Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy

Road rageDo you remember the time you learned how to drive?

I sure do!

In the beginning it was utterly overwhelming and scary. My hands and feet were supposed to do different things at the same time, and they vehemently refused. When I had to shift gears, I felt the urge to look at that darn stick shift, but my instructor insisted I keep my eyes on the road, and use the mirrors to monitor the dangerous world around me. 

How on earth was I supposed to peek at the dashboard; leave a safe space between my car and the one in front of me; keep a semi-intelligent conversation going, while figuring out where to go without getting everyone killed? 

As my hands were digging deep into the wheel, I couldn’t imagine ever drinking coffee while driving, or listening to a Shostakovich symphony on the freeway. And what would happen if I had to sneeze?

Mind you: at that point I was only doing fifteen miles per hour on a back road. 

“Give it some time,” said my overweight instructor as he wiped the pearly sweat from his impressive forehead. “Before you know it, everything will become second nature, and you’ll love being in the driver’s seat. Now, make sure not to cut off that cyclist on your right. I don’t think my insurance covers fatal accidents. Besides, I just washed the car.”

He paused for a moment, and said: “That was a joke.”

Then he took a long sip from his stainless steel flask. “Look,” he said proudly, “My wife had it engraved. Can you see what it says?” 

“Do not dangle that thing in front of me. I don’t want to see what it says,” I squeaked, barely avoiding a ditch. “I’m trying to focus!”

“It says: 

If everything comes your way, you are in the wrong lane. 

Isn’t that funny?” continued my instructor. “I love a woman with a sense of humor. You know, my first wife was way too serious. She got car sick all the time. That should have been a sign. It was a messy divorce, but it was worth every penny! Do you have any kids?”

At that point I firmly put my foot on the brake, stopping the car so abruptly that our bodies turned into crash test dummies. 

“Please take me home!” I cried. “My mind is in overdrive right now, and this is all I can take. I’m sure your new wife loves you very much, but giving you a flask for work? What was she thinking?”

“It’s just to take the edge off, Mr. Strikwerda. I think you should have a sip yourself. Believe me, you need it. Is it okay if I eat a bean burrito? I haven’t had lunch yet.”

Ten years and two driving instructors later, my mind took me back to this unsettling experience. The brain works in mysterious ways, especially when it consists of dark matter and black holes, like mine. 

I was at a fancy New York voice-over studio, surrounded by self-absorbed nitwits who all believed they were crucial to the success of the recording I was hired to do. It was some stupid script about a new type of air bag, designed for driverless cars (and instructors with engraved flasks). 

As five people argued over some last-minute script changes, I looked at the audio engineer. He nodded knowingly, and whispered in my headphones: 

“Just remember: your meter is running. My meter is running. The longer they take, the more we make.”

In the past, these types of situations would have been as stressful as learning how to drive a car. I didn’t like being in a different environment with different people. Too many things were going on at the same time. Lots of egos, and me feeling inadequate and insecure. My internal dialogue would almost paralyze me with its ugly voice:

“Are they talking about me? What if I make a mistake? What if they hate my take on the text? Why is my mouth so dry? Is it okay to take a bathroom break? And what about that horrendous tongue twister in the third line?”

That was then. This is now. Things have changed.

I’ve learned how to drive while drinking a tall Latte as I listen to the BBC. I even drove myself to New York. In rush hour, and I only got beeped at once. 

Call me Mr. Cool!

I leaned back in my chair, looking at the microphone. The folks on the other side of the studio window were still deliberating, and for some reason I had to think back to a radio interview I just heard on my way to the Big Apple. It was more of a conversation between two pianists, Gabriela Montero and Khatia Buniatishvili.

The interviewer asked:

“Could you describe the moment when the concert hall hushes, your fingers are poised above the keys… Take us inside your head. What are you thinking then?”

Khatia, who is from Georgia, answered:

“Actually, on stage I try not to think, because on stage there are things much more important than just human thinking that happen there. I’m totally forgetting my ego.”

“What about you, Gabriela?”

“I sit down, and I just want to be able to tell stories. That’s really the only thing that matters to me. I want to be able to convey in the deepest ways who we are, as a people; who we are, and what moves us. I want to move the public.”

