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Whatever Happened to Critical Thinking?

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Internet, Journalism & Media, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Social Media1 Comment

After a brief but beneficent stay in the hospital, I want to take a minute or two, to share some of my worries and concerns as I mentally prepare myself for what lies ahead. 

Thank you, by the way, for all your support and well wishes. I got the sweetest messages from all over the world, and I feel enormously grateful for your kindness!

Now let’s return to my soap box. 

One of the things I worry about is the general level of willful ignorance among those calling themselves voice-over professionals. Increasingly, people without training, experience, or common sense, are populating Facebook groups for voice-overs, asking basic questions.

They have no idea where to start, where to find jobs, how to set up a simple studio, let alone what to charge. They can’t wait to jump into the ocean, but have no idea how to swim.

These ignoramuses write things like:

“I’ve just completed a six-week voice-over training. I think I’m ready to start auditioning, but I have no idea how to market myself. Please help!”

It turns out that this so-called training consisted of one evening a week, spread out over a six-week period. If that’s enough to get a serious career started, it must be magical! However, no one bothered to even touch upon the idea of marketing, so I doubt this program was as comprehensive as the brochure said it would be.

Two things are really bothering me:

  1. The fact that someone is making money convincing impressionable people they can become a VO in six sessions
  2. The fact that people are still falling for these stupid schemes

USE YOUR NOGGIN

Whatever happened to critical thinking? Whatever happened to thoroughly researching something you’re interested in before you fork over a small fortune? Does it really take an extraordinary amount of brain power to imagine that a six-evening introduction might not be enough to break into a very competitive market?

Could this be a sign that the current wave of anti-intellectualism has overtaken our community? I know that for some of you faith and gut feeling play an important role in your decisions. However, our creator has purposely endowed us with gray matter unlike any other species on the planet. Wouldn’t it be sinful to not use it? 

I know this is a huge generalization, but based on what I see in social media, critical thinking has left the building, and common sense has gone fishing, while more and more people expect the keys to the kingdom on a silver platter.

This year I made a conscious effort to no longer help and support people who aren’t willing to learn how to swim, and I implore you to do the same. “Isn’t that a bit harsh,” you may ask?

I don’t think so.

All successful VO’s have at least one thing in common:

They are self-sufficient.

EARN YOUR PLACE

They study up, and by that I don’t mean asking others to answer basic questions for them on Facebook. That’s not studying. That’s asking others to do your homework. 

Please don’t tell me that I’m mean and egotistical by not willing to share information. I’ve been sharing information in this blog for over a decade! Free of charge. 

I got my start in the late eighties-early nineties, and there were no resources available to the aspiring voice over. In Holland (where I grew up), there were only five or six people who booked all the VO jobs, and most of them were stage actors. There were no online tutorials, educational videos, VO coaches, or books about the business. At that time it made sense to ask those who did what I wanted to do for advice. But only after I had exhausted all my research!

These days, you can pretty much find the answer to any voice over related question by doing a quick Google search. If you’re too lazy to even do that, you’re not cut out to be an independent contractor, and you don’t deserve my help.

We don’t teach babies how to walk by holding them up by their arms and dragging them around the room. That way they’ll never develop strong muscles needed to find their own way. Same thing with voice over newbies. 

THINK COMMUNITY

I also want to encourage you to make smart business-related decisions that benefit not only yourself, but our community as a whole. Be more discerning! Stop working with companies that do not have (y)our best interest at heart. You know, the companies that turn your talent into a commodity, where the lowest bidder ends up working for the cheapest client. Do not enable them to increase their influence!

Stop bidding on projects without knowing how much to charge. Don’t settle for a full buyout in perpetuity without proper compensation. If you don’t have a strong backbone, ask an agent to negotiate on your behalf. Support the VO Agent Alliance. Join the World Voices Organization. Sign up for the Freelancers Union. It’s free!

And if you’re a member, keep pushing SAG-AFTRA to take voice actors just as seriously as the other actors they represent. Not just because COVID suddenly opened their eyes to the work we do as professionals.

Above all: stay vigilant!

BE THE CHANGE

Don’t hide your head in the sand hoping rates will magically go up, and “the market” will take care of itself. It doesn’t. Things get worse when people with good intentions sit still, hoping others will lift the first finger. 

Question what you read and what you hear, especially on social media. Always take the source of the information into account. 

Be clear on how you want to spend your time. There are too many forces competing for your attention, and most of them are useless distractions. 

And lastly:

The best chance of changing other people’s behavior is to change what they react to, namely your own behavior, so: 

Use your brain, and become the colleague you most want to be.

That’s the person I’d like to meet next time we see each other in person, or online!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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What Top Japanese School Bands Taught Me About Voice Overs

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Personal2 Comments

the author is on the right

This may come as a surprise, but I never wanted to be a voice over.

I still think it’s strange that I make a living talking to imaginary people reading scripts from folks I’ve never met, for clients I’ve never even spoken to.

But it beats digging ditches, flagging traffic in 100 degree weather, working in an Amazon warehouse, or doing the night shift at a meat processing plant.

In my teens I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to have a career in music.

THE MUSIC MAN

From the age of eight I played the cornet in what Americans would call a marching band, even though we didn’t march much. It was more of a concert band. Later on I added organ lessons, and I played the piano. I was also an avid collector of native flutes from all over the world, most of which I could play.

When I was sixteen years old I started taking conducting lessons, I began composing and arranging, and at eighteen I became the interim conductor of my band. After high school I went to Utrecht University to study musicology, even though I was admitted to a conservatory in the north of Holland.

As a university student, I joined a brass band, an orchestra playing broadway musicals, a jazz band, and a choir specializing in plainchant. I simply couldn’t sit still and be quiet. My life was music, and music was my life.

If you’d ask me today to choose between music or voice overs, I would choose music in a heartbeat. No doubt about it.

So, it won’t come as surprise that I’ve kept a keen interest in the world of brass bands, concert bands, classical music in general, and organ music in particular.

WATCH WITH ME

What I’m going to do next is a bit of a risk. I’m going to ask you to watch a spectacular seven-minute music video. What you’re about to see is a selection of the best Japanese high school symphonic bands taking part in a 2019 national competition.

Perhaps the music you’re about to hear is not your cup of tea. On the other hand, you might have played in a high school band yourself, or you may have friends who did. Perhaps you still play an instrument, and you’ll recognize and appreciate the level of musicianship you’re about to see.

Anyway, I hope you will watch a bit of it, or the whole thing, just to get a better feel for what I’m going to talk about next.

I don’t know about you, but when I watched this video for the first time, I was floored. Having played in this type of ensemble myself, I was blown away by the technical abilities of the teenagers on stage, but there was more.

If you’ve ever been a member of any school orchestra, you know there are always a few people who practice really hard, and a whole lot who are simply winging it. You can say the same about sports teams, by the way. It’s rare to have an entire youth orchestra with kids who seem to be so committed and so completely competent.

