I’ll know my song well… but not TOO well!

Freewheelin' Bob DylanWhat Bob Dylan Lyrics Taught Me About Personal Growth

If you’ve known me for more than five minutes, there’s a good chance that you know how much I love Bob Dylan. I love his music. I even love his voice! But most of all, I love his words.

His amazing lyrics range from incisive social/political commentary to deeply personal confessions and, of course, his famously surreal poetry–in which he creates a semi-alternate reality, populated by neon madmen, a one-eyed undertaker, and a princess on the steeple–that somehow rings true to real-life experience.

Despite his usual rich complexity, one of my favorite Dylan lines is one of his simplest:

I’ll know my song well before I start singin’.

These nine words (the last line before the final refrain of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall“) have been a sort of mantra for me throughout my adult life.

I wanted to know what I was talking (or singin’) about before I opened my mouth.

I didn’t want to be one of “those people”–you know, the ones who are so quick to spout off opinions and/or misinformation on topics they know next to nothing about. Or, to take a more literal interpretation, I didn’t want to be like those American Idol contestants who have a week to learn one verse of a song yet, come showtime, can’t remember the lyrics.

I wanted to be prepared.

And there’s nothing wrong with being prepared–with having your homework done and learning your lines. The problem, for me, arose when preparation became procrastination.

For two decades, I wanted to write and share ideas that were practically bubbling out of me; but I didn’t pursue publication–for fear that I wasn’t ready, wasn’t qualified, wasn’t an expert/authority–for fear that I didn’t “know my song well.”

At first I used the excuse that I didn’t pursue this dream because I needed more experience. And then I told myself I needed to be more well-read first. And then I needed another degree.

But at a certain point, I had to admit that I was just afraid of being seen–afraid of going public (“public-ation”).

I was hiding.

(Until last week’s blog launch, that is.)

Now, please don’t get me wrong–I wholeheartedly endorse reading and education and experience. I’m not suggesting that you perform surgery without a medical degree or attempt to fly a plane without a pilot’s license. I still think you should know your song well before you start singing (especially if you’re going to sing it in front of millions of people).

On the other hand, you don’t have to wait until you know the songwriter’s complete works and have degrees in music history and theory and composition and 10+ years of vocal training and proficiency in at least three instruments.

At a certain point, you just have to say, “Good enough,” and get out on the stage.

This, of course, means you’ll be exposed, vulnerable, and susceptible to many possible repercussions:

  • You may be judged (especially by yourself).
  • You may become one of “those people” who sometimes makes mistakes, forgets lyrics, or simply doesn’t know everything. (Another name for “those people,” by the way, is “humans.”)
  • You may become less judgmental and more forgiving of “those people.”
  • You may have to concede the fact that you’re not perfect. (Or, more likely than not, you won’t have to concede this fact…because it will be rather obvious.)
  • You may have to concede the fact that you’re a work in progress.
  • You may have to concede the fact that you are, indeed, human.

But you’ll also probably wonder:

“What took me so long?”

So, like every bad teacher who ever lived, I urge you to “do as I say–not as I do” (or didn’t do). Don’t wait for two decades!

If you have a gift or a passion that you want to share with the world…do it now. Don’t deprive the world of your gift because you’re nervous or embarrassed or afraid of being criticized or judged or seen.

Yes, be prepared. Be confident. Be strong. But don’t wait forever. You’re probably more ready than you think.

Once you know your song well, start singing!

Do you have a “song” (literal or figurative) that you’d like to start singing? A talent or a message that you’d like to share with the world? What is it? If you haven’t already shared it, you can start right now–by leaving a comment in the box below!

P.S. Wanna Meditate? I just started a month-long meditation group, where my wife, Jodi, and a bunch of friends are all committing to meditate every day for this month. Whether you’re new to meditation (or just “medi-curious”) and looking to give it a try, or you’re a seasoned meditator who would like to connect with a like-minded community, this could be a great way to build a meditation practice into a daily habit and get support in the process! Click here for details.

4 thoughts on “I’ll know my song well… but not TOO well!

    • Thank you, Nikky! I’m so glad you love the message, and even more glad that you are also “singing”–through your own writing and, hopefully, in many ways throughout your life! Happy we get to share songs!

  1. Another nicely written piece, Dan! Even though I’m not a Dylan fan (gasp!), I love how you used the metaphor of singing to talk about the fine balance of being ready vs. hiding behind the need to be perfect. Keep up with your great posts, my friend!

    • Thank you so much, Alice. And don’t worry–some of my best friends (and even, believe it or not, my beloved wife!) aren’t Dylan fans. Glad you still appreciate the metaphor. Yes, it’s all about finding balance–not rushing in too soon, but not waiting until you’re “perfect” (which would be a LONG wait, at least in my case). Thanks for getting it and for encouraging me to keep going. Glad we’re all able to help each other “sing”!

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