Personal

Don’t Drive Yourself Crazy

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 6 Comments

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

I sure do!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It says: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call me Mr. Cool!

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

The interviewer asked:

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

Khatia, who is from Georgia, answered:

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

“What about you, Gabriela?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

as driving a car.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Fallacy of ME, ME, ME Marketing

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Promotion, Social Media 2 Comments

selfie with microphoneQuestion on Quora:

“Is it okay to post pictures of yourself on Instagram? Would people think I’m too much into myself?”

Top answer:

“Since 99.99% of Instagram users have chosen to make evident how in love they are with themselves, you’ll fit right in.”

I had to think of that when one of my colleagues jokingly posted on Facebook that he was sick of seeing selfies of voice-overs in their studios. You know, these stereotypical posed pictures of smiling people in sweatshirts that always feature a microphone.

This led to a heated debate about narcissism and the perceived benefits of plastering your face all over the internet. Here’s what I want to know: are these selfies just a big ego trip, or an effective way to show your customers who you really are?

WHAT’S YOUR GOAL

Before I answer that question, let’s take a step back. Why would you as a small business owner use social media in the first place? It’s a time suck, a distraction, and as soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Zuckerberg and company change the algorithms.

For most freelancers, having a social media presence is part of their marketing strategy. The purpose of marketing is no mystery. It’s all about influence and perception. In a nutshell, here’s what effective marketing should do:

– Tells the world that you exist, and educates your audience about what you have to offer
– Helps your customers understand why your product or service is better than, or different from the competition
– Builds authority, credibility, and trust. It shows that you’re a pro running a reputable business
– Develops a relationship with your market: communicates with customers, and turns clients into fans
– Improves and reinforces brand awareness
– Grows your business by extending your reach and increasing your sales

Successful marketers influence how their product or service is perceived. They win people over by convincing them they have something special to offer that meets their needs. The ultimate goal is conversion: turning a prospect into a buyer.

How do selfies fit into this picture?

YOU OR THE CLIENT

We seem to have at least two schools of thought. I call them egocentric marketing and customer-centric marketing. An egocentric marketing campaign revolves around “Look at ME. Look at what I did. Look at what I’m doing.” It’s for people who mistake their own enthusiasm for what will motivate their potential customers.

Posting pictures of yourself and about yourself only works if you’re an interesting person leading an interesting life and if you already have a following that’s interested in you. Think of actors, musicians, models, celebrity chefs, politicians, and other public figures.

Let’s be honest: most of us aren’t that interesting, especially in a dimly lit studio with a big mike in front of our face. Unlike on-screen actors, voice actors don’t go on different sets in exotic locations. There’s no costume department clothing us, or makeup department carefully camouflaging our pimples. If we ever leave the house for work, it is to visit another dimly lit recording studio with more mikes, cables, and headphones.

Customer-centric marketing is based on the idea that if you wish to win people over, you have to stop talking about yourself and start listening. Based on what you hear, you provide content that addresses your customer’s fears, problems, and needs. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Customer-centric marketing is not only about increasing exposure. It’s about providing value for your viewers and followers.

WHO’S YOUR TARGET

The problem is that I don’t think many Instagrammers have identified a target audience before they start posting pictures. They don’t even have a business account. A personal account is used to post anything and everything. Snapshots from family trips, pictures of the pets, lunches, dinners, and the occasional picture of mama or papa doing voice-overs. All of this goes out to clients, colleagues, friends, family, and the one billion other people on Instagram.

There’s no distinction between the personal and the professional.

The question I asked myself before I became active on social media was this: Do I want to make my private life public, and if so, for what purpose?

Perhaps this is a generational thing. The younger generation has no trouble sharing their private lives publicly. The more views, the better. Self-esteem is linked to likes. A young colleague told me: “I want my clients to get to know me. If they see what I am like, they’ll remember me. If they remember me, there’s a greater chance that they will hire me.”

In contrast, I want to protect my privacy. The only time I open up about my personal life on this blog is to illustrate a point, or when I want to share something that I feel is relevant to many of my readers. That’s the reason you know about my stroke. I wanted to increase awareness through my experience.

My intended Instagram audience consists of colleagues and other freelancers. That’s why you won’t find any vacation photos, pics of alcoholic beverages, or silly selfies. Most of my posts are pictures with quotes from this blog. My goal is simple: to make people think. They don’t have to agree with me. I just want them to consider what’s written. It helps me be a trusted voice in an ongoing conversation.

I can hear you think: “That sounds very idealistic. Why would that be beneficial to your bottom line?”

Well, through these posts people get to know me and my ideas. And if they like what they see, they might go to my blog and sign up for coaching sessions. It gets me invites to interviews and podcasts, I’m asked to write guest posts, do presentations, and conduct workshops. It’s free publicity! People end up buying my book and start referring me to clients who need a European, neutral English voice.

There’s a lot that you can do when using social media to spread the word about your business. LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram give you an opportunity to highlight different aspects of what you have to offer. Different formats require a different approach.

What you do is up to you, but if you wish to make the switch from egocentric to customer-centric marketing, I leave you with the advice of one expert:

“It’s okay to be proud of your work, but turn your brags into benefits!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Why I Want You To Fail

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 6 Comments

cellist“Failure” is one of the dirtiest words in the dictionary.

In a culture where the notion of “being successful” is forced upon us from an early age, failure is hardly an option. Winners never fail, and who doesn’t want to be a winner?

Helicopter parents pressure their offspring to always be the best, and go for the A plus and extra credits. Their over-scheduled kids are expected to be brilliant at whatever it is they do, from horseback riding to playing the violin, to selling the most girl scout cookies ever.

If children don’t come home with a trophy, a badge, or high honors, what’s the point? What will you put on Facebook? “Sarah did okay in math?” “Brian got a B minus in biology?” “Sandy can’t keep up with the rest of her class?”

Heaven forbid! How would that reflect on you as a parent?

Out of this thinking comes the idea that we have to make it easy for our kids to succeed. We want to build them up, and make them feel good about themselves. How do we do that? By giving them high praise for mediocre accomplishments.

“She took two bites of oatmeal today, isn’t that amazing?”

“He brushed his teeth all by himself. I am so proud of him!”

“The soccer coach gave him a prize, just for showing up every week.”

When you set the bar really low, it becomes almost impossible to fail, but what you’re really doing is reinforcing behavior that is below average. It might give some kids a false sense of confidence and entitlement, which could carry over into adulthood.

LIFE LESSONS

When I was a teenager, my French professor always gave us easy tests. Even the slowest of students would do well, and on paper it looked like this teacher was a genius. But during our school trip to Paris, no one was able to put more than two words of French together, and we got hopelessly lost in the subway.

At that point we realized that this great teacher wasn’t so great after all. The biggest shock came later that year however, during final exams. Compared to most other students in the country, we did miserably, even though our grades had been fabulous.

