Are You My Colleague or My Competitor?

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 2.25.42 PMThe Olympic Games in Rio are over. The Paralympics end on September 18th.

Since the start of these games I have been glued to the television. For me, that’s a strange thing to do, and I’ll tell you why.

I’m not a huge sports fan. I don’t support one particular team. Between you and me, I think most sports coverage is overrated as the most important of very unimportant news.

I often wonder why millions of people get all psyched about a major game, but seem to care very little about famine, global warming, or the annihilation of yet another endangered species.

I don’t get why some folks are willing to fork over a fortune to buy tickets to a match, but aren’t willing to pay a few dollars more in taxes so their state can properly fund education, or repair those bridges that are on the brink of collapse.

I don’t understand why people make time to go to a lame game where two teams are chasing a round rubber object, but they couldn’t be bothered to leave the house to vote.

I find it profoundly disturbing that music, drama, and art teachers are always the first to be fired when schools need to cut jobs, but nobody dares to touch the athletic department.

Perhaps it’s a sign that I’m not fully integrated into American society yet. The USA is a country where baseball is called “The National Pastime,” and where NFL stars are paid more to defend their team’s title than we pay servicemen and women to defend their nation.

How we spend our money as a society, reveals our priorities.

If you want to know what’s important to a country, you should also listen to its language. U.S. politicians talk about “leveling the playing field.” Motivational speakers teach strategies for “winning the game of life,” and managers will ask us to “step up to the plate.”

Sport is part of the American spirit.

Enthusiasts tell us that it teaches healthy habits, strategic thinking, and teamwork. Sport, they say, is a powerful metaphor for life. 

That may be, but is sport always healthy?

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, an international non-profit organization aimed at preventing unintentional childhood injury, every 25 seconds, a child athlete suffers a sports injury serious enough to send him or her to the emergency room (source). Twenty year-old American snowboarder Trevor Jacob admitted that his memory is already a little fuzzy as the result of at least 25 concussions.

And what does sport teach us about relationships?

When we talk about sports, we’re talking about competition. Competition is based on confrontation where being the best is often more important than doing one’s best. The aim is to overpower the other team or fellow-competitor(s), rather than to work together as teams toward a common goal. It’s a black-and-white world of us against the rest. A world of winners and losers.

America does not like losers.

These days, the world of professional sports is also a universe of sponsorships, mega-contracts, endorsements, and merchandise. You may be thinking that you’re watching a fun game, but in reality it is a shameless vehicle for product promotion. At this point the ad agencies have conditioned us so well, that many viewers are more excited about the TV commercials than about the game itself.

As voice-overs we’re benefitting from this development because we often lend our voices to these commercials. Fifteen seconds of script can pay the bills for an entire month.

Many of us have embraced sports metaphors in our line of work. We talk about “winning or losing an audition,” and we sign up for seminars to stay “ahead of the competition.” A bottle of “Entertainer’s Secret” is the performance enhancing drug of choice.

Having said that, I think it’s a big mistake to compare our job to what athletes do. First of all, most athletes are in much better shape! Secondly, we’re not running a race (although it may feel that way). We’re not competing for a place on the podium.

Yes, just like athletes we need coaching, quality equipment, and experience. Our success demands sacrifice. But submitting an audition is not the same as entering a competition, because we do not determine the outcome.

In many sports, the fastest competitor wins. It’s that simple. Winning an audition has little to do with being the best. It’s about being the best fit in the eyes and ears of whoever is casting the part.

As voice talents, we are not opponents. We’re colleagues. We have no title to defend or national reputation to uphold. Your success does not diminish my standing. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal:

To deliver the best service, to increase our standards, and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.

In order to do that, we need to lead by example, and we need to stick together.

Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about rates. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less, and those who refuse to devalue what we have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.

One thing I know for sure.

As long as we see each other as competitors with a price to beat, there’s only going to be one winner: The Client.

Back to the Olympics.

By now you know I’m not that much into sports, but I have been watching what’s happening in Rio. Even though I don’t consider myself to be a chauvinist, I’m usually rooting for the guys and girls in orange: the Dutch team. But what really got me, was this.

This summer, American middle-distance runner Abbey D’agostina and her former opponent Nikki Hamblin were both awarded special Olympic medals for sportsmanship. I’ll let the official Olympic website tell the story:

New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin tripped and fell to the ground during the 5,000m race, accidentally bringing American D’Agostino down behind her with around 2,000m to go. The 24-year-old D’Agostino was quick to get up again, yet instead of carrying on with her race she stopped to help the stricken Hamblin to her feet, encouraging her to join her in attempting to finish the race. However, during her tumble, D’Agostino suffered an ankle injury, slowing the runner down, but Hamblin sportingly hung back to in return offer her encouragements. The two women went on to complete the race together.

