September 8

The Great Pretender

The Great Pretender

By Deborah Johnson

September 8, 2023

adaptive ambition, authenticity, Chrissy Hynde, Deborah Johnson, dream board, facades, podcast, pretense, Rush Limbaugh, The Book Thief, the great pretender, The Platters, Velveteen Rabbit, visualization

The great pretender takes on many shapes as to the extent and meaning. Pretending is actually an important part of growing up. My grandmother, we called her Mimi, let my sisters and I get in her closet to play dress-up. Of course, she was much larger than we were, but she had some fancy clothes, probably purchased at a second-hand store as she lived through the great depression in the early twentieth century and I doubt if she ever bought anything new. To live through the depression meant you saved everything from tin foil, to plastic bags to buttons. But what fun we had in her closet! Everything was fancy to us. Mimi even had a mink stole. (remember those?)

We’d put on our fashion shows for everyone who was sitting around my grandparent’s small Formica kitchen table, probably talking politics as my grandfather was mayor of his small town. I’m sure they all laughed throughout our whole fashion presentation. But we were focused! Since I was the oldest sister, I’d always narrate, even having our youngest sister dress in our grandfather’s baggy clothes. I’m surprised she didn’t put up a fight. I guess dressing up kept us busy and was worth the mess we made.

Fortunately, we all outgrew that era of pretending, but unfortunately, the principle of being the great pretender is still alive and well in many lives and businesses in an unhealthy way. I see it every day on social media. Inflated bios, photos of those who seem to be so much more successful than we claim to be. I have to admit, I’ve been a pretender too—hopefully in some good ways as well as the ways that are not as admirable. In this article, we will cover characteristics of a person of bad pretense as well as good pretense that leads to authenticity, growth and honesty.

Women at Halftime by Deborah Johnson The Great Pretender with Deborah Johnson 9-12-2023
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One: Bad pretense Brings Deceptive Behavior

Manipulation, deceitful actions and multiple facades characterize a person who has a constant need for validation. I call those people two-faced. Sometimes it comes from a willingness to take shortcuts, not doing the work it takes to create what is real and authentic success. The danger lies when there is no longer the desire or ability to change. The behavior has become a habit. It’s almost as if reality is now distorted, like in one of those house of mirrors at fairgrounds where you see yourself distorted a number of different ways.

Chameleon-like behavior causes one to adapt personalities, interests and values to fit into various social circles to gain acceptance from different groups or individuals. This brings pressure to always present oneself in a certain light. Anxiety, fear and emotional detachment can lead to depression and destructiveness. What is real anymore? It all becomes such a game to keep up a certain image, lifestyle or persona.

Two: The Great Pretender

The Pretenders are an English-American rock band that formed in 1978. Chrissie Hynde, who is the lead vocalist, has a distinctive voice that is easily recognizable. If you have ever tuned into the Rush Limbaugh Show (Rush died in 2021), which used to be the highest-rated talk radio show in the U.S., you have heard the music from the Pretenders used as its theme music. It’s still played at times with the new hosts, Clay and Buck. The Platters, who were an American vocal group formed in 1952, were one of the most successful vocal groups of the early rock and roll era. They recorded a song called The Great Pretender in 1955.

The lyrics, written decades ago, are still so telling and relevant for today. Here are some phrases in the song: Pretending that I’m doing well. Lonely but no one can tell. Adrift in a world of my own, playing the game. The great pretender, laughing like a clown, seeming to be what I’m not. Wearing my heart like a crown. Those words cut to the heart of what it feels like to be a pretender, though if being a pretender has become such a part of one’s life, those feelings may be discounted and reality now includes the pressure to uphold a fictional person that will never truly be revealed. Some people take this pretense all the way to the grave. I’ve actually played music at some of those services and it’s pretty sad.

Three: Good Pretense to Implement Change

There is a part of pretending that is good and healthy that includes visualization for change. Adaptive ambition and behavior is relevant in implementing that change or adding a new habit. It includes visualization and tapping into positive emotions with the mental picture of positive change or possibility. For example, when working to lose weight, the visualization of ourselves wearing a new outfit or participating in active activities encourage us to keep working towards our goal.

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We see children using pretense often when visualizing themselves as an astronaut or famous pitcher. The fictional character Rudy Steiner in the book The Book Thief, was obsessed with the American track athlete Jesse Owens who won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic Games. He would take on Jesse’s character every time he ran. Dream boards and vision boards with collages of images, pictures and affirmations of one’s dreams and desires serve as a source of inspiration. Imagining ourselves in a new home, car or performing on large theatrical stages is also a way of using pretending in a healthy manner. It’s a part of using our imagination. I have even used this type of visualization and acting in rehearsing  music shows and speeches. It was very helpful to achieve the outcome I desired.

Four: Dangers for the Great Pretender

We’ve already mentioned the danger of how pretending can become a game or even way of life in order to keep up a certain image, lifestyle or persona. Also, reality can become extreme. Playing the game Charades, which is played by acting out not speaking with pantomime, often becomes a huge exercise in exaggeration. The game usually brings on a lot of laughter with descriptions and movements getting more and more extreme.

One of the categories represented in the game is a dramatic representation of a character. All participants realize taking on the persona of a character or even an animal, is make-believe. However, what has happened in our current society is that there are some that want to attach reality to what should still be play-acting. People are people. Animals are animals. We can still have fun mimicking and acting, as that is a healthy exercise to create, laugh and exaggerate. But to be authentic and real, we all need to cross back over that line to look inside ourselves, defining our core values and purpose.

For then, we will no longer be the great pretender. We will have the ability to be authentic.  And it won’t take a Magic Fairy like the one in the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit, to make us real.    


We covered: Bad Pretense, the Great Pretender, Good Pretense and Dangers. I encourage you to be real and also inspire those around you to be the same.


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Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author

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Deborah Johnson

About the author

DEBORAH JOHNSON, M.A., creator of Hero Mountain® and former president of Los Angeles National Speakers Association, is an international award-winning music artist, author, speaker and National Media Commentator. She also hosts the popular podcast "Women at Halftime." Deborah provides tools to create your ideal lifestyle and work at mid-career or during the halftime of life, getting unstuck. You can live your second half fulfilled, focused and free! Up for multiple GRAMMY Awards and spending over 20 years in the entertainment industry, she's an expert on how to constantly reinvent yourself in a gig-economy. She is also the recipient of the Women's Economic Forum Exceptional Women of Excellence Award. Deborah is the author of multiple books, over twenty albums and musicals and speaks and performs in both live and virtual events.

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