The Agony Of Ignorance

Rocking the mic?

Can you believe the stuff people put on t-shirts these days?

This morning, one of the guys who looks like he lives in the gym I go to, had this slogan printed all over his colossal chest:

“If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right.”

What kind of message is that? It’s along the same lines as “No pain, no gain.”

Do people actually believe that stuff?

You see, I have the exact opposite experience. When I’m doing things right, everything seems to flow naturally, and nothing is hard or painful. Granted, it has taken some hard work to get to that point, but when I’m in the zone, things are surprisingly easy.

If you happen to share that experience, take it as a sign that in certain areas of your life you may have reached a level of what experts refer to as “unconscious competence.” You’re not even aware that you’ve become pretty good at what you’re doing. It feels like driving a car. In the beginning it was frustratingly complicated. Now, you don’t even have to think about it. 

“So what do you find hard in your business?” one of my workout buddies wanted to know, as we were doing our exercise routine. “You’re a voice-over, right?” 

He was not the one wearing that silly t-shirt, by the way. 

“At the risk of sounding brash,” I said, “it’s not so much the work I find hard, but the people I have to deal with every now and then. Particularly the people who think they’re the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe it’s my age, but there are at least three things I can’t stand:

Ignorance, pretentiousness, and a sense of entitlement. Especially if all these qualities reside within one person.”

“We must be working with the same people then,” laughed my friend, as he was programming his treadmill. “I’m a professional photographer, and you wouldn’t believe how many people think they can do what I do without having a clue.”

“That’s the trouble with ignorance,” I said. “People don’t know what they don’t know, but it doesn’t stop them, does it?”

“Agreed,” said my buddy, “but here’s what I don’t get. Everyone understands that playing the violin is not something you can learn overnight. However, every ambitious idiot with a camera believes he’s the next Annie Leibovitz. It ticks me off.”

I wanted to tell him that I saw the same thing in my line of work. Give a monkey a microphone, and he thinks he can be the next Tom Kenny. 

“Ignorance isn’t always bliss,” I said, as I increased the speed on my treadmill. “Usually, ignorance is a pain in the neck, and I find it very challenging to teach ignorant people who think they know it all. I mean, if they supposedly know what they are doing, why do they want me to be their coach? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“I have no problem with beginners who come to me, and who are aware that they have a lot to learn,” said my photographer-friend. “Everything you teach them is new and exciting. I admire kids with an open mind. They remind me of the time I got started. That’s why I love being a mentor.”

He wiped the sweat from his forehead, and said: “Is it just me, or are today’s kids a bit full of themselves?”

“Quite possibly,” I responded. “Parents are quick to praise, and hesitate to criticize, so as not to damage the delicate self-esteem of their offspring. I’m all for raising confident kids, as long as they know their strengths and their limitations. In my class they’d never get a trophy, just for showing up.”

I took a sip of water, and continued:

“Now, there’s another type of ignorance I’m allergic to.”

“What might that be?” asked my friend, as he was walking uphill on the exercise equipment. 

“It’s the lazy type of ignorance. You know… quasi-ignorant people who are looking for a big, fat, silver platter. I just got an email from someone who asked to pick my brain about casting sites and voice-over rates. I politely suggested she do a Google search first. 

“What was her response?” asked my friend.

“Oh, I never heard back from her,” I said. “But on Facebook she told all her fans that I was the most unhelpful person in the voice-over community. To be honest, she didn’t use the word “person,” but the term she used starts with a “p” and it rhymes with chick. 

“Some people think I’m rather obnoxious,” said my buddy, “just because I refuse to give them the answers they are fishing for. Of course I want to help, but I tell my kids: ‘You won’t learn anything as long as I spoon-feed it to you. The things you discover yourself tend to stick much better.’

I want my students to make an effort. I want them to fail, and I want them to overcome the biggest challenges. Otherwise they’ll attach no value to what they have learned, and they’ll have no respect for the business. 

There’s no gratification in arriving on the top of a mountain in a helicopter. But when you start at the bottom and climb your way up, the journey itself becomes meaningful. And when you’ve finally reached that peak, you feel on top of the world!”

“Are you sure you’re a photographer?” I asked. “That’s a darn good metaphor you just used. I might steal that one for my blog.”

“You go right ahead,” he said. “I used to do a bit of mountain climbing when I was younger. I have the pictures to prove it. And a few scars. But what about you? Are you a climber?”

“Oh no, I’m from The Netherlands,” I answered. “There are no mountains in our tiny Kingdom below sea level. Holland is as flat as a pancake.”

“In that case, I have the perfect exercise for you,” said my buddy, as he pointed to the StairMaster.

“I believe this baby has your name on it,” he smiled. “Come on! This thing is the perfect way to get nowhere fast. Try it.”