QUALITY AND DEDICATION

Another thing I noticed was that they’re not playing on crappy instruments. To me, this is proof that the schools are taking their music program seriously. It’s not an afterthought without a proper budget.

Some kids on stage are multi-instrumentalists. At 3:20 you’ll see a girl on the left playing a mallet percussion instrument walking over to the harp. Without missing a beat, she starts plucking the strings. 

What also struck me was the collective level of focus and dedication. No one was phoning it in. Of course this footage was shot at a competition, so that’s what one would expect, but here’s the thing. When you watch individual performances of these orchestras outside of a competitive setting (and there are tons of videos on YouTube), you’ll see the same level of energy, musicianship, and enthusiasm starting at the elementary school level.

Unlike my old orchestra, most of these school bands are also marching bands that frequently travel the world to show off their amazingly intricate routines. Click here to watch one of these shows. 

Back to the 2019 competition video. What impressed me most was that the performances weren’t only technically top-notch, but these teens were making real music with heart and with soul. Here’s the big question: How do they do it?

WHAT’S THE SECRET

As an academic discipline, music in Japan is just as important as mathematics. All of the musicians you see on stage started their music education in elementary school. If you don’t believe me, watch this video of an all-girl elementary school brass band playing “Jupiter” from the “The Planets” by Gustav Holst. And they’re doing it from memory!

So, what can we learn from music education in Japan?

Lesson number one: Start as early as you can, and whatever it is you do, have fun but take it seriously.

Lesson number two: Practice, practice, practice.

Most band members in Japan can’t rehearse at home, so they stay after school for a couple of hours on every weekday for individual and band practice, and sometimes during weekends and vacations as well. A band is only as good as its weakest link. No one wants to let the team down. 

Lesson number three: Keep at it. Don’t give up too quickly.

So many kids are ready to give up when things become challenging, and parents let them. How can you know that playing the piano is not for you after only a couple of  lessons? Successful people aren’t quitters.

Practicing does not come naturally. It requires discipline and needs to be learned. It takes time for habits to form. 

Lesson number four: Stay focused.

We live in a time of many distractions and short attention spans. Cell phones are always within reach, and in many homes the TV is always on. It’s easy for your mind to wonder off, if you don’t make whatever it is you want to become good at, a priority.

Lesson number five: Become an expert.

The best way to master something, is to teach it. In Japan, elder students are expected to educate the young, and younger students have to respect senior students. 

Lesson number six: Have an open, curious mind, and an eagerness to learn. 

Western band directors have marveled at the openness of the Japanese students to new ideas and noticed the apparent absence of “attitude.” Japanese students want to learn, they accept the information and instructions given to them, and most importantly, they do the work necessary to realize the desired results.

Lesson number seven: If you want to be at the top of your game, you have to have reliable equipment.

This means you need to have the means and the willingness to make a serious investment. A cheap instrument will only take you so far, and it will limit what you can achieve. 

Lesson number eight: Setting the bar high is a matter of tremendous pride.

Do these Japanese school orchestras consist of a bunch of overachievers? To the naive outsider that may seem the case, but in Japan these orchestras are of vital importance since they represent each school and its identity. 

Every year, prestigious national competitions are organized to elect the best orchestra. Imagine 14,000 bands with 800,000 competing musicians! This allows pupils to be highly motivated in terms of instrument practice because they want to defend the honor of their school.

Lesson number nine: Study the best performers in your field and keep on learning.

Japanese students are encouraged to watch live performances and learn from them. Observing top orchestras and individual performers can inspire students to up their game. The band director will often bring in professionals for clinics and joint performances to bring out the best in the students.

Lesson number ten: Cultures are different and unique. Not everything that works in Japan will work as well in the rest of the world.

For one, Japanese culture focuses more on the collective than on the individual. To an outsider, there seems to be greater (and an unhealthy) pressure to be perfect. Voice over Sean Daeley who has lived and worked in Japan told me:

“While I admit there is an element of cultural difference in perfectionism, the importance of not letting the band or your family down, and maybe even tiger mom/parentage, I’ve also talked to a number of adult students who reflected back on those experiences, saying while they may have hated it at the time, they were truly grateful they were encouraged to put in the time to enjoy the level of skill they still have as adults.”

BUT WHAT ABOUT VOICE OVERS

Here’s the connection.

Performing music is an art, and so is doing voice overs. A musician interprets the notes in a score, just as voice overs interpret the words on a page.

Before you can start a career as a voice over artist, you have to learn how to play your instrument. This takes time, practice, and concentration. You need careful guidance and a willingness to accept direction from people with more experience.

You have to leave your attitude of entitlement and “I know everything already” at the door. You don’t know what you don’t know. 

When you get advice from a VO veteran, don’t complain about the older generation pretending to be better than you are. Say “Thank you,” and repay him or her by putting it into practice and by paying it forward.

You need to focus, listen, and learn until you become so good at what you do, that you can teach the material to a new generation. It requires relentless dedication, time, and energy.

As someone who will be self-employed, no one will set the bar, but you. No one will get you out of bed, but you. No one will tell you what to do, but you. 

If you’re not disciplined enough to handle that (and most people aren’t), a voice over career isn’t your thing.

And finally…

Your studio will be your stage, and you’ll be performing for an audience you’ll never see.

So, don’t do it for the applause.

Do it for the music!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Life and Death in times of COVID

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, PersonalLeave a comment

A few weeks ago, I told you about my Dutch colleague Jolanda Bayens. She is the founder and director of the Voice Over College, and one of Holland’s most in-demand voices. Jolanda is also a registered nurse, but she hasn’t practiced in twenty-six years.

When the Corona virus hit her region hard, she felt she had to do something to help, and she offered to go back to nursing. After Jolanda’s first story was published, people kept checking in with me to find out how she’s doing.

This is her update:

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in May. The highway is a bit busier than last week. As I’m driving, I start thinking about the things I have to do, tomorrow. One of those jobs is a voice over recording, a medical animation to be exact. I’m grateful that most of my customers still know where to find me, even in these testing times. 

There’s also lots of planning to do for my training institute, the voice over college. Thank goodness my guest teachers are incredibly flexible. Meanwhile, the lockdown seems to get more relaxed in the Netherlands. We’re allowed to get out a bit more, emphasis on “a bit.” When I pass an electronic message board, I’m being warned not to unwind in a nearby nature reserve as they’re expecting record crowds this weekend.

Half an hour has passed when I park my car in the parking lot of the nursing home. Because I’m working in a COVID-19 ward, I’m not allowed to use the regular staff entrance. My colleagues and I have to enter through the mortuary. Different doors that only open when I enter the correct code, take me to the stairwell. I walk up the stairs, and I consciously take a deep breath in and out, pushing the door open.

I have arrived. 

