“Assume a virtue, if you have it not…For use can almost change the stamp of nature.” 

Hamlet, Act III Scene IV

Remember back in January when we all burst out the gate of the new year bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with dreams of greatness in our minds? Maybe you made a resolution, or maybe you didn’t. Either way, you were probably not immune to that fresh-sheets idealism and cold-side-of-the-pillow optimism that hums in the air when a new year starts. You might have had visions of grandeur—a better job, a new attitude, a budget that actually exists…

But it’s May. That spark is gone. The first windows-open sleeping night is just a hint of the nights when there is no cold side of the pillow and the sheets get sweaty and tangled around your legs. The new job didn’t pan out, the positive attitude you’d hoped to adopt is hard to keep in the face of grumpy coworkers, and the willpower you once had to resist that overpriced muffin with your coffee or a second beer at the bar has dissolved.

May is springy and new, but it’s also the month I always find myself in a mid-year crisis: looking back at a year almost half-done and wondering what I’ve accomplished. Sure, there are lots of little measureable things I’ve accomplished, but those character-building, self-improvement sort of goals I’ve set haven’t made the progress I imagined.

I don’t mean this all to be depressing. It’s just the way of things, isn’t it? Resolutions are made to be broken, and a personality or habit isn’t something you can change in a heartbeat.

So my motto for May—for all the times I feel subpar or directionless—is this: fake it ‘til you make it. It’s the perfect motto, really, because it assumes both imperfection and success. You’re faking it because you’re not flawless and haven’t reached your goal, but you’re only faking it until you make it. You will succeed, just not yet. And the phrase isn’t “fake it until you’ve perfectly mastered it and don’t make any mistakes.” Just doesn’t have the same ring.

My students might throw something at me if I recite this motto to them one more time in class. We’re writing and practicing persuasive speeches that they’ll give in June, but they are already shaking in their proverbial boots (boots aren’t dress-code approved, of course).

“We have to have four sources?” Fake it ‘til you make it.
“We have to memorize five minutes of material?” Fake it ‘til you make it.
“We have to make a visual aid and we can’t read off of it?” Fake it ‘til you make it.
“We have to stand up straight without fidgeting and speak loudly and not say ‘like’ every other word?” Definitely fake it ‘til you make it. 

Most of them have never given a speech like this, and they’re intimidated by the professionalism and practice this final project demands. They don’t think they can do it. Some of them think I’m joking or being flippant when I recite the motto, but I genuinely want them to adopt this attitude because I think it will give them power.

Faking it, I would argue, is actually the only way we’ll make it anywhere. So few of us are born with natural, shining pearls of talent that don’t need refinement. Faking it is just an honest way of saying “practice.”

I feel like I’m faking life a good fifty percent of the time. Adult tasks like calling the insurance company, talking myself up on resumes, writing sympathy cards, or even changing lightbulbs or fixing sinks still seem unnatural. But just the act of doing them, of practicing—of faking it—gets them that much closer to effortless.

Faking it works with giving students advice or voicing my opinion in a staff meeting, but it also works on those character-building goals I set in January. For reassurance that I can reach these, I like to recite Shakespeare’s version of fake it ‘til you make it. When May gets me down and progress stalls, it helps to remember that “use can almost change the stamp of nature.”

Abby Zwart
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.