“Fake it till you make it” was the life philosophy that my friend and I, jokingly or not, subscribed to in high school. At that time, it was about getting into college: faking being good at math even though it frustrates me to hell and back, faking liking ROTC even though I could not stand the domineering, misogynistic instructors, faking being a natural leader even though leading scares the living crap out of me, faking having genuine interest in founding clubs even though they are either useless or useless. Getting into college would be the end of faking, I thought. By then I will have made it, I thought. I was naive then.
The feeling came rolling back when I started job-hunting in college. Getting a good internship became the new “making it.” I knew LeetCoding reminds me of the cardiac-arrest cases in the gyms of Chinese tech giants. I knew networking makes me repulsed (luckily I didn’t end up doing much of that because LinkedIn apparently has a search limit, otherwise I surely wouldn’t be able to claim to be who I am today, so thank you, LinkedIn). But what choice was there besides faking it to make it? So I toiled over practicing for case interviews, looking up finance formulas, crash-coursing algorithms.
Why did I put so much weight on getting an internship somewhere substantial? Well, I’d like to think that it wasn’t for padding my resume because I hardly knew what I wanted to do in life. I figured it was because I feared, above all, to spend a summer doing nothing. And why was that? Fear of not constantly having new experiences? Fear of being left behind? Seeing how my peers were always enriching themselves, learning new skills, building side projects subconsciously pushes me to think they are essential in my life as well. Or maybe, it’s because I distinctly remember the time when a senior recounted his summer experiences to the freshman-year me, and I thought “damn, he wasted that summer.” It was faulty reasoning, I have since realized. But I still don’t want to become someone that my past self would be disappointed in.
Now that, through very fortuitous events, I have an internship for this summer, I am once again feeling compelled to “make it,” as my friends join or found start-ups, rake in cash through investments, or flaunt their multiple offers on WeChat. I need to get rich, fast, I feel like. Or else I will be behind, and eventually will actually need the one dollar per month pittance that my high school math teacher promised when we inadvertently end up in the streets. Oh, that math class also happened to be where my friend and I established our “fake it till you make it” philosophy.
There is no end to this, is there? To making it? One second it’s getting into college, next it’s getting an internship, then it’s getting rich. One step after another, leading us into the abyss of endless “faking,” bottomless wants, eventual dissatisfaction. When will I ever truly make it, if there even is such a thing?
On the other hand, I tell myself, life is not a race, right? It’s not about who gets to the end first? College - career - wealth is a standard set of serialized goals that the society delineates. But perhaps “making it” doesn’t have to be quantifiable in materialistic, temporal, objective terms, it could be subjective, or a product of a mentality, as well. Eventually, we will all get somewhere, maybe to the end, maybe beyond the end. At that point, when all karma will have caught up to us, it shouldn’t matter if we made “it.” It shouldn’t matter if we have lived “that” life, as long as we lived a good life.
What kind of life can be considered a good life, though? Taken completely out of context, a good life can be quantified in a set amount of salary, number of properties, stable marriage, two kids, status, etc. When defined within a social unit, a good life can be one that is comparatively and convincingly better than one’s peers. For one individual, a good life might simply be a happy life. Or is a good life different from a happy life? The “it” life that is traditionally and prevalently deemed successful might be a good life, but in the confines of societal norms many don’t attain happiness. Being propelled by peer pressure and comparison leaves one drained. I’m scared that if I switch to autopilot mode, with society pushing me to do things, I will lose myself after witnessing the individual’s powerlessness against a cruel world. Which, to some extent, I can already feel.
I came to the conclusion that I should abandon the materialistically measurable conception of a good life. So a good life would be one where at any point or during any sub-segment of the entire lifespan, the aggregated amount of content, up to that point or through that sub-segment, dominates over the amount of discontent. Probabilistically speaking, more likely than not, we will have been regular people who have done common things at the end of our lives: we are probably not the ones for the history books. If society won’t remember us after our departure, then why should we conform to it? By not conforming, perhaps we can solve the “making it” problem because there will be no “it” to make.
It’s like when Car Seat Headrest sings “I’m coming up short in a life worth nothing.” This life is not necessarily worth anything. “I think you knew what loving to run towards something can do to a man.” It’s the pursuit that is unhealthy. The stubborn pursuit for worth, approval, meaning, traditional success. We shouldn’t feel like we are coming up short in life, because to make happiness out of nothing is already worth celebrating.
Then, the least we can do is ensure that we live a happy and fulfilled life in which every moment is worth it. A life with which we are content. A life through which we are confident that everything happened for the best. If we can convince ourselves of that, then maybe we have already made it.