Fake it until you make it

We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it until you make it”. It’s a very useful skill and one I’ve been using for a while now. But what if you don’t know what “make it” means to you? If you haven’t defined success, how will you know if your achieve it?

As if..

A corollary to fake it until you make it is “act as if you already have it” or simply “act as if” you’ve already succeeded. By trying on alternatives to current behaviors, you’re more likely to achieve the success you’re looking for because you can visualize a new and improved future.

While this sounds a bit like magical thinking, there is some validity to acting “as if” you’ve already achieved your goals. If you want to be seen as kind, act kind even if you don’t feel like being kind. If you want to be perceived as generous, then practice acts of generosity until you’ve achieved a reputation for generosity. Do you want to be seen as a good photographer? Then you will need to keep stretching yourself creatively until that day arrives. Because if you put the work in, it will arrive.

It’s not that difficult to set reasonable goals and then fake it until you make it.


For many people this is a popular strategy to gain success and one I’ve used myself. Of course there are limitations to the idea “of fake it until you make it “. If you want to be seen as successful then you simply act successful until you are. But heres the rub…what is success?


  1. the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
    3. a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity.

Profit? Prosperity? Gosh, two out of three definitions revolve around money. Is that how we define success? If this is the main measurement defining success; no wonder there is an undercurrent to make money from toy photography. It seems everyone wants free toys, product endorsements, paid product gigs or to score points as an affiliate partner. Anything that we can point to as a sign of our success. A reason we can point to that justifies all the time spent on line.

Back in the day we were told that on line success was determined by follower counts. Then the definition of success was changed to be the number of interactions and / or comments on a post. The goal post keeps changing so now I have no idea what on line success looks like. I can turn to online marketers and see how they define success:

  • Social proof: followers and interactions
  • Customer service
  • Sales and / conversions

Unfortunately when you’re an artist or creative you can’t really define your online success by any of these definitions. With an algorithm optimized for marketers and social media influences we have no control who is seeing our work so how to make sense of social proof? And unless you’re actively selling work on line the last two criteria seem irrelevant data points to be measuring anyway.

Now what?

I’ve been playing the fake it until you make it game for so long I don’t remember what my original goal was. Why am I still sharing my images on line? What is the purpose? Can I be the only one who feels this way? Because there are no convenient markers that clearly point to my success or failure to assure me I’m on the right track I often feel a sense of floundering. I can always dig deep for my own reasons for making images, but then I soon wonder “now what?” Maybe thats why I feel so frustrated with social media these days?

Last year I took the steps to start selling my work in a focused manner. If I attain a certain number of sales per show I can at least point to my profits as a measure of my success. But obviously this isn’t an avenue available for many people. Nor would I recommend it except to the fool hardy and deranged.

I think its time for us to define success on our own terms. Create realistic and fun goals that we point to as we fake it until we make it together!

A better way

Because you all have better ideas that I have, I’m hoping that together we can brainstorm a few concrete examples of what success looks like. Lets define our success by activities and connections that aren’t based on money. Here are a few possibilities that I came up with:

Friendships: turn those online relationships into real friendships. Join a toy meet up in your area; reach out to a local toy photographer you’ve always wanted to meet and get together; when you travel reach out to local toy photographers and arrange a meet up. You would be surprised how much more fun the online community can be when you know the faces behind the photos.

Join one of the several smaller toy communities. As the ranks of toy photographers have grown it’s harder to find your community or online family. Because of this, their has been several groups that have splintered off and created smaller groups where its easier to make personal connections. We have our own MeWe community and Brickcentral has recently started an online forum. I’m sure there are Facebook groups that I don’t know about; lets start a list in the comments.

Create art for yourself. This is probably the hardest option because it requires you to keep the faith without any outside validation. But despite the difficulties, this can also be the most rewarding path. When you create work solely for your own enjoyment and purpose, it’s easier to ignore all the distractions of social media “success”. Who can best define your success other than you…the artist.

Fake it until you make it.

Here I am several years down the road of defining myself as a toy photographer and I still don’t know what success looks like. I will continue to fake it until I make it. And in the mean time I look forward to the upcoming toy photographers meet-up in April (there are still a few spaces left!), I will create work that is meaningful to me and I will try to visualize what success looks like. I’ve learned that if I can visualize success, the easier it will be to know when I’ve made it.

