Don’t Be Bob Dylan

I wanna be Bob Dylan
Mr. Jones wishes he was someone just a little more funky
When everybody loves you
That’s just about as funky as you can be.

Ah, yes. The timeless lyrics from Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones,” in which Adam Duritz pines for the career and accolades of Bob Dylan while “down at the New Amsterdam.” 

And this is the piece in which I say “Hooey!” to all of that. (Don’t worry. I think Adam would agree with me). 

One of the ongoing obstacles I think all artists struggle against is comparison. And when you’re coming up, or haven’t really “made it,” (whatever that means), that struggle is particularly thorny. It threatens to choke out any growth you’ve achieved by whispering constantly that what you offer in talent, skill, and potential audience reach isn’t as Meaningful (capital letter intended) as what (insert name here) has to offer. 

And again, Hooey! 

So here’s the deal: mentors are important. Role models are important. But when that relationship moves from one that inspires, or even one that provides a concrete example of potential career trajectory, and becomes darker, we have a problem. That comparison can threaten to derail you over the innate insecurity we all experience over our abilities. 

There have been times in my creative life where I’ve looked at another writer and envied their status and accolades. I’ve thought, “If I was just (insert name here), then I’d have it made.” 

Psst – it’s not true. 

Eventually, slowly and painfully, I came to realize a much more significant truth:  there are things I bring to the table – certain elements of voice, a certain perspective on the world, and not to mention a unique way of combining elements into something original – that make me valuable and worthwhile. Realizing this has been a game-changer in how comfortable I am in my artistic skin. 

Stephen King isn’t just Stephen King because he’s Stephen King. He figured out a long time ago that he wanted to be Stephen King and let it ride. Let the chips fall where they fall. Obviously, a lot of other people have come along and done what Stephen King does, to a certain extent, and some have found a good deal of success, by external measures. But there are probably a whole bunch more who burned themselves out on the altar of Stephen King worship by trying to be Stephen King when they should have been themselves. And it’s a crying shame. 

It’s why I resonate so much with good old Adam Duritz when he sings about Bob Dylan. Sure, when you’re starting out, Bob Dylan seems like the pinnacle. But not only are you never going to be Bob Dylan, you shouldn’t even try. There might be something untapped inside you that will lead to something equally meaningful. Maybe not full of accolades and achievements, but those things are maddeningly hard to achieve, anyway. When I say “meaningful,” I mean authentic and skillful in a way that is moving to a particular audience, no matter the size. 

It’s our own darn insecurity that leads us to want to adopt someone else’s path. But we shouldn’t. We should travel our own path. 

And another thing: 

There are a whole bunch of people in the world for whom Bob Dylan doesn’t do a lick of excitement. He’s whiny. He’s esoteric and weird. His songs aren’t melodic enough. They’d be more interested in something like, well, like you. And in trying to be Bob Dylan, you’re missing out on connecting with them. Don’t ignore that fact. 

So be the best you you can be. In being true to your authentic self, you’ll not only feel better about yourself, you’ll develop something really cool – the possibility of connecting with an audience that values what you do (and not what Bob does).

That said, keep honing your chops. See the world. Pay attention to your experiences. Sharpen. Always sharpen. But also be kind to yourself. There’s never going to be another Bob Dylan. And that’s okay. 

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