Tiny Steps to Overcome the Fear of Judgment

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

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 compliment to the acting classes I planned to start soon (which I began this past weekend).

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 have preferred 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. Now I'm doing it again, and I feel proud of that.

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

Photo by Brockamer

About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • C.

    Not a lot of people could express those difficult feelings in such clear and beautiful words as you do Lori. “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.” This is very much what I am struggling with too since a very long time but always found it hard to put it in words. Awesome post Lori, thanks so much. This site brightens every morning, while having a cup of coffee, and welcoming the new day.  

  • This could not come at a better time! I literally just decided this week that I need to stop worrying about the judgments of others and let full positivity into my life. Great post! Am new to your emails but I love them already 🙂

  • Brian

    Hi Lori. I’m so glad you pushed through and shared this. I love the ‘and he was everyone…’ line. That’s so true with projection. We actually take away others’ individual identity and replace them with some fabrication of ‘everyone’. We make them bigger and more menacing than they could possibly be if they were seen as the actual (truth) people they are. I’ve recently found some hypnosis audio downloads that address these issues in myself. In my opinion, what I’m learning, is that in ‘performance’, especially in music or art, it’s the perfect time to be completely self centered. Make others ‘go away’ through your own attention on yourself and what you’re doing. It’s an awesome thing to be able to do (and I’m still learning too). The last thing an audience, or a teacher, really wants you to do is focus totally on them, worrying what they think or trying to please. Best to you. – brian

  • Cheryll

    Oh bless you, bless you, bless you! I was writing in my journal this morning, going through the same though process… how wonderful it feels to know that I (we) are not alone in our struggles. Warm hug & hugs, Cheryll

  • As usual, Lori, I really related to your experience.  Recently, I put myself in a position to be judged, both by myself and others, by making a video for the purpose of funding a book project.  I grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of 2 movie professionals and have had a lifelong phobia of the camera.  In order to be the spokesperson in that video, I had to come face-to-face with all that fear.  Surmounting that obstacle was a life-altering experience, to say the least.  And I’ll never again be afraid of the camera!  

  • As usual, Lori, I really related to your experience.  Recently, I put myself in a position to be judged, both by myself and others, by making a video for the purpose of funding a book project.  I grew up in Hollywood, the daughter of 2 movie professionals and have had a lifelong phobia of the camera.  In order to be the spokesperson in that video, I had to come face-to-face with all that fear.  Surmounting that obstacle was a life-altering experience, to say the least.  And I’ll never again be afraid of the camera!  

    Oops! I accidentally posted this twice! Sorry…

  • Jlareau123

    Thanks Lori…and the reality is that there will ALWAYS be someone better, stronger, faster, etc. so there is simply nowhere to go with this. It’s not about being THE best, it’s about being YOUR best.

  • Jeet

    It is a ‘tiny’ victory indeed for the ‘tiny’ Buddha in you! 🙂 Congratulations, Lori! We are all on your side!

  • Guest

    This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. Thank you

  • Jesobes

    Tint Buddah has really helped me and made a difference in my life. I thank you from my heart

  • Vivian

    As usual, perfect timing!!! Thanks a lot!

  • Stephanie

    Thank you so much for this article. My horoscope this morning said that I need to stop pretending to be something I’m not for the sake of others, and then I read this. I’ve been hiding for so long behind this sense of judgment and shame that I didn’t see the people who were genuinely trying to help me.

  • Johanna_Galt

    Awesome, awesome post, Lori! I can’t even imagine how terrifying that must have been to sing in front of someone else like that. And yet, instead of letting it make you feel small, you used it to stand even taller. That’s no small achievement!
    Everything you wrote here is so true — I especially like the line about piling all of our fears into one heap of angst that prevents us from seeing others clearly. One of my favorite quotes says “You wouldn’t worry so much what other people thought of you if you realized how seldom they did.” Isn’t that the truth! And Yes! to the fact that when people DO judge, it says so much more about them than it really does about you.
    Thanks for such an inspiring post. You’ve encouraged me to keep working on stepping past my own insecurities so I can live this precious life more fully.

