Career

Good enough is never good enough

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play 22 Comments

Dear voice casting agencies,

You are being deceived!

People pretending to be professionals have infiltrated your talent pool. People who can barely swim. It’s happening on your watch and you probably have no idea what the heck is going on.

Why?

Because you don’t know or you don’t care.

You’re too busy trying to make a buck in this competitive market, and you have no time or money for decent quality control. Or you are aware that you’re accepting and advertising third-rate “talent,” but this is simply a reflection of your standards.

AVERAGE HAS BECOME ACCEPTABLE

Let’s talk about those standards for a moment.

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Failure is Always an Option

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters 10 Comments

A few years ago, entrepreneur and New York Times contributor Jay Goltz asked owners of failed small businesses what had gone wrong.

Guess what?

Most of them didn’t really have a clue.

To a certain extent that’s not surprising. Had they known what the problem was, they might have been able to fix it.

Some owners were in denial. Instead of acknowledging their own responsibility, they blamed the economy, the current administration, the bank or an idiot partner. Never themselves.

In many cases, Goltz noted that (ex) customers had a much better understanding of what went wrong. The owner still had his stubborn head in the sand.

Over the years, I’ve counseled quite a few struggling voice-overs who were ready to give up. Without exception they were sweet, well-intentioned and hard-working people. Some of them were even talented. And like the folks Goltz interviewed, they were wondering why their new career was going down the drain.

TAKE LARRY

Larry called himself a victim of the recession.

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There’s No Crying In Voice-Overs

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Social Media 16 Comments

Every once in a while, we make a fool of ourselves.

Thanks to the powers of social media, we can now do it publicly.

Those who have hurt and humiliated themselves, vent their frustration on Facebook and start fishing for some sympathy:

“Life is so unfair! Look what happened to me. Client X did this. Colleague Y said that. My agent doesn’t love me anymore… Woe is me!”

Yes, you’re a miserable son of a gun. Let’s have a pity party and invite some friends. Shared suffering is double the fun, but don’t expect me to join in.

I don’t want to borrow your sorrow and smooth it over with a platitude and a positive attitude because

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Am I too old for this?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media 25 Comments

Staying youngWhen I first came to the United States in the early nineties, I noticed something weird.

An average American would not have thought about it twice, but as a European it really struck me.

People in this country seemed to have a problem with age and aging.

What was my first clue?

Compared to my native Netherlands, many “older” people in the States (women and men) were coloring their hair. 

When my Dutch grandma went to a salon, she might have asked the stylist to add a touch of silver to her gray. That was as far as she would go. But on the West Coast where I was training at that time, pensioners had no problem going platinum blonde or pitch-black. 

Many of them dressed in hip track suits and were wearing white sneakers. Mind you, I’d never seen my grandfather in anything else than a three-piece suit and Oxfords. My grandparents would never dare wear anything athletic in public. Sneakers were for the gym, not for the streets.

Being in California, I couldn’t help but notice all the “plastic people.” On TV I’d see actors and anchors who clearly had had work done to stay marketable. Commercials were populated by people in their twenties and thirties or by those who desperately tried to look like they were in their twenties and thirties.

Was there something wrong with the older generation, I wondered. Why couldn’t or why wouldn’t people look their age? 

THE YOUTHFUL FOUNTAIN

We’re now living in a new millennium and it’s not just the aging population that wants to maintain their youthful, flawless looks.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimated in 2009 that Botox was injected into Americans ages 13 to 19 nearly 12,000 times, including some teenagers who got multiple doses. According to the New York Times, doctors were injecting teenagers for a variety of perceived imperfections, from a too-gummy smile to a too-square jaw.

When teen girls were asked about why they chose to get the injections, they said they wanted to prevent wrinkles or “appear fresh” in front of the camera. (source)

Meanwhile, the anti-aging industry has gone global. The sale of lotions, potions, supplements and other products is expected to top $291 billion in a few years. (source) Most of these products need promotion, and in a way, voice-overs are benefiting from this trend.

