Hiding Behind a Pen Name
I had just come off a 5 year work contract living in Afghanistan working for the Army. This was my first real job that required me to step up and be a leader.
And it stressed me out. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t the nightly mortar attacks on the base or the occasional car bombs at the front gates that stressed me out – it was the constant leadership meetings and the threat of me having to share my thoughts.
That might sound silly, but I held onto a lot of fear of judgement in my life. It affected every single part of it, from work, to my social life, to simply going out into public.
When I returned to the states I was determined to find a way to not have to deal with that environment anymore. So I tried my hand at blogging. I was passionate about fitness, and I liked to write, so it seemed like a perfect fit.
So I started my first blog and business, Coach Calorie, back in 2011, and I sat at home using my written words to convey my value to others. In fact, I never even showed myself. Coach Calorie was my pen name. I was too afraid to put myself out there for the public to see and judge.
In my head I worried that if people saw what I looked like, it wouldn’t line up with the knowledge that I shared. I was fit, but I thought I needed to have a certain look to be taken seriously. And if I didn’t have the body to match the words, then I would lose credibility.
The blog grew fast… extremely fast. I gained over 100,000 followers on Facebook in just a few months. Companies, magazines, and podcasters started reaching out to me to interview me. But I would just say no, or even ignore their requests, because it stressed me out to even think about it. What if I messed up? What if I didn’t have the right answer? What would they think of me then?
The fear of judgement was crippling. I started this business to avoid the fear of public speaking and judgement, and here I was feeling under threat even more than before.
The longer I went without showing what I looked like the bigger the fear grew. Until one day I decided enough was enough. I did a big reveal and posted a small picture of myself – a 2in x 2in avatar. And the responses were surprising.
First of all, no one said anything negative. No one criticized my appearance. No one suddenly didn’t take my writing seriously.
Interestingly enough, someone did think I was a woman this whole time. Others said I was attractive. But most people just went on with their own lives and didn’t think twice about it.
And that’s the thing with judgement. We are so worried about everyone else judging us that we don’t realize the most crippling part of it is our own self-judgement.
We get so self-absorbed that we think the entire world is revolving around us and what we think, say, do, or look like. We over-value other people’s opinions. We try to get our bodies to look a certain way so that we can be judged favorably, when in reality, no one really cares. The degree of our self-importance gets way out of alignment with the reality of how much other people really care.
We start living a life of what ifs. What if they think this about me? What if I they think I’m fat, stupid, clumsy, weak, or old?
Well… what if they do? Why does it matter so much what other people think of you? The bigger question is what do you think of yourself? Because your self-judgement has a much bigger impact on your life.
The real problem with fearing judgement of your body isn’t the feeling of emotional discomfort you do experience – it’s the parts of your life you don’t experience.
Whether judgement is coming from other people or if it’s your own self-judgement, we tend to focus on avoiding the emotional discomfort associated with it at all costs. It’s one of the reasons we go through such great lengths to change our bodies.
But the true cost of fearing judgement is how small your life becomes. You become hyper focused on curating your life in a way that accounts for all potential threats of judgement and criticism.
You end up living in a box, a very small comfort zone, which prevents you from taking risks in your life. You avoid seeing people, going places, doing things, and being the person you truly want to be.
You don’t pursue things in your career, you don’t take the vacations you want to take, you miss out on intimacy with your partner, you avoid going back to school, and you close yourself off to any other opportunity that might put you face to face with judgement.
The thing with judgement is that it’s never going away. It’s as natural as eating. We all do it and we always will. So you have to stop trying to avoid it and start working with it.
You might think you’re avoiding it by closing yourself off to other people, but all that’s happening is your own self-judgement is putting you into a protective bubble. You feel safe, but only because you have a few inches of safety between you and the real world. In reality, you aren’t winning the war against judgement, judgement has you in a checkmate scenario – backed into a corner unable to experience life.
What people don’t understand is that we don’t do all this work of handling judgement so that we can go into a situation comfortable. We do the work so that we can go into the situation despite the discomfort.
Because as I said, the real threat isn’t the discomfort – it’s the loss of life experience. We work through the judgement so that we can live life.
It’s not the lack of discomfort that allows you to live your life to the fullest, it’s having life experiences in the face of discomfort that allows you to get more comfortable with the judgement.
Understanding the judgement, knowing where it’s coming from, and putting it into perspective are all part of the process for getting you to step outside of your comfort zone so that you can have some new experiences – experiences that provide you with new evidence that you are safe and capable of being yourself in this world.
So be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of doing so much personal development work trying to wipe judgement from your existence. It’s not going to happen. Instead, do just enough that allows you to take action in the face of discomfort, as new empowering experiences are what allow you to overcome judgement’s grip on your life.
