Tiny Steps to Overcome the Fear of Judgment

by Lori Deschene

A couple weeks back, I had my first singing lesson in over 15 years. I’ve been hoping to get back into musical theater, so this seemed like a perfect complement to the acting classes I planned to start soon (which I began this past weekend).

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” ~Ambrose Redmoon

Unlike in in my childhood voice lessons, the instructor did not play piano, opting instead to use instrumental music from an iPad.

This meant he looked right at me while I sang On My Own from Les Miserables—a vastly different experience than singing in the shower, or at a karaoke bar after a couple of drinks—and he even took notes, since his hands were free.

I felt like my vocal cords were gripped in a vice. The experience of singing, while sitting alone, with someone I just met staring at me, made me feel far more vulnerable than I ever feel when I press publish here.

It felt even more intimidating because I knew he was an accomplished singer. He was better than me.

He was watching, focusing, assessing—and that felt terrifying.

Then I asked myself, “Why is this terrifying?”

He may have been watching, but that is, in fact, what happens when you perform. He may have been focusing, but would I really prefer my teacher to be distracted? And he may have been assessing, but that didn’t mean he was judging.

He was taking notes so he could help me, not tear me down. It simply wasn’t his intention.

And he wasn’t conveying a sense of superiority. In fact, when we exchanged emails before the lesson, he made a point to compliment me on this site. We each had different strengths—and he was willing to share his to help me hone mine.

This was an eye-opening experience for me, because in that moment, that song was everything I tell myself not to do or say in fear of how it may be received. And he was everyone I worry about impressing in fear they won’t accept me.

He was the potential friend who I sometimes worry may not recognize my worth.

He was the potential employer who I sometimes fear may not recognize my ability.

And he was everyone I may fail to fully see while stressing about how they’re seeing me.

One of the most damaging things I’ve done in my life is project my insecurities onto other people.

At times, I’ve gathered all my fears about everything I think I’m not into a big heap of angst, and then placed it front of other people where it completely obscured my view of them.

They became the totality of my self-judgment because it was just too large for me to see beyond it.

It’s taken me years to realize I can break that all down. I can choose not to assume that people are judging me, thinking they’re better than me. I can assume people see the best in me—as I’m able to see in them when I stop obsessing about myself.

Does this mean no one will ever feel superior or judge? Not at all—though it’s possible that when they do, they’ll be standing behind their own heap of insecurities, wanting to feel more assured but knowing no other way to do it.

My voice teacher had me do some bizarre exercises that pushed me beyond my comfort zone.

Relaying my morning activities in a voice somewhere between shouting and singing, with frequent stops and restarts, all with him looking right at me, felt awkward to say the least.

I told myself, “He’s on my side,” and put the full strength of my voice into it. It may seem like a tiny victory. That’s probably because it is.

Still, it was a choice to put it all out there, because that’s what I came to do, and I felt proud of that.

What have you bee meaning to say or do? And can you make a tiny shift in your perception that makes it easier to step beyond your fear?

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