PROTECTING OURSELVES

Jolanda Bayens

As a temp nurse I work on different COVID-19 wards. Today I go to a floor that has been hit very hard. My colleague and I (it’s just the two of us because they couldn’t find an additional nurse for this shift), get into our protective suits. We put on gloves, face masks, and safety goggles. During our shift we cannot leave this ward and we’re responsible for nine demented people. Only one of them is not infected with the Corona virus.

That one person happens to be stretching his legs as I walk in. He has no idea where he is or what he’s doing There’s no one to stop him and his family is not allowed to come in. He is terrified and keeps asking what he is supposed to do. I feel guilty because I can’t really help him.

During the day shift three people on this floor have passed. Apart from the one “healthy” resident, all others are in bed feeling terribly sick. I can tell one of them hasn’t got long to live. The doctor has been called to administer morphine, which he does. Because we expect that death is near, we call the next of kin. They show up wearing layers of protective clothing.

THE LIVING AND THE DYING

The family members come inside, and we show them to their dad who is fighting for his life. His kids are shocked by what they see and tell their father that it’s okay to let go. But the old man is clinging on. I get goosebumps as I’m fighting back the tears.

We stay a while to explain what the family can and cannot do under these circumstances, and then we continue with our work. One lady in our care is gravely ill, and the rest of the residents are so sick that they don’t want to eat or drink.

Forty-five minutes later the family of the dying man decides to go home. They were only allowed to stay for half an hour, but we gave them some extra time. Every ten minutes my colleague and I stick our heads around the corner to see how the dying man is doing.

When I enter his room around eight, I see that he has passed. He looks totally exhausted. I ask a doctor to call the time of death, while family members contact the undertaker who will take care of the body. Normally, that’s our job, but because of Corona regulations we aren’t allowed to do that. 

FEELING GUILTY

The only thing we can do is carry on. We help people eat and drink, we give them medications, and we clean the residents up. We take their temperature and blood pressure, and we measure their oxygen level. We continue to do so until the end of our shift.

In the car, on my way back, I feel guilty because I wasn’t able to give my patients the care they so desperately deserve and need. When I try to brush that uncomfortable feeling away, I suddenly notice how thirsty I am. Walking around in those protective suits feels like being in a sauna, and with only two nurses on duty, there wasn’t enough time to even take a sip of water.

I turn on the radio to listen to the news. The number of people with COVID-19 being admitted to hospitals has gone down again, and the numbers at the ICU’s are decreasing as well. But once again, no one is mentioning anything about nursing homes. It is as if we do not exist.

The news reader continues: at the main railway station in Amsterdam, police officers and railway officials had to be deployed to manage the enormous flow of travelers heading for the beach resort of Zandvoort. Forget social distancing. Getting an early tan and emptying a six pack of Heineken is much more important. 

I’m finally home. I get out of my car and take a deep breath.

It’s time to go inside.

My voice over studio awaits.

Jolanda Bayens

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When COVID-19 leaves patients speechless, a voice actor steps up

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal2 Comments

Do you remember your dreams? 

I rarely do, but the one I had last night has been on my mind since I woke up at 4:00 AM. It was an almost mystical and comforting experience. Here’s why. 

In my sleep, a deep, soothing voice instructed me to go to my computer and write a new story for my blog.

“Make sure you give it some thought,” the voice said, “because it’s going to be your very last blog post. If there’s anything you’d like to say to your readers, this is the time to say it.”

Once I started typing, the emotional floodgates opened, and line after line started weaving a story filled with love, gratitude, and endless appreciation.

When it was finished, the voice returned and said:

“It’s time to go. Follow me.”

At that moment, my soul left my exhausted body in the hospital bed beneath me. As I floated upward, feeling like a fluffy feather in the wind, I could see the nurses take me off the ventilator, and cover my mortal remains with a white sheet.

It felt perfectly natural. I wasn’t scared. I remember being blissfully overwhelmed by a tingling sensation of lightness that I’d never experienced before. Instinctively I knew that everything was going to be alright.

The drop was coming back to the ocean.

It was time to go home!

COPING WITH A DEADLY VIRUS

We all deal with COVID-19 in different ways. I’m not interested in political spin, or in networks trying to pump up their ratings with unscientific sensationalism. Give me the facts and I’ll be fine. I’d like to know what I am dealing with.

I’m not scared of this virus because I know how to keep myself and those around me safe. What I am afraid of are the gun slinging nitwits who believe it’s okay to endanger my life just so they can get a six pack at the beer emporium, buy some ammo at Walmart, and get their bushy beards trimmed. All in the name of freedom.

Pro Life my ass!

Then there are people I have tremendous admiration for. The essential workers, the ones who do the dirty, risky jobs for minimum wage with minimum protection. You know, the tax-paying immigrants targeted for incarceration and eventually deportation.

I also admire colleagues such as Jolanda Bayens (I wrote about her last week), who went back to nursing to help vulnerable seniors. Every single day she’s dealing with new cases of Corona, as coffins leave the premises of the care facility she works at. 

COVID-19 preys on the weak, the willfully unprotected, and even on pastors who are dead certain that God will keep them and their misguided out of the Pearly Gates.

VOICE TALENT AND SPEECH THERAPIST

Hellen Moes

This week I learned that another member of our voice acting tribe is doing her share to help those suffering from COVID. Her name is Hellen Moes, and she doubles as a certified speech therapist in the Netherlands. She works in a teaching hospital, and normally she assists patients who have trouble swallowing and speaking after they’ve been treated for a malignant tumor in the oral cavity, or pharynx.

These days, Hellen helps Corona patients that just came off the ventilator who are having problems with their oral intake. Hellen says that most people don’t realize that the same organs that allow us to speak and sing, are used for the safe intake of food. They help us to chew and taste, and swallow solids and liquids. “Safe” means making sure that everything ends up in the esophagus, and not in the trachea.

All of us were born with a very ingenious system that protects us from choking. Hellen explains:

“In less than a second, our swallowing reflex separates food from air, closing the vocal folds, making the larynx move up as the epiglottis is closing the opening to the respiratory system while the tongue and the back throat wall are pushing the food to the gullet inlet. 

COVID-19 patients on respirators are intubated. During intubation a special instrument (laryngoscope) is used to carefully push the epiglottis away, so the intubation tube can be inserted in the trachea through the opened vocal folds. A small balloon at the end of the tube holds it in place inside the trachea. 

This means that patients can’t swallow as long as they’re on a respirator. They’re fed artificially through a nasal probe that enters the throat, going to the gullet inlet to the stomach. That’s precisely the reason why these patients are sedated while they’re on a respirator. 

When the throat muscles aren’t used for complicated things like coughing, vocalizing, and speaking, they weaken. During intubation it sometimes happens that a vocal fold gets scratched, a vocal cord nerve gets entrapped, and vocal folds become paralyzed. This has a negative impact on the swallowing function, and on someone’s ability to speak.”

