The Turning Point

Voice-Over and blogger Paul StrikwerdaPotentially, this could be my shortest blog post ever.

It’s the story of how I got from doing okay, to doing quite alright, professionally speaking. 

Almost every week I get emails from readers, asking me to reveal the big secret to my so-called success. 

Why “so-called success”?

Well, everything is perception, and perception is everything. We all define success in different ways. 

Before I tell you about this secret, you should probably know a bit more about me. 

As a freelancer, I work in a highly competitive and increasingly crowded field: I’m a voice-over. I talk for a living. The other day I recorded an audio tour of a gorgeous area in the North of France. Today I’m pretending to be a medical doctor, telling physicians about the side effects of a new cancer drug. It’s a fun job with many pros and cons. 

As a player in the new gig economy I have a lot of freedom, no benefits, and very little protection. Weeks of underemployment are usually followed by a crazy busy period where I’m scrambling to finish every project I was hired to do on schedule. It’s feast or famine. 

A voice actor’s income can vary tremendously. Some twenty-second commercials bring in thousands of dollars, particularly if you’re an A-list celebrity, which I’m not. An hour of e-Learning or audio book narration may generate a few hundred bucks (before expenses and taxes). Most clients come and go. Very few stick around.

Although my work is not physically demanding, sitting still in a small, dark studio behind a microphone for hours and hours, isn’t exactly healthy. It’s also easy to feel socially isolated because my colleagues are all sitting in small, dark studios in different parts of the world. And I’ll be honest: at times the stress of being out of a job as soon as a project ends, can get to you. Work fluctuates, but bills keep coming. 

Even though I think I’m experienced and highly qualified, most of my days are dominated by the search for new clients, and by auditions. Every audition is a crapshoot. Like most of my colleagues, I try to read between the lines of vague specs and scripts, attempting to second-guess what the invisible client is hoping to hear. And most days I’m wrong, and someone else ends up getting the gig. 

Now, in spite of this sad story, I love what I do for a living, and I don’t think there’s anything else I’d rather do, career-wise. I’m not a good candidate for a 9 to 5 job. I can’t stand bosses who have risen to the level of their incompetence. I’ve had too many of them. I wouldn’t want to waste hours a day being stuck in rush hour traffic, just to make some corporation happy. I rejoice in the fact that I don’t have to go to endless staff meetings or mandated office parties. Been there. Done that. 

My accountant is also pleased because every year I make more money than the year before. There’s still no Lamborghini parked in my driveway, but I can live with that. And every time I book a new job, I realize that there are probably hundreds of hopefuls who are trying to figure out why the client picked that silly Dutch American with the European accent over them. 

I know… It baffles me too!

Taking all of that into account, how did I get from doing okay to doing quite alright?

Do I use a special microphone that turns my vocal folds into the Voice of G-d?

Are eager talent agents fighting to add me to their roster?

Am I friends with the movers and shakers of the voice-over industry?

I have to disappoint you. It has very little to do with all of the above. 

Sure, I use first-rate recording equipment. I have a number of great agents and a nice network of connections. But the thing that has made a real difference in my career is not something you can buy, and it has nothing to do with other people. So, what is it? 

It is a strong belief in the Law of Cause and Effect. The mechanism of action and reaction. Specifically, my preference to rather be at the cause-side of the equation, than at the effect. It boils down to this:

I see myself as the prime instigator of change in my life. Change through choice. 

I choose to be proactive (at cause) instead of reactive (at the effect). It’s the difference between sitting in the driver’s seat, and being a passenger. I like to hold the wheel and set the course. 

People who share this belief are go-getters. They take the initiative. They take responsibility. 

People who prefer to be passengers are usually more passive. They tend to be finger pointers and complainers, who often see themselves as victims. They’ll sue McDonald’s for making them fat, or for serving coffee that’s too hot.

Here’s a question you can ask to determine where someone stands: 

“Do you like to let things happen, or make them happen?”

Of course I know we’re not omnipotent, and that certain things are beyond our grasp and control. My attitude only applies to the things I feel I can actually influence, and the person I can influence the easiest is… me. 

I control what I put in my body, I control the size of my portions, and I decide how much I exercise. I don’t blame the fast food industry for my expanding waistline. To bring it back to my profession: I don’t blame online casting sites when my voice-over career isn’t where I want it to be. Instead I ask myself what I can do to increase my skill level, to promote my services, and to attract more clients. 

Being “at cause” means being accountable for taking or not taking the necessary steps to achieve a specific goal. 

That’s why as a voice-over coach I never guarantee results. I tell my students:

“As your mentor I don’t have magical powers that will result in you booking jobs. I will give you tools, but it is up to you to use those tools effectively and appropriately. You are responsible for your own results.”

On a superficial level my proactive philosophy may seem a no-brainer, but it’s not. It is a lot easier to blame and complain, than to take fate into your own hands. 

Being “at cause” means sticking your neck out. Taking risks. Doing the hard work. Making tough decisions. Going against the grain. 

It’s not an easy way out. Quite often, it’s an uneasy way in. 

The moment I decided to take charge of my career and be “at cause,” was a turning point in my life. The effects of that decision have brought me to where I am today. From being a spectator, to being an instigator. From doing okay, to doing quite alright.

And you know what?

You can apply this principle in any area, whether personal or professional. 

Now, if you’re still with me, you have noticed that this wasn’t the shortest blog post ever, and I apologize. 

I guess I could have condensed my message into three words:

Just 

Be

Cause.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet!

PS Last week, this blog reached 39K subscribers. I am beyond thrilled! If you enjoy my musings, the best compliment you could pay me is by pointing others to these pages. Thank you!

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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.”