MIXED FEELINGS

As much as I’d like to believe that looks don’t matter, that talent is timeless and that age is a feeling and not a number, I must admit that turning fifty this week was a mixed blessing. It’s a blessing because personally and professionally, I’ve never been happier. 

I don’t sweat the small things anymore. Things I used to take personally I stopped caring about. I’m no longer intimidated by pompous people (of which there are many in my industry), and I don’t have to work for a jerk who does not respect me. Experience has taught me to ride the tide of dry spells and getting more work than I can handle. 

The need for approval and recognition is fading fast. What’s left is a focus on building true connections and delivering consistent quality. Giving is now more important than taking, but I know my experience is worth something, and I’m not afraid to charge accordingly. 

MY FEARS

On the other hand, I worry about staying current. Society and especially technology is changing at such a fast pace. Will I be able to keep up with it? Do I want to? 

Part of me cringes when I’m being introduced as a “veteran voice actor.” It’s an honorary title, but to me it sounds painfully close to “old and almost irrelevant fart.” I don’t want to be that person talking about the good old days when we did our editing by cutting tape with a razor blade and the world was listening to vinyl. 

I’m afraid that producers might think that “seasoned” means expensive and “experienced” equals inflexible. And what if they see that headshot with my graying head of hair? I think my voice still sounds young, but will clients continue to consider me for more youthful, energetic roles? 

Even though I feel relatively fit, I don’t have the stamina of a twenty-year old, and I cannot pull off all-nighters. My eyesight is deteriorating and I need to have my hearing tested. And let’s not mention the inevitable colonoscopy which I’ve been putting off for ages.

Fifty is so much more than a number.

It’s a verdict.

BEING REAL

Surprised? 

I had wanted to write about this for quite some time now, but I kept it to myself because I didn’t think it would fit the way my public persona is generally perceived. People tend to think I’m an optimistic, resourceful go-getter, and not some sad sack with a good life who’s complaining about getting older.

Well, some things cannot be rinsed away with a bottle of “Just For Men.” I know it is perfectly possible to be stuck between the pros and cons of a certain situation. There is no light without darkness. But why bring it up in a blog? Isn’t that an exercise in narcissism? 

One: There’s strength in honesty. Denial doesn’t solve anything. Acknowledging our fears is the beginning of overcoming them. 

Two: There’s strength in sharing. I know I’m not alone in thinking about how my age might affect my career. Even people in their thirties and forties are dealing with it.

Three: I’d like to hear your perspective. Because voice actors are invisible, looks and age really shouldn’t matter. Peter Thomas (89) and June Foray (95) are still working. Yet, have you experienced ageism in our industry? Is being older an asset or an impediment?

While you ponder these important questions, this old man is going to put on a pair of white socks and sandals as he gets ready for his hair appointment.

Who knows… he might even ask the stylist to add some color!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: marlambie via photopin cc

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Overcoming Self-Sabotage

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 14 Comments

There are a million ways to start a successful business and there are at least two millions ways to mess it up. The worst of those two millions ways is when you become your own opponent.

Most people don’t do it on purpose. They want to succeed. Desperately. They invest in their business. Financially and emotionally. They work long hours to build their dream. And -miracle of miracles- after a while things start going well.

Clients are happy. Cash is coming in. The future is looking brighter every day. And then this inner voice starts nagging you:

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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That Dreaded Audition

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 13 Comments

“Do you ever get nervous before an audition?” a colleague wanted to know. Let’s name him Jack.

“Not really,” I said. “I find nerves to be extremely unhelpful. Most of the time they’re the result of future memories.

“Future memories? What do you mean by that?” my colleague wanted to know.

“Well, in my mind, a memory is a reconstruction of an interpretation of what we think has happened to us in the past.

A future memory is something we’ve made up that we believe might happen one day. It’s equally unreliable, and yet people can get all worked up over them. Especially those who are into worst-case-scenario thinking. Nobody can say with certainty what’s going to happen. Take it from me, there’s nothing as unpredictable as the outcome of an audition.”

“Why is that?” asked Jack.

