Fake It ‘Til You Make It? No Way.

The Proficient Pup

There’s a popular saying that really bothers me: “Fake it ’til you make it.” I disagree with the concept and fail to find that to be good advice. What does it mean? It seems to mean that when a person does not know something, or does not have the skills to do something, that person should pretend that he does until he reaches whatever success he is seeking. The axiom appears to be supportive, but I think it actually emphasizes a lack of confidence. “Don’t feel like a winner? Just pretend.” That doesn’t work for me.

I remember a conversation I had with a supervisor at my last job at the zoo. Even though I was a highly-experienced animal care professional, I was working in a new area with different species. I told my supervisor that I did not believe in that sentiment of “fake it ’til you make it.” I did not think, and still do not, that one should “fake it” while working around animals. It’s unwise and dangerous. As I said the phrase, her eyes lit up, and she asked excitedly,”What did you say? I’ve never heard that!” I repeated it and she said, “I love that!” I was disappointed, but not surprised, in her response. I heard her repeat the saying frequently after that day and it cemented my assertion that it is not a motivating adage.

Do Your Best and Your Best Will Get Better

Most people gain knowledge everyday. We learn new things or relearn old things. We specialize in some skills, and leave other abilities less polished. There are very few people in this world who are experts in every facet of their lives. When we are learning something new, we try our best. Maybe that is not very good, but it is still our best, until we do better. Our best is only limited by our knowledge and effort, and there’s nothing fake about that. It’s important to me to know what I am doing.

I prefer to say, “Do your best and your best will get better.” I believe this as a person, and as a trainer and massage therapist. I am a good trainer now and I will be better in the future. But I am also at my best right now, until my new best replaces it. This is also how I view my clients. When a client calls and says that their dog is barking, they may feel exasperated because whatever they are trying is not working. Their knowledge may be limited and that is okay. I don’t want them to fake it. I want to teach them so that their best gets better. Then they will have the knowledge to solve their problem.

What About Dogs?

Dogs give their best, too. When I am training something like offering a paw, I communicate to the dog (with a marker) that the behavior she just gave me is what I was looking for. And to increase the likelihood she will do it again, I gave her a treat for that. Maybe she did not put her paw in mine; maybe she only just started to lift her paw. Well, that’s the best she could offer at that moment. How do I know? Because that is what she gave me. Then I can further shape the behavior by marking and reinforcing the paw as she gets closer to putting her paw in my hand. That becomes her new best. And then later, she is able to place her paw in my hand. Her best just got better.

This is what makes learning so enjoyable. I learn from my clients even as I am teaching them, and I learn from their dogs, even while I am training them. My clients and dogs can feel confident in their efforts. They don’t need to fake it ’til they make it. As they strive towards being their best, their best will always get better.

Lynn Webb, M.A., KPA CTP, CTMT


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