On Faking It and Sisterly Love

A few weeks ago, my sister and I sat cross-legged on my bed, swilling Beaujolais and cackling loudly. We were talking about work and relationships and getting older— the things you can only really tell someone you’ve known your whole life. I was dishing out advice on dating in your late 20s, and all the weird and wonderful (and sometimes younger) men that come with it. She was talking about stepping outside her comfort zone.

Four glasses of wine and one rousing pep talk later, we were both reminiscing about the moments when we each decided to approach life in a new way. “I’ve lived 7 different lives,” I exhaggerated. My sister laughed. “There was my mute phase; my blue nail polish phase; my awkward middle school phase that ended with our mother passively aggressively asking if I liked girls in that way. That college phase when alcohol became my social lubricant; and–” My sister stopped me and said, “To me, you had it all figured out. You knew exactly who you were and exactly what you wanted. You were cool.”

I can tell you I never felt any of those things to be true. The darker moments of youth’s angst often hold a larger presence in my memory. Thinking about them today brings a sensation that feels similar to getting depantsed at gym class. To my sister, her observations of the oldest sibling were Fact, regardless of my mid-level popularity in high school. She was watching me make sense of life by faking confidence through the breakups and breakdowns that come with being a teen.

The truth is “faking it” doesn’t stop once you reach big adult benchmarks. Faking it is part of evolving. Faking it gives us the balls we need to get to the next stage in our careers. Faking it can be a vacation from reality, and faking it can get you into deep, deep water. At some point, we have to know when faking it counts as fair play, and when it can derail your life.

An interesting thing happened when I turned 30. I kept waiting for that euphoric moment when I’d stop caring what other people thought. “That’s what freedom will feel like,” I said to myself. Well– here I am, 15 months into the decade and I’ve felt less free than I did at 29. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why I can’t (to quote Queen Swift) shake my deep insecurities off. But I’m beginning to figure out what works. I know what good work looks like. I know a good client when I see one. I know my worth. I know who to keep at an arm’s length. I know it’s important to stay curious. When these things align, words flow freely from my fingertips and out of my mouth without a quiver. Perhaps that feeling is true confidence.

My sister is on to something. It’s harder to see our strengths through the projection of who we’d like to be. More often than not, our peers have a better handle on what each of our x-factors are. We are all cool, in our own weird way. We’re just playing the people we are meant to become.

The lesson I learned that night is we see the best in the people we love. We don’t spend time picking them apart and putting them in categories. We cheer loudly as they walk through life. My sister remembers herself as awkward and timid. I remember her as a force to be reckoned with on the playground. Vibrant. Exuberant. Opinionated. A leader. The apple of every boy, girl, and teacher’s eye. When I see moments when confidence begins to wane in her adult life, I want to do everything in my power to remind her what she’s made of. If only it was as easy to be that cheerleader for ourselves.

Until then, we can be thankful for sisters.

  • Beautiful text and photo! And reassuring to hear that there are others working towards the same goals of confidence. It’s a work in progress but I have to admit, of all my decades lived so far, I’m loving my 30s 🙂

  • As an older sister to three younger sisters, Makes me wish we more often had love like for our peers and even those we keep at an arms length. Beautifully written Kate.

  • My little sister is 7 years younger than me, so for a long time, I’d been almost more of a parent/caretaker than a sibling, and certainly not so much a friend. But when I was back home this past winter, for the first time, my sister (now 17) and I hung out and had the absolute best time. She’s always been amazing, but being able to hang out with her now—as a nearly grown girl, full of charm and opinions and goofy stories—was just the coolest thing. Especially now that she’s going through some typical tough teenage stuff, I’m so glad to be in a spot now where we can talk with each other, and not just at each other. I’m so glad to have her. Thanks for the lovely ode to sisterhood.

  • I know exactly what you mean about thinking you’d turn 30 and stop caring what people think. I thought the same. And then only hoped for the same at 35. When it still didn’t happen, I decided to try harder to stop caring. I think it’s working pretty well but I guess the lesson is that there is no magic point when it happens – you have to choose it and then work at it/train yourself. Maybe this comment can save you five years of waiting! I like these reflective posts, by the way.

