The Easiest Way To Shoot Yourself In The Foot

Pointing fingersBeing judged.

For some people, it is the worst feeling in the world.

Not only that, it can be totally paralyzing.

We all have friends or family members who are really good at something they do. Perhaps they play an instrument, or they write funny little poems. But as soon as you ask them to play or read something in public, they come up with all kinds of excuses:

“I don’t think I’m ready.”

“I’m not that special.”

“What if I mess up?”

“What will people think of me?”

Here’s what’s so remarkable about these statements. They’re all based on self-doubt; on the assumption that things will go badly, and on the idea that the audience consists of critics.

This fearful attitude reminds me of children who refuse to eat something they’ve never eaten before. They always expect the worst. When asked why they’re not willing to try this new food, they all say:

“I’m not sure I’m going to like it.”

Perhaps that’s where this unadventurous, negative attitude starts. With whiny kids and overprotective parents.


One of my young nieces is a very picky eater who only eats things she’s familiar with: mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. One day I took her to the ice cream parlor for dessert. Her eyes lit up when she saw the sixty plus flavors in the freezer window.

“I want ice cream, Uncle Paul,” she said. “I think I’ll have two scoops.”

I looked at her, knowing this would be the perfect learning opportunity.

“Are you going to treat me?” I asked playfully. “What a nice surprise!”

“No silly,” she laughed. “I don’t have any money. I’m just a kid. But I do want ice cream.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I heard a question. Is that how your mother raised you?”

“No,” she answered sheepishly. I could tell she was a bit surprised that she didn’t get her way immediately.

A few seconds later she tried:

“Can I have some ice cream, Uncle Paul?”

This wasn’t the time to talk about the difference between “can and “may,” so I said:

“That’s much better, but I think I’m still missing the magic word. Do you want to ask me again?”

My niece was getting a bit frustrated, but her desire for ice cream was greater, so she said:

“Can I have some ice cream, PLEASE?”

“That’s more like it,” I said. “Now, let me ask YOU a question: Have you ever had ice cream from this place before?”

“No,” she answered.

“Oh dear,” I said. “In that case I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“Why is that?” she said surprised.

“At lunch, when I asked you to eat your broccoli, you refused, because you said you never had it before. You didn’t think you would like it. So, how do you know you are going to like this ice cream?”

I could see that my niece’s wheels were turning for a moment or two, and while staring at the many colorful flavors, she let out a big sigh.

Then she looked up at me and said:

“Uncle Paul, I guess I’ll just have to try.”

“That’s great,” I responded, and we walked inside. I knew the owner of the store, and as I pointed to my niece, I said:

“This young lady would like to have some broccoli ice cream please.”

The owner winked, and he gave her a big scoop of pistachio gelato.

My niece took one big lick, and said she loved it.

“See, had you not tried it, you would have been missing out,” I said. “I’m proud of you!”

After a while I explained to her that this wasn’t really broccoli ice cream, but I don’t think she cared one way or the other.

The next day, I got a phone call. It was her mother, and she had a question.

“I don’t know what you did, Paul, but my daughter just asked for broccoli. How do you prepare that?”


Here’s the point I want to make.

All of us are born with an amazing tool: our imagination. It allows us to create all kinds of scenarios, some of them more uplifting than others. Sometimes we form opinions about food we’ve never tasted. Other times we imagine what it would be like to perform in front of an audience.

What many people don’t realize is that we choose what we want to focus on, and what it means to us. We’re in the driver’s seat.

Are we going to tell ourselves:

“This new vegetable is probably not going to be very tasty,”


“This green leafy thing could be surprisingly delicious?”

When asked to step onto a stage, are we afraid that we’re going to embarrass ourselves, or do we see ourselves entertaining a delighted crowd?

No matter what we choose, we are programming ourselves for a certain outcome, based on a hallucination. That’s all it is. And parents pass these hallucinations onto their children.

I just heard a mother say to her son: “You’re probably not going to like these Brussels sprouts, but I want you to try at least one.”

What a setup! No wonder the boy didn’t want to take a bite. 

The biggest disappointments are usually well-prepared.


I work in a competitive industry where many are invited, and very few are chosen. Every day I send voice-over auditions into the world that will be evaluated by total strangers. If they’re kind, they’ll give me between five and ten seconds to make my mark. Most jobs will go to other people, and I’ll never know why. 

As a coach, it is my job to prepare my students for this highly subjective and uncertain process. Before they hit “record,” I want them to have the right mindset. So, this is what I tell them:

“People will form opinions no matter what, but it’s not the judgment of others that may or may not hold you back. It is your own judgment that may help or hurt you.

After all, you don’t really know what others are thinking. You have no idea how you’ll be perceived. It’s a waste of energy to be concerned about things you can’t control. 