A cellist I know had accepted a new, young student who was rather full of himself. When he got to meet the parents, he understood why. Mom and Dad thought that their Daniel was destined to be the next Yo-Yo Ma or Mstislav Rostropovich. “Well, we’ll see about that,” said the cellist. Let’s begin our first lesson, and afterward I’ll tell you what I think.”

It turned out that the kid wasn’t very good, even though he played an expensive instrument. “It’s not the instrument. It’s how you play it,” said the cellist to the parents, but they wouldn’t listen, and neither would their son.

So, what did his new teacher do? He signed Daniel up for a regional competition. Even though the boy had several months to prepare, he thought he could wing it. His parents (who knew very little about music) were convinced he was doing really well. Filled with great expectations they took him to the competition.

BEING TESTED

You probably know what’s coming. Compared to other students, Daniel didn’t impress the judges that much, and he got low marks. When his parents found out, they were furious.

“You set our Daniel up for failure,” they said. “The boy is in tears. What kind of teacher are you?”

“Let me tell you something,” said the cellist. “Your son might think he failed. In my opinion he just didn’t get the result you were expecting, which, given his skills and attitude, was rather unrealistic to begin with. This is not an easy instrument to master. So far, you have been comparing your son to himself. This competition was an opportunity to compare him to other kids in his age group.”

He went on: “Parents and other family members are supposed to be supportive. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the people who are closest to us, aren’t necessarily the most knowledgeable or experienced. Most of them don’t know what they’re listening and looking for. So, if you want honest feedback, you need two things. Number one: make sure the test is tough enough. Number two: the evaluators have to be experts.”

THE RELEVANCE

Now, if you’re new to voice-overs and you’re reading this blog, you might be wondering why I am talking about learning French or a musical instrument. You’re trying to break into the business thinking you stand a good chance of making it. People have told you that you have a great voice, and why wouldn’t McDonalds hire you for one of their commercials? You’re auditioning left and right, but so far there’ve been no takers. What does that tell you?

First of all, if making money as a voice-over would be easy, anybody would do it, and the rates would be even lower. Something that comes easy, isn’t worth much. Secondly, do you even know if you’re good at this? Let me rephrase that: Is what you have to offer ultra competitive in a market that is pretty much saturated? How do you know? Are you able to recognize your limitations?

HEARING MYSELF

A few days ago I listened to some of the auditions I recorded in 2010. At that time I honestly thought I sounded pretty great, and I didn’t understand why clients wouldn’t hire me. Knowing what I know now, there is no way I would have hired myself back then.

After a year of trying, I was ready to call my efforts to become a VO Pro an epic fail. Yet, as you know, one of the reasons I write this blog is because I’m still in business. How did that happen?

It turned out that this year of trying was a big test. It tested my preparedness, my resolve, my talent, my nerves, and my ability to learn and grow from feedback. I needed at least a year of “failure” to work on my weaknesses, as well as on my strengths.

I also learned to reframe that word “failure.” I started looking at my situation in terms of results. Just because I wasn’t getting the results I had hoped for, didn’t mean I had failed, or that I was a failure. I began to ask myself questions like:

– What results did I get?

– What part of it was something I could  influence, and what part was beyond my control? 

– What did I learn from it that was positive and practical?

– What would I need to do to improve?

– Who could help me make those improvements? 

– How was this process helping me become the professional I want to be?

And finally, just as it can take many years to learn a foreign language or master an instrument, I knew that it would take me a while to get good at doing voice-overs, and running a freelance business. Every “failure” could bring me one step closer to success, as long as I used it as a chance to learn something new.

If you happen to be in the middle of that process, and things aren’t going so well, please remember what one of my teachers once told me:

“No matter where you are in life, never stop learning.

Quite often, the best students get the hardest test!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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My Most Moving And Miraculous Year

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Gear, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Money Matters, Pay-to-Play, Personal, Promotion, Social Media, Studio 6 Comments

Paul Strikwerda

Counting correctly, this is my 49th entry this year. Wow!

You may have read them all, or you may have read a few. Anyhow, I’m glad you’re here so I can remind you of the stories you have memorized, as well as the ones you may have missed. As always, blue text means a hyperlink that takes you straight to the story.

Apart from the usual musings about clients, colleagues, and the ins and outs of running a for-profit freelance business, things took a very serious turn some nine months ago. March 26th was the day I almost died. It was hard to imagine that only a few days before, I had been a presenter at VO Atlanta, which I didn’t like, by the way. I LOVED it, and I’ll be back in 2019!

After my stroke, the blog entries kept coming, but I disappeared from your radar screen, so I could focus on my recovery. One of the things I had to work on was getting my voice back, which is not as easy as it sounds.

People going through major, traumatic, life-changing events often ask three questions:

– Why me?

– Why this?

– Why now?

In Life’s Unfair. Get Used To It, I’ll tell you how I deal with these questions. Stories like these are examples of what I’m trying to do with this blog. Many assume that since I work as a voice talent, this must be a blog about voice-overs. That’s only partially true.

For me, the world of voice acting is just a lens through which I observe and comment on the world. When I write about customers, colleagues, and communication, what I really write about is relationships and human interaction.

A story like Filling In The Blanks, is not only a tale about what happens when you start to second-guess what you think your clients want to hear. It’s a story about perception and projection. About making assumptions, and finding true meaning.

In Getting In Our Own Way, I describe two types of voice talents: the narcissist and the masochist. They are two types of people who are very hard to teach. Take a few minutes to read it, and tell me if it only applies to the world of voice acting.

One more example. Are Clients Walking All Over You? is not just about dealing with difficult clients. It’s about how to handle conflict and getting a spine. That’s something many of us struggle with on a regular basis.

Some of my stuff is explicitly written for those who are thinking of becoming a voice-over, and those who are new to the business. When it comes to these people, here’s my general approach: I tell them what they don’t want to hear. As you can imagine, that makes me very popular in certain circles.

Stories like Entitled Wannabees Need Not Reply, Ten Lies Voice Overs Tell, and 5 Reasons Why You Should Never Become A Voice-Over are perfect examples. Bored Stiff, about the unexciting parts of being a VO, is another one.

This December I wrote a 3-part series called Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? (here’s a link to Part One, Part Two, and Part Three). If you ever have the “People told me I have a great voice” conversation with a wannabe, and you’re lost for words, please point them to this series.

Now, whenever I write these cautionary articles, there are always one or two commentating newcomers who still believe I’m trying to denigrate and disparage beginners.“You must be threatened by us,” they say, or “You were once a newbie. Why are you so mean?” It’s as if I personally reject them.

Although I’m convinced The Voice-Over World Needs More Rejection, it is never my intention to spitefully discourage people who are talented and truly committed to becoming a voice actor. In fact, in my blog I give those folks tools and strategies to help them navigate a new career in a competitive market.