SPEECH PROBLEMS

Once the intubation tube has been removed, and the patients wake up, they find that it’s almost impossible to speak. They’ve either completely lost their voice, or the voice is very weak. On top of that it’s almost impossible to cough because the vocal folds cannot close properly to build up the necessary pressure.

When the patients try to drink something, they choke and can’t cough. When that happens, a speech therapist like Hellen is called in. She picks up the story:

“The Corona virus has definitely changed the nature of my work. Part of me is afraid, a little ill at ease, and unsure of myself.

Hellen at the hospital

The support and involvement of the nurses is crucial for me, as is the protective clothing. It gives me some peace of mind. Because I am wearing a face mask, the patients have a hard time hearing my instructions. Normally, I show my patients how they can swallow more forcefully, but now they can’t see that. After I give them instructions, I have to listen carefully to make sure no food has gotten into their vulnerable lungs. 

Most of my patients have a long way to go before they can eat their steak and fries, but they are usually very grateful that they’re able to taste real food after having gone through a very, very difficult period.”

Please remember that COVID-19 is a merciless killer. To quote a recent article

“Clinicians are realizing that although the lungs are ground zero, its reach can extend to many organs including the heart and blood vessels, kidneys, gut, and brain. The disease can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences. Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.” 

Hellen Moes is taking a short break from speech therapy to voice a project for the medical faculty of the University of Maastricht. Like her colleague Jolanda, she’s very down to earth, and doesn’t think she’s doing something heroic. She’s doing what she’s been trained to do: helping people recover from something that could have easily killed them. Something that could potentially kill her too.

Hellen is one of my heroes.

GIVING THANKS

As I wake up from my dream, I feel elated to be alive. It seems my number isn’t up yet. All I can do to help, is stay inside as much as I can. Anne Frank and her family could do it for two years, and they didn’t have Netflix, Instagram, or Facebook. So, you don’t hear me complaining about physical distancing, or the need for a haircut. It’s a small price to pay to save lives.

Once again I feel overcome by gratitude for the people in the front lines who battle COVID-19 every single day. The people who keep the country running and the supermarkets stocked. The workers in warehouses, the people who deliver, and the scientists searching for a vaccine. If only I had a way to say “Thank you!”

Then my colleague Bev Standing came up with an idea. J. Michael Collins wrote the script, and Humberto Franco did the editing. Lots of voice over friends donated their voice to a video that says it all.

Have a look:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Hellen is available to voice your projects with a Euro-English accent. Have a listen.


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How One of Our Own is Dealing with COVID-19

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal10 Comments

In Europe, very few people have heard of Fred Rogers, or Mr. Rogers, as he was known to millions of Americans.

The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood TV show for preschoolers aired from 1968 to 2001, and it continues to run in syndication and on streaming services today. Last year saw the premiere of the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. 

Fred Rogers was an expert at translating the complex adult world in terms kids could understand. His shows are still a resource for parents on talking to children about tragic events such as school shootings and killer viruses. 

Rogers is often quoted as saying: 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

As the world is dealing with the Corona virus, one of those helpers is a colleague of ours whom I interviewed for this blog not so long ago. She was supposed to come to VO Atlanta, but COVID-19 disrupted her plans. Her name: Jolanda Bayens.

Jolanda is one of Holland’s most prominent voice overs, and the founder and CEO of the Voice Over College, a training institute for voice actors. 

Twenty-six years ago, Jolanda was a nurse, specializing in terminal care. After her studies she worked at a hospice, and later in home nursing. She fell and broke her pelvis in three locations. A few years later they discovered she had a condition that caused her bones to break very easily and significantly. She was declared unfit to work because the fractures didn’t heal properly.

Today, Jolanda is back in her nurse’s uniform, being one of the helpers. I asked her to tell her story:

DEALING WITH COVID-19

Jolanda Bayens

“When the Corona crisis hit the Netherlands, I felt an urge. The urge to help. After all, I am a trained nurse, and taking care of people is not something one easily forgets.

I don’t work in a hospital, but in a place that takes care of the weakest people in our society: a nursing home. In the Netherlands, just like anywhere else, entire wards have been isolated from the outside world because patients have COVID-19. In those wards, a silent disaster is taking place, right under our noses. 

I take care of 34 people who suffer from all types of dementia. Most of them aren’t ambulatory anymore. They don’t know who they are, let alone who I am. They’re confused, lonely, and unable to carry on a conversation. They look at you with hollow eyes, and listen with ears that do not understand what’s going on.

These people are bedridden, and one is sicker than the other. The virus is unpredictable. In the morning someone can seem wide awake and alert, and in the afternoon that same person is down with a high fever. Their oxygen level is low, so they’re short of breath. About a third of infected patients won’t make it. Physically, they were already weak, and this virus causes severe pneumonia which is usually the cause of death.

LACK OF PROTECTION AND EQUIPMENT

We have only one oxygen saturation monitor that measures the oxygen level of all 140 patients. There are safety goggles available, but we don’t have enough of them. We really have no idea if we have enough face masks and protective clothing for everyone in the near future. We’re using one face mask and one apron per shift, which is against regulations, but we have no choice. We’re constantly begging for more. 

My heart breaks for my patients. Every hour of my shift their condition deteriorates. Because there aren’t enough nurses and the family isn’t allowed to help, I feel like I’m constantly running behind. 

As soon as someone is close to death, we call the family. Only one person is allowed in the room with the patient. Most of the time that’s a partner or a child. The rest of the next of kin has to say their goodbyes outside, waiting in front of a window. Fortunately, my section is on the ground floor. Otherwise this wouldn’t even be possible. The person who has been with the patient then has to be self-quarantined.

About half of the permanent staff has chosen not to work on my floor as long as there’s COVID-19. A small group of caregivers is forced to make that choice because their husband, wife, or child is part of a risk group. They fear infection. I do understand that, but I also notice that this causes resentment among the caregivers who are continuing to work on the COVID ward.

All in all I feel frustrated. There aren’t enough caregivers, and those who are working are exhausted. There’s a lack of qualified nurses and we cannot protect our patients or ourselves. The family of the people we care for isn’t always understanding. They get angry and blame us for the infection. That really hurts. 

So, why are we continuing to care for our patients, possibly risking our own lives? Because we’re afraid that no one else will help these fragile people who are totally dependent on others. They deserve as much care as anyone else.

NO HEROES

I’ve seen signs outside of hospitals saying that the people who work there are heroes. Every now and then people start applauding the doctors and nurses. That doesn’t happen where I work.

I’m afraid that the people I take care of are part of a forgotten group. Small local businesses, however, have not forgotten us. Almost every day they send us flowers and yummy treats which are very much appreciated. 

Today, I’m off. That means: I work from home. I do the laundry, I run the house, I cook, and I record voice overs, of course. The show must go on. Thank goodness the projects keep coming in, even though there aren’t as many as in normal times. Tomorrow, after my morning shift in the nursing home, I’m going to rest up a bit. That way I’m ready to teach my beginner voice acting class in the evening.

