Can You Control Your Career?

the author

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

It’s the dreaded question that can make a child quiver.

“What do you mean, be?

Am I not good enough? Do I need to be something or someone else?

Who says I want to grow up? Grown-ups are boring…”

Some kids know exactly how to answer that question, though.

They have dreams of becoming an astronaut, a fireman, or a movie star.

At the age of eight, I knew what I wanted.

I wanted to be Uri Geller. Remember him?

In the seventies, this spoon-bending Israeli mentalist first appeared on television, performing mind over matter tricks. I was fascinated by his psychokinetic powers. Geller claimed he could fix household appliances through the strength of his mind. How useful!

Like thousands of other viewers, I took my broken watch and placed it in front of our television set, waiting for Geller to work his magic. This man was a miracle!

Inspired by Uri, I spent countless hours staring at a pencil, trying to make it move with my mind. I don’t think I ever grew up, because I still find myself waiting for a red traffic light, trying to make it turn green by using the power of my brain. 

Sometimes it works, and I take all the credit. Sometimes it doesn’t, and I blame technology.

In all seriousness, these are not just mind games. This type of behavior raises a few fundamental questions:

• Can we manipulate our environment, and even the people around us by using our mental powers?

• Can we make objects and people succumb to our will?

Traditional advertising seems to believe so. Well, at least as far as the people part is concerned. The mad men of Madison Avenue spend millions and millions of dollars trying to manipulate our minds into buying stuff we don’t need and don’t want.

As a voice-over professional, I’m part of the plan. If you go to a Dutch toy store, there’s a great chance you’ll hear my voice blasting out of the speakers, selling U.S. made skateboards.

I’ll try to make you buy Turtle Wax® at the local Auto World, or futuristic fluid to super grease the chain of your mountain bike. “Now on sale in aisle 4. Must hurry. Supply is limited.”

Do these campaigns actually work? Are people really that susceptible (or dare I say: that stupid)?

As a freelancer, my mailbox is filled with offers for seminars like:

“Learn how to Dominate your Market in two hours”

“Making Money with your Voice, guaranteed”

“Success Secrets to Winning Auditions”

“7 Easy Ways to turn Prospects into Buyers”

My efforts to move pencils, the ad agency’s efforts to move product, and the seminar’s promise to turn me into a dominator have one thing in common: they feed our natural need for control.

Somehow, in some way, we believe that with the right ingredients, training, and campaign, we can part the waters of the Red Sea and walk across to the Promised Land.

A mistake of biblical proportions…

Can we really move the minds of the masses by slogans, websites, billboards, and -dare I say- blogs?

Haven’t we become immune to the endless avalanche of marketing messages, sales pitches, and empty promises?

I have a confession to make.

During the first half of my life, I honestly believed I could change people. It gets worse. I even believed I could change G-d. I used to pray:

“Dear G-d, if you help me get a good grade, I promise to go to church every Sunday and not embarrass my parents. Amen.”

Later in life I learned that if I don’t do my part and learn my lessons, G-d isn’t going to bail me out. That would defeat the purpose of being on this planet in the first place.

As an investigative reporter, I thought that if I would publicly expose some grave injustice, people would rise up and do something about it.

Then I learned that, if it’s not in their back yard or has any impact on their lives, people care more about their favorite sports team, game show, or pet rabbit, than about the hungry, the sick, and the homeless.

In intimate relationships, I tried to influence significant others by withholding love and affection if they didn’t change into the people I wanted them to be. Guess what? In the process I ended up ruining relationships instead of rescuing them.

As a voice talent, I think I’m still trying to make people hire me: “Just listen to my demo. Go to my website. Read my blog. I’m brilliant. Isn’t that obvious?”

No, it is not.

They just hire someone cheaper, younger, older, sexier, or John Hamm.

But don’t worry. When things don’t work out, you and I can always go to our social media friends, cry out loud that life’s unfair, and ask ourselves: “Why is it so hard to get hired? Why don’t people do what we want them to do?” Life would be so much easier!

Now listen up, and listen carefully.

