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The Bigger the Dream, The Bigger the Fear



Mark McGuinness, in his book resilience, points out that in your lifetime you will apply for opportunities and be rejected many times. You will work for goals you do not achieve. Even when you do succeed, you will be criticized, sometimes viciously. That criticism may be directed at you professionally or on a more personal level. Criticism is a part of life.

Most people have at one time or another kept themselves from going after what they wanted because they were afraid of rejection, failure, or criticism. For the emotionally sensitive, this is a common experience. Sensitivity to rejection and criticism can be paralyzing in both work and social situations. What you want to do may be simple or it may be a complex endeavor. Whether it is to enter a cooking contest or to go visit a friend across town, accepting criticism may be the price of going after your dreams.

Many of you may be familiar with the process that McGuinness describes. When you first think of something that you really want to do, maybe go to a special event, enroll in classes for a degree you really want, attend a singles event or go on a special trip, you might be excited. In the beginning you think of how much fun you will have or how good it will feel to have the career you’ve longed for. Then the fear creeps in. You think of all the disasters that could occur. And perhaps, as McGuiness says, the bigger the dream, the bigger the fear.

Fear of rejection and sensitivity to rejection can stop you from participating fully in life and rob you of your dreams. Putting yourself into a project, working for it and caring deeply about the outcome make the experience personal. When people criticize you or you don’t get the outcome you want, it seems like a judgment of your value as a person rather than feedback about the work. That’s difficult to face.

Going After Your Dreams In Spite of Your Fears

To get past that obstacle, McGuiness says you need to be connected to a powerful purpose, one that is more important than the fear of rejection, one that you are passionate about. If you are deeply committed to teaching young children, then the fear of being an older student in a classroom of young men and women will not stop you. While you may be uncomfortable about whether you can succeed in school, the strength of your passion will help you overcome that.

He also says practicing mindfulness will help you separate yourself from rejection. When you are mindful, you notice that the rejection is a part of the experience but not the whole of what you are attempting to do. Being mindful also allows you to separate the rejection from your value as a person.

Another tool is to know that getting rejected and criticized is normal and happens to everyone. If it is a normal experience, like learning to walk, then you may not see being criticized as such a horrible experience. You may stop avoiding it. It as a normal experience, one that will hurt, and one that you can get through.

Don’t make the experience of being rejected or criticized worse. You can make it worse by judging yourself harshly (How could I have been so stupid?), exaggerating the situation, and replaying the situation over and over in your head. One of the least helpful reactions is to give up, telling yourself that because that one situation didn’t work out that you can never succeed. Avoiding one rejection is likely to make it even more difficult to face rejection in the future.

When you are rejected, analyzing the situation for information on how to succeed the next time is different from replaying the situation over and over in agony. Focusing on facts and learning from your experience may help you be ready for the next opportunity.

McGuiness gives other ideas to support his message that you can learn to manage rejection and criticism and go after your dreams.


McGuiness, Mark.  resilience:  facing down rejection and criticism on the road to success.  Lateral Action Books, 2012.



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The Bigger the Dream, The Bigger the Fear

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2013). The Bigger the Dream, The Bigger the Fear. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Feb 2013
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