I want to stress that my fellow nurses and I don’t see ourselves as heroes. We just want to do what we can, because if we don’t, no one else will do it.

It’s all about loving our fellow human beings.

Regardless of who they are, or what state they’e in.”

Jolanda Bayens, voice over/nurse

 

PS If you’d like to show Jolanda some love, please leave a few words of encouragement in the comments. 

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Business as Unusual

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Dutch, International, Personal5 Comments

I’ve been living and working in the United States for twenty years, but I’ll never forget my first tornado warning.

All of a sudden the dark sky became a strange shade of green, and the violent winds died down abruptly. It became quiet in the street. Eerily quiet. The birds stopped singing, and the hounds stopped howling.

Without warning we could hear a deep and loud roar, as if a freight train rumbled into our neighborhood. This was our signal to seek shelter in the basement. Something deadly was coming our way that would demolish anything in its path.

This is what it feels like, living under the threat of the Corona virus. It’s the chilly silence before the storm that will come our way, no matter what.

I live about an hour and half from New York, the place that has been hit the hardest. Until yesterday, the Transbridge bus from Manhattan took groups of commuters to my town, several times a day.

Because hardly anyone gets tested for COVID-19, we have no way of knowing who’s infected and who isn’t. Only yesterday, a man my age was sent back home from the hospital because his symptoms were too mild. He died a few hours later.

Tragedies like that make one ponder matters of life and death.

In the meantime, we think we’re safe at home, as long as we obsessive-compulsively wash our hands and don’t mingle with the masses. But you know what? A man’s got to eat, so we rush to the supermarket to stock up. There we wait in line for the checkout, only separated by the length of our shopping carts, and absolutely no one keeps a six foot distance. There’s simply no space to do that.

In Pennsylvania (where I live), the situation is very similar to the one in the Netherlands (where I was born): closed stores and schools, people working from home, and senior citizens who cannot be visited. The social-cultural-religious life has come to a standstill, and Netflix is more popular than ever.

In a weird way, not much has changed for me. As a voice over with a fully equipped home studio, I’ve been separating myself from the outside world for years. Clients find me online, they email me their scripts, and they receive the audio in digital format.

For my wife the situation was different. She teaches flute and piano, and students always come to her studio. Now she has successfully transitioned to online-only teaching with the help of Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime. All of the concerts she had scheduled for the next few months, were cancelled.

At the end of our workday, we migrate to our couch to watch some sappy Dutch TV shows. I’ve got to tell you, in spite of all the news reports, things still feel quite normal, and this has me worried. An invisible danger is rapidly approaching, and I am aware that we are in a risk group.

My wife and I are both over fifty. She’s got MS, and I have a serious heart condition. We know that the hospitals cannot handle the virus, as they’re already begging for protective clothing and ventilators.

And yet, I choose not to live in permanent fear. I stick to my daily routine by being there for my significant other, my customers, and my coaching students. It’s something to hold on to in uncertain times.

I know I cannot stop the storm, but I can adjust my sails.

This too, shall eventually pass.

For now, it’s business as unusual.

 

Ik woon en werk nu al twintig jaar in Amerika, maar ik zal mijn eerste tornado waarschuwing nooit vergeten.

De donkere lucht kleurde opeens een wonderlijk groen, en de harde wind ging plotseling liggen. Het werd stil op straat. Onheilspellend stil. Geen vogel zong meer, en ook de honden hielden op met huilen.

Plotsklaps klonk er een diep en luid gebrul, alsof er een vrachttrein grommend op de buurt afdenderde. Dat was voor ons het signaal om de kelder in te duiken. Er was iets dodelijks op komst dat alles in zijn pad zou vernietigen.

Zo voelt het een beetje nu we leven onder de dreiging van het Corona virus. Het is de ijzige stilte voor de storm die hoe dan ook zal komen.

Ik woon op anderhalf uur afstand van New York dat het hardst getroffen is. Tot gister hadden we nog een busverbinding naar Manhattan die een paar keer per dag groepen reizigers afleverde. Omdat er nauwelijks op COVID-19 getest wordt weten we niet wie al geïnfecteerd is en wie niet.

Gister stuurde een ziekenhuis nog een man van mijn leeftijd naar huis omdat zijn klachten niet ernstig genoeg waren. Hij overleed een paar uur later.

Dan ga je toch wel even nadenken over leven en dood.

We wanen ons intussen veilig in ons huis zolang we de handen maar obsessief-compulsief blijven wassen en ons niet tussen de massa’s begeven. Maar goed, een mens  moet toch eten, dus even snel naar de supermarkt voor proviand. Daar staan we wagentje aan wagentje te wachten voor de kassa, en geen kip houdt zich aan de anderhalve meter afstand. Daar is geen ruimte voor.

Bij ons in Pennsylvania hetzelfde beeld als bij jullie: gesloten winkels en scholen, mensen die vanuit huis werken, en bejaarden die geen bezoek meer mogen ontvangen. Het sociaal-cultureel-religieuze leven staat stil, en Netflix beleeft gouden tijden.

Gek genoeg is er voor mij niet eens zo heel veel veranderd. Als voice over met een thuisstudio ben ik al jaren van de buitenwereld afgesloten. Mijn klanten vinden mij online, ze emailen me scripts toe, en ze krijgen de audio digitaal toegestuurd.

Voor mijn vrouw was het anders. Zij geeft piano- en dwarsfluitles, en de studenten komen altijd naar haar toe. Nu geeft ze met succes online les via Zoom, Skype, en FaceTime. Wel zijn al haar concerten voor de komende maanden afgelast.

Als onze werkdag ten einde is, dan gaan we lekker op de bank “Boer zoekt Vrouw” zitten kijken. Ik zal je vertellen, ondanks de nieuwsberichten voelt het allemaal nog zo normaal aan, en dat beangstigt mij een beetje. Er is een onzichtbaar gevaar op komst, en ik besef dat we alle twee in een risicogroep zitten.

Mijn vrouw en ik zijn beide boven de vijftig. Zij heeft MS, en ik heb vrij serieuze hartklachten. We weten dat de ziekenhuizen niet op dit virus berekend zijn en nu al om beschermingsmiddelen en beademingsapparatuur moeten bedelen. Intussen kopen Amerikanen wapens, in plaats van naaimachines om mondkapjes mee te maken. 

Toch kies ik er voor om niet in permanente angst te leven. Ik blijf mijn normale routine volgen door er te zijn voor mijn geliefde, mijn klanten, en m’n voice over studenten. Het is iets om me aan vast te houden in onzekere tijden.

Ik weet dat ik de storm niet kan keren, maar ik kan wel m’n zeilen bijzetten.

Ook dit gaat uiteindelijk weer voorbij.

