by Stephanie Hoffmeyer
Don’t judge a book by its cover? In one regard, my question is: how can you not?? If we are mindful and actively police our thoughts, we are constantly judging one another and everything around us, labeling everything as good or bad. If you went through life without judging things, how would it go? Judgement, I’d argue, can be vital to survival.
A simple exercise - Imagine a pizza, any pizza, your favorite pizza.
What does it look like? [Pineapple, bacon, cheese, white sauce].
What does it smell like? [Absolute Heaven].
What do you like most about it? [The salty savory flavor of the bacon and cheese. Crunchy crust].
Would you pick anything off of it? [Yes, the pineapple. I’m highly allergic. The resulting reaction is quite ugly].
Is it hot or cold? [Warm enough to eat, but not hot enough to burn the roof of my mouth].
What do you like to drink with it? Beer? Soda? Milk?! [Beer so cold it’s got ice forming, like a slushee].
Did you at any point look at my answers and either nod or shake your head? Congratulations, you’ve made a judgement. Whether you agreed or not, you labeled my preferences with your own labels of yummy or yucky.
Ultimately, in order to survive the meal, and using my better judgement, I’d have to choose not to eat the pizza, as I would be very sick from an allergic reaction to the pineapple. It truly is a matter of survival.
In another regard, judgement can be detrimental to survival. If our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses, then our judgements serve us as much as they hinder us.
Take another anecdote from my life, for instance. As a young athlete, I excelled in the microcosm of sports which I participated. As a high school freshman, at 14-years-old, I played varsity with the 18-year-olds in pretty much every team for which I tried. I suspect most of you reading this have probably been through high school already and know the difference between an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old can be pretty vast. You can spot it almost immediately. I was an impressive athlete by the standards I was put up against. And, while some of you I’m sure are saying – “Wow, must have been rough to have all the attention and accolades at your first step into High School,” I can assure you there was backlash.
Throughout my freshman & sophomore year there were many times I was accused of favoritism. It was implied by some that I gave sexual favors to the coaches in order to get my spot. My sexuality came into question at a time when I didn’t even know I had a sexual identity. It rattled my cage. I didn’t know it then, but it had affected my play and I was quickly dropped to JV. It was probably the best solution at the time and done so to prevent a “scene” to put it lightly.
Kids can be cruel…especially teenage girls who are jealous.
In essence the message I received at a very young age was that, as a girl, I wasn’t “allowed” to be the best at anything no matter how hard I worked or how much talent I had. I was supposed to stay in my respective lane. This judgement, this bullying had me anchored, for much of my life, to mediocrity. Even today, as a woman well into my 30s, I find myself holding back not wanting to push because I fear the same accusations from my peers. Let someone else win, so as not to draw attention to yourself. Fear is a powerful force.
Many years later, however, a saving grace came in the form of a very supportive community. The athletes at my gym encourage and allow me to flourish. They rarely, if ever, judge me with the intent to maim.
Even so, after being a part of this community for six years, I war with myself. Within this community, I have picked a team of about two people with whom I share my successes, failures, fears, etc. – let’s call them “Team Don’t Hassle the Hoff.” I have learned that in order to be truly safe, I prefer, as Frank Ocean has said, to “work in silence and let success be [my] noise.” While the community as a whole rallies around everyone no matter their level of success - my heart bursts with love in seeing that the encouragement doesn’t stop once the person in first place is done, because it is typically the person in last place getting the loudest cheers – Team Don’t Hassle the Hoff are who I trust the most. They boost me up, give me a kick me in the ass when I need it and they hold me accountable for my goals. They protect me. They not only know what makes me tick but they also know how and when to give a push.
While I’m grateful for my team’s encouragement, since they also help keep me grounded, isn’t it just a little sad that I’ve kept such a small team? If I’m completely honest, I still feel like I have to build a wall, even though my gym is one of the most supportive, kind and caring communities of which I’ve ever been a part. They have given no indication that they are anything like those adversaries in high school. Perhaps, this is simply baggage I need to put down. And, possibly even an unfair judgement on myself.
In any case, it’s so easy to say “Screw the haters,” – but, do you internalize it? Or, is it just said out of anger?
Moreover, is it really any of your business what the haters think of your efforts? If YOU know you’ve worked hard, if YOU know you’ve put in the small efforts day in and day out that have been compiled to achieving your goals, why do they get to take it all away with one statement about you?
They don’t. It’s you [me] who lets them.
“The Lion and the Tiger may be more powerful, but the Wolf does not perform in the circus.” -Buddha
While there may be glory in the performance, it’s the performance that invites the haters’ judgments. So then what? Don’t perform? No. Not at all. Know exactly your reasons to perform. Know what your goals are and let no one deter you from your path - at least not for very long.
What I’ve learned is that, for me, this means always competing with myself. While this is cliché and easier said than done, I honestly do take time to check in and ask myself - Am I better than yesterday, last month, last year? Sometimes the answer is yes and sometimes it’s no.
The point is, when I know what the answer is, I know what direction to steer. I am then free of the judgement as I am resolute in my convictions. It then only matters what my actions are. I do what I want, not what others have driven me to do, because,
“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul” –William Ernest Henley