  • Matt

    Brilliant perspective Lori!

  • Melissamin2004

    Thank you!! Your article came just in time, I was feeling the same yesterday

  • Thanks so much C. I felt pretty vulnerable about this one, but I had a feeling that meant I needed to publish it. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the site. =)

  • Thanks Jonathan. That’s a great lesson, about being our own best.

  • Welcome to the site Ashlee. I’m glad this came at a good time for you!

  • Congrats on facing that fear Tiela! I’m not a big fan of being on camera either. It can be kind of nerve wracking. How are things going with the book project?

  • Thanks Brian. Great point, about making others go away while performing. I’m really looking forward to being on stage again and becoming absorbed in a performance in that way. I’d love to try those audio downloads. Could you send me the links? My email is email(AT)tinybuddha(DOT)com.

  • You’re most welcome!

  • Thank you Matt. =)

  • Thanks so much Johanna! I love that quote; it’s brought me a lot of peace in times when I’m given my power away. I’m glad this was encouraging to you. =)

  • You’re most welcome Stephanie! I hate that feeling of pretending–and I know it very well. That’s wonderful you have people there, offering their help. =)

  • You’re most welcome!

  • You’re so welcome. What a beautiful note. It means a lot to me to know the site helps people. =)

  • You’re most welcome!

  • Thanks so much Jeet!

  • Bless you as well! I also find a lot of comfort in knowing I’m not alone.

  • Lori,

    I’m glad I stumbled onto your site. Great encouragement here. Thanks and keep up the good work.

  • I really loved this post and your visualisation of all your fears about being not good enough and all your fears about being judged as being locked in that moment of extreme vulnerability when you sang. I know I’d feel hugely vulnerable if I had to sing but maybe the lessons I could learn through making myself so vulnerable would be worth it. I also believe that most people aren’t wanting to judge us, unless as you say, they are simply mirroring their own judgement of themselves.

  • Love this so much, Lori. This line really hit home for me: “…he was everyone I may fail to fully see while stressing about how they’re seeing me.” I had a real shift in perception when I read that.

    Suddenly all the people who I was afraid were judging me became real people who are feeling just as vulnerable as I am. Wow.

    Thank you 🙂 I’m so happy to see you facing your fears and following your dreams, go you!

    Jen xo

  • Joanna

    Loved this – such a great act in owning your voice, not just your pen ..;) I took piano lessons a couple of years back and it was set me on my path of creativity- not because I’m any good at it even after a year, but that all the lesson I took in facing my own fears of exposure, expectations and failing .. Now I can honestly say I suck at it ! But hell I can try again when I get older but for now the keyboard lays to rest upstairs ..

  • Susie

    A+ post as usual Lori – thank you :~)

  • Thanks so much Jonathan–and welcome to Tiny Buddha!

  • Thanks Kathy. I suspect you’re right, about people not wanting to judge. It’s definitely a more peaceful way of looking at the world!

  • Thanks Susie =)

  • Thanks Joanna! I love what you wrote about owning my voice, not just my pen. It felt like that, for sure. And that’s wonderful you took piano lessons! It’s such a liberating feeling to do something new and creative, without worrying about how it will be received.

  • Thanks so much Jen–and I’m so glad this resonated with you!

  • Teresa

    Wow, I had my own realization this week about how I project my insecurities onto other people and situations, so I think it’s amazing that this is the first article I clicked on when I received the email! Seems to be a topic that’s out there in the universe right now. Very helpful!

  • I’m glad this helped Teresa! Have a great weekend. =)

  • David

    Thanks for the post.
    This song by Bob Marley – Three little birds, always helps me to overcome all the worries I have.

  • Really useful 🙂 Thanks and keep up the good work!

  • You’re most welcome!

  • You’re welcome–and thanks so much!

  • Narwhaltat

    A great post – and a useful reminder that, most of the time, most people I meet are far more ‘on my side’ than my insecurities would have me believe!

  • Lori Deschene

    Thanks so much! It really helps me to remember that too. Other people aren’t rooting for us to fail, just like we wouldn’t do that to them.

