Given that my job requires patience, compassion, and attention, this is not ideal. Given that I'm expecting to have to spend at least 24 of the next 72 hours being compassionate, patient, and present, this is particularly not ideal.
Yesterday I read a post at Mothering entitled "Fake it Until You Make It: How Pretending I Was a Better Parent Helped Me Be a Better Parent." In it, the author talks about all the ways she's not the kind of parent she wants to be. She fails to be kind, she fails to be compassionate, and, heaven forbid and don't tell the media, sometimes she has needs of her own and has to be a flawed human being while mothering.
The post is about parents, of course, and parenting has unique challenges, but I think there's something in her solution for all of us. When she catches herself being a bad parent, she pretends instead to be someone else. She pretends she's a professional (or magical) nanny, a baby sleep trainer, an attachment parenting expert. She pretends not only to be one of those people, but to be the best of those people. And she often finds that she is.
I, too, have often used a fake-it-til-you-make-it routine to get through hard days. I make myself put on an uncomfortable fake smile, because it tricks my brain into smiling. I pretend to be confident, because frankly it makes my back hurt less if I hold my head higher, and again, it tricks my brain into feeling better. I've pretended to be a stellar teacher, a kind stranger, and to have a forgiving heart. I've pretended not because I never am those things, but because I can't be any of them all of the time, let alone all of them. So I pretend.
I'm convinced that most people are pretending, at least part of the time. The professionally-dressed person sitting next to you on the bus is pretending that business is their whole personality. Your professor is pretending they're not distracted by their own research while they present the same material they've been presenting for the past four semesters, starting at the boring introductory stuff they learned fifteen years ago. Your doctor pretends they never google symptoms, because it helps you trust them, and trust is important when someone is trying to care for you. They pretend they know, and usually, by the time it comes down to the wire, they do. Your parents have almost definitely spent your entire life pretending they have any clue about how to be parents. If you have kids, you probably will, too. Your barista, at least at first, pretended she remembered all the ingredients she memorized for her hiring test when you placed your order. The people who are truly good at their jobs are usually actually great at their jobs about 80% of the time. The other 20%, they draw on the fact that they know they're capable of it, and they pretend.
And beyond jobs and roles, people are pretending they feel like adults. Now, in the past year or so, I've done some re-evaluation of this belief, because I think eventually you do begin to grow into the role of adulthood. But there's still some part of most people, I really believe, that isn't sure they're not 19 anymore. You get a job and have kids and start filling a role, but you've always seen other people who seem like they're Doing Adulthood in some cohesive way, and you seem to be piecing it all together hodgepodge and mishmash. The secret is that so are they--nobody is as "together" as they look, which means--and here's the kicker--you probably look way more together than you feel.
We seem to think it's bad, somehow, to pretend. I'll agree that if you're pretending at everything you do more than 95% of the time, you probably need to adjust something about what you're doing, but I don't think it's bad to need to fake it some days, or even parts of every day. It's ok to pretend you see the job you do as part of yourself all the time (you won't) and it's ok to pretend you're a mature person who never, ever ducks around a corner to laugh when their kid melts down in anguish about something weird (you will), and it's ok to pretend you're always confident about the decisions you're making (you won't be). It's also ok--and probably vital--to find a few people with whom you don't have to pretend, people who are comfortable when you tell them you've had a bad day, or you think you made the wrong decision, or that you messed up at work, or that you weren't as kind as you should have been because you focused on how you felt and not on what they might feel. It's ok.
You might have noticed that the titles of my posts are usually a phrase, sometimes a quote you recognize and other times just an idea, and there's a reason for that. I pull my post titles from my long and ever-growing list of mantras. Today's, "fly the plane," comes from Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. In it, there's a scene in which a character has to control a damaged airplane without letting on how bad the damage is, so that her companion can do their work. Fly the plane, Maddie. And she does--she manages to pretend she's confident in her ability to control the craft, to land it safely. I won't tell you whether or not she does--that's not really the important part--but it's on my list of mantras because that idea helps me get through a lot of stuff on days like this. It helps me take a deep breath when my dog-reactive dog is in a panic and I need to get away without adding my own anxiety to the situation. It helps me remember to fake a smile when I'm in a funk for no particular reason. It helps me remember that I want to be a kind person, and so if I can pretend to be a kind person for a few minutes, I'll probably get back to a place where I can genuinely be kinder.
I pretend to be strong enough to help people, so that people can trust me to help them, and their trust in turn often gives me the strength I need. I fly the plane.