I am not, I’ll admit, a huge Bob Dylan fan. However, his acceptance speech for receiving the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature is worth reading and understanding for anyone striving for success in any endeavor. The entire speech is worth reading in its entirety. However, I’d like to call out a few specific notes.
Referring to some of the literary giants who have previously received this award, Dylan says: “I don’t know if these men and women ever thought of the Nobel honor for themselves, but I suppose that anyone writing a book, or a poem, or a play anywhere in the world might harbor that secret dream deep down inside. It’s probably buried so deep that they don’t even know it’s there.”
Then later, referring to Shakespeare, he says: “The thought that he was writing literature couldn’t have entered his head… When he was writing Hamlet, I’m sure he was thinking about a lot of different things: ‘Who’re the right actors for these roles?’ ‘How should this be staged?’ ‘Do I really want to set this in Denmark?’ … I would bet that the farthest thing from Shakespeare’s mind was the question ‘Is this literature?’ “
Still later, of himself, Dylan says: “I too am often occupied with the pursuit of my creative endeavors and dealing with all aspects of life’s mundane matters. ‘Who are the best musicians for these songs?’ ‘Am I recording in the right studio?’ ‘Is this song in the right key?’ Some things never change, even in 400 years.
Not once have I ever had the time to ask myself, ‘Are my songs literature?’ “
The lesson here is that success isn’t starting out and saying “I’m going to be THE GREATEST!!!” If that’s your only goal and your only plan, then the only result you’ll see is failure. Success isn’t found in some lofty ambition, success is found in grinding out the details, in the focused pursuit of having what you make or do today be better than yesterday, and in trying to be better tomorrow than you were today.
It’s a common trait in the success stories in every field: Dylan, Michael Phelps, Bill Gates, PewDiePie. They don’t set out to be the best, but they do it better and more consistently than the competition.
This isn’t a sure-fire recipe for world fame and fortune: I’ll never be as fast in the water as Michael Phelps, or faster on a marathon circuit than Galen Rupp, but I can be faster next week than I am this week. I may never be a writer in the league of Hemingway, or even Larry Correia or George R.R. Martin, but I can write more consistently this week than I did last week.
Following this advice may not be an absolute recipe for success, but it’s one of the most consistently successful recipes I’ve ever seen.