The Art of Being a Fake


If you’re passionate about something, you can move mountains. Passion is extremely hard to fake, and when your passion for something is real, amazing things happen. You can be a musician, but without passion you won’t be a stand out. You can be a good cook, but without passion, you won’t make something that your patrons will remember as remarkable.

In my line of work the same has held true. You can be an economist, or a financial analyst, but passion, or the lack there of, will either bolster or hamper your ability.

There have been many times in my professional career where I interacted with economists that weren’t economists, and financial analysts that weren’t financial analysts. Plain and simple. But, in many instances they were so far up the corporate ladder that it was totally bewildering.

Many years back, I took on a job as a manager in the area of finance. I would constantly find myself in meetings with a group of other senior financial managers most of whom wouldn’t have known the difference between a debit and a credit. Yes, it was that bad.

There were the few that knew, and they were quickly identifiable, and the fakers in the room were easily discernible as well. It quickly became us against them with those lacking the technical capacity in the majority. They became very dangerous over time most likely out of the fear of being found out. The boss, who too wasn’t from the field of finance, couldn’t tell the technicians from the fakers. He paid a very high price until he was able to make that distinction.

One of my peers who did have the requisite content always complained to me that it wasn’t just some of the higher ups that didn’t know their subject matter, it was a wide grouping of staff as well. He would consistently say to me “I have nobody. I am surrounded with people who are faking technical ability at every level”.

So, how does this happen? Maybe it was a combination of bad hiring practices, mixed in with a bit of nepotism, and a high dose of mediocrity. And, how do fakers survive? At least in my profession, they can hire very capable consultants to do their jobs for them. But, when the budget gets tight, and the tap is turned off, without consultants they are quickly exposed.

Add to this that when you do have a financial analyst, or an economist, of the right technical training, lacking the passion for what they do, then their work is mediocre at best. This likely happens when they get frustrated dealing with a high level of ineptitude. But, its still no excuse.

Sometimes I feel that I’ve spent a lifetime interacting with so many professional fakers. Worse, I haven’t seen this phenomenon just in my profession, but sadly across the board.

When my mother was ill, I met doctors that clearly weren’t doctors, and nurses that clearly had very limited nursing aptitude. All in the finest of hospitals. And, when I met doctors that were doctors, and nurses that were nurses, many simply couldn’t care less about their patients. They had either lost their passion of being caregivers, or never had that passion to begin with.

I’ve met so many people quite content to be something they’re not professionally. I just don’t think you should try to be anything you’re not. If you’re not passionate all the time about the work that you do, I don’t think it matters. But, if you don’t have a skill set, or experience in a certain topic, admit it. Don't try to pretend you know something especially if it means taking the lives of innocent people in your hands.

Passion and ability are cousins in my opinion. Ability typically fosters self-assurance. Lack of ability typically fosters insecurity and smoke screens. But, if you have the ability, it is those that feel passion for what they do that makes them the best at what they do. It’s like a pilot that doesn’t just get a plane from here to there, he or she always strives for the perfect takeoff and landing. You can't fake passion or ability. You just can’t.

For example, a bad car repair is something clearly done without passion, by a mechanic who couldn’t care less. Bad repairs are done by mechanics who are indifferent, they’re not trying to fix things the first time, they want you to come back so they’re paid and paid again.

You can't fake good music either. You might be a great singer or a great musician but, without passion, you don’t connect the listener to something that relates to their own experiences.

I’ve worked with weak economists and financial analysts over decades that would have made better lawyers. Some could just talk their way out of anything. But, what happens to the likes of them when they get a boss who loves cross-examining people? If they don’t know enough about macro, they will be found out. If they don’t know the difference between assets and liabilities, it will eventually surface. It is these people that feel threatened consistently and do everything in their power not to be exposed.

Other than professionally, there are so many fakers when it comes to their personal lives as well. A friend of mine who preyed on women constantly used to offer the following advice: “Love - if you can fake it, you've got it made”.

With his marriage now in tatters after 20 plus years of wedlock, he said to me a few days ago that he just couldn’t fake it anymore. I asked him if he was in love with his wife when they married. He talked for hours without answering yes. Their parents were good friends, it was partly arranged, she was rich, he went on and on, and after twenty plus years of “faking it”, he couldn’t take it anymore.

He went on to say she was faking her love for him for years too. That he got more love from their dog then he got from her. That she pampered the pooch more than him. After decades of marriage, he said, he stood second fiddle to a golden retriever giving him license to do as he pleased.

He was still in love with her, he eventually said, time and children has solidified that. He said what amounted to “he lover her, but was not in love with her”.

After that line, I realized I wasn’t talking to a man, but to a giant. Not for anything he said about love, but heck he faked emotions, an entire relationship for 20 plus years, something I can’t do for 20 minutes.

As he was talking, the photograph of him, her and the kids sat stiffly across the table. Looking at it closely it was so utterly fake. It looked like an artist's portrait, noses slightly bigger than they should be to give a little Pinocchio symbolism for humor and poignancy. Only the dog seemed genuinely happy.

I don't think you should try to be anything you're not, or fake something you don’t genuinely feel.

I also don't think that you can fake love. You can fake lust, jealousy, anger; those are all quite easy. But actual, genuine love? I don't think you can fake it.

They were also faking being richer than they are. Everywhere trying to show off and exaggerate the wealth they have. We talked about this and he said because they’re less affluent than many of “her friends” they feel pressure to fake a little exaggerated wealth. Nobody wants the stigma of being thought poor by their country club standards.

And, her in the picture, she had changed so much over the decades. The Botox was a bad idea, the fake eyelashes meant to give a more dramatic look were over the top.

Their house was littered with fake plants. My fake plants died years ago because I forgot to water them.

He said he had faked his love for his wife for so many years and that when you fake something, you eventually become good at it. He gave new meaning to the line “Fake it till you make it”, something I have seen professionals do for decades, and now friends in their personal lives as well.

We live in a world where the norm is fake, rather than the opposite. Fake professionals across every profession, fake relationships, fake values, fake body parts, fake hair colors, fake flavours, fake sweeteners, even fake news: this is poison.

As the discussion with my friend concluded, he asked me for advice on what to do with his relationship. I reminded him that I’d never been married so I might be the wrong person to ask. He said that he wanted the opinion of a single man who didn’t have to fake anything.

I said if I had to voice an opinion maybe the secret to happiness, and likely love, in a relationship is likely to be honesty and sincerity. He nodded as if to agree. If he could just fake that, he’d have it made.

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© Khaled F. Sherif, 2020

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