One thing is for certain – at some point on your Ideal Body journey, someone is going to say something and you’re going to get offended.
They may say something directly to you, or you may read or hear the words of another person being directed to someone else. Either way, their opinions, also known as their judgements and beliefs, are bound to cause you some discomfort eventually.
The important thing to understand here is where the responsibility lies for you feeling better. Because while someone judging you is their problem, you getting offended by their judgement is yours.
If you don’t want either direct or indirect judgement to bother you, you have to understand why it’s causing you discomfort in the first place.
Getting offended is a sign that somebody is either challenging one of your beliefs, or they are affirming a belief of yours that causes you discomfort. Regardless, it’s your responsibility to either release the ownership of someone else’s judgement, or to explore your own self-judgement that others are simply confirming.
The first thing you want to do when you start feeling offended is to ask yourself – “why is this bothering me?”
What you’re trying to determine here is if you getting offended is a result of one of your underlying beliefs either getting challenged or affirmed.
If it’s getting challenged, then you can decide whether you want to hold onto your current belief or adopt the belief/judgement of the other person. If you don’t like what they think, then you don’t have to take ownership of it.
You don’t need to fight for your own belief. You just need to let them own theirs. They created their belief through a lifetime of experiences. It is not your responsibility to get them to change their beliefs. So just say “no, thank you” and move on.
If, on the other hand, you get offended because they are affirming an underlying belief of yours that causes you pain, it is still your responsibility to feel better. They are simply telling you what you already know. So how can you really get offended at that?
If someone calls you fat or says you have cellulite, you have to ask why this is even a problem. Why does this bother you more than them saying you have 2 hands?
It’s because YOU have attached disempowering meaning to these things. So this is YOUR problem to solve. Your emotions are a result of your own thoughts and beliefs – not the actions of others. It would be nice if the situation never happened. But it did. If you want to feel better, the solution comes from within you.
If someone were to call you a mailbox you would just laugh it off. The only reason you’re offended is because on some level you believe what people say is true. So all that’s happening is you’re getting upset at yourself.
What people call having “thick skin” is simply metaphorical armor resulting from the correct allocation of belief ownership. They either reflect the judgement back to the other person by not taking ownership of it, or they take responsibility for their own beliefs.
With the latter there is no real feeling offended, as feeling offended is the result of denial, not acceptance. When you take ownership of your beliefs, confirmation via someone’s judgement doesn’t have an effect on you. Why would it? You already know. It’s the uncertainty of your own beliefs that causes you to feel offended. Much of our fear of other people’s opinions simply comes from a lack of conviction in who we believe we are.
In the end, all judgement is self-judgement. It doesn’t matter where it’s coming from. It’s always a projection of somebody’s underlying belief system. So decide where the ownership lies and decide whose responsibility it is to work on changing the beliefs or accepting them.
Building Your Armor
Most of us handle judgement in a very inefficient way. We attempt to address each instance of judgement individually.
When someone judges you, you address that particular judgement and the individual criticizing you. This seems like a reasonable thing to do, but the approach starts to break down once you try to scale the strategy.
My business requires me to share my philosophy. I do this in many ways – articles, videos, a book, etc. When I put myself and my thoughts out into the world, I open myself up to judgement and criticism. And the more my ideas resonate with people, the bigger my audience grows, and the more judgement I have to handle.
When I first started writing and sharing images of myself, the majority of people were kind. They loved what I shared, as it helped them overcome their own struggles. But that didn’t mean there weren’t people who disagreed with me. And some of those people didn’t care to share their opinions of my work in a respectful way.
Sometimes they’d criticize my work itself. They’d say it was dumb or wrong. But other times they’d make it personal. They’d tell me I was dumb. I was an idiot. Call me a clown. That because I didn’t have a string of letters after my name that I had no business coaching people. They’d even body shame me, call me ugly, or tell me they wish I’d die.
Back then, I’d address each judgement and criticism at its source. If someone left a comment on social media, I would react and write something back defending myself. If someone sent me an email shaming my appearance, I’d reply and say something back.
Sometimes I wouldn’t directly reply to the criticism. But behind the scenes I was molding myself into someone that would avoid judgement. As a result, I would try to anticipate the criticism and avoid being hurt by not putting my authentic self and thoughts forward.
This is how most people operate their lives. Everything they do when they step out of the house or come out of their safe space is influenced by what others are thinking about them. The clothes you wear, the words you use, the way you walk, the car you drive – everything you do has this conformity angle to it that is based in judgement avoidance. And when the random criticism comes up, you address it directly.