Reluctantly, I climbed onto the steps, and started my ascend into nothingness. 

“I hope it’s not a metaphor for my career,” I said, gasping for air. “This is really hard!”

“Well, you know what they say…” said the photographer with a big grin.

“If it’s hard, it means you must be doing it right!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: 50 of 52 via photopin (license)

About the author

Paul Strikwerda

is a Dutch-English voice-over pro, coach, and writer. His blog is one of the most widely read and influential blogs in the industry. Paul is also the author of "Making Money In Your PJs, Freelancing for voice-overs and other solopreneurs." goo.gl/ihVpMc

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal

37 Responses to The Agony Of Ignorance

  1. Pingback: A Controversial Year | Nethervoice

  2. Kent Ingram

    I could be wrong, here, but this post sure looks like a self-promotion of a product. I’m not sure what product it is, but I would say, since you say you didn’t read the blog article, that you are taking an opportunity for self-promotion, as well as taking up the mantle of an activist for a cause. Is that really appropriate for this blog?

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for spotting the spam comment, Kent. Every now and then there’s one remark that doesn’t get filtered out by the software. I’ve just removed it from the thread.

    In all the years I have been publishing this blog, I have received over 100 thousand spam comments!

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    You bet, Paul! I admit I’ve done some shameless self-promotion at times, but, I picked an appropriate time and place to do that, plus, I admitted I was doing that. The sneaky SOB’s who worm their way into venues like yours are the irritating ones. Over a hundred thousand spams?!! Good googamooga, that’s horrifying!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Well, they usually pick the blogs with lots of readers, so I guess I have to take the spamming as a compliment.

  3. Mike Harrison

    I’m all for killing off the phrase – and ignoring anyone who uses:

    “…break into voice-over.”

    There’s no “breaking into” anything.

    Here’s how one becomes a voice-over:

    Prerequisite: unless yours is one no one would want to listen to for more than a sentence or two (which would immediately exclude you), you are to forget entirely about the quality/ies of your voice. Beyond that:

    1. You have *some* innate talent; such as acting, and/or the ability to interpret other people’s words on subjects you know nothing about and sound credible.
    2. You work hard to learn all you can about this profession. Notice I didn’t call it a job or occupation.
    3. You have a valid reason – other than making (quick) money – for wanting to do this.
    4. You accept that this is a business and that you will spend most of your time NOT being behind the microphone.
    5. You work hard to develop your talent(s) further.
    6. You develop a thick skin to withstand the rejection you will absolutely encounter.
    7. You don’t give up easily.
    8. You realize and accept that no one owes you anything.
    9. You understand the thousands upon thousands who, for almost a century, thought they could “break into” other forms of acting by moving to Hollywood, only to wind up washing cars, waiting tables and working in convenience stores.
    10. You repeat steps 3, 4 and 5 as often as necessary.

    Bonus advice: “Overnight success” takes at least several years’ worth of overnights. If you want success more quickly, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Nothing of any value ever comes easily.

    [Reply]

  4. Jack

    Spot on Paul.

    I have seen first hand the “sense of entitlement” in both my VO work and my other endeavors. People seem to think they deserve something extra “just because” they are — who the see themselves to be. Very distressing — and I fear a generation has been raised to believe “I’m the top”. I hope they are not raising successive generations as the same. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back. Hard work is what gets you somewhere — it’s not a gift.

    [Reply]

  5. Laila Berzins

    Great article, Paul!

    I agree that there is a sense of “I want all the answers now” from those who want to break into the business but don’t want to do the work. And then there are others who are incredibly grateful and willing to go the distance.

    Also, really liked the storytelling from the gym perspective. Clever and a fun read!

    Wishing you all the best,

    Laila

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Laila. You’re absolutely right: there are some stellar beginners who are just so grateful for the information that is shared by more experienced people. In that respect, the VO community is one of the most generous communities I have ever been part of.

    [Reply]

  6. steve hammill

    Can you really blame the newbies?

    *** They don’t get spanked as kids;
    *** They’re raised believing “winning isn’t important;”
    *** That experienced people should mentor them;
    *** That they should start as Chairman of the Board

    And the list goes on?

    Worst of all, many of these people have no respect for their experienced counterparts. Egos do reign in this business, but at the least, there should be a show of respect if only as a courtesy.

    If the young people I hire to do my yard work are any example, they think they should get paid for talking on their cell phone and washing their car while they are on my clock. In the old days, that would have cost them latrine duty for months, but now they’d sue you for abuse.

    I was back-stabbed and burned back in the 80s by someone I mentored. I’ve never been a fan of mentoring since then unless something motivates me to do it, I don’t.

    The more experienced among us know that, “the more you learn the less you know.”