Voor nu is het “business as unusual.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Sharpening the Axe

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, International, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media, VO Atlanta6 Comments

Camp VO was canceled. VO Atlanta was postponed, and the One Voice Conference in London is going ahead in a virtual format.

I think we can all agree that the right decisions were made, given the extraordinary circumstances. However, the feeling of disappointment remains.

What will be axed next, you wonder? The summer Olympics?

It’s fascinating that the word crisis comes from the Greek word krisis, which means “turning point in a disease, a change which indicates recovery or death.”

This COVID-19 crisis has forced all of us to change our behavior in ways we would have never imagined, only a few weeks ago. The main questions on my mind were:

  • What exactly is going on?
  • What are the consequences?
  • How do I respond?

 

MY PERSONAL REACTION

This week I’d like to tell you how I am dealing with the corona crisis, by sharing some of my recent Instagram posts. If you’re not following me yet, I hope you will after reading this blog post (@nethervoice).

What I want to do with these statements is increase awareness, and make people think twice about the situation they’re in. My strategy is always to say as much as I can in as few words as possible without distorting the truth. At least, my version of the truth. 

For many people, being confined to their home seems to be a major challenge. I count myself very lucky that living and working in isolation is no problem for me.

Other people are clearly having a hard time staying away from one another. They mob supermarkets hunting for toilet paper and hand sanitizer. What’s up with that?

Because my wife and I are in a risk group, people seem to believe we should be very afraid. For me, knowing what’s going on helps me get a better grip on the situation.

Ignorance weakens. Knowledge empowers. 

Some politicians were accusing the messenger throughout this pandemic, and they continue to do so. Before we blame the press for all our woes, let’s agree that it’s up to us which source of information we trust, and what we do with the information from that source.

The media cannot make us do anything. We are responsible for how we respond to what we see, hear, and choose to believe.

I’m not worried about those who practice social distancing, and stay home as much as they can. I’m not worried about those who are mindful of others. I do worry about those who think they don’t have to change their behavior, just because they do not notice any symptoms. 

To me, the image below sums up the best response we could have to COVID-19. I’d rather be overly careful, than underestimate the situation we’re in. 

You don’t have to be an expert to see that this corona virus is not only a health crisis but an economic one as well. Unless you’re selling sanitizers, respirators and protective clothing, your business will slow down and suffer.

I hate to say it, but from now on it’s going to be survival of the smartest and those who are best prepared. The good news is that with less work coming in, you’ll have more time to prepare yourself for the months and years to come.

Abraham Lincoln, who was a skilled woodcutter before becoming one of the most important presidents in US history, famously said:

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”

Well, my friends, this is the time to sharpen your axe, and use it wisely.

Refresh your demos, revamp your website, step up your marketing, increase your social media exposure, work with a coach on your weaknesses, build a proper studio, upgrade your gear.

Invest. Invest. Invest.

If you don’t do it, others will, and they’ll come out of this crisis ready and running.

And remember:

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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All Talk and Nothing to Say

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal6 Comments

Five years ago I got in serious trouble with some of my readers.

“What else is new?” you may ask.

Did I write about amateurism in voice overs, insultingly low rates, or about greedy Pay-to-Plays?

Nope.

The topic was podcasting, or rather my ambivalence toward podcasts.

To be honest with you, I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. I can scan an article or blog post in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff. Done. On to the next one. I think I’m too impatient for most podcasts.

Since I wrote the story in 2015, the number of VO-related podcasts has increased considerably, and I have to admit that many of them are a joy to listen to.

I’ve been interviewed by a multitude of hosts, and my experience has always been very positive. Yet, there are only a handful of podcasts I regularly tune into, and they’re seldom about voice overs. Why?

I think It’s very important for a well-rounded VO (and I’m not talking about our waistline), to step outside of our blah blah bubble, and skip the talk about which microphone is best and how to get an agent. There’s a whole wide world out there filled with information and inspiration. Constant navel-gazing isn’t going to help us learn and grow as a human being. 

This week, a Dutch podcast forum asked me about my experiences with podcasts. Do I have any faves, pet peeves, or tips? 

This is what I wrote.

 

Let me start my story with a confession.

My roots are in radio.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. It means I can no longer listen to podcasts with an open, carefree mind. I listen the way a music critic listens to a concert. With super critical ears. Luckily I can turn the darn thing off as soon as I get bored. 

In addition you should know that I’ve been a voice over for more than thirty years. This has made me allergic to badly written scripts, stupid slips of the tongue, loud, distracting breaths, and poorly recorded audio.

I’ve also made a living as a journalist, presenter, and media trainer. I know a little bit about interviewing guests. How to do it, and how not to do it.

All of the above means that many podcasts are just not my thing, even though I love the medium dearly. My favorite podcasts offer theater between the ears allowing my imagination to run wild. When I’m listening, I’m not distracted by flashing images on television which makes it easier to focus on the content.

I love the freedom podcasts give me. I usually listen when I have boring things to do like the dishes, yard work, house cleaning, long drives, or running on the treadmill. What do I listen to? Mostly radio shows.

PODCAST FAVORITES

This year marks my 20th anniversary of living and working in the USA. To stay connected to what’s happening in Holland (where I’m from), I listen to a show called Met het oog op morgen, (Keeping an eye on tomorrow). It’s a daily roundup of news, current affairs, and background stories.

As a former newscaster I’m always on the lookout for people who can interpret what’s going on in the world today. I want to know what motivated this person to make that statement, and what the implications are. That’s why I often tune in to the Brian Leher Show on WNYC, a New York City-based public radio station. Brian is a progressive interviewer who has an uncanny ability to ask pointed questions in a friendly and respectful way.

When I want to know more about art, literature, and music, I turn to Fresh Air, a legendary talk show with Terry Gross. Terry is considered a national treasure in the US, and for good reason. She’s been on national radio since 1975, and her show can be heard all over the United States. She’s known for her empathic, intelligent way of interviewing her guests. 

For philosophy and science I listen to Radiolab with Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich. Jad composes the experimental music which is like a running commentary on the theme of the show. Apart from interviews with people such as neurologist Oliver Sacks, conversations between the hosts are also part of the program. Radiolab is exquisitely immersive and never fails to make me think.

PROBLEMS WITH PODCASTS

There are very few “real” podcasts (as opposed to regular radio shows) I can listen to without cringing. Usually, that’s because of three things:

1. Amateurs “playing radio.”

Bad audio quality is the first clue. The recording space is often too noisy, everyone is miles away from the microphone, and guests are mumbling their answers. After hearing the first twenty seconds I ask myself: “What on earth am I listening to?”

Podcast producers who actually know what they’re doing realize that they have to compete with “real” radio programs. Award-winning podcasts have a team of researchers, editors, script writers, and sound engineers that take their job seriously.

In the next few years the difference between hobbyists and professionals making podcasts will increase dramatically. The consumer will have even more to choose from, and won’t have to settle for kitchen table productions.

