk about them. Happycog and Fastspot did a SXSW panel on the subject, but that’s more the exception to the rule.

Coming back to FITYMI

After I read that article and changed the wording on the website, I didn’t really think much else of it. I tried not to use “we” in my conversations with clients and friends, though I’m sure a few slipped in there. A few days ago, Andy Mangold asked whether:

someone can become great without having to fake being great for a period of time

I flippantly urged him to: 

avoid FITYMI

This started off a conversation that roped a lot of people in and got me thinking again about being authentic.


I’ve been searching lately for authenticity in things that I buy and eat, and would like to extend that into what I’m writing here. I’ll be following up with a look at a project that is launching soon that looks pretty successful on the outside, but internally I did not complete this project to my standards. I think this will be important for me to remember what and where things didn’t work, and hopefully as a “teachable moment” for myself and others.

I’m also going to start doing a series of posts on how I got to be three years into self-employment. I feel I’m at a (self-inflicted?) plateau with Make Things, and I hope that in looking back, I can move forward.