Fake it until you make it

On The Apprentice: Martha a candidate got the boot because she used the term “fake it until you make it.” Martha was insulted, insisting that to work at her company there was no “faking it.”

I could see all the Martha Stewart Living Omnipedia folks squirming in their chairs. Sorry, Martha, it’s true…everyone has faked it at one time in their life. Maybe twice. I contend that if you’re in a job where from time to time you don’t have to act like you know a heck a lot more than you do until you figure it out, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. You’re probably bored. If you have to do it for 8 hours a day, you’re underqualified and you better get out of there before you hurt someone. But most of us have taken on tasks that were a bit over our heads knowing that we’d figure it out as we went along. And we usually do.

In late 1991, I was 25 years-old and working as a Mac production artist for the paste-up department of the Savannah Morning News in Savannah, Georgia. I was interviewing with the Production Manager of a small ad agency in New York City to be their Studio Manager. I had no idea what a Studio Manager did, but I wanted it. I had been out of college for 2 years and it was time to get a real job. This woman and I were hitting it off. We had already spoken a few times on the phone. Then she asked me, “You know QuarkXPress, right?” Uh oh. I was a wiz in Multi-Ad-Creator, the application we used to create ads in Savannah. I worked twice as fast as anyone else and they always gave me the really complicated ads to work on. I learned some PageMaker in college. I swallowed hard, thought of the screen shots I saw in a recent Macworld Magazine and answered, “yeah, sure.” Back then the studio wasn’t using the Macs for full production and QuarkXPress was the new thing. She took me at my word and I got the job.

My plan was to take a class, read a book or two and figure out enough QuarkXPress to get by. I’ve always picked up technology quickly. One of the first projects I had to do at the ad agency was all of the meeting room materials for NutriSystem. Remember the NutriSystem ads where the folks come jumping out of photos of their fat selves? “Gonna NutriSize your body…gonna NutriSize your life…” the jingle went? That was us. Anyway, that was me…hours and hours and hours on the Quadra 700 the agency purchased just for my use, making every stupid newbie mistake you could make in QuarkXPress and still get something to print.

Back in those days, no one was doing digital printing. I saved my file to a 3.5” floppy disk and messengered it to the service bureau for “repro” and then cut it up to glue on to boards which were sent to the printer. For the first of the 12 books I worked on, I spent more time with the X-acto knife than I did with the computer. By the 12th book I was pasting down the repro on the board exactly as it came back from the service bureau. By the time I had enough time in my day to take a class, I could have taught one.

What made me take this little trip back down memory lane? We’re going to a medical symposium in San Francisco at the end of this month where we’ll be facilitating a training for patient advocates. It’s a big deal for us. I’ve taken on the responsibility of coordinating a dinner for 20 on one of the nights. I have absolutely no experience whatsoever in event planning. I don’t even entertain at home if I can avoid it. “Fake it until you make it.” Doing this sort of thing is part of my job description in nonprofit management, especially in a very small nonprofit where everyone wears many hats. One second I’m in InDesign editing a newsletter, the next I’m schmoozing a funder, the next I’m doing a wrapper so our new database-driven pages take on the look & feel of our site.

And now I’m looking at a hotel’s catering menu trying to figure out if I should go for the sea bass or the chicken and wondering what the heck is a “conference round” (it’s the table configuration). I’m coordinating logistics for this conference with someone in a similar role at another advocacy organization. She’s done this before and doing something for 20 is a no-brainer for her. She asks me “who’s doing the f & b?” (later find out she means“food and beverage”) and then she’s telling me about how to handle it when I get the BEO (banquet event order) and the inside scoop on guarantees and overages. I promised her that if she ever needed a website or help with her email, she could call on me. It’s one of many, many hats I wear…some just fit a little better than others.

It’s 14 years later, but I’m right back there…acting like I have a clue while I try and figure out how to make my text green and what the heck is a H&J?

Fake it until you make it.


2 responses to “Fake it until you make it”

  1. Thank you so much.

    I did the exact same thing when landing my First Proper Design job. I mean, -exactly-.

    “You do know Quark, right?” “Oh, of course!” (I was a PageMaker chick at the time.)

    I confessed to my boss 6 months later that I’d lied. She looked at me and said “Do you know it now?” “Yes, like the back of my hand.” “Then it doesn’t really matter now, does it?”
    Fake it until you make it, indeed.

  2. I am one of the fat chics that jumped out of her clothes in 1991 on the Nutrsize/Nutrisystem commercial, but I’m not fat any more and loved being in Hollywood making that commerical. I’m looking for a good copy of it. 🙂