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Pay-to-Play, Personal

37 Responses to The Turning Point

  1. Paul Garner

    Thanks again, Paul for a well written and insightful blog! Being “at cause” is where it’s at, so to speak. It’s a struggle, but it brings on the process of success.
    Keep it up!

    [Reply]

  2. Matt Wiewel

    Best post ever! Nailed it!
    We all need to realize that nobody (not even our spouses or kids) will care as much about our success as WE do ourselves.
    Whatever effort WE are putting forth will (should) be the most effort ANYONE is putting forth.

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  3. Ed Phillips

    Thank you for this post, Paul. Great reminders! If you love what you do, you’ll live by the adage, “Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Isn’t that what the executor says after the funeral?

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  4. Mel Lewis

    I love this post. Entertaining, informative and inspiring — not bad as a recipe for getting so many new followers!

    I do have one question though: why don’t you do voice recordings of your blog posts? It seems like an obvious thing but perhaps there is a reason such as ‘I already do that for a living – this is fun’. Just curious. Great post!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Mel, thank you so much for the suggestion. Just so you know, I’ve created a poll on the Nethervoice Facebook page to see if there’s any interest in a spoken version of my blog. It’s only worthwhile doing if a good number of readers would like me to read to them.

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  5. Steve Krumlauf

    Another brilliantly, well-thought-out, flawlessly executed portrait of the life of a VO professional. Bravo, Paul! Your essay should be forever preserved in bronze on a plaque and hung in everybody’s studio to see every time they step behind the microphone!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Steve. The only plaque I have is faithfully removed by my dental hygienist!

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  6. Ed Helvey - The Professional Nomad

    Great article, Paul. It’s the story of my life, too – the entrepreneurial roller coaster – fat one day and lean the next few days. And, there are the backslides, too. And, as you said, your ideas are applicable to all aspects of the human living experience. Bravo!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Ed!

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  7. Sean

    Well put, Paul!

    A quote that comes to mind here (unfortunately I can’t remember who said it..):

    “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”

    Best,
    Sean

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Great quote, Sean! I think it is attributed to Olympic weight lifter Jerzy Gregory.

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  8. Francesco Ventura

    One of the wittiest and wisest posts ever. The time we spend blaming and moaning can be invested on analyzing the whole process, to search for new strategies, new ways of generate change. Braniwork and proactivity.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Francesco! Blame is lame, as it tends to disempower people.

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  9. Bill Johnston

    Another brilliant piece, Paul. I am inspired.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That makes my day, Bill!

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  10. Kent Ingram

    I’m trying to get over the remark, “so-called success”! Did someone actually tell you that, Paul? I prefer the term, “remarkable success”. Reading these blog posts all this time, especially the ones exposing the Pay-to-Play sites, it’s no doubt that kind of thought comes from someone who’s a success. Success also comes with healthy doses of reality, which you’ve preached to us many, many times. Here’s to success, the Strikwerda way!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    As I said in this piece, success is matter of perception. Perception is everything, and everything is perception. It all depends on how high one sets the bar. My favorite definition of success goes as follows: It’s “the progressive realization of goals worthwhile pursuing.” As you can see, this is an ongoing, lifelong process.

    P.S. I wish articles like the one you’re commenting on would be as widely read as the ones I wrote about Pay-to-Plays. Once people start applying the “at cause” principle, they wouldn’t make themselves as dependent on online casting sites and other men (or women) in the middle.

    [Reply]

  11. Joell Jacob

    I LOVE this Paul. I’m totally on board. When we pay attention, respect and work with universal laws, life, work and success is so much easier!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Absolutely!

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  12. Steven

    Good stuff Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Many thanks, Steven!

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  13. Caroline Ashby

    Oh how this resonates. Spot ON! It’s about creating your own destiny. “…take fate into your own hands”. You’ve summed it up right there!

    Fantastic blog post Paul!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Caroline!

    [Reply]

  14. Lee Ann Howlett

    Terrific post, Paul! This one really spoke to me. I’m a bit of a control freak so I definitely subscribe to your methods.

    Thanks!

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Lee Ann!

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  15. Karen Carson

    You are so ON TARGET. Thank you for being the second post this week that I have read that gets me back on track. I was on track Tuesday, dropped off a bit Wednesday but back at it today. My goal today is to reach out to ten potential clients.
    Thanks again, KC

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The universe must be sending you some signs, Karen. When opportunity knocks, you better open the door!

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  16. Jill Goldman

    Ditto. You have said it so well, I’ve nothing to add, except maybe consider how to get a better repeat client ratio? Just a thought as I read that… otherwise, I am in full agreement with your thoughts and approach. Thanks, Paul, for sharing.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Most of my blog posts deal with how to increase professionalism. That’s one way to win clients over, and have them come back to you. My last, 3-part series on pricing is filled with clues. It’s worth checking out, if I may say so myself. I’ve poured a lot of what I have learned over the past years into this short story.

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    Jill Goldman Reply:

    Thanks, Paul. I know how prolific you are, and how much thought you’ve put into all sides of the business. I may have missed some of your writings on the subject, though, so thank you for directing me toward the three part series!

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  17. Dave Clark

    Probably my favorite of your many great blog posts, Paul.

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    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Wow, that means a lot to me, Dave! Thank you.

    [Reply]

  18. Debbie Grattan

    As usual, spot on! Thank you for another wonderful articulation of an easy concept to understand, but quite difficult to properly and consistently execute. Love your writing Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    We’re not the first generation struggling with this concept. It reminds me of what is sometimes called the “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niehbuhr:

    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can,
    And wisdom to know the difference

    .

    [Reply]

  19. Ted Mcaleer

    The secrets to success are no secret! Great blog as always Paul.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Ted. The real secret is that there is no secret. There’s talent combined with a solid plan, and hard work to get to where you want to be.

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