  • wow, this hits close to the bone. I have < 3 more months of 29 and then poof!—a new decade. I've done a lot of things unconventionally, like get a master's degree in poetry (not so much practical!) and now I'm working on another master's in divinity. It's sometimes unnerving and overwhelming to see my peers in very different places in life (like I think, wow, we're old enough to be married? to have kids? to be homeowners? to be someone's boss and rise up the corporate ladder?) but it's affirming too, in a weird way. I have a twin sister who is newly married, and it's nice not to feel the pressure of facing the tempo shift of a new decade alone.

    • I think it’s a new feeling, to have enough life under your belt to reflect on a decade of adulthood. It sounds like you are making the most of your life to following your passions; it’s an inspiration to me!! thank you for sharing and get excited for the next decade <3

  • This piece was incredible and made me tear up thinking of my sister and our relationship. I’m still faking being the cool older sister at almost 25.

  • Sisters are the best! Did you listen to the Ted Talk Radio hour that was on ‘How We Love?’ There was a section there on siblings and that love connection. It was so good.

    I feel like I’ve only started to really grasp how our fear and insecurities will always be there. It’s a matter of acknowledging them and doing it anyway. It might get easier and it might not.

    I know the trap of thinking of a destination and getting there and it’s not any different. It always feels good to be in good company through the fear and you, Kate, are great company.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you for another heartfelt post! As a middle child in a family of all girls I also appreciate my relationships with my sisters – as completely different and unique as we all are from one another.

    I, too, have experienced similar feelings. More so I’ve been plagued by frustration that comes along with NOT faking it. I’ve never been one to fake confidence, hide feelings and insecurities, or hold back when I’m solicited for honest feedback. That is not to say I shout unsolicited advice or comments in every situation or to every unsuspecting person. (I like to think I’ve got enough emotional intelligence to not be negligent 🙂 But if I think a complete stranger has particularly great hair or I like her scarf AND it looks good on her – I tell her. I giggle when I’m embarrassed and still manage to say it out loud. I give honest (but kind) feedback. I extend an invitation to someone I’ve just met. I ask for advice and try to learn from my critics.

    And at 31, I can tell you that it is almost as difficult NOT faking that you have it all figured out. I’ve found it extremely difficult to break into new circles and establish strong friendships with other women. And in part it almost seems at times it is because people have grown more comfortable with others that are also faking it than actually not.

    I recognize at times in the workplace I’m perceived as more timid or less capable because I voice my concerns or lack of experience despite feeling comfortable that “I got this” or “I can do it”! (I know my value and eventually others recognize it as well, but it takes longer when you admit you’re vulnerable). Or the opposite happens and you’re perceived as being a “know-it-all” or overly confident for being who you are in the rawest form. Even now I realize by me saying this I might come across as saying I’m “doing it the right way” or “I have it all figured out”…. that I’m down playing your reality (which is definitely not the case).

    I’m the first to admit I’m a constant work in progress. We all are … life isn’t a series of calculated steps, reactions, projections … that when followed will result in a guaranteed outcome. Life is about learning. Truly living. So thank you for bringing more honesty and vulnerability to remind us that we all just trying to figure things out IRL! 🙂

  • Sadly, I’m an only child… but I can relate to you in so many ways, Kate. I’m a 31-year-old designer also suffering from anxiety and insecurity. In fact, I just reread your post about your anxiety and ADHD and it felt like I was reading my own thoughts. Thank you so much for being so open and transparent, you’re a huge inspiration to me.

    I also agree with what Kelly said above, about how it almost seems harder when you can’t fake it. I actually had a similar conversation with a coworker recently about how everyone else in the office is “playing the game” or “faking it” and that’s why they get ahead and I don’t. It’s really unfortunate because I just don’t know how else to be. Sigh…

  • Your words “The lesson I learned that night is we see the best in the people we love. We don’t spend time picking them apart and putting them in categories” really resonated with me.