Take a story like Surviving the Gig Economy, or 4 Ways To Get From Good To Great. The Secret to Sustained Success is another example. As a blogger I want to warn and welcome my readers to this fascinating but tricky line of work. Not to scare them, but to prepare them. If you don’t get the difference, you’re probably too thin-skinned for this business.

Speaking of business, without customers, you would not have one. Blog posts like Is Your Client Driving You Crazy? or Learn To Speak Like Your Clients were written to help you manage the delicate relationship with the hands that feed you.

In Would You Survive The Shark Tank? I invite you to take a good look at your business to see how well you would do in front of cash-hungry investors. If you want to cut expenses, read Becoming A Frugal Freelancer. If you need to increase sales, turn to How To Sell Without Selling. If you’re struggling with getting fair rates, read Stop Selling Yourself Short.

As a voice-over coach I’ve encountered a common problem that’s keeping talented voice actors from making a good living. They have the right training, the right gear, and promising demos, and yet they’re struggling. Why?

Because they are subconsciously sabotaging their success. They might be stuck in the Perfectionism Trap. They might be suffering from Mike Fright, or they might be held back by other fears. In other cases they are lacking a support system, or they may need some serious rebranding.

This year (like any other year), I could not resist writing about gear. Check out Picking the Perfect Voice-Over Microphone, and Equip Your Voice-Over Studio For Under A Thousand Bucks. Start spending those lovely gift cards during the post-Christmas sale! I know they’re burning a hole in your pocket.

What was my greatest gift this year? I’ll tell you: it was your ongoing support when I needed it most. Thank you for reaching out after my stroke, and for showing me that you’re not just a colleague or reader of this blog, but a true friend I can count on when times are tough.

My recovery made 2018 a miraculous year.

Your help and encouragement have moved me more than words could possibly convey.

I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year!

Gratefully yours,

Paul Strikwerda  ©nethervoice

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Why is doing voice-overs so difficult? Part 3

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 12 Comments

Leap of FaithClick here for Part 1, and click here for Part 2.

One thing I am sure of.

Human beings have a hard time dealing with uncertainty.

From the moment we’re born till the moment we die, we have a need to know.

That’s why we spend a lifetime answering questions, such as:

  • Why am I here?
  • Is there a God?
  • Can I be happy?
  • Why does evil exist?
  • Is there an afterlife?
  • McDonald’s or Burger King?

Not knowing is often worse than knowing. That’s why TV shows take us from cliffhanger to cliffhanger, and millions tune in to find out who the next American Idol is going to be. We cannot live with the suspense of not knowing.

Where does this innate urge come from? I believe it has to do with control. Subconsciously, people assume that the things they know for sure, they can control. We cannot measure and control the things that are unknown.

Two friends of mine love going on vacations. Let’s call them Jack and John. Both have traveled the world in ways that couldn’t be more different. Jack’s a free spirit. He likes to improvise, and takes life one step at a time. Jack is the person who’d buy a ticket to Rome and a Lonely Planet guide to Italy, and he lets his gut feeling determine where and when he goes to explore the country.

John would absolutely hate that. He prefers to tour Italy with a group, knowing exactly where he ‘s going to be, and where he is going to stay from day to day to day. And if things wouldn’t go according to plan, he’d get very nervous and upset. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” is his favorite saying.

Ask yourself: Are you a Jack, or are you a John?

That’s a question anyone should ask before deciding to become an independent contractor. It’s exactly the sort of thing that makes it so hard to be a professional voice-over. I’ll go one step further: the answer to that question is the number one reason why most people who are going freelance, fail.

I’m not making that up to rain on your parade. The Small Business Association (SBA) estimates that 30% of new businesses fail during the first two years of being open, 50% during the first five years, and 66% during the first 10. Those cold numbers camouflage dreams dashed, families in turmoil, and the burden of bankruptcy.

I’ll be very clear: those who eventually become successful at doing voice-overs, are great at handling uncertainty in an economic system that favors predictability.

So, what kind of uncertainty am I talking about?

For starters, you’ll never know where your work will be coming from, and which job you’ll land, and which job will go to a colleague. If you’re not selected, you’ll never know why.

When you audition, you won’t know what the client is looking for. Many clients will tell you: “I’ll know it when I hear it.” The job description is purposely vague: “Male/Female voice, Neutral English, Young Adult to Middle Age.”

You’ll never know how much the client has budgeted for the job you just auditioned for. They all plead poverty. These days you won’t even know how much a particular job is worth anymore, and what your bid should be. You’ll be bidding on jobs in many countries and many markets for all sorts of media. There will always be an idiot who will do more for less.

Once you’ve accepted the job, things don’t get any clearer. Nine out of ten times you’ll be recording by yourself without a director, so it’s up to you to read between the lines and interpret the script as best as you can. It’s a hit or miss process.

The whole thing feels like running a restaurant where you are the owner and chef. The client comes in and wants food. “What would you like?” you ask. “I’ll know it when I see it,” says the customer. “Go to the kitchen and work your magic. But make it quick.”

Half an hour later you proudly present your finished dish. The client smells the food, turns green, and waves the plate away saying: “That’s not what I ordered! I’m not paying for that.” Or worse, they’ll eat everything and disappear without leaving a check.”

You see, that’s another thing you’ll be uncertain about. As a voice-over, you run an international business that’s based on trust. The client trusts you to take care of the job. You trust the client to pay you for the job. On time and in full.

Good luck with that!

The Freelancers Union estimates that 7 out of 10 freelance workers face nonpayment, and freelancers are stiffed an average of $6000 annually.

Who is going to protect you? So far, New York is the only city in the United States to adopt the Freelancing Isn’t Free Act which extends unprecedented protections against nonpayment for millions of New York City’s freelance workers.

But what do you do when that client in Mumbai or Shenyang doesn’t respond to your payment requests? They wanted your audio files yesterday, you sent them, and now they’re MIA. You have no leverage. The only thing you can do is publicly shame them, and demand payment up front the next time you work with an unknown client.

Given the fact that you don’t know what you’ll be working on, when you’ll be working, how much you’ll be working, how much you’re getting paid, and when the money will be coming in, how do you know you’ll be able to pay the bills?

Try getting a mortgage on a freelance income, or any other loan for that matter. If you’re just getting started you need the money the most to pay for all that equipment, your demos, website, home studio, marketing materials, and coaching sessions. And you have nothing to show for it but good intentions.

No matter how much or how little is coming in, your insurance company expects you to pay your premium on time, your rent is due the first of the month, and your credit cards need to be paid, as well as your taxes. John would go crazy going from month to month.

You may be able to live with uncertainty, but what about your family?

Now, in the past I used to say that the only factor in this business you can count on and control, is YOU.

That sounds nice, but based on my experience, most people who try their hand at voice-overs lack the knowledge, the drive, and the discipline to run a business. They can handle it as a hobby, but that’s it. Let me give you an example. As a VO-coach I can quickly tell if someone has what it takes by the way they handle my assignments.

