We fear what we are not good at
Do you fear being judged? Let's go through this:
Are you worried about being judged on your ability to shop? To drink a beverage? To go for a walk? To brush your teeth?
Let me guess - for almost all of us, the answer is obvious: NO.
When we first start to learn to swim, most of us were not very good. But which is scarier? Learning to swim as a child or learning to swm as an adult?
Again most of us would pick the same answer: we are more fearful of being judged learning to swim as an adult.
Now let's imagine you're a 30-year-old male going to a really exclusive beach party. (if you are female, please indulge me with some simply imagination). Would you feel more worried about being judged if everyone was like Homer Simpson or Arnold Schwarzenegger?
This brings us to the crux of the matter.
If other people's judgement is what worries us, why does no one fear being judged by how well you drink from a straw or how well you brush your teeth?
Why is it scarier to learn how to swim or cycle when we are adults, than when we are kids?
Why would anyone join a singing contest, a bodybuilding contest, or take part in the Olympics?
If we are truly worried about being judged, why are reality shows so popular everywhere around the world, where the whole point of reality shows is about judging people?
If we are really worried about being judged, why do so many people post up photos and information about themselves on social media sites? Why has there been an explosion of vloggers sharing details of their lives? Every post shared invites judgment on themselves.
Well, the answer is simple.
We do not fear judgement itself.
In fact, when we think we are good at an area, we welcome judgement.
What we fear is not being good enough when we are judged.
What's really important to note is that our fear of not being good enough is highly restrictive.
First, like with all other fears, we might misjudge. When we worry whether we are judged to not be good enough, we actually spin a complicated web for ourselves, based on what we think other people think of us.
Take a look at this picture below:
This painting is called the "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel.
Take a look at the red box at the bottom right of the painting. In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus were imprisoned in the labyrinth on the island Crete. They escaped wearing a pair of wings Daedalus fashioned from feathers glued together by beeswax. Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, because the sun would melt the bee wax, causing the wings to malfunction. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened, and we can see Icarus falling into the sea (and as legend has it, he drowned. You can read more about this Greek Myth in our cool stories page.
Now as the painting depicts, even though something quite as dramatic as a "flying human" falling from into the sea had just happened, life pretty much goes on as per normal. Look at the farmer ploughing in the foreground. The shepherd tending to his flock in the middle of the picture. And the angler fishing at the bottom right-hand corner of the painting - none of them.
A popular interpretation of the painting, is simply that most people are far too obsessed with their own lives to really worry about our failures. At times, our fears might cause us to overestimate the actual costs of making a mistake. I don't completely agree with this interpretation, but there is certainly some truth to it. History is filled with examples of people who came back from massive failures to accomplish great things in life.
This brings us to our second point. Does anyone have the experience of or know someone who had a question or some ideas at a meeting, but kept mum for fear that it would make you/them look stupid in front of others? If we succumb to our fear of being judged as not good enough, and avoided doing anything except in areas where we are very confident in, we deny ourselves really honest feedback and inhibit our own learning opportunities in areas that we are not good at. Moreover, such a mentality would restrict us from trying many things in life, because there are very few things we are likely to be very confident in.
Finally, succumbing to our fear of not being good enough causes us to perform worse than we actually would. Fear causes us to lose further confidence, and to devote some of our energy worrying about what others are thinking of us, rather than focussing on the task at hand.
Check out the "how to overcome our fears" page, for tools and suggestions to prevent us from succumbing to our fears.
You may also be interested in the examples of Isaac Lidsky and Ray Dalio, who detail how they fought against their fears and pressed on in their lives.