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’d rephrase that last line to: “The more you learn, the more you discover how much you don’t know.”

    Thank goodness there still are responsible, intelligent, talented, open-minded kids in this world. I happen to be the father of one of them. My daughter is one of the most amazing people I have ever met.

    Up to a certain age, some kids have a tendency to model their parents’ behavior. Some of them turn out okay, in spite of their upbringing. Others become governor of New Jersey.

    [Reply]

  7. J S Gilbert

    “The lazy type of ignorance.” I may steal that from you and write a book with that title.

    Of course, today everybody is an expert. Everybody is sitting on some idea that will be bought by Google of Facebook for 10 billion dollars, and the motto of the day is “work = play”.

    I wouldn’t say it’s hard or easy, per se, but it does require paying some attention and the ability to think for oneself.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Steal away, J.S. (or is that the title of a spiritual?).

    [Reply]

  8. Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )

    Good Morning Paul,

    I think we find ignorance and entitlement etc in people in ALL professions. No matter what job you have, its the people that you associate with that make it or break it for us.
    I have come across many interested people over the years that have obviously not been motivated to investigate this profession with all that is available to them online. I agree with your gym buddy… I really enjoyed the journey of discovery when it came to voice over and still do. I think I have mentioned this before but when someone is interested, I list the long basic requirements of what you need to learn. You can tell those that are truly willing to work for it. I always answer emails but I usually don’t hear back:)
    Have a wonderful weekend everybody !!
    Sally Blake

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Sally, you hit this one out of the ballpark! Like you, I have experience but, there’s always something new I can learn and discover. You have a great weekend, too!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re referring to one of my blogging strategies, Sally. I try to write about things that apply in many different contexts, through the lens of a voice talent/coach/writer.

    In the beginning I answered all the emails I would get. Now I simply refer to my video “The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career.” I can’t begin to tell you how much time that has saved me.

    [Reply]

  9. Matt Forrest Esenwine

    I know what you mean about ignorance, pretentiousness, and a sense of entitlement – not just for those new to the industry, but I’ve dealt with many radio clients just like that! They’ve never advertised on radio before, but they need to write the scripts because they are suddenly the world’s greatest experts. Good grief…

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Good grief, indeed. And when the campaign fails, guess who’s being blamed…

    [Reply]

    Matt Forrest Esenwine Reply:

    Exactly. And they’ll tell everyone they know that radio doesn’t work.

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Good gravy, I’ve been in way too many of those situations, both in radio and my former career as a graphic artist with the Yellow Pages! The clients come in wanting to exert their control over everything. They figure, since they’re paying for it, they should dominate the entire project. They want your expert, professional advice, but they choose to ignore it, anyway, and stuff their own plan into it. Some have a huge chip on their shoulders when dealing with a corporate entity or any authority-type figures. So, you placate them, tell your side of it, all to no avail. The project is doomed to crash in flames and SOMEBODY has to be left holding the bag and become the scapegoat. That’s when denial becomes the river that runs through Egypt….

    [Reply]

  10. Brent Abdulla

    Paul et al…

    As always spot on! Taking a helicopter to the top of the mountain however is necessary if you want to be dropped out of it with a GoPro strapped to your head and ski down. But you better know how to Freaking heli ski…and ski well.

    I think anyone though can rent a pair of skis and a helicopter to take them to the top and then jump out. So if you have an interest in doing this or anything else similar or simply anything you better be damned committed.

    That means doing the research, the work, having natural and learned skills that are continuously improved upon, correct coaching and expert consulting of experienced heli skiing professionals. Who you respect and compensate appropriately.

    There are all these “Fantasy Camps” today. You pay a few thousand bucks and you can be a MLB ball player for a day, an NFL player, even a Rockstar. Now there’s an idea for the VO industry…oh wait that’s already happening!

    People of all ages today want their first ski session to be in the Austrian Alps.

    I’m going surfing now!

    Cheers to all!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Brent, in your helicopter scenario, there’s only one way to go: downhill. If we’re not careful, that’s what will happen to our industry if we don’t uphold some professional standards. Perhaps we should start a fantasy camp for aspiring voice-overs. It’s an ideal setting for those who want to pay to play!

    [Reply]

  11. Kent Ingram

    Bravo, Paul! Been there, done that and, holy cow, I’ve seen more than my share of those attitudes! Let me add something, though: I believe a lot of that pretentiousness is nothing more than a facade for self-doubt and insecurity. I see young guys all the time in the gym and out in public, too, who are extremely full of themselves. But, the more you observe them or talk to them, the more you see how frightened they are, under that shield of bravado. I don’t think I was like that, when I was their age, but……? Thanks for another great read.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Those are some powerful observations, Kent. I also believe that some of this attitude can be attributed to the American tendency to be overly optimistic, and a tendency to simplify complicated issues for mass consumption.