Now, that’s the spirit I love in sports, and I love seeing it in my profession too: people helping each other succeed.

So, be a good sport. Engage in fair play. Help each other out. Admire your colleague’s accomplishments. 

You might not receive a medal, but you’ve just earned my respect, and the respect of your community.

That alone, makes you a winner!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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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, Journalism & Media, Promotion

18 Responses to Are You My Colleague or My Competitor?

  1. Paul Garner

    Paul,
    Loved the article! I also liked what you said to Mike: “Our job is to educate in an entertaining way”. Well said. If we can remember that every time we get behind the mic, talk to clients or each other, make comments on a blog, etc., then we do stand a “chance of getting through to our colleagues and to the people that write out the checks!”

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I often see myself as an “edutainer.” In general, people will do more to be entertained than to be educated, so if we combine the two, we stand a chance to reach the people that need to hear our message.

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  2. Robert Craigo

    Excellent article Paul, we are indeed colleagues.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Robert!

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  3. Mandy Nelson

    Well written, Paul.

    In my experience this business has gone from back stabbing to a more open and friendly environment. Almost 20 years ago I couldn’t find a female willing to share any advice or leads (except to tell me it was hard to break into the biz). Today I find myself surrounded by women and men who are open to sharing. Perhaps I’ve just stumbled upon the right kind of people but I think it is more than that. I think many of us realize that my voice, my style, my understanding of a script, is so much different than yours. I want my client to succeed so if I don’t fit the bill then you might so here, meet the client. And it goes both ways.

    Of course I want to “win” but at what cost? Sharing the wealth has so many benefits.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Mandy, thank you so much for putting your two cents in. In general, the voice-over community is open and very generous. Especially in social media groups we seem to have each other’s backs. That’s why it baffles me that the World Voices Organization isn’t at least a thousand members strong… It’s like a choir: the more voices sign up, the more powerful the music!

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  4. Dustin Ebaugh

    Hey Paul,

    You continue to provide great insight with your blog. Thank you! Fellow World-Voices Organization member Christi Bowen sent me your article. I love it! She and I both really liked this part:

    “To increase the standards in our profession and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.

    In order to do that, we need to lead by example and we need to stick together.

    Clients love to have us fight among ourselves, especially about rates. They’re trying to drive a wedge between those who sell their talent for less and those who refuse to devalue what they have to offer. It’s up to us to play that game or not.

    One thing I know for sure.

    As long as we see each other as a competitors with a price to beat, there’s only going to be one winner: the client.”

    At WoVO, we agree with you completely. To that end, we have been collating average rates from the U.S. and around the world. These lists and links are available to our members on our website: http://www.worldvo.org These are obviously guides for non-union members as SAG-AFTRA has set rates and our members are comprised of both union and non-union talent, as is our Executive Board.

    I just wanted to let folks know that we have this resource available. I appreciate all the wisdom you contribute to our community.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    As a member of the World-Voices-Organisation, I hope that more and more colleagues will join the club and work together to further our field. Thanks for all the hard work you and the rest of the Board are doing to build this organization from the ground up.

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  5. Howard Ellison

    Ice skating provides rather a good analogy with voice performance. Watching the point-scoring speed and precision of the current champs in Sochi, my wife and I hark back to the grace, the art, the emotion of Torville & Dean. Not quite fair maybe to compare a duo with a solo turn: but that makes a point too about the beauty of co-operation.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    And today T & D are recreating their famous Bolero in Sarajevo!

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  6. Robert Sciglimpaglia

    Hi Paul. “I think it’s a mistake to compare our job to what athletes do.”

    While in general I hear what you are saying that we are not “competing” the same as an athlete does because people “Judge” us; as an athlete and Coach, I respectfully disagree. Ice skaters, divers, gymnasts, and several other Olympic sports are “Judged” in order to win, just as talent are “Judged”. And the baseline for winning an audition is “talent”; same as the baseline for winning a sport. If one is not “talented” they are not even in “the game.” All of the intangibles may not be able to be controlled but what can controlled by the Talent, just like an Athlete, is hard work, practice and DISCIPLINE.