This desire for control has nothing to do with others.

It’s all about You and it’s mostly based on fear.

The fear of losing something you never had in the first place.

The thing is: people rarely do things for your reasons.

They do things for their reasons.

Altruism has left the building a long time ago.

Most people have a hard time controlling themselves, let alone others.

If self-control were that easy, very few people would smoke, all of us would maintain the perfect weight, and prisons would be empty.

The idea that you can control all aspects of your career is based on the myth of magical thinking. It’s not some silver spoon you can bend at will. You don’t hold all the cards. Perhaps you only hold the Joker.

Yes, you can set the stage, learn your lines and lessons, and strive to be the best you can be. But you can’t force feed your target markets, especially if you don’t know what they’re hungry for.

You can be the most succulent steak ever, but if your client’s a vegetarian, s/he won’t bite. Of course you didn’t know that, because you never cared to be curious. All you did was give this client reasons why he should pick you.

YOUR reasons.


If you really want to move your career forward, you need to give up your need for control and your urge to make it about you. Especially when your product happens to be…. you.

Stop pushing, and start listening.

Don’t offer a solution before you know what the problem is.

Don’t try to brainwash your prospects with an email blast, or by singing your own praises again and again and again. You worked on that nice looking newsletter for hours, and within a matter of seconds it ends up in the trash.


Here’s my advice:

Turn your monologue into a dialogue.

Invest in building a relationship first. People ain’t buying if they don’t trust you. And they won’t trust you if they don’t know you.

The best way to show them what you’re all about, is by putting them first. Believe me, once they get that, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to tell your story.

So, is traditional marketing as dead as a Dodo?

Brains on Fire” is a book and a blog about word of mouth marketing. It’s narrated by a Dutch voice-over and blogger. The authors quote a revealing study by Copernicus Marketing Consulting and Research. According to Copernicus, the average ROI of TV advertising campaigns is 1 to 4 percent.

The Brains on Fire team also cites a 2009 Yankelovich Study. 76 percent of people believe that companies lie in ads, and people’s trust that businesses will do the right thing has dropped from 58 percent in 2008 to a dismal 38 percent in 2009 (2009 Edelman Trust Barometer).

Be honest. Would you become a buyer from a liar?

Meanwhile, Uri Geller no longer seems to tell the world his mind triumphs over matter. In the November 2007 issue of the magazine Magische Welt (Magic World) Geller said:

“I’ll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer. I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed.”

His critics have replicated some of his tricks by creating the illusion of spoon bending by using misdirection. That’s another term for distracting the audience.

And in case you’re wondering, my old watch never started ticking during Geller’s television appearance. It just needed a new battery. Not a psychic.

As I grew older, I realized a few things.

Living is learning.

I can’t change others. I can only change myself.

If I don’t like the way the wind is blowing, I can always adjust my sails.

It’s okay to be out of control. Control is an illusion. I can plan. I can practice. I can participate, and I can even ignite a spark.

Whatever happens next is one of life’s delightful and mind bending mysteries.

It’s not linear, it’s not logical, and it’s certainly not playing by our rules.

It just is.

People still ask me:

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

These days I answer:

“I want to be a good person.

A helper. A tour guide.

Someone who is caring, kind, and a bit silly.”

How mental is that?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please Retweet!

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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, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media

52 Responses to Can You Control Your Career?

  1. Ruth Weisberg

    What an ingenious magic trick afterall! As in, instead of bending spoons, you have cleverly bent time, because virtually all of the comments have a date stamp of October 2011. Then again, your blog topics are timeless and always mind-bending. All together now: Ta da!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    The best comments are timeless. Like yours!


  2. Brent Abdulla

    The only person thinking about me right now…is me. Thanks Paul! Once again a spot on, gentle in your face blog post that helps me realize that I’m in the action business and God, the Divine, the Universe, a Higher Power whatever you want to call it. If you’re an atheist then, God bless you is in the results business.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Brent. Another way off putting it is this:

    The universe rewards actions, not intentions.