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Some of that over-optimism is like “whistling through the graveyard”, I think. And, the over-simplification syndrome is oh-so-true! That’s due to very short attention spans and an all-too-accommodating media monster.

    [Reply]

  12. Steven

    Amen.

    [Reply]

    Kent Ingram Reply:

    Steven, good to see you here! I was thinking about you, the other day, when trying to remember the folks who helped me get through some rough periods in my VO career. Both you and Paul, among others, have been super to me and I have a tremendous feeling of gratitude because of that. All the best to you, sir!

    [Reply]

  13. Michael Schoen

    I don’t coach, but quite a few people have come to me for advice about voiceover and how to get into it.
    I always try to give helpful advice — but I have found quite a few people don’t want to hear anything negative about themselves such as — you need more work to be competitive. They think VO is easy. It’s not. As you said, Paul; I never hear from most of them again. Great comment above from Mr. Harrison.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Most things that appear to be easy, usually are not. People at the top of their game just make them seem easy.

    When I wrote about 5 reasons why people should never become a voice-over, people were not happy with me at all. They want to believe what they want to believe, and get mad at the messenger.

    [Reply]

  14. gary m

    I’ve been talking up the ignorance factor for a while now. I was speaking with some friends recently and declared that no time in history has there been more people that thought they were experts about so many things when they in fact knew so little. It’s not exclusive to any category. I see post after post about topics ranging from voice over, politics, gun control, global finance, etc., where people that I know make sweeping statements as if they are a true expert. They read a blog, listen to some biased “news” show and think they are ready for publication. I mean, how can they not possibly understand how complex a topic like global finance is? People that are truly knowledgeable about topics like that have spent years digging into it and they still understand that the majority of their ideas are just theoretical. Anyway, I’m with you, Paul. I’m actually just starting to vocally challenge people on their expertise. Sure, it’s a jerk move, but I’m ok with it 🙂

    [Reply]

    Mike Harrison Reply:

    “…just starting to vocally challenge people on their expertise. Sure, it’s a jerk move…”

    I disagree. It’s NOT a jerk move. Neither is correcting people in other situations (political correctness has created this monster).

    The reason this exists is because not enough people call it out. It’s very basic, and I use this example all the time:

    If we don’t tell a child in no uncertain terms that writing on the wall is unacceptable, they will assume it IS acceptable and will continue doing it. If they still haven’t learned the difference between right and wrong by the time they become adults, the worst thing we can do is to say nothing.

    The absence of “no” is an assumed “yes.” Human nature is to do whatever it is we can get away with. Ignoring problems is never a solution.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Once again: well put, Mike. If we don’t challenge half-truths and misconceptions, we do ourselves and our industry a disservice. The effects can be seen if you know where to look. The writing is on the wall.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    If we hadn’t had people who dared to challenge ignorance, women would still not have the right to vote, and Rosa Parks would not be able to take a seat on the bus wherever she wanted.

    [Reply]

  15. Mike Harrison

    “Ignorance, pretentiousness, and a sense of entitlement.”

    Please. Don’t get me started. But this – and the affordability of computers (in which practically everything is based these days) – is what I believe has brought us to the point where those with absolutely no experience appoints him or herself a professional or expert.

    The reality is quite the opposite: instead, with few exceptions, we have a Petri dish of brash, under-skilled people producing what is at best average work.

    There are no rewards just for showing up. We need to learn not only how things are done but why they are done. Those of us who’ve achieved a certain level of success didn’t just arrive here. Nobody handed us anything. Doing what was necessary to get here is what made us great at what we do.

    And, something else: once you get here, you’ll need to CONTINUE working to keep working.

    That’s one you’ll have to figure out on your own.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I couldn’t have said it any better myself, Mike. Under-skilled and overly confident is a deadly combination. It’s amazing though, how many people get away with it. It’s because good enough is often good enough, as long as it’s cheap.

    [Reply]

  16. Debbie Irwin

    Amen, brother!

    I feel a little guilty when it’s a friend of the family who’s sent me someone to help, but when they can’t articulate their questions in an email first, or do any research, or take the links I’ll then send them so they can come back with questions (but don’t) how serious are they?

    We are not being unhelpful– we are asking them to value our time and show their willingness to come to the table prepared….. not empty handed.

    And truth be told, if all you gal did was to read every blog post you’d ever written, she’d be 1000% smarter than before. Maybe even smart enough to know that criticising you online, in that way, was only a mirror that reflected her… ignorance.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    So many people are simply interested, but not committed. Being interested is not a crime, but as you said, I don’t want to waste my time on people who aren’t serious, and who want you to do their homework.

    [Reply]

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