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The Emotional Dilemma

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 18 Comments

For most of my life, I have been running away from my emotions.

I grew up believing that showing emotions was a sign of weakness.

Strong people keep everything inside. They don’t lose their temper. They don’t act impulsively. Strong people are always in control.

Strong people stay detached in order to make rational decisions. They look at facts and disregard feelings.

In my old-fashioned model of the world, it was okay for women to be emotional. Being strong was masculine, and I wanted to be a “real man,” whatever that meant.

STAYING SANE

Looking back, this attitude of “nothing affects me” might have been a…

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Vida Ghaffari: Baklava and Apple Pie

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media 1 Comment

Vida Ghaffari

Vida Ghaffari is a second generation Iranian-American, and her career has certainly taken off since she left the nest.

Actress, red carpet reporter, voice-over talent… Vida is as vivacious as she is versatile.  

Vida comes from a famous and influential Iranian family of actors, directors, writers. That’s quite something to live up to. I had to ask her:

Is it a blessing or a curse?

VG I think before the revolution (the Iranian revolution of 1979, PS), it would have been a blessing as the Ghaffaris were well-known for their contributions to the fine and dramatic arts and were active in the media and the performing arts.

Sometimes, it’s a curse as a lot of other (Iranian) people expect me to do anything: paint, direct, be a scholar, rocket scientist, politician… the list is endless.

PS In what way has this rich family background influenced your career choices?

VG Well, my dad is in the sciences, but I always had an interest in the arts as my mom was an illustrator in the old country before she married my dad. My grandmother was a suffragist and she has been such a source of inspiration in my life. She was also a poet, so the house was full of art and impromptu poetry recitals.

I’m pretty sure that most Iranian families quote full verses of renowned poets such as Hafez, Saadi, Khayyam, and Rumi at the dinner table, but for me it was a constant. My mom also was a child actress. She performed in a play for the Shah and Ambassador Grady, the former US ambassador to Iran at the time, and many other prominent political figures of that era.

Unfortunately at the time in Iran, the performing arts weren’t highly regarded as a path for young women to pursue, so my mom was forced to quit acting at her father’s insistence at the tender age of 9. I’m sure she would have been very successful. So fast forward to years later, and my dad being the very practical mathematician and scientist, he wanted me to get a job at the World Bank, because he had friends there who got great salaries, benefits, and job security.

I suppressed my artistic side and studied Economics at the University of Maryland and minored in theater and journalism. Even though these weren’t my majors, I was very involved with theater at Maryland and wrote for the school paper. I even DJ’ed my own radio show on WMUC, the campus radio station. It was a tough pill for me to swallow as in high school, I was invited to enroll into a couple of great performing arts magnet schools, but chose to go to regular high school at my dad’s insistence.

After college, I had some stints on Capitol Hill, where I was awarded journalism and research grants from the Woodrow Wilson Center and the National Journalism Center.

PS Immigrants and/or political refugees usually have two choices when coming to a new country: assimilate or hold on to their own identity. It’s a choice between blending in or standing out.

You were born in the U.S. and you sound like an all-American girl. However, you seem to have embraced your heritage with open arms. How do you reconcile both worlds?

VG My parents have lived here in the US for many years (my dad was invited here in 1948 and my mom came here in the 1960’s), so I think they have assimilated very well and truly love this great nation. I was born and raised in the DC area and I have a sense of pride, being raised in such a historically significant and political town.

I’m often told that I have the warmth of an Iranian and the integrity of an American, whatever that means. I guess I’m a paradox of sorts in that I can seamlessly incorporate the two. I love baklava and apple pie!

I also feel very grateful and privileged to be born here in the land of the free, but I truly have a profound respect for my heritage. The pony express was created in ancient Persia and there have been countless contributions made to mathematics, the sciences as well as poetry and literature.

The renowned poet Saadi’s poem used to grace the entrance to the “Hall of Nations” of the United Nations building in New York, with a call for breaking all barriers:

“Human beings are members of a whole, in creation of one essence and soul. If one member is afflicted with pain, other members uneasy will remain. If you have no sympathy for human pain, the name of human you cannot retain.”