Those who need a lot of hand-holding don’t impress me. Those who don’t do their homework and make all sorts of excuses, tend not to do well. Those who say “Just tell me where I can find work,” are likely to fail.

Many are interested. Very few are committed.

Here’s the problem: as someone who is self-employed, no one will tell you what to do. No one will hold you accountable. No one cares if you sleep in, or waste your time surfing the web.

And then there’s this.

Until March of this year, I thought I was in control. I believed that I was the certainty my business was based on.

Then I had a stroke.

I woke up weak, exhausted, and without a voice. During many months of rehab I lost thousands of dollars in work I was unable to do. Some of my clients with whom I’d been working for years, found other talent and never came back.

Instead of building my business, I am rebuilding it, piece by piece. But if it weren’t for my amazing better half, my business probably would have gone bust.

At the end of the day, running a business is about risks and rewards.

Too often, newcomers focus on the rewards, and forget about the risks.

So, if you’re seriously thinking of becoming a voice-over, are you a Jack or a John?

I know you want the rewards, but are you certain you’re ready for the risks?

If so, you are in for a most rewarding career!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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Losing My Voice

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 29 Comments

At speech therapy wearing a TENS device

The facts are sobering.

Every forty seconds, someone is struck with a stroke. It is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. Most people will never make a full recovery, and more than two-thirds of survivors have some kind of disability associated with the attack.

Those are the statistics.

It’s a good thing I don’t believe in numbers. I believe in proving them wrong. The history of the world is filled with people who were told “It can’t be done,” and yet they persisted and succeeded. Against all odds.

I believe that people don’t equal statistics.

Going by the stats, it seems reasonable to believe that I would never fully recover from the stroke that struck me six months ago. But I chose to be unreasonable.

Last week I wrote about my road to recovery, and I promised you to open up about the one thing that terrified me most. It was something I didn’t want my colleagues or clients to know, because it could ruin my career.

HOW IT STARTED

Let me take you back to March 26th, 2018, the day I woke up on the floor of my voice-over studio wondering what the heck was going on. In hindsight I had the classic signs of a stroke: a sudden and pounding headache, loss of coordination, and blurry vision. One side of my body was paralyzed, my face was drooping, and I had trouble speaking.

That last symptom manifested itself in two ways: I had difficulty speaking sentences that made sense, and my speech was slurred. This usually means that the part of the brain that controls language is not getting the blood supply it needs. It was in fact dying.

As I was being transported to the hospital in a helicopter, my wife got a phone call from the surgeon who was on standby to operate on me. “When Paul comes in, I probably won’t have time to introduce myself,” he said, “so I want to take a moment to speak with you now. I’ll be totally honest. Everything we do will depend on the results of Paul’s CT scan, which will show us what parts of his brain are still intact when he arrives. Timing is crucial.”

He continued: “Be prepared that he might not make it, or that he’ll end up being severely handicapped and dependent on others for the rest of his life. If the scan looks good, we can do a thrombectomy to remove the blood clot from his brain, and take it from there.”

Since you’re reading these words, you already know the outcome. I guess it wasn’t my time to go, and I beat the statistics. Annually, out of the 1600 stroke patients that arrive in the hospital I was admitted to, only 80 are eligible for a thrombectomy.

THE RECOVERY BEGINS

So, my surgery was a success, but this did not mean that all was well between my ears. The scans showed a black area on the right side of my brain where cells had died. Those cells do not grow back. In order to compensate for the loss, the brain has to rewire itself and have other parts take over the function of the cells that are lost. To make that happen I needed at least five things: a positive attitude, a solid support system, plenty of rest, healthy nutrition, and therapy.

Even though I no longer sounded like a drunkard, clear articulation wasn’t my forte in the first few months after my stroke. I suffered from dysarthria. That’s a fancy word for unclear speech caused by brain damage. It’s a weakness or lack of coordination of the muscles of the tongue, lips, palate, jaw, and larynx. On top of that I had word-finding issues, indicative of memory loss.

By far the weirdest symptom of my post-stroke condition was the fact that I didn’t sound like me. My speech had become rather robotic and monotonal. It came in little bursts of language, just like the thoughts in my head. In the weeks to come, I discovered that I had the hardest time infusing my words with emotion.

No matter the subject, I sounded as passionate as a concrete wall. After I came home, I tried my hand at a few voice-over scripts for existing clients. It took countless retakes before I was somewhat satisfied with the result, but clients were noticing that something was off. The feedback I consistently received boiled down to this: “Once more, with feeling, please.”

The problem was that I had no idea how to access those right brain feelings. No matter how hard I tried, I seemed incapable of translating instructions like “confident,” “warm,” or “excited” into sound, whether in my studio, or in ordinary conversations. This was infuriatingly frustrating. I felt like a soccer player unable to handle the ball, or a painter who can’t hold a brush to add color to his canvas.

Would I ever be able to reach these emotions again, or were they part of the right brain that was destroyed by the stroke? What would this mean for my voice-over career?

Twice a week I went to speech therapy to learn how to improve my articulation. With my therapist, I also worked on regaining memory, and on sharpening my information processing skills. Very soon I realized that all of this wasn’t going to be as easy as flipping some internal switch. It needed time, energy, and lots of practice at home.

Speaking of home, on top of her busy schedule my wife became my designated driver, my patient advocate, my caregiver, my personal chef, and my hero. She made sure I got to all my appointments, that I took all my medications, and that my recovery would be pretty much stress-free. Her delicious meals were almost always based on fresh, locally sourced and unprocessed ingredients. You can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body.

MORE TROUBLE

In the weeks after my hospitalization there was something else about my voice that concerned me. For some reason I was hoarse all the time, and I had no vocal stamina for long conversations and even longer scripts. I was tired, and I sounded like it. Something told me that if I didn’t take care of this, my career as a professional speaker would be over.

In May I went to see an otorhinolaryngologist who specializes in working with actors, singers, and public speakers. She performed a flexible fiberoptic laryngoscopy whereby a small endoscope is inserted through one nostril and guided through the nose to the back of the throat. It’s a funny feeling.

This revealed a slight laryngeal tremor. That’s an involuntary tremor of the vocal folds that causes changes in the voice. My ENT also concluded I had laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), a.k.a. “silent reflux.” Why silent? Because it doesn’t necessarily trigger the usual symptoms of acid reflux, such as heartburn. It does lead to hoarseness, coughing, and throat clearing because stomach fluid travels back through the food pipe to reach the back of the throat.

It is likely that the laryngeal tremor was caused by the stroke. Perhaps it will go away over time. Perhaps it won’t. I’m treating my LPR in several ways. I avoid spicy and acidic foods. I limit my intake of chocolate, coffee, alcohol, citrus fruits, mints and tomato-based products. I’ve stopped snacking before bedtime, and I’ve lost about twenty pounds. I’m also taking omeprazole which decreases the amount of acid the stomach makes. A new wedge pillow raises my head in bed, and keeps the acid down where it belongs.

