Why do we fear being judged?

A look into where our fear of being judged comes from, and how we can unlearn it

Special thanks to the 1449 conscious thinkers who read The Edvolution every week.💜 This newsletter will serve as your weekly inspiration, and often a much needed reminder, to create a meaningful life on your own terms and question the status quo.

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Hi friends, 

My last week’s musings on finding a meaningful career got quite a response. Combined with the previous week’s discussion on work-life balance, it’s clear that many of us are rethinking what meaningful living really looks like. Here are some very real reflections I received from our community:

“In February of 2018 I started working with an employment agency that placed me at the worst job I have ever had in my life. I still stayed there for 10 months, abandoning everything I thought was the right thing to do…By June, I was in major pain from all the stress…but I kept "sticking with it,” until it caused me serious illness, and nearly destroyed my relationship. I finally left and have spent the last year rethinking our way of living and finding healthier ways.” - Daymi

“The search for a meaningful career is really resonating with me. Totally on that journey and just seem to be in confusion so far. [But committed to] find a starting point!” - Fehmida

“I really liked your reframing of work-life balance. It reminded me of an article I read two years ago from Jeff Bezos (found it again here). He is someone who also detests the term and prefers "work-life harmony," allowing both to be a circle of sorts, allowing both to function together and creating a feeling of satisfaction for both. I also love you espousing that people should invest in themselves, because as individuals we are our own greatest asset and investment. I definitely spend a lot of time going 100mph focusing on a number of things at any given time, so making sure everything I do in one way or another aligns with my goals, carries meaning or serves some other positive purpose allows me to create the work-life harmony.” - David

A special thank you to everyone that wrote to me—I’m rooting for you.

This week, let’s talk about:

👉 Why do we care so much about what others think of us?

I used to struggle with crippling self-doubt. And I just got over this struggle five months ago…

I can’t even explain how much better I feel, or how differently I internalize things (and not make myself miserable during the process…), or how my conviction in my abilities has drastically improved. When I find the words, I’ll share.

But in the meantime, I want to share my process of breaking through this self-doubt, and how I discovered mine to be connected to the fear of being judged.

In July, I got a coach. But that wasn’t step 1 in my journey.

Step 1 was admitting that my thinking sucked.

I was sooo tired of feeling overwhelmed and pessimistic any time I wanted to try something new, or had to face a challenge. It made me miserable, and while my discipline carried me forward, each passing moment felt like a chore, a burden, instead of an achievement.

But I didn’t understand why I felt this way. I am a naturally optimistic person. I know I’m intelligent. I have support. So, why did I always default to fear?

This default way of thinking was not serving me.

The sooner you become aware of your default thinking and how it makes you feel, the better. If it doesn’t serve you—if it doesn’t help you navigate life well—it’s time for a change.

Most people are not aware of their default thinking; they don’t pay enough attention to their reactions or habitual ways of dealing with situations. Start there.

Step 2 was understanding why I defaulted to this bad thinking.

Is this thinking inherent to my personality? Is it something I learned?

Back in July, I was invited to spend a socially-distanced weekend with friends of friends. These friends of friends are very impressive individuals. Many are famous for reasons I aspire to be remembered for—they do lots of good in this world, they care deeply, and they’re all self-made high net-worth individuals.

I hadn’t yet overcome my default way of thinking, so my self-doubt immediately started questioning, “what if I don’t come across as thoughtful enough? What if they don’t get what I’m working on?”


But fortunately, I had already admitted that my default thinking doesn’t serve me. The beauty of being aware of your thinking is you’re very likely to catch it when it’s trying to lead you down a yucky path.

I asked myself a series of questions like,

  • why do I feel this self-doubt?

  • do I have proof that I can’t do this?

  • how do i judge my abilities?

I ended up realizing that my self-doubt comes from me not knowing how to judge myself.

When I started reflecting on how I judge my ability to do something, I recognized that for most of my life, I relied on some external source to validate my abilities for me.

  • Have I learned something well enough? My teacher will tell me.

  • Am I performing well at work? A manager will tell me.

  • Am I impressive? People will tell me.

Even in my South Asian family, the most common phrase I heard growing up was “what will people say?”

And because seeking external validation usually comes with poor reinforcements, like:

  • get good grades or you’re grounded!

  • make your parents proud or you’re a bad kid!

most of us learned to fear being judged and default to self-doubt until someone tells us we’re a-okay.

So, I asked myself, do I actually care what other people think of me? Can they really judge me accurately? The answer to the latter was no, and so the answer to the former also became no. Only the people who can accurately judge me get a say (I’m always open to feedback), but otherwise, I have to be my own validation.

Recognizing that my default self-doubt and fear of being judged were not inherent traits was liberating. But only by examining where this thinking came from could I have come to this conclusion. Your conclusion might be different, but question your default thinking instead of assuming it’s just who you are. Your thinking can always evolve.

Step 3 was committing to unlearn.

Okay, so I figured out that my default self-doubt and fear of being judged were learned, so they could also be unlearned. But I didn’t know where to start. How do I de-program YEARS of habitual thinking?

So, I got a coach. A mindset coach. (Note: I NEVER thought I would need a mindset coach…I was wrong and getting a coach was one of the best decisions I’ve made).

I did a two-month coaching program that included bi-weekly (2x/month) calls with my coach and weekly self-guided activities. She introduced me to concepts I had heard of before but never taken too seriously. I spent a few thousand dollars (I was always averse to investing in myself in this way so this took a big leap of faith) and allocated 10-12 hours every week towards this program.

Point is, in order to truly unlearn something, it’s important to recognize the severity of it and have a realistic understanding of what it’s going to take. I knew my years of programming would not disappear overnight. I also knew that I didn’t have the foundation to “self-help” my way through it. Only by questioning my default programming and doing Step 1 and Step 2 did I recognize how desperate I was to unlearn it.