The first Declaration of Human Rights was created by Cyrus the Great. Also, Iranian-Americans have become so successful in this country, not only as businesspeople, but as doctors, lawyers, engineers and other professionals. It’s so inspiring to see how they’re making so many contributions to this society in such a short time. I know this is true of most Iranian immigrant communities internationally as well.

I’m very proud of the struggle of the brave Iranian youth in search of the freedom they so rightly deserve and have covered many protests in LA as a journalist.

PS I’ve heard that casting agencies sometimes list you as “ethnically ambiguous”. What does that even mean?

VG Ethnically ambiguous means that one is ethnic, but not categorizable as what nationality he/she actually is. There are more and more casting notices looking for “ethnically ambiguous” actors, so for me and many of my friends and colleagues, it’s a good thing as there are more roles and opportunities out there for us.

PS Actors from Middle Eastern countries are often typecast as terrorists or as the stereotypical submissive women. In other words: as caricatures. Do you think that’s fair?

VG Not at all. After all, the renowned poet Ferdowsi referred to them as lionesses. I think Middle Eastern women are very strong and silently brave, considering the sexist culture(s) they live in.

As for me, I can’t even get seen for any Middle Eastern roles as many casting directors don’t think I look ethnic enough. There’s such a strong stereotype of what a Middle Eastern person should look like. I usually go in for Caucasian roles. I even used to be a translator back home in DC and I worked for Persian TV here, so my Farsi is pretty good if the role calls for it.

PS At some point everyone in the entertainment industry faces a tough choice: Should I specialize and make it easy for the public to put me in a box, or should I diversify and risk being accused of a lack of focus. What’s your answer?

VG As a character actress, I have a little bit more room in terms of the variety of the roles I play. I feel very blessed and lucky about that. As an artist, I like widening my range.

PS You’re a big proponent of networking. Why is it so important to make the rounds and make sure you stay in the picture?

VG Because we’re in a business of referrals and contacts. It’s very important to network and put yourself out there. But I also love meeting new people, especially other folks in the arts. I guess I’m a people person! I do have to add that what I spent the most time on is my craft first and foremost. I’m either in a class, workshop, acting workout group, staged reading, et cetera.

PS At what point does networking become a nuisance?

VG It doesn’t really become a nuisance, but it can be very time-consuming… meeting like-minded people, staying in touch with them, planning meetings with them. It’s very hard to schedule things properly also when one takes into consideration this crazy LA traffic!

PS It must be nice to have a Rolodex full of contacts, but then what? What tips do you have for maintaining these relationships?

VG Staying in touch via email is great. Let folks in the industry know what you’re up to by updating on Facebook and Twitter, but not so much that you’re doing status updates 24/7!

I also give back to my friends as much as possible if they need a referral, advice, or I inform them of a project they’d be right for. I even give free voice-over lessons to some actors from time to time who really want to study voice-over, but can’t afford it. I think it’s so important to be a part of the community and give back, especially in an artistic one.

PS You’ve also mentioned that you think it’s important to have a mentor. What does a mentor mean to you? Who’s your mentor and what’s the most important thing you’ve learned from him/her?

VG A mentor for me has been like a total career guide. I was lucky enough to meet mine by chance. I enrolled in instructor Doug Rye’s excellent voice-over class at LA Valley College and soon he became my mentor. 

There’s also, Ivy Bethune, a legendary character actress, whom I consider to be a dear friend and she’s like a mentor to me. I aspire to be like her one day! She’s one of the sweetest, most generous, talented and humble artists I’ve ever met.

I met her in my voice-over workout group and I’ve learned more from watching her read her copy in the booth for a 30 second ad that I have in many years of classes, workshops, et cetera. I also was on the planning committee for the Ivy Bethune Tri-union diversity awards that were named in her honor. 

Speaking of volunteer work, I contribute to various causes such as voicing many charity events as well as the NOH8 campaign (a silent protest photo project against California Proposition 8, PS). I even acted in their PSA.