~ Shelly

I realize there are a fair number of folks who play on social media for a variety of reasons: show off new toys, a creative outlet, stress reduction, social interaction etc. I fall into many of those categories too. But even the new folks who’ve only recently discovered toy photography love it when they reach their first 1,000 followers. None of us are immune to the behavioral engineering that comprises social media; they make it addictive on purpose. But at the end of the day I have 17k followers on Instagram, I help run a successful blog and I still don’t feel successful. So tell me how you measure success in the world of social media? Tell me how you do it so I can fake it until I make it there. 



  1. “define success on your own terms” is a great way to look at things, especially in a niche area like toy photography.

    I have done similar things. For that Scavenger Hunt I keep going on about… it is a judged competition (tho there are no prizes but bragging rights). I learned a long time ago that I didn’t really care about the judging, so I started defining my own success as having a unique concept for each shot among the contributors.

    Sometimes I hit it, sometimes I don’t, but when my image stands by itself for its concept among 200 of some of the most highly creative people I’ve ever known, I get a thrill. A tingle. Dare I say a shiver, cause I know I hit my goal.

    That’s been a better feeling than any 1st place award, or selling prints, or anything else.

    • Beautiful comment Dave. I can feel your pleasure when you create an image that your proud of. I admire that you perserve even when you’re work will be seen next to the work of those you admire. I know it’s those successful moments that drive all creative types. Thank you for sharing your definition of success.

  2. Thought provoking, Shelly: Posting toy photography on my blog diminshes the number of “likes” by 50% in comparison to my other photography (travel, museums, abstract). But my urge to work with toys is much stronger than the urge to walk around and find pictures out there. Maybe that’s because it often seems impossible to spot a juxtaposition of everyday objects that alings to my ideas. Toys, on the other hand, can be arranged to meet my plans.

    So obviously I am not going to spend my rare leisure time running around making photos I do not feel the need to make just to please an audience.

    So what’s success for me? You won’t be surprised: It feels like success if I can make a picture leap from dream to reality. If it finally happens – I set up, I light, I klick, I have it. After that, I kind of climb a ladder of small successes: Can the real picture stand its own in reality? Is it still the picture I can enjoy once I posted it here, on MeWe and/or on my blog? And is it still the picture I enjoy once I printed it and put it up on my wall? If I can answer all these questions positively, that’s success. And clicks don’t matter all that much.

    Not that I am not deeply pleased when someone calls me an incredible storyteller or enjoys the lighting. But that’s really icing on the cake.

    If I do not feel satisfied with a photo, you can praise it as much as you wish: I would still feel like I faked it.

  3. Joshua T. Kittleson

    Funny, I have started redefining success for myself recently too.
    Although I like MeWe, it hasn’t quite replaced G for me and I wanted a space to consider ‘home’ for my shooting and whatever else I feel like. So I started my own blog to accumulate and organize my thoughts and photography. Mostly as a Journal of my Journey, to see where I go and how I (hopefully) improve, but also just for me just because. I don’t care if anyone else reads it, because there is no comparison there between me and anyone else. Want to read it? Fine. Don’t? Still fine.

    I hope someone organizes a meetup in NE because that’s about the only way I’ll get to go and meet you fine folks. I’m not sure why but I’m like an inverse troll, fairly bold in real life and somewhat reserved online. In fact, this posting may be the most I have attempted to engage online as Face to Face just works better for me. Despite that, his hobby has brought me into contact with a few people , the guys at Toys from the Past are pretty cool. and the comic book guy next door to them has let me borrow some figs, so I guess its kinda like a micro meetup where I’m the only one shooting 🙂 Those interactions and conversations with adult toy collectors who also appreciate my hobby, are invaluable and very encouraging.

    The most satisfaction I get is after I get the shot I want, and saying, ‘Yes. this IS good, and I am proud of it. ”

    I am successful because I improve constantly, and I do it for me. Was it Sinatra or Limp Bizkit who sang “I did it my way”? whichever one, that’s how I’m rolling with this.

    Want more great content like this? like and subscribe! ( just kidding!)

    • Joshua thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate that you have taken the time to share your own experience. I know what youre saying about G+ vs MeWe. Maybe we need to give it some time and maybe our community week grow? I love that you’ve taken the time to set up your own blog. What a great way to really see your progress! And you won’t be beholden to any stupid platforms. Way to go!!