  3. Mike Oneil

    Good advice, something we all need to remember.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks, Mike. Thanks for remembering to visit my blog. I’m grateful for every single reader!


  4. Heather Henderson

    Catching up on blogs — this is so good, Paul. I love how you combine the personal and the professional in ways that are genuine and helpful and from the heart. Duly re-tweeting!



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thanks for catching up with my blog, Heather. At times it’s hard to separate my personal and professional life, since what I do tells you a lot about who I am. At the same time, my career as a voice over professional is only part of my life and I enjoy wearing many hats. Right now, it’s time to put my ‘audio book narrator’ hat on again. Whether I’m blogging or reading, it’s always about telling stories, isn’t it?


  5. Cecil Archbold Jr.

    Thank you Paul. This was great! Throughout my sales career I’ve tried to control the sales cycle; pushing clients to make decisions before they were actually ready. Years ago I realized that the most important part of the cycle is gaining trust, which takes time. Unfortunately that “trust building time” sometimes conflicts with sales quotas. I’ve learned however that the commitment from the client will come…..when it will come. That’s it! Until then I educate myself as much as possible on the sometimes deeply hidden needs or problems of the client. Then tailor my approach to provide a solution for them.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’ve inspired me to write a whole new blog about building trust, Cecil. I’m so glad you enjoyed my blog!


    David Rosenthal Reply:

    Hi Cecil,

    I have found that a life lived in the service of others rather than yourself, leaves you plenty for yourself, and is much more rewarding!
    If everyone felt that way, we’d all be helping each other, we would all feel wanted and needed, we’d all get enough attention, and be able to support ourselves with the support of others! But then, that would be too easy, right? Amen to your post and your insight!



  6. Earl Thomas

    Thanks Paul. You are right building relationships with clients is importand along with trust.
    I will continue to work hard and hopefully have a little light at the end of the tunnel.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Tunnel vision is never a good thing for your career path. May you see the light sooner rather than later!


  7. Paul Strikwerda

    Thank you, Jennifer. With so many great blogs to choose from, I’m glad you stopped by and read my latest post.


  8. Jennifer Dixon

    Really enjoy your blogs Paul.Always thoughtful and thought provoking.Very satisfying read.Good work.


  9. Silvia McClure

    Hi Paul,
    The timing of your article was perfect. I’d been waiting to hear about a couple of possible jobs, and nothing… You’re absolutely right. All I can control is my audition, then send that ship out to sea (to stay with the sailing metaphors), and hopefully it’ll come back to my harbor.
    Thank you!
    I remember watching Uri Geller on TV, growing up in Switzerland.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I know it’s become a cliche, but I still like the lines: “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.”


  10. Rowell Gormon

    …thank you, paul, for giving creedence to feelings i’ve had all along. my biggest successes have usually come without much, if any, help from ME (in fact, some of them have happened in SPITE of my best efforts). some of my biggest failures have come at the end of a carefully plotted and researched effort.

    i’ve always had the guilty feeling “it shouldn’t happen that way”.

    maybe it should.

    the best accounting i can give for myself is that when those magic things DID come into my life un-announced, i was ready to make the most of the opportunity.

    oh…and “growing up” is vastly over-rated. in fact, if i ever grow up, i’ll be out of a job!!!

    thanks for letting us all know “it’s alright” not to be in control.



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Control is definitely overrated. It’s useful to get ready and plan ahead. It’s a matter of preparing the soil, sowing the seeds and watering the earth. All of a sudden flowers may start to grow where you never expected them to come up.


    Jerry Lord Reply:

    Paul.. this is my first visit to your blog. So many of your thoughts and posts from others can be applied to our personal relationships in life as well. That “control” thing is overrated. Just this past weekend I did NOT put myself in the place of an individual I was communicating with… My message was interpreted by the receiver in the way she would have interpreted it, based on the situation, and the train went off the track with our friendship for a 24 hour period. If I would have put myself in her shoes before I spoke…I would not have delivered that message, in the manner that I did. The lesson… think about your audience before you “vomit” all over yourself.