    Acting and Voice Acting takes incredible DISCIPLINE, which is instilled by athletics. Ask any professional athlete making the “big bucks”, or Olympic, athlete making no bucks, how much time they spend working on their “craft”, and how long they have been doing it. Just like a voice actor, or actor, if the answer is not more like “When DON’T I spend time at my craft”, then success will not be forthcoming any time soon.

    The discipline it takes to be a successful athlete is exactly the same as the discipline it takes to be successful in anything ESPECIALLY anything involving the Arts.

    Similarly, I disrespect those athletes who do not display excellent sportsmanship and look to knock out their opponents (like some infamous ice skater I will not mention here, or how about use of PEDs), same as I disrespect any Talent that would choose to “knock down” a fellow talent rather than lend them a hand.

    Thank you for another great post!!!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Randye and Howard, thank you for embracing my message. Robert, thanks for your thoughtful response.

    Watching the Olympics, I see the judges score competitors based on fairly objective criteria that were agreed upon by the governing board of a particular sport. Judges ask themselves questions such as: How difficult was the routine? Did the athlete do all the required moves? How well was a particular trick executed? What was the competitor’s posture like? Some gold, silver and bronze medals simply go to the athletes with the fastest times. It does;’t get more objective than that.

    I still believe that those who judge a voice-over performance, do that based on rather subjective criteria. We have no independent body with pre determined guidelines. Of course things like talent, articulation and script interpretation are important, but whether a casting director likes a certain voice or not, is often based on something that cannot be objectively measured.

    When looking at the work ethic of successful athletes, there certainly are parallels between what voice actors do and what sports people do to get in shape for a successful performance.

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  7. Howard Ellison

    Wise and inspirational, Paul! In the world at large, competition and co-operation have survival value and both get misapplied.
    I suggest that the empathic nature of voice performers is why so many share and help out in the admirable way they do. It’s a natural understanding that what goes round comes round. You do indeed come across fee-wars cynics, but not many.

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  8. Randye Kaye

    “As voice talents, we are not opponents. We’re colleagues…. Your success does not diminish my standing. As far as I’m concerned, we have a common goal: To increase the standards in our profession and to ensure that we’re getting paid a fair and decent rate.”

    Amen to that!
    Another fabulous post, Paul. Proud to be your colleague.

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  9. Mike Harrison

    Quite agreed, Paul. We do run the risk of letting our future slip away if we don’t work together to maintain professional levels of quality and remuneration.

    Very important in this equation is educating clients – especially those who are new to hiring voice talent. Clients who set a budget based only on their own perception of how long it should take someone to record a script aren’t placing enough value on the piece they are producing. They need to understand they are not simply hiring someone to read words from a page, they are hiring someone for their ability to turn those words into motivation in order to inform, instruct, or sell a product or service.

    Hiring someone to read a script simply because they have a pleasant voice is no guarantee the audience is going to remember any of what they heard.

    We need to work with our colleagues to (egad) “level the playing field.”

    And, with that turn back to sports, Paul, I have always shared your concern (or is it amazement) in paragraphs five through nine. But the answer is quite evident to me: it’s because playing games are much more fun and are easier than those other things. Like water and electricity, many humans have come to take the path of least resistance.

    And, on that note, here’s an excellent example of motivating with words. It’s from President John F. Kennedy’s speech of September 12, 1962 at Houston’s Rice University:

    “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

    😉

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Well said, Mike!

    One of the reasons people get all crazy about sports is because it offers a temporary distraction from the big problems in life. It’s entertainment. It’s an escape. It’s a world in which everything is brought down to a simple question: Who ends up on top?

    Tony Robbins said that people will do more to be entertained than to be educated. Our job is to educate in an entertaining way. If we manage to do that, we stand a chance of getting through to our colleagues and to the people that write out the checks!

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  10. steven

    You touch on something I have been screaming for years…

    Art of War dictates the ruling party stays in charge by keeping the community fighting within each other.

    For all the issues… this one simple fact is why talent unions need to stay together so the same mistakes of early 20th century are not made.

    For the record, I discovered this by reading, playing ice hockey, the boardgame Risk, and working for a casting website.

    It takes courage to call your competition a colleague.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Some forces are playing a game of “Divide and Conquer.” Some days I think they’re winning. Non-Union talent is largely unorganized and it often seems that it’s every man or woman for him or herself. There seems to be little solidarity. If we don’t come to our senses soon, rates will go down even further, and we’ll go down with it. We need courage, Steven. We need people with a backbone and colleagues with cojones!

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