Experts estimate that forty percent of the population may have undiagnosed LPR. If you’re experiencing hoarseness, a need to clear your throat, a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, or a red, swollen, or irritated voice box, please see an ENT to get to the root of the problem.

POSITIVE RESULTS

The good news is that after months of speech therapy my articulation and ability to focus has greatly improved, and the robot voice is gone. Only when I get really tired, it becomes more monotonal. I’m relieved that my speech has become more expressive, allowing me to continue to work as a voice talent. I’m also back to doing four-hour shifts as one of the announcers at the Easton Farmers’ Market.

Twice a week I work on strengthening my vocal folds and building my endurance with my speech therapists. I’m not yet where I want to be, but I’ve started recording longer scripts again.

RECOVERY CONTINUES

It takes a positive attitude, plenty of rest, healthy nutrition, and therapy to recover from a stroke. Add to that a support system; a network of caring people who provide you with practical and emotional support. Reading and responding to your comments on last week’s blog post, I realize how lucky I am to have such a supportive group of friends and colleagues!

Thank you for your kind words, good thoughts, and prayers. Your positive vibes revitalize me, and give me energy to keep on beating the odds. The process of healing goes on, which means that I have to be careful not to do too much, too quickly. So, if you don’t hear from me within 24 hours, and you don’t see me on social media, rest assured that I’m doing everything I can to take care of myself.

I hope you will do the same.

Paul ©nethervoice

Important: the information presented here does not substitute for medical consultation or examination, nor is it intended to provide advice on the medical treatment appropriate to any specific circumstances.

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Why I Have Disappeared

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 53 Comments

Six months ago I was on top of the world. And then my world collapsed.

I remember being in Carnegie Hall on Thursday, March 22nd to hear Itzak Perlman and Pinchas Zuckerman play. During the intermission, I checked my phone to see if one of my agents had news about an audition. Seconds later I learned that I had landed a national spot for IHOP. The recording session was the very next day.

That night my wife and our companions went home without me, while I stayed at our friend Peggy’s, an oboist who shares a small apartment in the city with her cat Boston. The next morning I took the subway to Heard City at 16 W 22nd Street, a boutique audio post production facility. After two intense hours of takes and retakes the job was done, and I felt fantastic!

Very soon this obscure Dutchman, who came to the States with no contacts and no career, would be selling Hawaiian French toast all over America. Life was sweet! Little did I know that in three days time, I would be toast, as doctors were fighting for my life.

I’ve documented the story of my stroke in “I’m Still Here.” It starts with me, waking up half-paralyzed on the floor of my voice-over studio, a rescue by friends followed by a bumpy helicopter ride, a thrombectomy, and a two-week stay in the hospital.

But that was just the beginning.

CHANGING MY LIFE

From the moment I came out of the ER, it was clear that from now on two things would be crucial. I had to Rest and Recover. Anything else was secondary. This may sound easy, but for a busy bee like me it required a disruptive but essential change in lifestyle and in attitude. For me, the hardest part was this: Being okay with being incapacitated.

I’ll be honest with you: I was anything but okay with that concept. For years and years I had gone full speed ahead, sitting in the driver’s seat of my life, frantically holding on to the wheel. I couldn’t stand that after the stroke I felt weighed down by an overwhelming fatigue, unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

Trapped in my lethargic body, and held back by persistent brain fog, I observed myself becoming dependent on the help and kindness of others to heal from this stroke of misfortune. My prospects for recovery were unclear.

One neurologist casually informed me that the dead brain cells would not regenerate. “What you’ve lost will never come back,” he said. “You just have to learn to live with it.” I hate it when people use the word “just” in that way, don’t you?

Another doctor told me to trust the amazing ability of the brain to reorganize itself and form new connections between cells. It’s called neuroplasticity. As long as I did my part, the grey matter between my prominent ears would do the rest. Now, there’s a concept I could embrace!

SIDE EFFECTS

Apart from feeling tired and overwhelmed all the time, there were other signs that the stroke had done a number on my body and my mind. I’ll mention a few, but please note that these “side effects” are by no means typical. It all depends on which parts of the brain are affected by the stroke, and to what extent. That’s why they say: “Different strokes for different folks,” I guess.

My stroke had wiped out a part of my right brain, which affected the left side of my body. At times that side felt rather uncooperative and weak. If you and I were to go for a stroll, you’d see my left foot dragging, and my left arm refusing to swing. After six months, I still have an interesting time picking things up with my left hand.

Surprisingly, my eyesight was also impacted. For the first time in my life I couldn’t read all the letters on the ophthalmologist’s chart, which is why I now permanently sport a pair of stylish bifocals. As it turned out, my brain was also ignoring part of the left side of my field of vision, which requires bi-weekly vision therapy. Driving a car was out of the question.

Overall, I found it hard to focus in other ways too, especially in an environment with lots of things going on at the same time. My brain would quickly reach stimulus overload and tune out. Supermarkets and department stores were places to avoid, as well a large gatherings of people.

Social situations became particularly awkward for me. I can’t explain why, but instead of taking part in a conversation, I found myself becoming a disengaged observer. It was as if my brain had trouble connecting and downloading the information. Should you and I meet and strike up a conversation, please don’t think I’m bored as my eyes start drifting away and I stop responding. It simply means it’s challenging for me to process the information and the environment, and my wheels are churning.

Anyway, I don’t want this to be a litany of complaints, so, before I talk about how my stroke affected my voice and my career as a professional speaker, I’ll tell you how I approached my recovery.

GETTING BACK ON MY FEET

From the moment I landed in the hospital, I knew I had one job and one job only: to heal my body and my mind. Everything I do and not do, has to serve that purpose. I use present tense, because the process is ongoing.

One of the first things I had to wrap my brain around is that it is okay to be unproductive. Healing from a stroke requires rest. Lots of it. In the first few months, I spent hours and hours in bed. At night and during the day. Even though my body told me to take it easy, my mind felt terribly guilty for not doing my share and pulling my weight. Talking to a neuropsychologist made me realize this was unhelpful, to say the least.

I learned to listen to my body, and accept that I was (temporarily) unable to contribute much to the household. I learned to accept that other people would pick up the slack. Daily afternoon naps are now part of the program. I also learned to avoid things that would drain my energy.

On any given day, you and I spend a lot of time worrying about things that happened in the past, or things that might happen in the future. As a result, we’re barely in the moment. It’s like going out to dinner in a fancy restaurant. During the main course we’re still evaluating the appetizer, or we’re already wondering about dessert. Meanwhile, we ignore what’s on our plate and in our mouth.