    The post that really hit home with me was this one:

    Stephanie Ciccarelli says:
    October 27, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Well done, Paul! You’ve hit the nail on the head. The only person you can control is yourself. I’ve been reading a couple of books on boundaries and everything you’ve shared here is spot on. It is always beneficial to consider the thoughts of others when interacting instead of trying to think for them.

    Great piece!

    Best wishes,


    Thank you Paul and thank you Stephanie… the timing of my read on this is incredible and it hit me like a 2′ x 4′ upside my head. Another example reminding me… that I AM NOT IN CONTROL. I will be a follower of your blog from this day forward.

    Oh.. by the way.. I did get the train back on the track with my friend… and the next time I fall asleep in the engine.. I will consider my audience before I blow my whistle. Later.. I’m Out..


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Welcome to Double Dutch, Jerry. I’m glad you found this crazy corner of the blogosphere. My voice-over background is really one big excuse to talk about things that matter to me. My work is about what I do. This blog deals with what I stand for. Remember to sign up for updates!

  11. Kevin Scollin

    This is my first blog that I’ve read of yours and all I can say is “Wow” did that hit the nail on the head!

    Thanks for putting the time and effort into it and most importantly, thanks for sharing.



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You’re very welcome, Kevin. Welcome to the wonderful world of Double Dutch. I’m glad you found this blog.


  12. Martin Drayton

    Wow… Without doubt one of the most insightful blog posts that I have ever read. In my VO career and my Snowboard teaching career, the lasting successful relationships have been forged exactly as you suggest.
    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts!



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Wow, that’s one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever received! Snowboarders should come to my part of the world now (Easton, PA) because winter came early this year. There’s no business like snow business!

    Thanks for finding my blog, Martin. Hope you’ll come and visit Double Dutch again.



    You, sir, are outta control on this one! Off the hook! Shooby-dooby doo dah day if you catch my drift. Your spontaneity is definitely showing. And I like it!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I’m catching your drift, Sir, as I am drifting toward my catch! I guess I’m off the hook now…


  14. steve hammill

    Uri Geller was a fraud, Paul. As a magician, I knew from the start that his tricks were just children’s magic tricks. He was, in his day a great entertainer, but a fraud until he admitted that 🙂

    To the subject, you are the captain of your ship and you must control your destiny. That’s why when a gale is blowing you reduce sail, throw out a drogue, batten down all hatches, and leave your fate in the hands of God while you sip a brandy down below.

    Your fate is always in the hands of the almighty, even when you are at the helm. Being at the helm just means doing your part.

    BTW – A nice piece, Paul.


    Anthony Croasdale Reply:

    Amen to that Steve….The Amazing Randi often replicated the tricks on TV..I was probably very easily misdirected!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Geller put up a great show. No doubt about it. He’s had a very long career and he’s still at it, producing shows in The Netherlands and in Germany.

    I see it as one of our moral obligations to make the best use of what’s been given to us. We can’t control the weather, but we can learn to weather the storms.


  15. Lauren McCullough

    What do I want to be when I grow up?

    A good person.

    My thoughts exactly Paul. =)



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    In my spiritual tradition they call it “being a Mensch”.


  16. Anthony Croasdale

    Excellent posting Paul..good stuff indeed!
    As a teenager I actually got to meet Uri Geller at a New Jersey shopping mall back in 1975 or so.
    He was flogging his latest book and I was called upon to hold a spoon while he demonstrated his “mind powers” to bend it.
    People had brought all sorts of cutlery with them!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    That is so cool, Anthony! I still wonder: why would people bring in perfectly good kitchenware, only to have it ruined by an Israeli psychic?
    Did you catch how Uri did it?


    Anthony Croasdale Reply:

    I have no idea how he did it.I just held the spoon by the handle and he
    rubbed the neck of it a few times,and sure enough it started bending and continued to do after he let go…I didn’t feel any heat…so who knows?It was a strange day,as I was playing hooky from school,and that was the last thing I ever expected to happen!


  17. Robert Churchfield Jr

    Hey Paul,

    Just to echo the comments above – another great one! And now, as usual, I eagerly await your next blog.