      I’m glad you have found a small community to support your activities. I think have a couple of adults in proximity is helpful to keep the motivation alive!

      Hopefully we can convince you to join us at a meet up one year!!

  4. Good post and very thought provoking.
    When I started on IG it was an outlet to share with ANYONE. I wanted to be like you with thousands of followers. I even reached 3,000… then watched as it dropped to just over 2K.
    Years back I decided that my “life purpose was to inspire and offer wisdom”… when I meet people who say they love what I do then I’m successful.
    Perhaps it wont make me rich, but it makes me happy… and that’s my success.

    • David I love your definition of success. Making our viewers happy, bring a little light into this world, is often all the reward we need as artists. Thousands of followers are no good to anyone if you cant reach them or connect with them. Be happy and keeping doing awesome work!! 😀

  5. Nice post, it makes me reflect.
    Talking about toy photography, success to me is an iterative, learning process, where every step reached is a starting point for the next one.
    I’ve learned a new technique?
    That’s so cool! Now, what i can do with it?
    How can i learn something new? Maybe i can share it?
    It would be successful to write a post about it!
    Oh cool, i wrote a post! That means i can do it! It would be successful to write consistently!
    And so on.
    I can’t find a ceiling to this chain and i’m not sure i want to find it, so the best i could say is “i’ve been successful at this particular activity because i’ve met my expectations”

    • +1 to this.

      I’m the same way.

      It’s not a commercial success thing for me either which is what makes your struggle, Shelly, so different from many others.

      It’s not a fame thing for me either. If it were, I’d play the Instagram so hard.

      It’s the joy of learning and doing. So I guess I’m a success! 😂

    • Marco if you can meet your own expectations, I call that success. I hope you never reach the learning ceiling, because how much fun will that be?? Keep being awesome and if you would like to share anything you learn with the readers of the blog, we would love to publish it!

  6. Reiterlied

    I’ve never really thought about toy photography in terms of success. To me, it all boils down to the first definition “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”… and so to why I’m taking photos of toys.

    I didn’t take up a camera to become famous or make money. My previous hobby and passion became work, I needed a new one. It was photography. Toys became the subject to photograph I was looking for in my early days. If there’s any way for me of defining success, it’s based on whether I’m still passionate or not about toy photography. From that point of view, I’ve only been successful and never had to fake anything. If it weren’t the case, I would be looking to do something else.

    • Maëlick I’m glad you so have a passion for toy photography! I hope that passion will serve you well for many years to come. Although I’m pretty sure that you will find something creative and amazing to feed your creativity when your creative toy photography well runs dry.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. 😊

  7. Thanks for this post Shelly. I think anyone who creates something, counts on some response or feedback. And it helps, gives a kick and somehow inspires. But I do not treat it in the category of success. I just do what I like and I’m happy that there is someone who likes what I do.

    Especially that for some time my preferences and preferences of people who appreciate my work are bit missing. Often the photos I’m most proud of are not these most liked by people.

    I think the success are interactions, support, inspiration and creating community. And what’s is great that this success has so many mothers and fathers. And this is kind of success that is worth the effort.

    • Tomasz thank you for sharing your own thoughts on this subject. I will admit I feel your pain when an image falls flat. It never feels good. But I reminds my self that there are so many factors that go into that response that I have no control over, it’s not worth dwelling on.

      Like you I fallback to community. It is toast connections, even the tenuous ones, that makes this an interesting on line hobby. Let’s keep fighting the good fight 👍

  8. So many great comments, and I love the questions you pose, Shelly! I’ve recently wrestled with the question of success, when I realized that I was wishing I had thousands of followers like some of my IG friends do. But then I asked myself, “What would I do with all those followers? Would it change anything at all?” In the end, it wouldn’t. So my posts would have 1,000 likes instead of 100. What difference would that make? None!

    Sometimes I feel pressure to put out more photos, lest everyone forget I exist. As if getting comments and likes somehow validates my existence. That too is empty. Do I really want to post “more” photos just to be seen? Or do I want to create photos that I enjoy creating and enjoy looking at?

    As I’ve pondered the question, it keeps coming back to that: toy photography is something I enjoy, both in the creation and in the viewing of the finished product. My writing is like that, too: when I can capture a thought or idea and put it into words, it’s enjoyable to me. I will continue toy photography because of that enjoyment, whether or not there is some other form of “success”.

