Fake It Til You Make It
with Rev. Alex Lang
January 22, 2023
Have you ever felt like an imposter where everyone else belongs but you don’t? This Sunday, we’re going to talk about how sometimes we have to fake it until we make it!
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
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During January we are doing a short sermon series called Watershed Moments. For those of you not familiar with that term, a watershed moment is an important moment that changes direction of a person’s life. These moments come in a variety of different experiences, but they represent a dividing line. A moment that defines everything that comes before and after. Within this series, we are going to look at four different stories about remarkable watershed moments and how those moments transformed the people themselves and, in some instances, the world around them.
Last week, I told you the story of Laszlo Polgar and how he raised his daughters to be geniuses, which turned them into three of the best female chess players of all time. Today, I’m going to tell you the story of Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at the Harvard Business School who performed a series of studies around non-verbal communication and how non-verbal cues can impact social scenarios.
But before I get into her story, I want to talk about what Amy Cuddy studies because that actually plays a huge role in this story. So to begin, I think you all probably know that we can tell a lot about a person just by looking at them. A good example of this would be an experiment performed at Princeton where participants were shown the faces of political candidates for one second and they had to predict whether or not they believed the candidates would get elected.
Just to be clear, the participants in the study knew nothing about the candidates’ political party, their views on the issues, none of that. Do you know what happened, based on that one second view? The participants were able to predict 70 percent of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial race outcomes. That’s quite remarkable based on a one second glance.
What the study proves is that we take in a lot of information about a person from a quick glance. Most of that information is subconscious, but clearly, we’re absorbing tons of subtle cues. We’re making judgments about whether or not we feel the person is trustworthy, whether this person would make a good leader, whether this person is intelligent and could make good decisions.
However, whether those judgments are accurate or not is a very different story. Underneath all of those split-second judgements we make is something called prejudice. A prejudice is when you don’t know someone and make assumptions about them without actually knowing the personal history of who that person is. Just so we’re clear, everyone is prejudiced. There’s not a single person on this earth who is not prejudiced in some form or another.
This is something we don’t often like to admit because I think many of us would like to believe that we have no prejudices. But prejudice is part of the human condition because prejudice is part of what keeps us safe. If you’re walking down the street and a guy in tattered clothes asks you to walk into a dark alley with him, it’s in your best interest to say, “No, thank you.” Is that decision prejudiced? Of course it is. You’re assuming, based on his looks, that going into a dark alley with him could cause you personal harm. However, for all you know, he wants to show you his rare coin collection.
Prejudice is mainly a safety mechanism and Amy Cuddy studies how our prejudices influence social interactions. In particular, Amy Cuddy has focused her research on the prejudice from nonverbal expressions of power and dominance. You might be thinking, what exactly do you mean by that? Well, here is an example from the animal kingdom. Notice how the guerrilla and the orangutan are making themselves big, stretching out and taking up space. They exert power by expanding and opening up.
This is not just true among primates, it happens across the entire animal kingdom. Here you can see the same thing with the cobra and the crane. They exert dominance by puffing themselves up and making themselves big and imposing. Humans are no different. Take for example Hussain Bolt, the fastest man on earth. Whenever somebody wins a race, their arms will go up in a V, the chin is slightly lifted. Moreover, this is not a learned behavior. When people who are congenitally blind win at a physical competition, they will do the exact same motion never having seen it before. It’s built into our genes.
Now, on the flipside, what do we do with our bodies when we feel powerless? The exact opposite. We close up. We wrap ourselves up. We make ourselves small. This is our way of signaling to the people around us, “I am not a threat to you.” And if those physical cues aren’t enough, we also change the way we speak. Among women, they will speak with a higher pitched tone and among men, they will often speak with a soft volume.
So teaching at Harvard Business School, Amy Cuddy sees this kind of thing in action all the time. There are students who have these alpha personalities who come into class early and sit right in the middle of the room before class starts. They spread out their stuff. They like to occupy a lot space. They raise their hands like this. Likewise, she sees other people who are closed off when they come in. They sit in their chair and they make themselves tiny. When they raise their hand, they go like this.
As you might already be able to guess, a lot of these types of behaviors fall across gender lines. Men are going to act more dominant, while women feel chronically less powerful. But in business school, participating in your class matters as it accounts for half your grade. Amy Cuddy has seen how women have consistently struggled with participation because they don’t feel like their contributions will be as thoughtful or as meaningful as men.
This caused Amy Cuddy to ask an important question: If women feel less capable than men and that is causing them to not express their opinions, could they be taught to pretend as though they have something worthy to offer the class? Could they imitate their alpha male peers and would that eventually result in them, over time, believing what they had to say was important? Put another way, could they fake it till they make it?
Within the world of psychology, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest this is possible. For example, we smile when we feel happy, but if you hold a pen in your mouth, which forces a smile, this actually causes us to feel happy. The act of smiling, even when you’re not happy, can change your state of mind, it literally changes your brain chemistry.
Because there are significant differences between the brains of powerful people versus those who feel powerless, Amy Cuddy wondered: If you get people to fake like they’re powerful, will it change their brain chemistry? People with powerful mindsets tend to be more assertive, more confident, more optimistic. They actually feel that they’re going to win, even at games of chance. They take more risks and they also tend to be able to think more abstractly.
Physiologically, there also are differences with two key hormones: Testosterone, which is the dominance hormone, and cortisol, which is the stress hormone. In high-power alpha males in primate hierarchies, they have high testosterone and low cortisol. Not surprisingly in humans, powerful and effective leaders also have high testosterone and low cortisol.