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Your echo resonates with me, Bob! Thank you so much for being such a dedicated Double Dutch follower!


  18. Paul Strikwerda

    Hey Jay, thanks for jump-starting the morning for me in such a positive way. You ask some great and deep questions only you can answer.

    In traditional marketing so much is about talking at the customer, instead of talking with them. It’s a monologue people have become allergic and even immune to.

    Your customers hold the keys. Find out what their needs are and how they feel these needs can best be met. That’s where you start. It’s all about listening, instead of dumping data.


    Jay Webb Reply:

    Very good Paul! I’m glad I could give you a jump-start, as you’ve done the same for me this morning.

    Perhaps all of us who choose to talk WITH instead of AT our clients will develop better relationships with customers and prospects because we stand out as people who are interested in other people. I like that. I like to think that my business can grow and thrive by helping people.

    Thank you for your reply!



  19. Jay Webb

    Articles like this (and practically every other article you’ve posted here) are why I keep coming back to read your take on things. You have an artful way of saying things and I appreciate it.

    I keep reminding myself in my VO career that this endeavor should be about what I can do for clients. How can I help? What would make their job easier?
    And then on the personal side of the equation: Why am I getting in the way of progress? Why am I trying to control something I can’t? In fact, I’m not so good at gaining control…I should stop trying to take it!

    Anyway, you’ve made several great points in this article. Thank you for writing it.

    And thank you for your decision to be a blogger, Paul. I’ve been educated and entertained.


  20. Mike McGonegal


    Wonderfully and eloquently spoken – as always!



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Hi Mike, thanks again for taking the time to read my blog. I try to choose my words carefully and I’m glad it came across. Hope you’re doing well!


  21. Stephanie Ciccarelli

    Well done, Paul! You’ve hit the nail on the head. The only person you can control is yourself. I’ve been reading a couple of books on boundaries and everything you’ve shared here is spot on. It is always beneficial to consider the thoughts of others when interacting instead of trying to think for them.

    Great piece!

    Best wishes,



    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Stephanie. I must admit that I am trying to find a balance between self-control and spontaneity. In my early years, I tried to contain myself so much, that I had a hard time loosening up. Now I’m totally fine with being spontaneous. I guess I don’t care that much what other people think anymore. I can’t change them anyway.


  22. Derek Chappell

    Grand Slam Walk-Off Home Run Paul. Again!!


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    And that for a guy who didn’t grow up with baseball… I’m slowly making my way through Ken Burns’ documentary series about baseball. It’s absolutely fascinating!


  23. Matt Forrest

    What do you mean, ‘WHEN’ I grow up? You mean, “IF!” Paul, one of the great pieces of advice you give here is that people do things for THEIR reasons, not yours…and that’s something I’m constantly trying to explain to sales reps as well as clients when creating their radio commercials. I’m not going to write a script that talks blah-blah-blah about the company for 60 seconds without speaking to the concerns of the listener. I tell them, don’t talk AT the listener – speak TO them. And as you’ve pointed out here, that’s good advice for all of us.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    You got it, Matt. The listeners are the clients. Their needs have to be addressed. Have you read “Brains on Fire”? I have a feeling you’ll like it!


  24. Dan Friedman

    One of the greatest pieces of advice I was ever given was this, “You only have (and will ever have) control over one thing in your life… yourself”. I’m very thankful to have received that advice. I’m more thankful that, although I received it when I was a young man, I was old enough to understand.

    HOME RUN Paul!

    Dan Friedman


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Great advice is timeless. It took me at least 20 years to figure out that I could only change myself.


  25. Debbie Grattan

    Another winner Paul! Insightful and provocative, as usual. BTW, I think our thoughts are incredibly powerful. Bending a spoon is probably not as difficult as cultivating a career, and we do that every day. Life’s all about the little victories, and the power of intention.


    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Everything starts with a thought. Even you and me. Sometimes we have to send that thought out into the universe, and be surprised by what comes back. It might not be what we expected, because every thought is limited by what we believe to be possible.


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