Are you protecting yourself from your dreams?

In a writer’s coaching session with one of my clients the other day, we discovered that she was holding herself back from what she truly wanted with her creative work because she was afraid of being disappointed if it didn’t come true.

Does that sound familiar to you?

So many of us, myself included (!), tend to vacillate between wild dreams of incredible success and being afraid to admit to what we truly want for fear that we won’t get it.

We even hold ourselves back from knowing what we want, as if staying confused will keep us safe.

Lessons from little tots

The other day on the way to preschool, my son tripped, fell flat on his hands, and dropped his toys. After he stopped crying and we had a good hug, he said to me, “I was running too fast and I threw my toys.”

I thought about that for a minute and responded, “I don’t think you were running too fast, but sometimes we do trip and fall down.”

I wanted him to know that sometimes, things just go wrong, and we don’t necessarily want to: 1) blame ourselves, or 2) hold back overly from enjoying life because “something might happen”.

Making decisions to protect ourselves

We have all had experiences in our lives where we reach for what we want and don’t get it.

In our disappointment, we make decisions to protect ourselves from even wanting it in the first place, so we won’t get hurt again. We decide that it’s safer to aim low than to proclaim our dreams and be embarrassed when we don’t get them.

I’ve run into this with my creative work and my coaching work — setting my sights high, only to have it all come crashing down, and then deciding it’s not worth pursuing anymore.

In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given up on my creativity over the years to protect myself, like the time I dropped out after ONE DAY in art school because another student ridiculed my work, or how I decided not to be a writer when I was a kid because my parents told me I couldn’t make enough money that way.

What’s the right lesson here?

So while it’s true that we might be disappointed and sometimes we do aim higher than we achieve, is the right lesson to learn NOT to aim high? Is it truly better to be “realistic“?

I think we have to ask ourselves which risk is bigger. Is it the risk of playing small and holding back, never quite going for what you want most? Or is it the risk of going for it, maybe falling hard, but possibly grasping that star you’re reaching for?”

Let’s all agree to admit what it is we truly want, and to say to ourselves, “I’m going to give this dream the respect it deserves, and play full out to get it. After all, it’s something I truly, deeply want.

What’s your dream?

What’s your big dream? Tell us about it in the comments.

Here’s my dream: To have my writing be paid, published and/or produced.

For the sake of further exploration, next week I’ll write about doing things for the joy of them, even if they don’t “happen” the way we want them too. :)





  1. My dream is to succesfully recover many medium to larger sized businesses and thus prevent a lot of bankruptcies, subsequently saving jobs.

  2. I think it’s important to remember that when we dream of success for our writing, or whatever our individual artistic medium happens to be, we ARE dreaming big–which is to say, we’re not asking for something that simply comes through hard work, or dedication. Other factors, factors over which we have little control, play a large part in our eventual success (or lack thereof). I have been guilty of this oversight many times, and have also retreated into my cocoon for fear of additional pain and rejection. We all need to remember that the goal we’re all striving to attain IS BIG–and will, by virtue of that fact, require more from us than we have ever had to give.

    • John, That’s beautiful and brilliant. Thank you for sharing it with us. I agree, we ARE dreaming big and there are forces beyond our control that play a part. All we can really do is show up with our whole hearts, engage fully with our art, and enjoy the ride. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Jenna, I have to say that this post really hit home. This is so true for me, “holding herself back from what she truly wanted with her creative work because she was afraid of being disappointed if it didn’t come true.” Thank goodness a little distance has allowed me to take “disappointment” not so personally, and as John said, recognize what I’m trying to do IS big.

    I know in our work together we use the words “I intend…” and when I put it instead as “I dream…” it takes on an even different feel.

    My dream is to radically transform corporations’ view of employees to have reverence for the precious human resources they are.

    • Yow, Mary! AWESOME. You’re right, it does take on an even different feel…and I really love it. It’s very powerful and profound. I’m so glad this hit home for you. Isn’t it interesting what we’ll do to protect ourselves, even when it means giving up or holding back on our dreams? I do it too. Let’s change that! xoxo

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