Fake it ’til you make it. These are wise words that help anybody get a grasp on any new task presented to them. They certainly helped me out a lot on the sales floor when I sold furniture. The store was a 90,000 square feet showroom and had a lot of furniture that ranged from el cheapo to WHOA! Selections ranged from dining, kids and adult bedrooms, office, living room, entertainment units, and mattresses, and to make the job more interesting, 80% of it offered custom options. This doesn’t even include all of the catalogs. New furniture arrived constantly, and even though I had done all of my research, a piece by a new manufacturer would appear and my customer would want to know about it. I had to say something.
Getting paid straight commission, I had to make the sale. This often involves faking it. When a customer shows interest in something, I seized that moment, not say, “Gee… I’ve never seen this before. Give me a few minutes as I leave you to go do some research.” Instead I looked at the item (let’s say a table) and used my knowledge about tables to describe what I saw and state the benefits of it. If it had a pedestal base, I mentioned it and how it would help seat more people around it. If I saw a seam down the center of the top, I mentioned that it had a leaf and could extend. Then I would open the table to see what kind of leaf it was, discuss the ease of the glides, and then pull out the leaf to see what the table would look like with it. There was no opportunity to freeze in fear if I wanted to pay my bills.
Faking it relies heavily on common sense and being aware. It often buys you enough time to recoup and figure it all out. Yet there is the dangerous trap of faking it, but not making it. This is where I am now.
For the last two years I have been my school’s Academic Decathlon coach. My team studies a variety of subjects about a pre-selected topic and then competes with other schools in the counties on their knowledge. Part of the curriculum each year is a novel. As their coach and an English teacher, I absolutely, definitely, positively wanted to read the novels. My team would see me as the novel expert as we discussed symbolism, motifs, themes, characterization and setting. It would be glorious.
The first year I coached, the topic was The Great Depression, and of course, the AcaDec powers that be turned to Steinbeck for the novel. For some inexplicable reason they overlooked the always reliable, always touching Of Mice and Men, and settled instead for that doorstop of a tome, The Grapes of Wrath. I felt the weight of the novel in my hands and vowed that I would read it to the very last page. I was prepared to make the journey from Oklahoma to California with the Joads. I was not prepared for the reactions of others. After asking what the novel was, they immediately made snoring noises and stated that the most interesting part of the book was when he described a turtle walking across the road. “Well, I’m going to read it!,” I’d pronounce. They rolled their eyes, “Have fun with that.”
I did read it. I sat down many times to read it. I read the first two paragraphs and then woke up hours later. Each time! I never made it to the turtle crossing the road. I never made it to page two. I most certainly never told my team that I didn’t finish it. I told them I started it. This lead to my after-school career of faking knowledge about The Grapes of Wrath. When a student asked me a question about symbolism, I responded with, “Tell me why you came to that conclusion.” As he or she told me why, I’d nod my head attentively. If it sounded legit, I agreed with them. If not, I suggested they reread that passage. I dreaded the question that might actually test my knowledge. My team ended up winning twelve medals overall, so I didn’t feel too bad about not reading it, but I didn’t want to be in that position of being an imposter again.
Last year the topic was the Age of Empire, and this time the AcaDec gods chose a petite little book: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. 96 pages! I can do this! Instead I felt a sense of deja vu after I fell asleep from the first two paragraphs describing the Thames. It happened all over again. This time was more pathetic– 96 pages! This is really no way to be a coach. The last I heard, coaches kind of have to know about what they’re coaching. My lack of knowledge was offset by my team’s energy and motivation. They made powerpoint presentations, quizzed each other, took notes and quizzes, and my biggest job during our meetings was to push the button on the computer to bring up the next presentation slide.
This year we’re studying Russia, and we’re reading Dr. Zhivago. As I write, my bookmark rests on page 8. This is very promising. I just have 645 more pages to go. At our team meetings this year, I will not scurry away from the literature table, because I plan on making it, not faking it.
Readers: Have you ever pretended that you knew something when you really didn’t?