"Fake it 'till you make it"

"Fake it 'till you make it"

There was a time that I allowed the phrase ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ fill my mind and fuel my actions, and I will admit there are still times that it can be helpful. However, there is one place where it will thankfully never be accepted. That place is around our horses.

Since starting my business ‘Siúl Liom’ and immersing myself in the equine industry, I have increasingly struggled with feelings that are often associated with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome involves an individual doubting their own skills or talents to the point of being fearful of being exposed as a “fake”. I have this inner dialogue saying, “You can’t start your own business”, “Who are you to help others, when there are days, you can’t help yourself” and more persistently the waiting for it all to fall apart, as if the dream I have created can’t possibly be real. Previously, I would have taken the approach ‘fake it, ‘till you make it’ and yes it has served me well at times. It has given me enough confidence to push forward through many difficult thought cycles, but at what cost?

The phrase ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ came into my life while on one of my college placements. A professional who saw through my confident persona, suggested I ‘fake it till I make it’ in some of the tough situations we would encounter with the young people we supported. It stuck with me and fueled my actions far beyond those incidents and thereafter. What I didn’t realise at the time, was it was also fueling quite a great deal of my anxiety. It just reinforced the imposter syndrome I experienced, continuing to tell me I was faking it all.

The phrase ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ for me implies that you should hide your emotions, feelings, and even thoughts. It tells me my feelings aren’t valid and allows shame to creep in. Its tiring to keep a façade up and eventually I am stopped in my tracks, exhausted.

I often use the line; I am like a duck on the water (bear with me on this!). Above the water I am gracefully gliding along, underneath my legs are floundering, constantly kicking to ensure I can keep afloat. I began owning this phrase, and openly tell people about this over the last number of years so that I was honouring my feelings and being open about my experiences.

It felt scary at the start to be so open and vulnerable,

but what I found was it allowed me to become more resilient and happier overall while being so honest. I can hand on heart thank my trusty Welsh steed, Barney for all of this and more.

Horses are instinctively in tune with their environment and those around them. They keenly observe our actions, and quickly distinguish what we are experiencing in that moment. There is no room for faking it. If we display actions that differ to what we are experiencing internally, they immediately see the incongruency and give instant feedback.

Ever wonder why your horse behaves a certain way with certain people or why they never seem to do what they’re asked when you are in a rush or stressed out. Look at your body language, how you are feeling in the moment and what your horse may be experiencing as a result.

Barney, who is my 12-year-old Welsh X Connemara pony, is a naturally curious pony and is incredibly in tune with those around him. Both Barney and I learnt to ride together. I was definitely still classed as a beginner and I’m sure if Barney could talk, he would agree! My anxiety was rampant, and I struggled with confidence when riding out at home. Faking my confidence with Barney was never an option though. He would stop in his tracks, whether it was loading him in a horse box or getting him to walk past an oh so scary bale of silage, if I wasn’t wholeheartedly in it, neither was he.

As we built trust and confidence in one another, I found my confidence growing and in times of difficulty, I was able to be confident for Barney and managed my anxiety better as a result while riding. This was able to translate at times out of the saddle and eventually out of the farm altogether.  I knew Barney needed someone that could back him as much as he backed me.

With Equestrian Mental health week ongoing this week and the @haycampaign filling my social media page (thankfully!), it got me thinking about my own mental health in this space.

As equestrians we are the first to prioritise our horse’s health, both physically and mentally, but how quick are we to do the same for our own mental health? I am definitely guilty of not prioritising myself at times.

Honouring my emotions is how I now prioritise myself each day. Yes, I have a toolkit of tips and tricks that I have built from experience over the last number of years for maintaining my mental health but for me it always comes down to, if I don’t honour my emotions, I start to struggle. I no longer allow myself to hide / invalidate my emotions. I want to honour what I feel when I feel it. This doesn’t let me wallow or sulk but allows me to validate my emotions in the situation, give myself some time to feel those feelings and then use the grow model to find a way forward.

The GROW model is something we use in Equine Assisted learning. It includes looking at the Goal, the Reality of the situation, the Opportunities available and then a Way forward.  That goal can be finding a solution to a situation, finding an outlet for my frustration or even just finding something to be grateful for. Regardless of the situation, your feelings deserve and will eventually demand to be felt. Keeping a façade going is draining and it is always to my detriment.

The quote “Fake it ‘till you make it”, is not how I choose to live my life and it won’t be how I choose to run my business in the equestrian industry. I stand in confidence with Equitas, The Grassroots Gazette and the Hay Campaign in making these changes a reality. I am creating a world at Siúl Liom that encourages authenticity, vulnerability, inclusivity, and empowerment. A world where there is no room for having to ‘fake it’ or feel shame for feeling a certain way.

To do so my actions will not be traditional, they will be revolutionary.

Eadaoin O'Connell

Eadaoin O'Connell

Eadaoin O'Connell

I'm a qualified social care worker, Equine Assisted Learning facilitator & life coach. I founded Siúl Liom Equine Learning Centre where I provide EAL sessions in Limerick, with my noble steed, Barney.
Limerick, Ireland