PS You’re not only an actor, reporter, presenter… you’re also a voice-over professional. You’re obviously comfortable in front of the camera and an audience.

Voice-over talents usually hide in dark studios and talk to an audience that’s not there. Yet, you say it’s your passion. What do you like about it? Is it easier or harder to do than the on-camera stuff?

VG Voice-over is a lot of fun. I love that I can play a wider range of characters from sultry leading ladies to sassy bosses to pushy soccer moms. You name it. And don’t even get me started on dialects!

Voice-over actors tend not to get typecast like on-camera actors as they’re not being seen, just heard. Voice-over is a different medium, so I can’t really compare it to on-camera work, but I have fun doing both.

PS Pretend for a moment that I am a budding actor/voice-over talent. What mistakes have you –Vida- made that I could learn from, and what are those lessons?

VG I’ve made more mistakes on-camera than in voice over, probably because I’ve done it longer. I would have probably invested more time and money in my career early on. I would also reach out to more people in the industry more often and try to maintain contact with them.

As I mentioned earlier, I think the most important thing to do as an artist is to continually work on your craft on a daily basis, be it on the stage, in a booth, or even in your living room. I think it’s also to find a community of like-minded people you can collaborate with.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, finding a mentor would be great thing to do, especially in a career path like this one that is constantly changing and evolving.

PS If I could offer you a dream job today, what would it be and why?

VG I think being a correspondent for “the Daily Show” would be the perfect fit as I have a strong background in journalism, news, comedy, acting, and sometimes I hear the correspondents do voice-overs. Besides John Hodgman, I think I’d be the only correspondent with a journalism background and I think with my unique point-of-view

I could add a lot to the show. Did you hear that Jon Stewart? 🙂

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Headshots by Robert Kazandjian and Courtney Beckett 

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How it all began

by Paul Strikwerda in Career, Promotion 4 Comments

As a blogger and rather visible voice-over person, there are three questions I get asked a lot.

  1. – How did you get started in the voice-over business?
  2. – What challenges did you encounter in your career and how did you overcome them?
  3. – What advice do you have for beginners?

Well, I could write a book about that, but  a while ago, colleague Peter Kinney O’Connell asked me those same things in his “5 Questions” series. Let’s start with Peter’s first question.

1. The beginning: When did you know you wanted to be a voice-over talent; how did your career begin (please include what year it started) and then when did your passion for voice-over develop into something professional?

When I was six years old, my parents gave me a Philips cassette recorder. It didn’t take long before I discovered how to capture the sound of my own voice. That’s when it all began. In 1969.

I can still see myself sitting on the front porch with a copy of “King Arthur and the Black Knight.” It would become my very first audio book. Actually, it was more of a radio drama. Around me were all sorts of self-made instruments I used for sound effects. Every character had a different voice. Every voice had a different character.

The tape I made that day was used over and over again, and eventually it broke. What didn’t break was my love for painting pictures with sound.

Eleven years later I auditioned for my first job in Hilversum, the heart of Dutch broadcasting. A public network was recruiting a group of promising teens to start producing radio and television programs. Veterans would coach them in all aspects of the business. I just knew I had to be part of that program.

In the years that followed, that program became part of me. I produced and presented documentaries, talk shows, music specials and radio plays. The microphone became my best friend. It was the beginning of a career in broadcasting that would take me to a number of national networks, the BBC and Radio Netherlands International.

In 1999 I made a bold decision: I would leave Holland and start a new life in the New World. In a matter of months I was represented by Mike Lemon Casting in Philadelphia. My European accent seemed to be a welcome addition to their talent pool. It took me a number of years to build a client base that would sustain a full-time voice-over career, but eventually I became the Chief Artistic Officer of a company I named Nethervoice.

2. What is the one thing you know now that you wish someone had told you when you first started out in voice-over?

If someone had warned me that this job could easily turn into an obsession, I still would have applied for it. It’s true though, but it might also have to do with my personality. When I’m passionate about something, I want to immerse myself in every aspect of it, and learn to do it well.

