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Judge not?

Funny how the fear of being judged can hold us back from opportunities.

Some of us are so concerned, it rises to the level of social anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health defines it as “an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others.”

It seems to me, though, that others are watching and judging us all the time. We know that because we’re watching and judging them too!

Colleagues, friends, random strangers on the street – we have opinions about what they’re wearing, the words they say, the expressions on their faces, and so much more. “Judgement” sounds so, well, judgy. And yet …

The truth is that we’re always forming impressions of the people around us, and we can safely assume they’re reaching their own conclusions about us. The chances are pretty good, though, that they don’t tell us every opinion they have.

It’s different when we agree to a formal evaluation.

It takes confidence to enter a poetry slam, beauty pageant, or diving competition where judges will not only assess our performance; they’ll also publicly announce their appraisals of us and compare our effort to others’.

Some people thrive on that kind of competition—it fuels their performance and makes them better at what they do. Some of us would just as soon not set ourselves up to be rated, thank you. You can count me in the latter group. I’m not saying I have social anxiety disorder, but it puts a knot in my stomach to think about judges holding up a number to indicate their opinion of me.

And yet, there I was, asking to be judged.

Our National Speakers Association chapter offers a program teaching the business of speaking. This year, I enrolled in Speakers Academy to help me relaunch after nearly a year off taking care of my husband in hospice.

As the Academy wrapped up, we were offered a bonus session. A chance to give a 5-minute talk on Zoom and get feedback from the successful speakers who ran the program. We could learn a lot hearing from Kevin O’Connor and Conor Cuneen about what we did well and what we might improve.

I would be a dope not to take advantage of that opportunity, and whatever else people might say about me, they don’t usually call me a dope. So, I jumped at the chance to be actually in the arena, notwithstanding the knot in my stomach. I may have been the first to say, “Count me in.”

About that knot … I know how silly it is. I stand up in front of audiences regularly, and every individual in every audience is, in fact, judging me. Somehow, I felt more vulnerable about this experience. Conor and Kevin were going to tell me outright what they thought of my work, right there in front of everyone else in the group. Ugh.

I may not be alone in wanting to avoid that feeling of vulnerability.

Our Speakers Academy class was maybe 15 students. Two of us showed up to speak on Saturday morning.

Others had family obligations. And professional commitments. And maybe somebody just didn’t feel good. Still. It seems a lot of would-be professional speakers passed up an opportunity to get valuable feedback and improve their performance. Why would they do that?

I’m guessing they just didn’t want to be judged. They didn’t want to be vulnerable. And really, who does?

Well, there is that famous author and speaker.

Saturday evening, I stumbled across a Netflix special with shame researcher and vulnerability enthusiast Brené Brown. The timing was perfect for me.

Brené defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. There’s plenty of that every time I’m in front of an audience, including the Speakers Academy Co-Deans. And I wouldn’t say I relish the risk. I would say I am, most of the time, willing to take that risk.

In fact, my 5-minute talk that morning was about blowing a professional opportunity years ago because I was afraid to be seen. And about my resolve to be brave enough to show up and be seen next time.

And you?

I’m guessing your work involves at least the occasional uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. No matter what kind of work we do, when we do it authentically and enthusiastically, when we care about it, we’re bound to feel vulnerable once in a while. Maybe even often.

What if a client quits on us and goes with a competitor?

What if a sales presentation misses the mark, and we don’t get the business?

What if we mess up in any of the myriad ways each of us can on any given day?

At least we were actually in the arena, right? That is the place to be, and I’d like to see us support each other as we face that uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

PS …

As long as we’re being vulnerable here, let me add this. You know I’m rebuilding my speaking business; I hope you’re willing to help me do it. Maybe your organization would value a program about professional presence, magnetic networking, or pithy, powerful communication.

I can promise practical knowledge your people can use right away along with a dash of delight. Can we talk?