The truth is: the only reality is the here and the now. The rest is imagination. Yes, even memories are figments of our imagination because they’re nothing but personal interpretations of what we believe has happened in the past.

Recovering from a stroke is teaching me to be here now; to savor the moment, and not let worries about what may or may not happen suck the life blood out of me.

STAYING FOCUSED

Next, I had to decide how to deal with distractions. To me, a distraction was anything that would keep me from my main goal: to rest and recover. This meant putting my voice-over career on a back burner, and (temporarily) disengage from my community. So, no more Instagram or Twitter, and very limited time on Facebook. I’d stay out of discussions about the state of our industry, and I stopped writing a new blog post every week. In short, I practically disappeared from the radar screen, and I have to tell you: it was bliss!

If you’re active on social media, you know that it can be quite stressful to have to produce new content for the world to see. It’s a monster that’s always hungry for more. On top of that you have to keep up with all the content produced by others on a daily basis. The trick is to control “it” before it controls you.

As I’m taking a social media break, I am reevaluating to what extent I should maintain my presence. Is it a good use of my time? Does it keep me healthy and sane? And most importantly, does it make me and others happy? Having a stroke reemphasized that our time on earth is by no means guaranteed, and certainly not unlimited. It’s what you do with it that matters.

Work wise, I took a long and beneficial break from doing auditions. I only record for existing clients, and for jobs that land in my lap. It’s all I have time and energy for. But don’t think I spend most of my days in a horizontal position. It’s amazing how much time goes into doctor’s visits, medical tests, endless follow-up appointments, and therapy sessions. Getting well has become my day job, and my night time activity.

Every time I go to rehab and see other stroke patients, I realize how lucky I am. I’m not in a wheelchair. I can communicate. My brain still works, and I have a wife and friends who are there for me, every step of the way. Every week caring colleagues check in with me, wanting to know how I am doing. And when I meet people that haven’t seen me for a while, they are surprised how well I seem to be doing.

However, there’s one thing I haven’t told you about: how the stroke has affected my voice. I’ve kept this quiet because I didn’t want my clients to know and look elsewhere for talent. But since I’m on the mend, I’m ready to share that story with you next week!

Paul ©nethervoice

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Are Clients Walking All Over You?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Money Matters, Personal 18 Comments

Angry manAs a freelancer, I’ve had to learn many lessons.

Some of these lessons came easy. Others were excruciating.

Out of all the things I picked up along the way, these two were perhaps the hardest:

1. How to deal with conflict.

2. How to stand up for myself.

I grew up in a very protective environment, and was taught never to raise my voice. The main philosophy in our house was this:

Most people have good intentions. If you treat them with kindness and understanding, they will treat you in a similar way.

So, when my best friend asked if he could borrow some money, I immediately gave it to him. I think I was eight years old at that time, and I had earned a few bucks by helping out around the house. “You’ll get it back tomorrow,” he said, and I totally believed him.

Of course he never returned a penny, and I couldn’t figure out why. Was it something I had said? Was it something I had done? You see, that was one of my patterns. Whenever something negative would happen to me, I started questioning myself.

This made it harder for me to confront my friend and ask for my money. Part of me didn’t want to risk losing him as my best buddy. Part of me was just too scared to challenge him. “Don’t cause conflicts,” said that little voice in the back of my head that sounded very much like my mother. “People might not like you when you start arguing with them.”

A LOSING STRATEGY

I have to tell you right now: this approach didn’t work for me as a child, and it didn’t work for me as an adult. It left me with no backbone, and it made me vulnerable. Yet, when I started my own business, I did everything I could to avoid conflict by becoming a people-pleaser.

If you’re offering a professional service like I do, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You want your clients to be happy, and their wish is your command, but there are limits. I found it very hard to say “No,” even when clients made unreasonable demands.

“Could you cancel all your plans and come to our studio for an audition tomorrow? Let’s make it nine o’ clock.”

The next day I cursed rush hour traffic on my way to New York for a cattle call in some obscure basement. I would spend half a day on the highway, and a small fortune in parking fees to audition for a $250 job. It was madness.

“Since you’re a Dutch native speaker, could you check the translation of the script we sent you, just to make sure everything is the way it’s supposed to be?”

Unable to refuse, I would spend the next two hours proofing and correcting a horrible script that had been translated by stupid software. All of this for a cheap client who never said “please,” or “thank you,” and who expected me to do this at the drop of a hat, and for free.

“If I don’t do it, I might lose the job,” I told myself in those days.

Five minutes later, the phone would ring. It was one of my late-paying clients.

“Paul, we’re having some cashflow problems. Is it okay if we pay you in about… six weeks?”

“I’d rather get paid in six weeks than not being paid at all,” I said to myself, and I told the client not to worry. I was going to be the easiest freelancer they would ever work with!

MR. DOORMAT

Looking back, I had all sorts of people walk over me, and I found it increasingly difficult to put on a professional smile, and be okay with being treated like a dirty disposable doormat. Even though I began to resent being disrespected, there were three things I forgot.

1. Ultimately, my ultra-accommodating behavior gave me something I wanted: a way to avoid conflict. I would be seen as the amiable hired helper who always went above and beyond. Who wouldn’t want to work with me?

2. I wasn’t a powerless victim of those who took advantage of me. I was an active participant in the process by allowing people to walk all over me.

3. By behaving the way I did, I created certain expectations. I taught my clients how to treat me.

At the time, I didn’t see it that way. I saw myself as the always accommodating Mr. Nice Guy, smiling on the outside, but suffering in silence on the inside. It was only a matter of time before the last drop landed in the bucket.

PUSHING MY BUTTONS

I had finished recording a technical script for a high-maintenance, unorganized client who always needed everything yesterday. Even though I was swamped, I managed to meet his deadline. Two days later I was getting ready to go to a wedding, when he called me with some drastic changes to the script.

“Don’t blame me,” he said. “I don’t control the people I work for.”

He basically expected me to drop everything and help him out, and here’s the worst part: he wanted me to do it at no charge.

Already in my tuxedo, my frustration finally reached a boiling point, and I snapped at this man with an indignation that had been building up for years. I’ll tell you: when I was done, I felt so relieved!

My client, on the other hand, was speechless. Once he composed himself, he just said a few words:

“I wouldn’t want you to miss that wedding. We’ll go over everything tomorrow, and I’ll make sure you get paid for your time.”

Just like that!

I was stunned.

I looked in the mirror and thought:

“So, that’s what happens when you put your foot down!”

I later apologized to the client for losing my temper, and I thanked him for teaching me a valuable lesson.

BOUNDARIES

This all happened quite some time ago. Eventually, I came to realize that I had to set some professional boundaries. Now, if you’re going through the same things I experienced, you might wonder:

How do you know where these boundaries are? They’re pretty much invisible.

It’s simple, really. You know where your boundaries are by the amount of BS you’re willing to put up with in your life.