I realized early on that it takes more than a good voice to make a good living in this field. Success needs to be carefully planned. It’s like a flower bed that has to be protected, watered and fertilized regularly (more about that in Jonathan Tilley’s “Voice Over Garden“).

Because I have a home studio, I’m always at work. It seems ideal (and it really is), but for someone with an obsession it can be dangerous. It’s tempting to become a boring recording recluse who lives and breathes voice-overs. And you know me… When I don’t read and record, I write about it in my blog.

Life Coaches always advocate finding a balance between work and play. But what if your work is your play? At some point in the day, the headphones have to come off and we must leave our soundproof studio. Without sunlight, there’s no growth. Our job is just a means to and end.

3. What do you see as the biggest professional or personal obstacle you face that impacts your voice-over business and how are you working to overcome it?

I wasn’t born to toot my own horn. The Calvinistic Dutch preach modesty and frown upon anything that may be perceived as vanity. Why? Because human talents are seen as a gift from God, so we shouldn’t take too much credit for our accomplishments. Many centuries have passed since the spirit of Calvin touched the Netherlands, yet, some of his principles are still present in our DNA, the Dutch National Attitude.

Looking back, I really believe that this mindset kept me from promoting myself properly. But there was something else. Coming from the relatively safe world of broadcasting, I never needed to market myself. I was hired by a network to do a number of jobs, and I left it to the PR people to sing my praises.

After I’d left Holland, I had to learn that it was okay to be proud of what I had achieved and use those achievements to attract business. To this day, I try to do this in a veiled way, by offering advice and entertainment in my blog. That’s where clients and colleagues get to know me as someone with a certain level of experience and pizzazz. Well, that’s the idea…

4. What personal trait or professional tool has helped you succeed the most in your career so far?

One thing that has helped me tremendously is a toolbox called Neuro-Linguistic Psychology. It’s a mix of positive attitudes, beliefs and strategies to help people design and live the life they’ve always dreamt of.

At the basis of NLP is the process of modeling. I’m not talking about the catwalk in Milan, but about the study of exceptional people: business tycoons, sports icons, therapists, artists et cetera.

The idea is that these people -in order to achieve something extraordinary- have set themselves up for success. They have carefully (and often unconsciously) conditioned themselves to accomplish amazing things. The question is: How did they do that?

NLP tries to break it down into bits and pieces: the ingredients of a recipe. Once the recipe is uncovered, it can be taught to almost anyone. The finest and fastest way to mastering something is to start teaching it. That’s why I eventually became an internationally certified trainer of NLP, and that’s the reason I started coaching voice talent.

5. In your development as a voice over performer, who has been the one particular individual or what has been the one piece of performance advice (maybe a key performance trick, etc.) that you felt has had the most impact on your actual voice over performance and why?

Find something that defines you but that does not limit you.

In other words: you want to box yourself in, to emphasize what sets you apart, but you want that box to be big enough to attract a wide audience. If you try to be everything to everyone, you end up being nothing to no one.

In my case, I describe myself as a European Voice. Not British. Not American. Not even Dutch, even though that’s my native language. I tell my clients that I specialize in intelligent international narration. For that reason I get to do multilingual projects and jobs that require someone with a more global, neutral English accent. 

WANT MORE ME?

Recently, my old Radio Netherlands colleague Constantino De Miguel interviewed me about the voice-over business on Voice Over Plaza. If you want to take notes, get pen and paper ready!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Ways to win an audition and nail the job

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 15 Comments

On paper it sounded so easy.

“You have been hired to record the voices of five different guys for a new interactive game.”

After I had signed a contract and a comprehensive non-disclosure agreement, I took a moment to reflect on what I had gotten myself into.

I had wanted to break into this segment of the voice-over market, but there were at least three minor complications with this assignment.

One: I had to play all five characters.

Two: These guys were supposed to be teenagers.

Three: I am 49 years old.

As soon as I signed the papers, I started having second thoughts. Could I pull this one off? Was I really the right person for this project? Who was I kidding?

All along I have been telling you never to accept a job you think you can’t handle. Why did I choose to ignore my own advice?

Then there was this.

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

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