Please don’t let me be misunderstood

ReflectionA few days ago, something happened to me that had never happened before.

At the end of Uncle Roy’s 10th annual VO-BBQ, a young colleague walked up to me and said:

“I wanted to thank you.

You are the reason why I am a voice-over today.”

“How so?” I asked, pleasantly surprised.

He said: “When I watched your video The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career, I just knew I had to become a voice actor. Since then I have worked very hard to launch my career, and I couldn’t be happier doing what I love to do. So, thank you!”

“I’m so glad to hear that,” I said, “but really… all the credit goes to you. You made this happen. Not me. I just put a video on YouTube.”

When I thought about this encounter the next day, it made me smile. So many people have seen the video, and quite a few commentators accused me of trying to kill their dreams by listing all the reasons why a voice-over career might not be for them. How dare I?

Now, here’s a guy who had the opposite response. After watching my video, he became more determined than ever to make it as a professional voice talent! It just goes to show that the same information can elicit an entirely different reaction, depending on the person who’s processing it.

This confirms one of my favorite sayings:

The world we see is a mirror of who we are.

If you are a glass-is-half-empty kind of person, you will always find evidence to support that idea. If you believe that the glass is always half full, you’ll find example after example to underpin that view. Our perception is mostly projection.

I also had to smile because I do love it when open-minded, talented people take advice to heart, and run with it.

You see, it’s so easy to look at a video, listen to a podcast or quickly scan a blog post, and immediately move on to something else. That’s today’s society. We go from one stimulus to the next. There’s no percolation time, allowing info to sink in. That’s a shame, because processing more information faster doesn’t make us any wiser. I believe it makes us more shallow and stressed. 

When we listen to someone making a point, we hardly ask ourselves the basic questions:

1. What is the speaker really saying? How much of it do I understand, and what is it that I don’t yet get?
2. What does this information mean to me? How is it relevant?
3. What should I do with it?

Why do we skip these questions?

For one, because many of us have lost the ability to be in the moment and truly listen. We’re so busy trying to come up with a response, that we don’t even hear what’s being said. Or, we assume we already know what the other person is going to say, and we respond to that. The better we know the person we’re talking to, the more frequently this happens.

It’s a relationship killer, and I’m not only talking about intimate relationships.

Whether you’re a voice actor or you do some other kind of freelance work, your level of success is deeply linked to the level in which you understand and respond to your client’s needs. That’s why I find it very challenging to work with clients who give little or no instructions.

It’s impossible to live up to unknown expectations. This is true in our professional, as well as in our personal lives. And because we make assumptions instead of asking questions, we get in trouble. 

The other day I was convinced I knew what a client wanted me to do. My job was to dub a Dutch actor in English, and the director had sent me a video clip of the guy I was supposed to emulate. So, I sent the director a recording of me mimicking the Dutchman to the best of my abilities.

The next day I got a request to redo the dub. “I only sent you the video so you could get a sense of the tempo,” the director said. “I don’t want you to imitate the man. I want you to sound like yourself.” So, once again I had been mind reading someone else’s intentions, and had missed the mark.

Because of experiences like these, I can’t blame those who leave strange and unusual comments on my Troublesome Truth video, or on this blog for that matter. I have to accept that once I release words and images into cyberspace, they will take on a life of their own, and people will interpret them any way they want.

Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Like the time this young colleague thanked me for my video.

And I realize that what he did with my message says a lot about him, and very little about me.

Enough said.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: reflection 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, Personal

7 Responses to Please don’t let me be misunderstood

  1. Cynthia Small

    One of my family’s favorite quotes when I was growing up (and to give proper attribution, I believe it originated on the television show M*A*S*H):

    “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said; but, I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That’s a great quote from one of the best TV shows ever. Thanks for sharing, Cynthia.


  2. Ted Mcaleer

    Tell me about MYSELF right about 4 years ago! I saw the video and remember distinctly saying 2 things. first, “I can see how that can happen, what’s going to be my response or plan” and secondly “I’m glad someone took the time to tell me!”.
    Truth, the real truths are hard and unforgiving. If you make a catastrophic decision to send your homemade demo to Atlas, well, your ignorance doesn’t negate that you’ve just shot your career (with them) in the head. Yet… there are those that are so much smarter. They know that this stuff doesn’t apply to them. I’m in a FB group and there’s a guy who says he’s a “6 year VO Pro” He has no credits or links except to a fandub trailer… And he is so convinced of his BS (because his friends believe him) that he believes it himself. Posted his homemade demo on FB, people told him nicely it was awful by steering him toward coaching. He then sent the thing to a fairly well known Midwestern talent agency. The next day, I got an email from an agent at this agency entitled “Don’t EVER do this…” with the name blacked out but an introduction letter/email and this homemade demo.
    Ignore the rules at your own peril…I’m glad I had a lot of the rules laid out by Nethervoice and “The Troublesome Truth about a Voice-Over Career” when I started.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You know what they say about making a first impression… The best people in the business all excel in a few things. They bring an open mind; they are willing to learn, and they integrate feedback. You did all of that, and so much more.

    That 6 year VO Pro obviously has a lot to learn. I hope he hasn’t started coaching yet…


    Ted Mcaleer Reply:

    Too stupid to know that he’s completely clueless. Will never get what he wants unfortunately and will spend his life trying to figure out why. All the while it’s him. “The world needs ditch diggers too.”


  3. Philip Banks

    We are all responsible for what we say but should never take the blame for what people hear.

    Wait, I’m a TV promo voice so no one listens to me. Could this be my branding statement? “Ignored globally!” Pithy, isn’t it?


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I love your first line, Philip. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, meaning is in the ear of the listener… and ultimately in the brain.

    I will ignore your second statement, if that’s okay with you 😉 Why? Because I love listening to your resonant voice!


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