2. Hosts that are overly self-involved.

Podcasts seem to attract people that like to hear themselves talk, but who have very little to say. I’m thinking of the unfunny folks who believe they’re God’s gift to comedy, and who have trouble getting to the point. I call them “self-arousers” because the sound of their own voice makes them horny as hell.

The best interviewers don’t make themselves the star of the show but focus on the guests. They don’t stick to a list of pre-cooked questions. They listen carefully to the answers and follow up. This is not an easy thing to do. You’ve got to get people talking, you’ve got to learn to keep your mouth shut, and you have to jump in at the right moment with the right questions. 

3. Weak content

Before you read the next line I’d like you to do a quick experiment while recording yourself. Choose a topic you’re interested in at the moment. Have a stopwatch ready, and when you press START, talk for one minute straight offering relevant information. No hesitations, no filler words, and no ums.

Ready. Set. GO!

Most people who do this experiment notice how hard it is to fill just one minute fluently, while keeping the audience engaged as they’re trying to make sense.

I often tell my students:

“If you want people to be interested, you have to be interesting. Your topics and your guests have to be interesting.”

Too many podcasts are of the category “much ado about nothing,” hosted by lazy, self-absorbed hosts that allow their guests to yammer on and on and on.

If you’re reading producing podcasts, you know it requires quite an investment to produce an outstanding show on a weekly basis. That’s why it is almost impossible to listen to your own shows with impartiality. It’s also the reason I recommend you get yourself a feedback group of people who know what they’re talking about. Do not ask family and friends who will love everything you say and do, no matter what.

You need the critical ears of those who will tell you what you don’t like to hear.

The ears of people like me.

People with roots in radio.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Incompetent and Overly Confident

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal, Social Media16 Comments

Let me begin with a simple but loaded question.

Why do so many voice overs on social media seem confident, yet ignorant?

I’m not making this up to bash newbies, if that’s what you think. Age and experience have nothing to do with it. I’ve seen seasoned colleagues make ridiculous claims, and I’ve observed youngsters parade their lack of knowledge in public without an ounce of shame or self-awareness.

Unfortunately, ignorance isn’t limited to our tiny voice-over bubble. Many people go through life being blind about basic facts. It doesn’t prevent them from commenting about things they know nothing about. It’s a free country! These people have careers, they raise children, and some of them even vote.

Do you want examples? Here are a few factoids from surveys that will make your jaw drop.

COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS

Only 45% of Americans can tell you what the initials in GOP stand for. Some believe it is short for Government of the People or God’s Own Party.

25% of Americans don’t know the country from which the USA gained its independence. Answers varied from France to China.

30% have no idea what the Holocaust was, and half of Americans believe that Christianity came before Judaism. These people are also convinced that Christianity was written into the Constitution.

Mind you, it’s not just the big stuff people have no clue about. I once asked a music student jokingly:

“For whom did Beethoven compose “Für Elise?”

She had no idea.

Now, here’s the real kicker. When asked these questions, those who were obviously incompetent did not see themselves as such. This isn’t weird. It’s very human, and it’s confirmed by an experiment among students who were doing a test.

When they handed the test in, they were asked how well they thought they did. Their answers were later compared to the actual results. Here’s what the researchers found.

The bottom performers in that test were almost as confident about how well they thought they did, as the top performers. In other words, they were blissfully unaware of their own lack of knowledge.

THE DUNNING – KRUGER EFFECT

In psychology this is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after Cornell psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. It’s a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. 

The explanation for this phenomenon is simple: people are too ignorant to recognize their own ignorance, and so they don’t see where their knowledge ends.

Why is this a problem, you ask? All we need to do is present the ignorant people of the world with the facts, and they’ll get off their high horse and accept that they’re wrong. End of story.

If only it were that easy.

By the way, for the sake of this discussion when I say “facts” I’m referring to information confirmed to be true according to objective scientific standards.

We can verify what GOP stands for, and from which country the USA gained its independence. It’s not a matter of opinion.

The real problem is not that people are not as knowledgeable as they think they are. To be honest: all of us live under the shadow of our own ignorance. The problem is that our misconceptions are a serious barrier to us learning anything new and accepting expert opinions. 

As the Zen master said:

“How can I fill your tea cup if it’s already full?”

I run into this problem when giving feedback as a coach.

ACCEPT FAILURE

For people to accept the feedback, they have to accept failure and be open to new information. Let me give you an example. One of my older students didn’t like what I had to say about the quality of his audio. His equipment was top-notch, but his recording space was terrible. All of his recordings had a low rumble and flutter echoes. 

He wasn’t booking anything, and yet he was intent on showing me how much he had spent on his microphone and preamp to prove that I was wrong. Good gear couldn’t lead to bad audio, he thought.

At my request he visited an audiologist, and found out he needed a hearing aid. Once the device was in place, he called to apologize. He had listened to his recordings and heard some things he’d never heard before, proving my point.

Here’s what I had to learn. Telling people they’re wrong puts them on the defense, allowing them to turn me into the bad guy. Facts can be denied and intentions can be questioned. Experiences on the other hand, are harder to disprove.

So, instead of telling my students what they’re doing wrong (creating resistance), I now give them assignments to help them assess their expertise of lack thereof, and I have them research ways in which they can improve. This way, they own the feedback as well as the solution.

It’s easy to forget a fact, but people will remember an experience.

The other problem with the Dunning – Kruger effect is that it leads to people making bad choices because they reach the wrong conclusions while thinking they’re doing okay.

AT THE SHOOTING RANGE

Dunning and Kruger went to a gun shooting event and asked gun enthusiasts to fill out a ten-question firearm and safety knowledge quiz used by the NRA. It turned out that the gun owners who knew the least about gun safety overestimated their knowledge the most.

I don’t know about you, but this scares the hell out of me. To take it one step further, people have pointed at the behavior of our Commander-in-Chief as a prime example of the Dunning – Kruger effect.

Those who are suffering from Dunning – Kruger have trouble measuring themselves against real experts because they’re so confident they are right. I mean, why should a know-it-all turn to other sources for advice?

What makes it worse is that overly confident and narcissistic leaders tend to surround themselves with YES-men and women who are too afraid to criticize their boss for fear of repercussions. This lack of feedback makes a leader even more convinced that he’s doing a perfect job.

One last thing. Someone displaying signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect has trouble taking responsibility when things go haywire. How can someone unable to make mistakes possibly do something wrong? Instead, they point the finger at others.

ALL ARE AFFECTED

Now, before you tell me I’m turning this blog into a political diatribe, I think it’s important to look into the mirror and admit that all of us show signs of the Dunning – Kruger effect. No matter how much we think we know about a topic, our knowledge is finite, whereas what we don’t know is infinite.