As long as you’re okay, no lines are crossed. But if someone or something makes you angry or upset, it’s probably a sign that your boundaries have been violated. You’re likely to find out during some kind of crisis. That’s when you discover who you are, and what’s important to you.

Over the years I have developed very strong boundaries when it comes to rates, professional standards, and the terms and conditions under which I am willing to work with a client or a student.

I no longer drive to New York if a job pays less than $500. My agents know that, and they understand. Most of them will ask a producer if it’s okay for me to send an MP3 audition, instead of making me go to a cattle call. Usually, that’s no problem either.

If clients want me to translate or proof a script, they’ll have to pay me to do it, and payment is expected within 30 days after the invoice is received. I’m happy to record changes to the script after the initial, approved text was recorded, but not for free. 

NEW RESPECT

Did I lose a couple of clients because I refused to put up with their BS? Of course I did, but I was glad to get rid of them. Now here’s the kicker…

Because I was putting my foot down (ever so gently, of course), people started to respect me more.

As my self-confidence increased, their confidence in me increased as well. To my surprise I discovered that being clear about my boundaries lead to less conflict. 

My rate was no longer seen as expensive, but as a sign of professionalism. These days, many clients are willing to do a lot to accommodate me, instead of the other way around.

All in all I’d say that standing up for myself has made me feel better about myself in general, and it has brought more clients to my business.

However, there’s one thing that keeps on bugging me.

Not long ago, the childhood friend I told you about in the beginning, found me on Facebook, and now he wants to connect. It’s been more than forty years since we last spoke, and I’m curious to find out how he is doing. However, I’m reluctant to honor his request.

After all, the guy still owes me money!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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photo credit: la colérica e inmediata respuesta gestual via photopin (license)

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Filling In The Blanks

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal Leave a comment

bartender“It’s too risky, too challenging, too expensive, and you’ll be very lonely”.

That’s what people told me when I announced that I was going to become self-employed. This was many, many moons ago.

I’m sure these folks meant well, but what struck me most was the fact that these self-appointed business coaches were all working in some nine to five job, making money for someone else. They had no clue what it would be like, to be one’s own boss. The idea alone probably terrified them. I say “probably” because I’m not sure.

What happened in these conversations was something that is universally human, and universally flawed: people projecting their own life experiences, values, beliefs, fears, and attitudes onto the life of someone else. Not hindered with practical experience or specific knowledge, they’ll tell you:

“I know precisely what you mean. I know exactly how you feel. I totally get it.”

The question is: Is that really true?

UNDERSTANDING AND BEING UNDERSTOOD

When you hear a seemingly innocent phrase such as “I know how you must be feeling right now,” let me tell you what is actually going on. With a few simple words, your friend, colleague, or family member has become a mind reader, and has managed to shift the conversation away from you and onto them. Hence the prominent use of the pronoun “I.”

They have taken what you wanted to talk about, and used it as an opportunity to refocus the conversation. Perhaps not on purpose, but they did it nevertheless. 

By saying “I know exactly what you mean,” people are also comparing their personal situation to your unique circumstances, as if these two are equal. That is hardly ever the case. Even when situations seem very similar, they rarely are, and people respond to them in their own way. That’s what makes us so interesting, and at times unpredictable.

When people say things like “I know exactly how you feel,” most of us don’t make a big deal about it, unless it concerns something very personal, and there’s a need to be understood. Let me give you an example.

WALKING IN SOMEONE’S SHOES

You may know that my wife has multiple sclerosis. It’s a nasty disease which manifests itself in different ways on different days. One of the most common symptoms is fatigue. Fatigue is different from being tired. It is often described as an acute lack of energy; an unusual and utterly overwhelming whole-body tiredness not relieved by sleep, which prevents a person from functioning normally.

So, when my wife told one of her friends that she was exhausted, and the friend (who doesn’t have MS) responded by saying “I know exactly how you feel,” my wife said:

“Actually, I’m glad you don’t. I would not want to wish this on anybody.”

I remember going to an event where friends and family members were educated about multiple sclerosis. To give me a sense of what it might feel like to experience MS symptoms, a facilitator put weights on my legs which affected my sense of balance.

Blurred vision is another MS symptom, so they had me wear strange goggles that made the world around me look distorted. I could not read a simple text they asked me to read. Then I had to wear thick gloves, and I was instructed to unbutton my shirt, which was totally impossible.

I still remember the frustrating feeling of helplessness as I was wearing this weird outfit. The things I had come to rely upon: my sense of balance, my eyesight, and my sense of touch, were seriously affected. I needed the help of other people to get around and get things done, and I hated losing my independence. For a moment.

Luckily, after a while I could take all these gadgets off, but I tell you: I never looked at my wife in the same way. Never again would I tell her: “I know exactly how you feel.” Even after my limited MS symptom simulation I can’t say I know what it’s like to have an incurable chronic disease. And I hope I’ll never find out.

PERCEPTION AND PROJECTION

Now, this may be an extreme example, but extremes can make things clear. As a human being it is hard not to compare and project. We constantly have to make sense of the world around us, and we use our own experiences as a frame of reference. Based on that I have a few questions for you:

• How often are you aware that your perception is based on projection? 

• How often do you really know what a client means or a what friend feels?

• What would happen if you’d stop filling in the blanks based on your model of the world?

It doesn’t matter if you’re in a personal or in a professional relationship. If you are using your own experience to interpret the world, you are severely limiting yourself, and you’re not doing the other person justice. You’re not even focused on the other person because you’re too busy working things out in your own head.

Or as they say in the East: “You cannot pour tea into a cup that is already full.”

A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

When I give a voice-over student a script and ask him or her to read it as if they were hired to be the narrator, I can predict what is going to happen. The student just starts reading the text. A few paragraphs later I ask them:

“How did you know to read it the way you did? How did you choose the tone, the tempo, the volume, and the accent?”

And most of the time they tell me: “I thought it would sound good this way. That’s all.”

Then I ask:

“Is this what the client wanted?”

“I have no idea,” the student answers. “It’s just a guess. How was I supposed to know?”

“Well, did you ask?” is my response.

And then the coin drops.

You can’t give a client what s/he wants to hear, if you have no clue what it is. You might think you have some idea, but that perception is based on your projection. It’s like asking a bartender to fix you a drink, and he just starts mixing something. Unless you asked to be surprised, you might not like what you are getting, let alone pay for it.

“Am I making any sense?” I asked my student.

“Absolutely,” she said. And then she added:

“Believe me… I know exactly what you mean.”

“Believe me,” I answered.

“You absolutely don’t.”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: via photopin (license)

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Life’s Unfair. Get Used To It.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Personal 3 Comments
Father and son at the sea shore

My Dad and Me

Jake was a model employee. He’d been with the same company for 45 years, and never missed a day. At his retirement party, he received a farewell gift: a trip for two to Aruba. It was something Jake and his wife had always dreamt of.

