A Lesson in Self-Awareness

From Singer-Songwriter, Author, Visual Artist and Nobel Laureate – Bob Dylan

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Words Of Wisdom

“When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering exactly how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was.”

Those were the opening words to Dylan’s Nobel Lecture.

But let’s back up a little to understand how those words are a lesson in self-awareness.

When it was announced that Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” He didn’t respond immediately. It took him a couple of weeks to acknowledge and several months before he accepted. He didn’t attend the Nobel Prize banquet. He submitted the required lecture to officially collect the title (which he also recorded), very close to the deadline set by the Swedish Academy. 

His delayed response and non-attendance at the awards ceremony brought criticism from many. His behaviour was described as disrespectful and ungrateful. 

I consider his behaviour demonstrates the opposite. His delayed response, to me, demonstrates respect and gratitude and a lesson in self-awareness.

The opening lines to his lecture succinctly demonstrated that respect, gratitude and self-awareness. And maybe even served to silence his critics – but while I hope that to be true, I sense that people who are so quick to judge other people’s actions may not be open to the lesson in self-awareness, that they so need, that Dylan so eloquently addressed in those two short sentences. 

In a world where everything is so instant. A world where people are so quick to shout about their awards. A world where every industry is jumping on the ‘awards bandwagon. A world where there is an award for everything and anything. A world where the ‘everything’ and ‘anything’ award diminishes meaningful awards. Awards, such as Nobel Prizes, that acknowledge achievements that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind. A world where it is so refreshing that Dylan took the time he needed to reflect on whether he was deserving of such a prestigious award.

Before submitting his lecture, Dylan had spent months reflecting on the same questions; those same people were so quick to criticise his delayed response, were asking – which he addressed in his opening lines: “When I first received this Nobel Prize for Literature, I got to wondering how my songs related to literature. I wanted to reflect on it and see where the connection was.” He needed to rationalise the doubts perhaps, the critics were so quick to express, and the questions they were so quick to raise, that he was also questioning: Was he deserving of this award, and if so, Why?.

His delayed response didn’t demonstrate arrogance, which his critics were so quick to label it. Instead, it showed remarkable humility and honesty in wanting to take the time he needed to be sure he was deserving of the award. 

Three Simple Lessons in Self-Awareness

Lesson 1: He ‘“got to wondering’ how his songs related to literature.” ‘Wondering’ is such a simple step and lesson in self-awareness.

Lesson 2: He “wanted to ‘reflect’ on it”. ‘Reflection’ is another simple step and lesson in self-awareness.

Lesson 3: And he wanted to “see where the ‘connection’ was.” ‘Connection’ is yet another simple step and lesson in self-awareness.


The following two sentences of his lecture demonstrate his desire to help people understand how he came to accept he was deserving of the award, “I’m going to try to articulate that to you. And most likely, it will go in a roundabout way, but I hope what I say will be worthwhile and purposeful.” 

You can read Dylan’s full Nobel Lecture here and listen too.

Three Simple Steps to Fine-Tune Your Self-Awareness Assignment

Step 1: When faced with making a decision, take time to “Wonder” what that means to you. 

Step 2: Take the time you need to “Reflect” on your decision.

Step 3: Take time to understand where the “Connection” is to allow you to know the decision you make is meaningful. 

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Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of www.schoolofworklife.com My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.