There are simple biological limitations to what we’re able to know as well. Our brain cannot remember everything. It does not need to remember everything because we can find most information online. Some have called this the “Google Effect,” the automatic forgetting of info that’s available on the world wide web.

We should also realize that the ill-informed don’t necessarily know less. They’re not stupid. They just believe things that aren’t always rooted in facts. People will endorse erroneous information if it fits their opinion. They also know more about different things that may or may not be relevant or deemed important.

One of my cousins is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but he can blindly identify the make and model of a car, simply by listening to the noise the engine is making. And if he listens a bit longer, he can tell you what needs to be fixed (he grew up in a body shop).

I also know people who are extremely knowledgeable in one area of their life, but please don’t ask them to make eggs over easy. The kitchen is going to be a mess.

Having interviewed some of the best brains in the world, one thing became very clear to me. Knowing a lot doesn’t make someone smart, or kind, or more understanding.

METACOGNITION

Is there a way to counter the Dunning – Kruger effect? As you can imagine, arguing with people who experience the Dunning – Kruger effect is frustrating. They will often become more entrenched in their beliefs. So, lets’s start with ourselves.

One way to overcome the effect is to develop what psychologists call metacognition. It is the ability to think about one’s own thinking and behavior. It’s a skill that helps us recognize how well we are performing. I’d say this is an essential skill for the self-employed.

How do you develop this skill? Well, by doing what you are doing right now. By reading this story you’re hopefully learning to recognize the symptoms in others and in yourself. Every change we wish to make has to start with us being aware of what needs to change. As long as we’re in denial, treatment is futile.

Another way of dealing with the Dunning – Kruger effect is to accept that we don’t need to know everything about everything. I find not having to know everything very liberating and humbling. What’s more, it has opened me up to a whole realm of surprising possibilities.

Because of this blog, I get a lot of questions from readers like you. How much should they charge for this project in this country, what’s the best microphone for a high female voice, should they join the union or go Taft-Hartley?

I’m no longer afraid to tell them I don’t have an answer. It doesn’t diminish who I am. I’d rather be open about my ignorance than arrogant about my perceived knowledge and steer my readers in the wrong direction.

I’m also willing to accept that not everything I write, or all the things I think I know, are shiny pearls of wisdom. These days, I restrain myself more and more from commenting on social media (much to the relief of many).

Knowing my limitations also means I can start working on the knowledge I lack, if that’s important to me.

There’s always more to learn.

In short, I’ve become very confident about my ignorance, and I’m totally okay with that.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Surviving Christmas

by Paul Strikwerdain Articles, Personal13 Comments
The author next to the Christmas tree

The author

Because I’m the son of a minister, people have always assumed that Christmas was my favorite time of year.

To tell you the truth: it wasn’t. 

In fact, every year I was glad it was over.

In the weeks leading up to the celebration of the birth of Christ, our home became a very stressful place where kids had to walk on eggshells.

My mom was responsible for Sunday School, and for the inescapable Nativity Play. Every year she had to deal with parents harassing her because their son or daughter was selected to be an ox, an ass, or worse, a tree.  

My dad was crazy busy writing too many sermons on the subject of world peace, hoping to make an impression on those who only came to church at the end of December. His calendar was dominated by one social function after another. He was often asked to bring the whole family to singalongs, nursing homes, hospitals, and countless receptions. 

During those hectic weeks, my sister and I got an idea of what it must feel like to be part of the First Family. We had to be on our best behavior, as we were getting stuffed with sugary treats from sweet old ladies. It gave us tons of energy, and we had nowhere to put it. 

At the end of this grueling marathon, we visited both sets of grandparents in Friesland, all the way in the north of the country. By that time, it became harder and harder for our family to keep up appearances, especially when familial buttons would be pushed. And believe me, around the holidays those buttons only needed to be touched lightly to have maximum effect. It was only a matter of time before one of us would either explode or collapse. 

“Thank God Christmas is over,” my dad used to say, and he meant every word of it.

When he left his congregation to become Head of Pastoral Services at a university hospital, Christmas became a bit more relaxed for all involved. I learned to play the cornet, and joined a local band. It was one of those marching bands that -thank goodness- did very little marching. We did have a special Christmas tradition.

In the early hours of Christmas Day, a select group of musicians would go to different street corners, and play a number of carols. We did that for an hour or so, and then all of us would have breakfast at a nursing home. This had been going on for so long that most of the people in my town felt like it wasn’t really Christmas until the caroling band had woken them up at the crack of dawn. 

SRV Van

SRV-van

Getting to as many street corners as possible with a bunch of brass players was not as easy as it sounds. We used to arrive in separate cars to do our thing, until two brothers offered to help. One played the tuba and the other French horn, and both drove what was known in Holland as “SRV-vans.” These vans looked like huge motor homes or bookmobiles. They were actually supermarkets on wheels, and miracles of technical ingenuity.

Almost anything a local supermarket would stock, was for sale in these vans. They sold only one brand of peanut butter, coffee, or laundry detergent, but for many customers it was very convenient to have these goods arrive at their doorstep. On top of that, these vans were electrical, and thus very environmentally friendly.

So, imagine a group of musicians arriving on a cold and dark winter morning. The streets were usually slippery, and driving conditions were hazardous. Our lips would nearly freeze to our mouthpieces, but we were determined to fulfill our mission. Moments later, the two SRV-vans would arrive, filled to the brim with all kinds of groceries.

When the whole group was ready, we split up into two teams to cover different parts of town. One by one, you’d see trumpets, trombones, euphoniums, and basses get into the vans. Inside, we tried to find a safe space in between heads of lettuce, orange juice, cheeses, bread flour, milk, and the Holiday edition of Playboy. It was a very tight fit.

SRV van inside

Inside the van

From the very beginning, it was clear that these vans were not made for public transportation, especially if the roads were covered in snow and ice. Those inside had to hold on for dear life when these vehicles rounded corners. That wasn’t easy with a brass instrument in one hand. Everything inside would start to shift, and I vividly remember round Edam cheeses falling off the shelves like cannonballs. 

Because there were no side windows, we often had no idea where we’d stop, if we’d stop at all. Thanks to the added weight, the vans would slide a couple of extra meters on a frozen road after the driver had stepped on the brake. With so many passengers on board, his windscreen was all fogged up, and it was a miracle that we never collided with anything dead or alive. 

If my cornet would survive the Christmas ride without bumps and bruises, I’d be a happy man. If I’d survive the ride, my parents would be extremely relieved. 

Looking back, it was a crazy thing we did, and yet I didn’t want to miss it for anything in the world. We knew how many people were counting on us, and we were willing to take the risk.

There still are about three hundred supermarkets on wheels in The Netherlands, serving rural communities and the elderly. They’re long gone from the town I used to live in, but the last time I was there I heard a persistent rumor.

If you happen to wake up early on December 25th, you may hear the faint sound of a brass band playing carols in the cold.

Merry Christmas!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg via photopin cc

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