Fake It 'til You Make It - This Is Us, episode 15
I don’t know about you guys, but I am so glad we will soon be learning more about Jack’s life. I feel like it will help me understand a bit more where he found such resilience after growing up in such a dysfunctional family. Of course, Jack was not without his own pain or personal struggle, but I’d love to know more about where and how he fostered such confidence, compassion, affection, strength and guidance for his family. This episode was filled with equal levels of sadness and nostalgia. If this show weren’t so well written, I’d almost think it was an excuse for some major car company’s product placement. Instead, I found myself reminiscing over the times I spilled McDonald’s french fries in my father’s car, how we’d listen to music or I’d stretch out in the back seat to sleep. The family car is such an American emblem of middle class life. It becomes another center for family bonding and memories. There were so many little moments this episode that made me smile, but it was really tough to watch the Pearson’s try to get through the funeral together. After this past Sunday’s episode, I was really watching for what Rebecca would do because I knew the kid’s ability to begin grieving would hinge on whether or not she could muster some of that Jack-style confidence, compassion, affection, strength and guidance. It came a little too easily if you ask me (I mean, it is a TV show), but it got me thinking about a phrase people often use, especially in the world of therapy: fake it ‘til you make it. It’s always the place to start when you don’t know what to do and don’t know if you have the strength to do it.
Faking It ‘Til You Make It
An old saying used in a lot of circles, “fake it ‘til you make it” is meant to be encouraging and optimistic. It is linked to a cognitive behavioral theory called “Acting as if.” There is a lot of research on how our beliefs can positively or negatively impact our lives – our thinking can bring about an outcome. So in this sense, if you do not believe you can do something, you will behave in such a way that will end up supporting that thought. But, if you “act as if” you can accomplish that goal by doing some of the behaviors that will bring about success, you can give yourself a little push forward and make it.
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is meant to give you just enough strength to tackle that task you are afraid to do. By saying this, the person is essentially giving themselves the permission to try even when they don’t feel capable or ready. It makes space for someone to fail while they are still moving forward instead of letting their fears paralyze them. They are encouraged to “act as if” they have the skills to achieve their goals. “Faking it” allows you to learn along the way and reject the pressure to be perfect from the beginning. In the business world, this phrase is sometimes misconstrued as some secret to getting success in your career – by “faking” your way to the top. But I think that’s incorrect. The real beauty of this phrase is that you are not being “fake” at all – you are simply finding confidence. You are finding confidence to display or hone the skills you already have. The phrase helps you find just enough confidence to get you started.
Rebecca certainly had been knocked down. She was overwhelmed with grief and didn’t see how she could continue life without Jack. It was so hard to watch her, she looked exhausted, drained and totally checked out. She had no energy to engage with her own children. Soon we learned why – she felt she couldn’t parent her children alone. She felt she did not have the skill set to manage it. Her grief made her believe that Jack was the one who really knew how to parent. “I can’t do this without him, he knew how to do all of this!” One thing the world of psychology is sure of is that you can’t achieve anything if you don’t think you can! “Acting as if” you can achieve, helps someone awaken their confidence and realize they actually can.
How To Start Faking It
There are lots of ways to start “faking it” – from identifying your negative thoughts to writing down all the behaviors you would need to “make it” and then starting to practice them. But one of the best ways to get closer to “making it” is to talk with a mentor – someone you’ve formed a relationship with who can be a source of guidance. A mentor comes in many forms – a friend, a boss, a parent, a psychologist (ahem, soft plug for therapy). With another person, you now have some coaching and someone to fact check your negative thinking. We are social beings and sometimes all we need is another person to believe in us so we can believe in ourselves as well.
In the case of the Pearsons, the writers do another great job of keeping things realistic. Rebecca is lost in her own negative thoughts and is feeling overwhelmed and incapable to manage all she has to handle. We see Dr. Katowski and his wife came to the funeral and Rebecca is able to view him as a wise parental figure. It seems both she and Jack didn’t have the guidance of their own fathers (or perhaps their mothers either), and Dr. Katowski helped them survive one of the most painful times in their marriage. So even though her mother is at the funeral, Rebecca feels comfortable expressing her pain and fears of moving forward to this man. While he may not know them well, Dr. Katowski has seen enough to know the skills both Jack and Rebecca possess as parents. He clearly was in awe of how well they worked together as a parenting team. He is wise enough to see that in this moment, Rebecca is not able to see her own strength. His simple use of the word “bullcrap” in response to Rebecca’s fears was the push she needed to see that she had actually been parenting along with Jack for the last 16 years. She was made to see that if she could get through the death of an infant and end up with a happy family, then she could do it again. And with that, she could start “acting as if.” She had just enough confidence to start again, with an awareness that she would figure the rest out as she goes.
Start “acting as if” and pay attention to your progress – you will surprise yourself. When you see that you overcome that first little fear, you will increase your confidence in what else you can accomplish. I loved the moment when Rebecca had to cross the bridge again, this time without Jack. You could see the fear wash over her, she stopped smiling, and she even looked down as if she wanted to close her eyes. But in the end, she faked like she wasn’t as scared as she truly was until she made it to the other side of the bridge without any help. And you could see on her face that if she could do that, she realized could do the rest as well.