Last week, as I was the visiting writer for a UCLA online writing class, one student told me how difficult it was for her to let others read her work, and asked me how to get over the fear of judgment. This is what I love about doing this class- writers ask such probing questions, forcing me to face my own issues, and this is certainly one of them.
So many of us live with that sneaky dragon that lurks behind the subconscious, whispering that we’re not good enough, that if we take a chance and put ourselves out there, we’ll be exposed as a fraud.
Boy oh boy, do I know that dragon. I can get on stage in sequins and sing to a crowd of hundreds, but my voice shakes with fear reading one of my personal essays in front of a few. Speaking our deepest truth is a scary prospect. But here is what I told her:
Through my experience both as a performer and a writer, I've learned a lot about this "fraud" issue. What I know for sure: I am only fearful of being exposed when I am holding in a secret. I cannot tell you what a relief it has been to tell the truth about myself, who I am, where I come from. In my performing career, I have been around a lot of celebrities and "important" people all my life. I thought I'd die if they all knew that I grew up a welfare kid, daughter of a convict. But what I've found is that most people (the right people for me) actually have embraced me and become closer to me since I began living in my truth.
I would say that most of us, on some level, feel like a fraud about to be exposed. I once saw Johnny Mathis perform a flawless show. I was starstruck. Afterward, I went backstage, so excited to meet this pop icon.
"You were wonderful," I said.
He looked at me worried, "Really? Did you really think I was okay?"
Suddenly I found myself in a completely surreal moment, pep-talking Johnny Mathis, ensuring this legend that he was good enough. That's when I knew - we all suffer from the same affliction.
For years, as a singer, I suffered terrible stagefright until one day I realized...wait a minute. No one came to this event to sit in judgment of me as a singer. They came to have a good time and forget about their troubles for a night. When I stop thinking about myself, and come from a place of giving or service, I sing with joy.
The same goes with writing. People read stories to escape, or to feel connected, not to scrutinize. Every human being has a story. Our past societies are built on storytelling (The Bible for one). I am just a human telling my unique story like no one else can. Why should I fear anyone’s judgment?
I have learned that when I am living in truth, fear evaporates. When I own my story, the good, the bad and the ugly, my faults, my mistakes, my fallibility as a human, there is no judgment to fear.
I think ultimately what we fear is not judgment, but the truth that may come in that judgment - a truth we aren’t ready to face. My experience has been that facing it is much easier than running from it, and requires much less energy than suppressing it.
My final advice to the student: The only true fraud protection we have is to live authentically. Tell your truth, live in your truth, and watch what happens...