There are four things you can influence:

* your attitude,

* the way you cultivate your talent,

your level of preparedness, and

* your performance.

Always put your best foot forward. Record that demo, and send it on its way.

After that, there’s only one thing you can do:

Let it go!

Enjoy the feeling that you put yourself out there; that you gave yourself a chance. And if that puts you in a good mood, perhaps you deserve a small but cool reward.

How about a scoop of ice cream?

Broccoli-flavored, of course!

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: Rosario speaks 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."

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal

20 Responses to The Easiest Way To Shoot Yourself In The Foot

  1. Joe Van Riper

    “Let it go.” …Best advice to thin-skinned auditioners! The really cool part of it is that, when you’ve forgotten all about it and it winds up paying off later, you’ve got that “Hey, it’s Christmas!” feeling that is such a rush.

    When I was very young, I heard a rumor about a big radio job in a distant city, so I sent an application and demo reel just for grins, and promptly forgot about it.

    One month later, I was packing my stuff and moving to a big city to take a position as Production Manager of one of the oldest radio stations in the US! That led me into doing VOs on the side, and eventually into becoming a freelancer for several decades now.

    Yeah… let it go!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for sharing that story, Joe. I’n reminded of Sting’s lyrics: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”


  2. Jennie

    A great post Paul – it sounds like we went to the same school of parenting!! Your heartwarming opening about your niece ties in so nicely with how important it is to be flexible and open minded in our lives and in our work. I really look forward to reading your posts! 🙂


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you so much, Jennie. If you like these types of stories, wait till you read my book!


  3. Paul Garner

    Isn’t it amazing how our words and attitudes can affect us? Finding the right words and attitudes is indeed an art and usually requires someone to help steer us in the right direction. Thanks for wonderful, blog, Paul!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    My pleasure, Paul. Sometimes, words work wonders!


  4. Matilda Novak

    Hi Paul,
    It’s been a while since I last had the opportunity to read one of your blog posts, but now I remember Why I like them so much!
    Thank you — for your wisdom, wit and heart.
    I Always learn from you!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for coming back to read my blog, Matilda. As long as there still are stories inside of me, I will keep on telling them to whoever wants to listen.


  5. Kent Ingram

    Paul, how is it you write these blogs that either smack me upside the head or go right to my heart? LOL!! One thing that STILL terrifies me is PUBLIC PERFORMANCE. But, put me behind a mic, and I’m pumped-up and ready to go! I’ve recorded numerous times in high-end studios and always looked at it as being a challenge to showcase what I can do. Crazy, isn’t it? If I NEED to do it, I can fake it and look relaxed. I got that from my days in radio, when I had to emcee various events. I’d rather not feel I have to fake it, though. What have I learned from you, today? Lose the fear! Nothing ventured, nothing gained.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s all in the mind, Ken. Unless it’s broccoli.


  6. Sally Blake ( Voice On Fire )

    LOL Paul 🙂 You reminded me how I got my son Skyler to like broccoli many years ago. I asked him at a really young age with a huge bright smile on my face if he would like some. Whenever the subject of vegetables would come up I would act really happy and to this day he still likes broccoli and other vegies:)

    Many people get nervous when performing. I try to remember that it is not about me but service to others and “practice makes perfect” ( just kidding 🙂

    Thank you Paul for another wonderful blog !


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    When my daughter Skyler first saw broccoli bits, she thought they looked like mini trees, and couldn’t wait to try them!


  7. Rob Marley

    Steamed, then a little drizzle of olive oil and maybe a drop or two of lemon juice or some lemon zest.

    Oh wait, I’m still on the broccoli thing.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    It’s one of my favorite vegetables, Rob. I’ll eat it raw or steamed.


  8. Shane Morris

    “I Am I Said, I Am Said I” Neil Diamond!
    You make me chuckle Paul. You should do behavioral therapy on the side! Thanks for your blogs. Peace brother!



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    We’re all practicing behavior therapy, Shane. Whether we realize it or not. Only a few of us are getting paid for it.

    Glad I made you chuckle!


  9. Mike Harrison

    You outed me! Not enjoying being the center of attention, I’ve always been fearful of speaking in front of people. And, sometimes, trying new things.

    But, you’re right, of course. It’s all in our heads.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going out for some pistachio ice cream.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Perception is all based on projection. Changing our projections will change our perception. It’s mind-opening!


  10. Ted Mcaleer

    “I don’t know what you did, Paul, but my daughter just asked for broccoli. How do you prepare that?” Touche! My sister is a picky eater, as are all of her kids. I am not, I only eat things that fit in my mouth. Touche! Great blog!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, Ted. I was raised to try new things every day, and because of that, my daughter is a very adventurous eater as well. She now looks at the lunches her friends bring to school, and she can’t believe how boring they are.


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