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Judith Natelli McLaughlin Headshot

'Fake it Till You Make it' -- A Slightly Degrading Catchphrase

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"Fake it till you make it" is a common catchphrase, along with "it is what it is" and "don't go there." I am not a big fan of catchphrases in general, but I have some serious issues with "fake it till you make it." So, let's talk.

  1. Who says you are faking it?
  2. Exactly what is making it?

First, I am going to use a person I have no connection with to illustrate my point. A celebrity. A personality. An actor. A back-to-back Oscar winner. Tom Hanks. Mr. Hanks' work is brilliant. He is one of the finest actors of our generation. And who doesn't like seeing him appear on Saturday Night Live, where he seems so, well, normal? Average, even. Average and yet, he is only the second actor to win back-to-back Oscars. He won for Philadelphia (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994). The first to do so was Spencer Tracy for Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). That is good company.

Being only one of two actors to take home two Academy Awards in two years, is that making it? I would have to answer yes.

But what about Mr. Hank's beginnings? He had been living in New York for a couple of years in the late 1970s before striking a development deal which worked out to be co-starring in the television series Bosom Buddies with Peter Scolari. The series began in 1980 and lasted two seasons. In his 1989 Playboy interview, when asked about that series, Tom said, "We all had a great time. I thought we did some really excellent television shows. We, as actors, got to be a very, very finely-honed team. It was a great marriage, as far as that goes..."

I wasn't there when the deal for Bosom Buddies went down, but if I am pretending to be a fly on the wall, eavesdropping on Tom Hanks when he got that phone call, I can hear a measure of excitement in his voice as he announces, "This is it! I've just nailed the lead in a television sitcom!" Perhaps he was even doing what I like to call "the happy dance." He wasn't faking that period in his life. He was an actor. He was the lead in a sitcom. And for that exact moment it time, he was it! There is nothing fake about that experience.

From there, he went on to star in Splash, a movie directed by Ron Howard. (Howard and Hanks met when Hanks had a guest-appearance on Happy Days. He read for a secondary role and got the lead. Was that making it? You bet it was. It wasn't the two back-to-back Academy Awards kind of making it, but who knew they were coming, right? For that moment in time, he made it. And Hanks didn't fake Splash; he nailed it.

In 1996 he wrote, directed and starred in That Thing You Do. If not a box office success, I imagine it was a very personally gratifying adventure. I would have to vote it was a real "making it" experience.

As I struggle to figure out my future as an author, I remind myself to take joy in my current successes. I am the author/illustrator of the self-published children's book Poems on Fruits & Odes to Veggies -- Where Healthy Eating Starts With a Poem. There is nothing fake about this book. It is real; a book I poured my heart and soul into. While not a blockbuster, it has sold 2,000 copies. For me, for now, that is making it.

My novel, This Moment, is equally real. Roughly 1,000 e-copies have been sold for Nook and Kindle reading. Naturally, I want more. But I am not faking it. I really did the work. I really wrote the novel. I really worked with an editor. And perhaps I need to take a step back a revel in the pure joy that is my passion: writing. My novel, the book I wrote, has been read by upwards of 1,000 human beings. Who says that is not making it?

What do you think? Are you working on a real project that gratifies you at this moment in time? Are you offended by the phrase "fake it till you make it?" Perhaps we need to change that slightly degrading phrase. How about "own it while you hone it?" Or "bake it as you make it?"


Just enjoy the ride.