    But one final thought sticks with me: I want to make a difference in the world. I want my art to have an impact on people: a moment of beauty, a spark of empathy, a relief from boredom or pain, a hope for better things to come, a reminder of past joys. I will continue to treasure every comment and reaction from my followers, because it indicates that something I made touched another human soul, and I value that connection, however brief.

    • Thank you for contributing to the discussion Teddi. You bring up so many great points. What is the difference between 100 and 1000 likes except ego? Like you I’d rather create a positive moment for my followers. There is so much negativity in the world it’s a pleasure to add a spark of joy instead.

      The best part of a post like this is the comments. It’s our shared experiences that make us stronger and hopefully wiser. 😊

  9. A most thought provoking piece, Shelly!
    I can totally relate to all the replies from the other photographers. Especially the part about follower count, likes and comments. It’s great to receive them. And not receiving recognition sometimes crushes your motivation. I guess it’s only human to feel that way. I think sometimes, it’s part of that creative process…feeling down and then suddenly have a surge of creative energy. I have certainly experienced this more than once.

    The healthier attitude would be to just enjoy the process, just like most comments stated here, and do your darnest to create the best looking image.

    I feel this whole toy photography thing is a journey with no objective. It could be just me, cause I am not one who plan ahead! I enjoy making the images and throwing out the work online and then whatever returns in opportunities, I would deem them as success…and I have experienced some great opportunities.

    And as Shelly has stated in the blog, I agree that success can be defined as making GREAT friends online and even better, eventually meeting them in real life. Success to me can also mean getting a smiley emoticon, even just one, from the photos I share. To be able to make someone smile halfway round the world makes my day.

    I am trying to spread awareness of this amazing hobby to more people through toy safaris, talks, exhibitions and conventions. And if more people take notice of this hobby through these events, I would deem that a success too.

    • Sunny I’m glad you enjoyed this post and I’m glad you have added your thoughts to the conversation. If you define success as making sometime smile across the planet then I can assure you, you’re a success because you make me smile every day. I love your wacky what if humor – never change.

      Thank you for helping to expand the awarenes of toy photography. I find this activity to be extremely rewarding. I’m sure you do too!!

      Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts on what success can look like! 😊

  10. Mary Wardell

    Excellent post, Shelly – and certainly on a subject I think everyone who creates can identify with. Years ago I realized that I wasn’t born with the entrepreneur gene – I love to create and to share what I do, but I lack the ability to monetize what I do. So why have I continued? The first reason is simple – the longer I have been photographing, the more I know I have to take/make pictures. Why toys? Good question. Anyone who has followed me knows that I take pictures of everything that grabs my eye. I started taking pictures of toys when we were discovering all the treasures my mother-in-law had collected & we were selling them on E-Bay. Then I moved on to telling stories and got myself into the Lego universe. And best of all I felt that I was making friends with others who shared my interests. I have a long on-line history since I met my husband online back in 1986. (Yes, children, the online world was struggling into existence back then.) I’ve posted pictures on Flickr & Facebook forever. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people through them – many from my everyday life and more that I have never met face to face. G+ accelerated a feeling of community which I miss but have been locating my communities, reduced in size, but still alive in places like MeWe, Flickr & more. Am I successful? Not at all if you look for financial gain. If you look at the ways I share what I do with others and enjoy what they do – I’m a very successful person. I love the rare chances I have to meet folks in person and am grateful to “meet” them online.

    • Beautiful response Mary. I truly appreciate your long view; as a mid career artist it’s nice to see what the future can hold. It really is about creating isn’t it? The act of creating, the act of sharing and the unexpected not of meeting like minded people. Even if that “meeting” is virtuall. Thank you for adding your voice and your own defile success to the comments. And I look forward to our paths crossing in person again 😊👍

  11. I think the secret to feeling successful is to learn to enjoy the ride. I’ve met a lot of good folks in this community and have had lots of opportunities come my way, but first and foremost my goal has been to help others also enjoy this ride of life. If I can spread some cheer and get folks to chuckle during a boring workday meeting then that is success to me. In regards to social media – I sure do enjoy the talent and content that people willingly share, especially when I am in a boring meeting.

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