    I recently broke up with a guy I had been dating only a few months, but had really and truly thought he was “the one.” When he decided his feelings changed (insert heartbreak), he told me “Jenna, there are so many things about you that bother me, and I just can’t stop thinking about them.” DOUBLE heartbreak. How cruel. So, when you said we see the best in people we love, he clearly didn’t love me as much as I thought because he wouldn’t have been so focused on seeing the different parts of who I am… instead of focusing on the positive.

    Anyway, this is incredibly long and my point is thank you. Thank you for being real and saying things that some people (me) need to really hear. We all need it.

  • I love this! I can totally relate to Allie – I feel the same way about Elissa. Even when I know everything isn’t perfect, there’s still something cool & collected about her. Perhaps it’s just the pride I feel in her being my sister & knowing she has the strength to dig herself out or build herself back up.

  • beautiful words about growing up and about sisterhood. i have one sibling – my vibrant, total opposite of me, younger sister. she’s in college now, and it’s been so amazing experiencing our changing relationship. i look forward to the days when i’m 30, sipping wine and laughing at who we were. i learn so much from my younger sister.

  • I’m an older sister, too, and my sister has alluded to the same things. I’m always amazed: I always feel so frantic and frenzied in my head dealing with things, but she always tells me she wants to do things the way I do them. Nothing like a younger sister’s love and support: everyone should have one!

  • Love this post, Kate! My little sister has also often felt like I’ve always had my stuff together. Being her cheerleader now as she begins college, and telling her about all the times that I was drowning and lost but still came through on the other side has been one of my favorite chapters in our relationship together. Whenever I tell her all the things I wish I had told myself at 18–its ok if you don’t know whats going on; don’t stress so much; order the milkshake; laugh more; never apologize for being your weirdest and fullest self–I realize how relevant all of this still is to my life now. The unyielding love I give to my sister should be the same kind of love and patience I offer myself, even if I’m supposed to have “figured it out” by now. Its such a profoundly special relationship to have–I can’t imagine life without my sister!

  • yes yes yes yes aaaaaand yes. all of this. so dead on. my sister has always seen me as having it together and even when I feel like I’m about to fall apart (like right now) she still sees me with the sunshine radiating off me.

    allienotsally.blogspot.com

  • Ha. I think we all have that expectation of “when I grow up… _____ will happen.” For me, it was that I’d be a more self-actualized, responsible version of myself. But as it turns out, I’ve lived 1/4 of a century and I still am figuring out what I “want to do/be when I grow up,” (although I am becoming more convinced that it is less of an issue of what we want to do, but how we want to invest our time…) and I still am irresponsible in some ways- like being punctual, I still arrive 10 minutes after I mean too, and I still hate laundry.

    I agree with your conclusion though- sisterhood is one of the greatest gifts. When it comes to self-actualization- how great to have someone remind you who you are and how marvelous the person is that you’re becoming. The quote about friends applies even better to sisters, I think- “A friend is someone who knows the song to your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”

  • I have tonnes of insecurities that creep up more often than I would love to but there were also days when I was able to remind myself that everyone’s made to be different aka unique and has their special path to take. I try to live every precious day to the fullest, try. 🙂

  • I shared this with my younger (and only) sister today. I thought it captured our relationship to a T. She said it brought her to tears reading it.. happy ones. Thanks for sharing so that I could share with her. 🙂

  • Funny, my little sister has always been the one who has seemed to have it all figured out. She didn’t have to struggle with her weight, and depression like I did. She knew what she wanted to do in university, whereas I have three degrees and still work a job in an unrelated field. She is married and has a house and a (fur) baby. When things finally started falling into place for me I realised that she didn’t have it all figured out, she just kept hustling and paddling like the proverbial duck, and things happened when she ‘just kept swimming’ (to quote Queen Dory). And yes, I am thankful for her every single day of my life.