  • Sincere expression of difficult feelings about vocal performance and how we
    imagine and fear how others may judge us in a negative rather than constructive way. The feedback from the vocal coach may help you to perform more effectively vocally. Feeling and quality of vocal expression help to create a deeper connection as well as ability to project the voice. It’s therapeutic to sing and express what we feel. You will get better as you continue to practise and improve your vocal abilities. Many who perform often still get performance anxiety that creates an edge to performing well when they get going and transcend self conscious fears about their performance.
    I recall Judy Garland getting ‘worked up’ before going on stage to sing with heart and soul. She was very vulnerable and emotionally sensitive but people loved her performance because she connected with them in a sincere way .Another honest and sincere post Lori well done!

  • Megan

    I’m so glad I stumbled across this post! Wonderful, exactly what I needed today. Thank you.

  • You’re most welcome. =)

  • Jason Holborn

    This was really good and I appreciated and got a lot out of all your personal insights examining this experience. Thanks for sharing this.

    “One of the most damaging things I’ve done in my life is project my insecurities onto other people.” – Yikes, how true this rings to me!

    I am really pleased to have found your site. In only 2 days I’ve told six people about it.

  • You’re most welcome. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site so far! Thanks for taking the time to write. =)

  • John

    I stumbled across this post while looking for a thought for our leadership team at work. This hit at the core and addresses some real challenges I have been experiencing! Thanks for sharing the wisdom and insight… Key challenge is to also be ok when someone’s intention is not so friendly or helpful, but really is judgmental and bent on harm.

  • You’re most welcome, John. I’m glad this helped! I know what you mean about that challenge. It helps me to remember that I can never know someone’s intention for certain unless they tell me–and even if someone does have intentions that aren’t helpful for friendly, it likely has more to do with them than me. Not always easy to remember, but when I can, this brings me some peace.

  • jonas

    beautifull experience

  • MotherOfBees

    Lori, your post is just as timely today! Herein lies my confusion; I’ve felt at times that I do not fit in and have used those experiences to negate the positive ones, when I did fit in. I’m starting a new path, with new people. I want/ need to be authentic. My prayers to the Universe have brought me here, it’s time to be me. Silly, funny, sarcastic, compassionate, warm, empathetic, reliable, honest. I’m petrified. Tears are welling up as I write. I want to be ‘home’ at this new place I’m starting next week, I just want to feel safe. Loved. Respected. All I know, is to give those qualities to others. ❤

  • Hi there ~ My apologies for the slow response! I’m glad this spoke to you. How are things going for you now that you started at this new place?

  • MotherOfBees

    Things are miraculous. I feel like I am in a dream almost. It will take some time to assimilate this new experience. I realize now that I manifested what I asked for, yearned for. A work environment that is kind, respectful. I am appreciated! I don’t feel like a duck in a desert! Yay! I am full, grateful

  • That’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you. =)

  • Calvin Ngotho

    Lori wonderful post Lori. Have been doing some soul searching I came across this post. Fear has been my nemesis and has nearly brought me to the ground. A small step of change will do for now..

  • Thanks Calvin. I’m glad this was helpful to you!

  • disqus_fyy1HxoUzu

    Well, Light, it looks like you’ve lost. .

  • Barbara

    This is an old post and you may never see my response, but I wanted to tell you how relevant your words are to me. I’ve struggled for so many, many years with so much, but mainly with my inability to produce my novel. And that is my dream. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was young. I began my novel about 15 years ago, and through the years, I’ve worked on it. But I always fought this wall I felt I was banging my head against. Just something that stopped me from finishing the novel and, ultimately, publishing it. People would say I was afraid of failure or afraid of success, and I’d think on that, but realized it wasn’t those.

    It was only recently I’d discovered I have an innate fear of judgment. In everything, but, most important, in my writing. It was my aha moment to realize this. Now, of course, I’m trying to understand where it comes from and how to get over this agonizing quandary. And that is how I found your blog post.

    Thank you for your words and putting into content what I could not express myself. I admire your strength and your courage to confront your fears. Hopefully, I’m on my way as well.