I quickly realized this wasn’t going to work for me. As my audience doubled and then doubled many more times, so did the actual judgements. It felt like I was drowning. It got to the point that my audience grew big enough that every day someone was criticizing me. I’d wake up to negative comments. I’d go to bed seeing them. And it really crushed me.
Keep in mind, that this was probably less than 1% of the overall comments I received. The other 99 out of 100 were amazing comments from amazing people. But that’s not how us humans experience things. If someone compliments you 100 times, and then makes fun of you once, you remember that one time – sometimes for the rest of your life.
Here’s what you do. Picture yourself facing a line of 10 people all facing you. Draw a line from each person directly to you. This line is their judgement and criticism. Put a shield up on each of those 10 lines. This is you addressing those criticisms. You have one shield per person per criticism. If there were 100 people, there would be 100 lines (judgements) to you and 100 shields of you addressing them. It looks like this…
This is how most people handle judgement. And you can see how it might be easy with 1 or 2 people, but as your world grows, it becomes too much to handle. And keep in mind that this doesn’t include all the imaginary judgements you handle, aka the judgements you think people are making but were never verbalized. These tend to outnumber the real judgements by a factor of 100 to 1 or more.
Now imagine that same row of 10 people. Draw a line from each of those people to one singular point right in front of you. Put your one single shield right there. All the lines (judgements) converge to this singular point before they make it to you. If there are 100 or 1000 people then they all still converge to this one point.
This one single point, this shield, contains all your beliefs about yourself. It’s your identity. It’s your love and acceptance of your true self. It’s your self-worth. And it’s your trust and confidence in who you are.
This is your armor. It repels judgement and criticism. It doesn’t allow it past the shield. It doesn’t get internalized. And it doesn’t influence who you are or force you to mold yourself to others’ opinions.
This is how you handle judgement – from a singular point. You don’t have to manage the beliefs and identities of others. They just get deflected off your shield, because you’re confident in who you are and you understand that their judgements have nothing to do with you.
As my audience grew, I adopted this new mindset. I was able to handle more and more criticism and judgement. I stopped replying to the haters. I stopped internalizing what they said. Criticism that used to take me a week or more to get over, now never even made it into me. I’d read it and move on. In fact, I started to have more compassion for others, because I understood their judgement was a reflection of a crippling belief system they were living by.
You don’t need a large audience of fans to start implementing this concept. Remember, the imaginary judgement is the bigger threat anyways. Every day you put yourself out into the world, and if you don’t take unconditional ownership of yourself, you’re going to let the opinions of others take ownership of you.
The Mirror of Judgement
What do you notice in the world? What do you notice about other people? What are the personality traits that stand out to you in others? What parts of their appearance do you tend to notice?
When you watch TV do you find yourself wondering how old someone is? Who their spouse is? How much they weigh or what their workout program is? How much money they make? When you notice people in public do you notice cellulite on people? Their wrinkles? Or the kind of clothes they wear?
You might not realize it, but all throughout your day you are making snap judgements about things in your environment. Sometimes these are micro judgements (ie noticing things) that happen subconciously, and other times they are full blown conscious judgements of others.
Regardless, these judgements are the window into what matters to you. That’s the thing about judging people – it’s never about the other person. It’s always about you and your underlying beliefs and values system.
If you are always noticing aging characteristics of people in public, or you are always wondering how old someone is on TV, it’s because you personally value something about aging. And that value influences the way you go about your life and where you place your emotional energy.
If you tend to notice the size of people’s bodies, their physiques, their cellulite, or other qualities, then it’s because you value being a certain size or looking a certain way. And the belief system that is filtering your world to notice these things will have an effect on your own behaviors and life experience.
None of this is good or bad, by the way. Remember… judgement is normal. The important thing to understand is why this is happening.
Other people are simply mirrors. They are mirroring your own personal belief system back to you. The judgements you have are not about others – they are about you. You noticed something in someone that was aligned/misaligned with your belief system.
Think about it. Do you think your judgement of that person is the same judgement that 100 other people will have? Of course not. Each person will believe something different about that same person. The person never changed though. They are the constant. What changed was the judgements of the person. And that’s because each person has their own unique belief and value system.
Each person is getting their own judgements mirrored back to them. These judgements are the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and social conditioning.
This mirror of judgement is important for two reasons. One, it helps you overcome judgement from others, as it helps you to depersonalize it. If you know judgement and criticism isn’t about you, that it’s about others, then it makes it so much easier not to internalize it and affect your quality of life. And two, if you can be self-aware enough to understand that your own judgements are a reflection of you and what you value, you can change the limiting beliefs that are impacting your life.