A week later, they were on their way to the airport. While going through security, Jake suddenly collapsed, and died of a heart attack.

Jenny was a model athlete: tall, muscular, and motivated. From the age of fifteen she’d won practically every triathlon she took part in. At her Olympic qualifier she crushed the national competition. Two more weeks, and she would be on her way to represent her country.

Friends threw her a farewell pool party. That night, Jenny slipped over an ice cube, and landed on the edge of the pool. With a broken tibia, she could kiss her Olympic dreams goodbye. She never reached her old level again.

A few years ago, Folkert, my father, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. One of his doctors told him he was in the final stages, and advised him to get his affairs in order.

My father began a breakthrough treatment to which he responded remarkably well. Instead of a few months, he was given a number of years. Then he started experiencing new symptoms, completely unrelated to his cancer. Before long he was diagnosed with ALS.

DO YOU HAVE THE ANSWER

What do you make of these stories? How do you respond? What can you possibly say to Folkert, Jenny, and to Jake’s wife?

Is there a satisfactory answer to the question why bad things happen to good people?

Some have tried to come up with something, as if knowing the answer would somehow soften the blow. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, I get very uncomfortable when people attempt to make a wrong right. On what authority are they speaking? What do they know that I don’t?

Please don’t tell me that “everything happens for a reason,” or that it’s “for the better.” Don’t tell me there is a G-d who orchestrates cruel things out of love for his unruly children. Don’t tell me that Jake, Jenny, and Folkert deserved their fate because of some colossal cosmic conspiracy we call karma.

It doesn’t help.

It only hurts.

Yet, in the back of most people’s minds is the belief that we reap what we sow. We get what we deserve. It’s at the heart of the American Dream. If you study, apply yourself, and work hard, you can go from foster care to self-made millionaire. That’s only fair, isn’t it? If you are a good person, good things will happen to you. Good boys get rewarded. Bad boys get punished.

But what about all those bad boys who end up on top? The higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more selfish, cutthroat executives you’ll encounter. They didn’t get there by playing nice. In certain circles, success knows no mercy. It’s either eat or be eaten. Sharks in fancy suits walk all over gentle Mr. Goody two-shoes, the docile doormat.

WHAT ABOUT YOUR CAREER

A few days ago I had a serious conversation with one of my voice-over students. In the last twelve months, she had invested a nice chunk of change in her studio. She bought a great new mic, a lovely preamp, and even a new computer.

I believe in her, and more importantly, she believes in herself.

When we started our session, she sounded peeved.

“Paul,” she said, “Over the past couple of years I have worked my butt off. You know that. I promised myself to give this voice-over thing a good shot. When I listen back to some of my early recordings, I can tell that I have grown. And when I listen to what else is out there, I know I have something to offer. You said so yourself. But get this…

The other day I told one of my voice-over friends that I was going to audition for that commercial we talked about. I really poured everything you’ve taught me into that audition, and I sounded pretty good, if I say so myself. Guess who got the job? My friend! The one who has zero personality and zero experience. She even let me listen to her audition, and it was mediocre at best.

Be honest with me, Paul. Did I just waste years of my life? Should I sell my equipment? What good did all of that training do if I get beaten by a newbie? It’s so frustrating, and it makes me mad! How long do I have to wait for my big break?”

THE MYTH OF OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

When I heard her question, I had to think of actress Jenna Fischer. You probably know her as Pam from the American version of The Office. She always wanted to be an actor, and she eventually moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream. She fully expected to be working in movies within a year of coming to LA. It didn’t happen that way.

Jenna worked as a temp, she took acting and improv classes, and she borrowed money to make ends meet. At one point she had to wear a pair of shoes with a hole in them because she couldn’t afford anything else. It took her more than six long years before she finally got “discovered.”

Jenna Fischer is a perfect example of the adage that it can take years to become an overnight success. She knows from experience that the (voice) acting business is without guarantees, no matter how talented and motivated you are. When asked about it, she had this to say:

“This business is not fair. It is not like other businesses where if you show up, and work above and beyond everyone’s expectations, you are pretty much guaranteed to move up the ladder. I don’t know why it works out for some and not for others. And when you move here (Hollywood, P.S.) you have no idea which camp you are going to fall into.”

JUST BE FAIR

“Fair” is an interesting concept. Most dictionaries define it as “in accordance with the rules.” Most rules civil societies live by, are practical, logical, and even reasonable. They’re an example of cause-effect thinking: If A, then B. Without rules, life would be chaotic. 

Most of us have unwritten rules that guide our hopes and expectations. To name a few: “If I train hard, and do my very best, I will be successful.” Or “If I live a healthy life, I will live a long life.”

Here’s the problem: those rules aren’t always reasonable, and they are rarely absolute. They only seem that way. What makes sense, and what seems right from our limited perspective, doesn’t necessarily happen. Kind, innocent people die young. Selfish bastards live to be a hundred. No explanation given. 

Secondly: Most people don’t play by our rules. They might not even be aware of them. Perhaps they’re playing a different game altogether, and we don’t even see it. Many decisions that affect us, have nothing to do with us. 

Third: Life isn’t logical. It’s not a matter of “If A, then B.” Usually, it’s: “If A, then D or Z.” People are emotional beings, and what they do isn’t cold and calculated. We forget. We make mistakes. We act impulsively, and break all the rules.

Last but not least: Even though we often think we are, we’re never one hundred percent in control. If we’re physically and mentally healthy, we can control our actions to a great extent, but we cannot control the outcome. Life consists of too many variables. Even perfectionists have to admit that…. at some point.  

NOW WHAT?

So, where does this leave us?

Are we hopeless and helpless leaves in the winds of chance? Should we stop trying to accomplish things, simply because the outcome is uncertain, and likely to be unfair?

I’ll tell you what I think we should do.

We should begin by skipping the question “Why.” “Why me, why this, why now?”

Asking “Why” is asking for a logical, reasonable explanation which you won’t always get. I hate to break it to you, but your rules, conscious or unconscious, don’t apply all the time. 

My student did everything she could to win that audition. There was nothing she could have done to change the preference of the client.

Jenny missed the Olympics because she accidentally stepped on that ice cube. It wasn’t part of some devious celestial plan.

Jake had earned that dream vacation, but he died at the airport because his heart stopped working. Period.

My father did nothing to deserve ALS. There wasn’t anything he could have done to prevent it from affecting him. The question “fair or not fair” wasn’t going to change his condition. He had to learn to live with ALS, and he eventually chose to end life on his own terms.

One last thing, if I may.

Most people tend to contemplate the issue of fairness when they believe they’ve been wronged, tricked, or were denied something they felt entitled to. That’s when they will ask the question “Why?”

When things go really well, and life smiles upon us, we hardly ever ask the question “Why me, why this, why now?”

We take our good fortune for granted.

Think about it.

Is that really fair?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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