It was a concept I learned from my Father. I must have been seven or eight years old, and we had gone to visit a sick relative in the hospital. Even then, hospitals limited who could go to the patient floors, and everyone required a badge before going to see the patient. We walked through the lobby, went purposefully past the security desk, and confidently went to the elevators and pushed the button to head up. When we got into the elevator, I asked my father “don’t we need a badge?” He replied “No. If you act like you know what you’re doing, people will believe you do”. It was a lesson I’ve used my whole life.
Act like you know what you’re doing, even when you don’t.
Over the years the idea has evolved and become even more powerful. I learned to apply that to my career. The first time that happened was when I got my first ‘real’ job. I was still in school studying accounting, and I got a job as the company accountant. I was working for a national wholesale distributor, and was solely responsible for the entire company’s books. I was 21 years old, and hadn’t even finished school yet. By the time I was 23, I was named controller, and operationally ran the firm. I had gotten this job by confidently presenting myself as fully qualified even though at the time I didn’t have a clue. And giving myself the opportunity to learn, I became the person I had portrayed myself to be. It wasn’t an intentional plan, but it worked out to my advantage.
I had acted the part.
Throughout my career I have used the same method to propel myself ever higher in responsibility and success. While still a controller, I started an accounting practice with my then Father in Law I was way too young to have the experience I claimed to have, but I was still able to get clients and grow the business. When I divorced my wife a few years later, I continued the business on my own without the help of my experienced Father in Law, and grew the practice to the point I could do it full time, made a good living and provided well for my family. Ultimately, a series of depressions and manias cost me the business, and I spent seven years without working at all. I might have been able to overcome my situation, but chose instead to use the illness as an excuse.
I acted sick, and I was.
Eventually I had to go back to work, and I managed to get a job in a completely new field as a computer operator. I had become interested in computers, and saw it as an opportunity to move into a growing field. I was working second shift, and had a lot of slack time so I taught myself how to program. And as I learned more, I became proficient in technical support and computer knowledge. I changed jobs and moved into desk side support. As I grew in technical ability, I was given a chance to lead the other technicians as a manager. I had no idea how to manage people, but took on the role as though it was something I had always done. And I transitioned the theory into something new.
If you act like you know what you’re doing, people will follow.
I used this idea consciously for the first time to get a job for an international technology company. I talked my way into a LAN manager for a large support organization. I knew I have no idea how networking worked, but convinced the hiring manager that I was an expert. Over time, I became that expert, and went on to higher and higher responsibilities.
I went through several more job changes, each one a little better than the one I held before. And when I had reached my mid forties, I had made it to Vice President for a Software Development Company. I had no degree. I had never received any formal training in management. I had never been responsible for setting the strategy to lead a business. I was actually scared to death that I was going to fail miserable. But literally, every morning as I dressed for work I would look into the mirror and tell myself out loud. “You are a Vice President; act like one”. And I did, and I succeeded.
If you want the part, BE the part.
But being bipolar always destroyed the successes I had accomplished. Depressions and manias caused me to either become unable to perform, or quit one job for another in a grandiose belief that I was so much better than I really was. The physical and emotional cycles that are inherent to being bipolar had ruled my life, and my denial of my condition prevented me from ever gaining control.
I wasn’t acting, I was reacting.
As I transition into this new phase of my life and my illness I’ve come to the realization that the attitude that carried me through my work life could be applied to my recovery. I want to sustain success in my career. I want to develop a lasting and real relationship. I want to live a normal life. I want to be healthy. I want to be happy.
It’s time to act like it.
Now, it’s important to me that I clarify what I mean by acting. It is NOT pretending to be someone I’m not. I have many different traits, and have the abilities to do many different things. I have allowed the changing mental states to define who I am at the moment. I’ve been a successful businessman. I have the ability to be a good husband and family man. I am a steadfast friend and a good mentor to others. I have also wallowed in my misery. Giving into the manias has resulted in some totally out of control behaviors. I have been crazy. To become the man I want to be, I need to define who that is and build the life I want using the qualities I know I already have. It’s not really an act; it’s a choice.
I have the ability to choose how I deal with being bipolar. I can ignore the illness or I can seek out treatments that can control it. And the better I control my disease, the easier it becomes to manage the unwanted behaviors. I have the tendency to give into whatever the whim might be. The use of alcohol, smoking, partying, poor friendship choices, and casual sex present the opportunities and circumstances that lead to unhealthy and self defeating behaviors. I need to surround myself with people who are uplifting and supportive. Setting expectations of a relationship I want to have so that I’m satisfied and fulfilled. I need to take myself out of situations that enable the addictions and bad tendencies limit my opportunity to indulge. If I can control my environment, I have the opportunity to control my actions. I can be successful, healthy and happy. I firmly believe that if you want the part, you have to act the part.
And I want this part. It’s not an act, it’s a choice.