So Amy Cuddy devised an experiment where she had people come into her lab and do power poses. This is an example of what these power poses looked like. She would measure their testosterone and cortisol levels before the experiment and after. What she found was after two minutes of power posing and getting yourself into an alpha position, your testosterone increased and your cortisol decreased. So literally, by faking that your powerful, your mind follows suit. Interestingly, the opposite was true for powerless poses—they decreased testosterone and increased cortisol.
This research is striking. You can indeed fake it until you make it. And what’s fascinating is how surprisingly personal these results are for Amy Cuddy. Now I could tell you her personal story, but I think it’s more powerful for you to hear it directly from her.* So even though she teaches at Harvard Business School and even though she got her PhD at Princeton, she felt like an imposter. She felt like she didn’t belong. But after getting up and faking it over and over again, she eventually became that confident person who is positive, powerful and willing to put herself out there. That was her watershed moment.
Now what does Amy Cuddy’s story have to do with our scripture readings for today? A lot actually, because her story in many ways is the story of Paul. Paul was born around 5 A.D. in the city of Tarsus, which is located in modern Turkey. In case you are wondering, the geographical distance between Tarsus and Galilee, where Jesus grew up, is about 600 miles. Even though Paul lived a great distance from the Holy Land, he grew up in a devout Jewish household.
In the section we read from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, Paul is going through pain staking efforts to explain how he became a Christian. You see, he’s heard through the grapevine that certain people have been challenging his authority, saying that Paul is not a true Apostle. In essence, they’re claiming he’s faking his credentials.
So Paul walks them through how he came into possession of his version of Jesus’ gospel, “For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” In other words, Paul is saying that, even though Jesus was no longer present on earth, he received his version of the gospel directly from Jesus.
Why is this so important? Because it all comes down to the definition of an Apostle. The Apostles were special because they were a point of direct contact with Jesus. In fact, according to the passage we read from the book of Acts where the Apostles are electing someone to take the place of Judas, they want someone who “…accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.”
In other words, if you want to be considered an Apostle, you need to have been there from the very beginning. Of course, Paul cannot claim to fit this criteria because he wasn’t with Jesus from the time of his baptism. As a result, Paul is always fighting to maintain his legitimacy. He’s viewed by the other Apostles as kind of a black sheep. They’re kind of like, “Paul, we’re gonna believe you when you say that you had an experience of the resurrected Jesus, but that still doesn’t mean that you’re one of us.”
And you have to appreciate that Paul was very different from the other Apostles. Paul was an educated man, not just in the study of Judaism, but also in various forms of Greek philosophy. According to Christian tradition, Paul studied under one of the great Jewish rabbis in Jerusalem, Rabbi Gamaliel. If this is true, Paul wouldn’t have fit in very well with Jesus’ other Apostles, many of whom were poor peasants with almost no education.
It’s understandable why they would have been skeptical of this man who was so intent on helping them and, the truth is, the disciples never really accepted Paul as one of their own. They looked down on him and undercut him whenever they could. But here’s the kicker – as much as the Apostles disliked Paul, if it wasn’t for Paul, we wouldn’t be sitting together in this room today. In fact, if the Christian movement had been left in the hands of the original Apostles, those people who walked with Jesus from the time of his baptism all the way through his death and resurrection, then the Christian religion likely would have failed.
Jesus’ original apostles were focused on converting the Jews and Paul was focused on converting the Gentiles or non-Jews. In a certain sense, Paul had to fake it till he made it. Every time he went to a new city, he had to fake being an apostle of Jesus so that people would take him seriously. And he did this over and over and over again, until he had planted churches all over the Mediterranean. So when the mission to the Jews finally collapsed, the only functional churches that were left were Paul’s churches.
He might have been the fake Apostle in the minds of Jesus’ original disciples, but he was the Apostle that saved the church, which tells you something really important: The most successful people are not always the ones who show the most promise or who we would judge as being the most competent. I speak from experience when I say this.
When I was in middle school and through my sophomore year of high school, I did not do well. If you asked my teachers to rank my intelligence, I probably would have fallen in the middle of the pack. Not too smart, not too stupid. Just kind of average. If you asked them if I would be successful in my professional life, most of them would probably have said no. And to be fair, at the time, I wouldn’t blame them for that judgment. I didn’t believe in myself, so why would they believe in me.
But even though I was struggling, I was in classes with some very smart people. I watched and observed how they acted and what they said. Even though I wasn’t as smart as them, I spent a lot of time trying to understand their thoughts and mimic their vocabulary. Then I started working…a lot. They put in 30 minutes studying for a test, I put in three hours. I wasn’t like them, but I was trying to fake it and slowly, but surely, my grades started to rise. I got into National Honor Society. I never thought that would happen. I got into Rice, Oxford, Princeton. I never felt like I belonged at any of those institutions, but I got there. Until eventually, I had faked it for so long that I had become the very thing I wasn’t.
The reality is that many of us are this way. We don’t believe in ourselves. We don’t feel we belong. We feel like imposters waiting to be found out. So we have to fake it until we make it in life. We have to pretend to be something we’re not because we have these amazing gifts that God has given us, but often we’re not ready to embrace those gifts fully or we don’t know how to embrace them.
So the message I want you to take away today is that, if you doubt yourself, if you feel like you’re not good enough or you don’t belong, that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal. But, what I know to be true, is that God has imbued all of us with gifts. Every person in here has amazing gifts to offer the world. Even if you don’t think your that good at them, you just have to live into them and, over enough time you will become them. Because if a man who faked being an Apostle can save Christianity, think of what God can do with you! Amen.