Listening to these two professional performers, I felt a surprisingly close connection. As I was getting ready for my voice-over, I took a nice deep breath, and said to myself:

This script is my score, my voice is my instrument, and this studio is my stage.

The best thing I can do right now, is to stop thinking about myself. 

I’m a conduit. A storyteller, paid to move people with a message.

I have worked on my technique. I have analyzed the text. I have rehearsed it at home.

I am ready to let it go, and let it flow. 

I am in my comfort zone, and this is just as easy…

as driving a car.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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, Career, Personal

16 Responses to Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy

  1. Sylvie Grimm

    Love your humor! Wonderful article as always. Very insightful and great analogy as well! Thank you Paul for reminding us NOT to overthink every little thing while in the studio. A great way to start the new year…

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Sylvie. I hate overthinking. Come to think of it… I do it all the time. I really should stop thinking about it.

    [Reply]

  2. patricia corkum

    Beautiful story…funny, but oh-so reflective about the value of experience! Thanks again Paul for sharing! I’m probably LEAGUES away from that New York studio session you described. But if I’m fortunate enough to get to that type of situation (place) in the future – I’ll let you know; and can almost guarantee your story will be dancing in my mind – just long enough, for me to let go and “make the magic happen”. Thank you – very encouraging!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Studios have become a relic of the past. Most agents that used to send me to NYC auditions, are now okay with me submitting an mp3. I miss the interaction in the studio, but I can live without the commute, and having to fork over a fortune for parking.

    [Reply]

    Paul Payton Reply:

    ..and the tolls are up to $14 or $15 now, too.

    Correcting earlier typo….)

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Let alone the toll on one’s state of mind…

  3. Monique Bagwell

    What a wonderful analogy! Your writing always draws me in. I felt as though I was in the backseat of your car! I’m with you…bump the flask and please pass me the latte. Thank you Paul for crafting such thoughtful and humorous VO articles!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    Thank you, Monique. I’m glad you were my co-passenger as my instructor attempted to drive home a few points. Wishing you the very best on the road to success!

    [Reply]

  4. Howard Ellison

    No studio trips for me! Remote location and need to support my wife’s health dictate home working.
    On my own I’m keyed up but not anxious. However, there’s tension ahead of a Skyped live session: client is usually new to me, budget looms larger, they might be difficult to hear via their laptops and will undoubtedly engage in disconcerting whispers with colleagues. I’m glad to be reminded by Paul Payton that they’re probably ordering lunch. Human after all.

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    In our business it’s relatively easy to go green, and I love that aspect of it. Whenever I’m working with a new client, I like to break the ice by telling them that I have a very thick skin, and they can tell me anything they think would be helpful. That usually gets a laugh of relief. Then, at the first comment they make, I say in a sad voice: “Now you’re hurting my feelings.” That gets another laugh, and we’re usually good to go.

    [Reply]

    Jem Matzan Reply:

    Oh, man, the biggest obstacle I have with clients is convincing them that it’s okay to say that something does not sound right, or that they don’t like a certain character voice. Just tell me what you want for your project!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I know your pain. I always let my clients know it’s oaky to be totally and brutally honest. I’d rather have them tell me that something’s not right, than have them talk behind my back.

  5. Paul Payton

    Another good one, Paul! My attitude is that my job is getting into that studio; my fun is being there/

    Actually, your story reminds me of an experience I had doing spots for a once-major big box store (funny how they rise and fall every decade or two). It was a seven-person “client,” and indeed, after a couple of takes, there was extreme and extended silence on the intercom. I finally got the engineer’s attention and asked him if it was something I said. He replied, “No – they loved you. Four of them are talking sports, one’s ordering lunch on the agency, one’s talking on the phone to his girlfriend and the other is fending off that one’s wife on another line!” (True story.) Ah, the good old days when we had to go to a studio for every gig!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    I don’t miss the commute, but I do miss the studio!

    [Reply]

  6. Paul Garner

    Wonderful article and spot on again, Paul! Too easy to over-think in the studio. Just let it flow through us and it is indeed “as easy as driving a car”.
    Thanks!

    [Reply]

    Paul Strikwerda Reply:

    One of my goals for this year is not to overthink my scripts and auditions. I think I have the drive to do that!

    [Reply]

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