So, when I felt super uncomfortable investing $$$ in coaching, I reminded myself that doing so was an investment in myself. And frankly, my default programming cost me much more in the long-term.

Step 4 was actually unlearning, re-thinking, and practicing.

When I started the coaching program, I was asked about my goals. I answered:

  • Never defaulting to self-doubt

  • Building a system that allows me to measure my abilities

  • Always maintaining deep conviction in myself and my ability to learn anything

As I mentioned earlier, my coach introduced me to concepts I had heard of before but never taken too seriously. Concepts like:

  • New Identities: Ask yourself, what is your dream relationship with yourself? How do you feel when you have it? What is your dream career? How do you feel when you have it? Do the same with your dream friendships, finances, etc.

    My favorite part about writing out these identities was the “feeling” aspect. It is relatively easy to write about the things you want in different areas of your life, but the real desire is to feel the way you want in all areas of your life.

    This root desire is super important to highlight. Focusing on the feelings also makes it fairly easy for me to self-evaluate if I’ve achieved those “identities.” In some aspects, I’ve found that I have achieved the feelings even though I don’t have all of the “things” I wrote to describe my dream. Turns out, those things weren’t actually that important. But if I hadn’t focused on the feelings, I may have waited for those irrelevant things to occur, letting them serve as sources of external validation.

  • Be-Do-Have: I was also re-introduced to this popular concept:

    My new identities helped me create a clear understanding of who I desire to Be holistically. I made a note of what this being would do—the types of actions, reactions, and thinking they would demonstrate—and committed to doing just that.

    I became hyper observant of my thoughts. Any time I sensed self-doubt creeping in, I’d get out my journal and start questioning the doubt to face it instead of letting it control my actions.

    I became hyper conscious of my words. Any time I recognized negative self-talk or demeaning words, I would find empowering alternatives.

    I became hyper disciplined with my daily rituals that aided my thoughtfulness. I started my mornings being thoughtful of my headspace. I journaled first thing, invested time in learning mental models, spent time reading, practicing, and ensuring I didn’t give in to the anxiety of “doing” over “being thoughtful.”

  • Visualization: In addition to being in my daily life, I practiced long meditations, which included 30+minutes of visualizing my dreams.

Step 5 was being.

I wrote the above concepts in past-tense but I practice each of them regularly. They hold me accountable to being and feeling all the things I desire, every day.

I’m proud to say I’ve reversed the self-doubt (it really only took six weeks, which baffles me still!).

And my fear of being judged has been replaced by my excitement to judge myself.

Just last week, I was invited to go on a retreat with some of the most successful people in social investing. Serial entrepreneurs of public companies. Incredibly intelligent and tapped-in individuals. At first, I felt a tinge of nervousness. But this time, it didn’t manifest in self-doubt. Instead, it very quickly sparked the thought, “Cool! It’s been a few months since I’ve been in an environment like this. Let’s see how I hold my own.”

By rejecting my need for external validation, opportunities that used to scare me have now become opportunities for me to check in with myself and evaluate how I’ve grown. How I present my bold ideas. How thoughtful I am in conversation. I’ve turned my self-doubt and fear of external judgement into eagerness for self-reflection and introspection.

It’s freakin’ liberating. And it was a lot of work. But also less work than my anxiety made it sound. 😉

Anyway, I think I’ve spent hours trying to communicate my process in a simple but thoughtful way. I hope it’s helpful. But if only one thing sticks with you:

There are many ways to live a meaningful life, but they all include thinking for yourself and believing in yourself relentlessly—these two just happen to be the first things we give away early in our years. Take them back. (Share on Twitter)

Know your power,


Know someone who needs to hear these words?



Let’s put this week’s learning into practice.

How do you develop conviction in yourself? Do you seek external validation? Do you measure yourself independently?

Pssst: If you’re feeling brave, let us know in the comments section (or reply just to me!) how the challenge goes—I’m here to cheer you on. 🎉

Leave a comment


“On the outside, I looked like I had the perfect life. A handsome husband, a beautiful house in sunny Southern California, a job that allowed me to travel. I was so afraid to admit I wasn’t happy because I didn’t know what people would think of me. I was so afraid to leave this life because I was afraid of being judged for it.”

- Jill Knobeloch

Listen to Jill's Story


A round-up of hand-picked, highly recommended tools, and inspiration to help you live your best life. 

  1. One of my favorite sources of news is The Hustle. It’s free, and it’s super funny, thoughtful, and mostly well-informed. They cover a range of topics and I always learn something new. They already have 1.7M+ readers and I highly recommend joining.

  2. Paul Graham’s November essay titled, How To Think For Yourself. You know I can jam on this all day—feel free to email me!

  3. I recently discovered Brain.FM—the playlists are awesome and help me get into a deep meditation during a hectic day AND into focus mode after my meditation.

  4. A super interesting interview by Ellen Pao, Reddit CEO on never feeling imposter syndrome.

  5. Haven’t bought all of your gifts yet? Feel good by using Cause Artist’s Ethical Holiday Gift Guide.

👋 See you back here next week to explore: 

Do winners really never quit?

The Human Behind this Newsletter

I’m Shireen Jaffer. The Co-founder & CEO of Edvo. Wife. Life-long Learner. Big Empath. Committed Thinker. My mission is to build tools that empower anyone to learn how to think for themselves. 

❓ Got a question you want to unpack together? Tweet me, @shireenjaffer_.

🎤  Want to share your story? Email me at shireen@edvo.com—I’d love to feature you in an upcoming newsletter.

💜  This newsletter was crafted for you while ignoring my husband’s “Are you done yet?!” Share with a friend who you care deeply about—and let them know it. 

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