You can stop yourself when you find you’re being critical of others, and you can question where that belief is coming from and whether it’s a belief you want to continue subscribing to. You can ask yourself whether that belief is making you happier or if it’s taking away from your life experience.
What you’ll find is that as you challenge your own beliefs and change them, you start experiencing your environment differently. You start noticing different things because you now value different things. You see people differently because you see yourself differently. You start seeing people as whole human beings instead of the sum of their body parts.
How Others See You
There is no absolute truth to who you are in other people’s eyes. Everyone is going to see you differently, and their perspective is the culmination of a lifetime of conditioning.
It’s the reason why one person could see a 120lb female and think she’s the most attractive person in this world yet another person will think she’s too skinny and prefers someone that is bigger.
It’s the reason why one person could see a man with ripped abs and find him extremely sexy, yet another person will be turned off by his leanness and would much prefer someone who isn’t so muscular.
Height, age, hair style and color, complexion, how you talk, how you walk, your smile, your teeth – all of these things will be seen differently by everyone. No two people in this world will ever see you the exact same way.
Yet here you are – the same exact person. There is only one single physical representation of you, yet there are infinite ways people see you.
The way people see you has nothing to do with you. It has everything to do with them. So the version of you they’ve created in their mind is not your responsibility to manage.
They’ve had a lifetime of experiences involving parents, family, friends, coworkers, and society that have shaped their world view.
They have beliefs on what’s beautiful, moral, smart, and worthy, and that’s the lens in which they see the world.
When that lens comes across something or someone that’s out of focus it creates a form of discomfort. This discomfort is “vocalized” through verbal/mental judgements and behaviors.
If that person received a lot of praise and attention at a certain weight or hair color, there’s a very good chance those associations will be projected onto other people. They will see what they know, what they’ve experienced, and how they felt.
If a friend got bullied for her weight when you were younger then you’re going to associate weight with pain. You’ll see representations of that pain in the real world everywhere.
That doesn’t mean everyone will see these people just like you do. They have their own lenses and they will perceive people differently than you.
Some people will compliment you – others will criticize you. Of course it feels good to receive these compliments, but again, they have nothing to do with you. Their compliment is packaged with their unique perspective.
This is very empowering to understand, because the same goes for criticism. Criticism is just a reflection of that person’s life experiences. It has nothing to do with you, so there’s no need to take it personally.
The very same person can be both complimented and criticized on the very same body features by different people. That’s proof that there is no absolute truth to who you are.
Compliments and criticisms are opinions, and opinions aren’t truths. It’s the reason why we shouldn’t become dependent on validation from others. The more we tie our self-worth to other people’s opinions, the more we’ll live for compliments and die from criticisms.
Remember, your appearance isn’t absolute – it is relative to each individual person and their life experiences. And one of those individuals is you.
You get to decide who you are, what you look like, and whether you’re attractive. So instead of devoting so much energy to trying to impress strangers who will all see you differently and who will likely never be a part of your life, why not work on the relationship that matters most – the one person you have to see and experience life with every single day?
That person is you. Define your own truth. Decide your own self-worth. Live your true life experience. Because the only person’s opinion of you that matters is your own. And whatever you believe is right.
My mom passed away a few months before I started writing this book.
After her passing I didn’t post much on social media. I pulled away from life in general. And I spent time grieving my loss and processing my thoughts.
But I did have a major takeaway from that experience I’d like to share with you so that maybe you can see life in a new way.
After my mom had her stroke, she began a 4 month downhill journey. Her personality instantly changed, then it turned to hallucinations, memory and time distortion issues, and eventually she stopped talking altogether.
I remember sitting at her bedside a few months into this experience, looking at her suffering, and thinking “none of this stuff I worry so much about really even matters”.
I would give anything to rewind my life just a few short months so that I could focus on the time and relationship I had with my mom.
Instead, I’ve spent so much of my life worried about my body, my insecurities, and not living my full life experience because I was afraid of failure, judgement, and rejection.
I looked at my mom and just thought “WHO CARES!”
The only things that matter are the connections you make and the life you live, yet so many of us are getting in our own way of that experience.
So now anytime I’m feeling resistance to doing something I want to do, I just say “WHO CARES!”
My pants are tight? WHO CARES!
You’re nervous about giving a speech? WHO CARES!
You’re worried about people judging you? WHO CARES!
You’re afraid someone will say no if you ask for what you want or need? WHO CARES!
When it’s my turn to have my final months of life none of this is going to matter. I don’t want a bag of regrets to deal with.
One of the final coherent things my mom said before she passed was “I really got myself into a pickle” and “I don’t want to lose you all”.
Well… life is finite, so do what you want without a worry in the world, because – WHO CARES!