Personal

Perfectionism Is A Trap

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 29 Comments

Drummer“Practice makes perfect.”

It’s one of my least favorite sayings in the English language. Yet, last year, this expression topped a poll of words of wisdom Britons picked up in childhood, and continue to use well into their older years.

It did better than “the grass is always greener on the other side,” and “good things come to those who wait.”

Why do I dislike “practice makes perfect” so much?

First of all, as is true for most clichés, it is a broad generalization. Secondly, perfection is a very loaded notion. Some people believe we should reserve that qualification to describe the divine. 

“Practice makes perfect” assumes that those who work hard will be rewarded. If only that were the case! Life isn’t fair, and hard work doesn’t necessarily lead to success. The millions of Americans who are working their butts off for minimum wage can attest to that.

And finally, I don’t believe we are created equal. Not everyone was born to win Wimbledon, or write a best-selling novel, no matter how hard and how often they may try.

But let’s start at the beginning by looking at the notion of practice.

GOOD INTENTIONS. BAD ADVICE.

People who tell you “practice makes perfect,” are usually trying to be encouraging, but they rarely define what they mean by “practice.” Of course the general idea is that the more one does something, the better one gets at it. As if repetition alone will lead to positive results.

Practicing can be very helpful, but it won’t make you a gold medal winner, or a world-famous musician. There’s one thing that consistent rehearsal will do, though. 

Practice tends to make permanent, but is that always beneficial?

If you practice the wrong things over and over again, you’ll only become better at what you’re not good at. It’s hard to unlearn bad habits.

If you really want to master something, you have to have a natural talent; you have to develop that talent from an early age, and you need what Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson calls “deliberate practice.”

Deliberate practice is a type of practice that’s rich on feedback, aimed at correcting mistakes. Ericsson says it’s the only factor that explains differences in performance in sports, arts, sciences, and intellectual games. Deliberate practice is not something you can do just by yourself. You need precise guidance, evaluation, and accountability.

MORE THAN REPETITION

Guillermo Campitelli is a lecturer at Edith Cowan University. He investigates individual differences in performance, judgements and decisions.

Campitelli has been involved in a study that re-analyzed previous research in the fields of chess and music, including data from Ericsson’s original deliberate practice study.

Campitelli’s research in chess expertise has shown that there is a huge variability in the numbers of hours of individual practice required to become a national master. One player he studied achieved that level after 800 hours (or 2 years). Another did it after 24,000 hours (or 26 years). A significant number of players dedicated more than 10,000 hours of individual practice, and never achieved that level.

His re-analysis showed that, on average, practice only accounts for 30% of the skill differences in music, and 34% of skill differences in chess. Campitelli concluded that deliberate practice is important, but other factors should be taken into account as well. Factors, such as our working memory capacity.

Our working memory capacity or executive functioning, is the ability to store and process information at the same time. Some of us are better at it than others, depending on the gene pool we came from.

People with high levels of working memory, outperformed those with lower working memory capacity in tasks such as piano sight reading, even when the latter group had extensive experience and knowledge of the task (source).

THE FLAW OF FLAWLESS

Practice isn’t all it’s cooked up to be, so let’s now turn to the notion of perfection. I think striving for perfection puts unnecessary pressure on people to achieve something that isn’t necessarily humanly possible, or even desirable.

One way to achieve perfection is to avoid errors. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, avoiding errors can lead to people sticking to what they already know by playing it safe. That’s boring, and it stifles growth and creativity. Those who are trying to avoid something are usually motivated by fear, which can take away the pleasure of accomplishment. 

If we really wish to make progress, we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone, take risks, and accept that we will make mistakes along the way, from which we will (hopefully) learn. To me, steady progress is a better and more enjoyable outcome than perfection.

There’s one last reason why perfection isn’t such a great goal.

LISTEN TO THE BEAT

In a lot of popular music, live drummers are being replaced by drum machines. These machines don’t make any mistakes. They’ll give you a consistent, perfect beat every single time. That’s something professional drummers cannot do.

Professional drummers aren’t robots. Even when playing to a super steady metronomic beat, they tend to fluctuate slightly. According to researcher Holger Henning, these variations are typically small, perhaps 10 to 20 milliseconds. Yet, listeners can tell the difference. Not only that, research has shown that these human variations are more pleasing to the ear.

Many electronic music programs now have “randomizing” functions to help producers add imperfections back into the music to give it a more human feel. However, they cannot produce the same rhythmic variety that people subconsciously recognize and prefer. There’s is no improvisation, spontaneity, or heart and soul in software. 

Musician Jojo Mayer says in his mini-documentary Between Zero and One:

“Digital computers are binary machines, which means they compute tasks making decisions between zero and one — yes or no. When we play music and generate it in real-time, when we improvise, that decision-making process gets condensed to a degree where it surpasses our capability to make conscious decisions anymore. When that happens, I am entering that zone beyond zero and one, beyond yes and no, which is a space that machines cannot access yet. That’s the human experience — right between zero and one.”

To put it differently: It’s the imperfections, that make a performance perfect.”

Think about that, if you’re a perfectionist.

Keep it in mind, the next time you wonder if voice actors will ever be completely replaced by text-to-speech software.

Take it from me: It will never happen!

Deliberate practice helps you prepare and perform better, but it doesn’t make you perfect.

And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Paul Strikwerda

PS Be sweet. Pleased retweet.

photo credit: Drummer with the cut outs at Oswestry Music Live 2008 via photopin (license)

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Old School, Old Fool?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 33 Comments

Kids listening to story tellerThe country I live in is built for the young.

The population however, is aging rapidly. 

It’s a huge problem, and a tremendous opportunity.

In as little as 15 years, the U.S. is expected to be home to 73 million people over the age of 65. That’s about 33 million more than today. 

The Baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are now between 51 and 69 years old. According to a 2011 Associated Press and LifeGoesStrong.com survey, 42% of those who are still working, are delaying retirement. 25% claim they will never retire.    

Behind these rather boring numbers are real people. They may be friends or members of your family. Or you may belong to that group yourself. If that’s the case, you could be part of the first generation that grew up with television. You know, the people who still remember Gilligan’s Island, and where they were the day John F. Kennedy was killed. 

MEMORY LANE

I’m not of that generation, but I remember my parents waking me up in the middle of the night to watch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon. I remember the end of the Vietnam war, the oil embargo, and the Berlin Wall coming down. I remember getting my first personal computer, a cordless phone, and an Internet connection.

I don’t feel like a dinosaur yet, but that’s only a matter of time. Imagine me in 1982. I was eighteen, and I presented my first show on national radio in the Netherlands. Since then I spent most of my days with a microphone eight inches from my nose. 

Every time people refer to me as a voice-over veteran I cringe in disbelief. Please don’t tell me I am that old! And every time I land a job I say to myself: “Thank goodness I’m still relevant!” It’s pathetic, and I know it. 

If Annie Lennox can rock the mic at the Grammys at age 60, I have no excuse or reason to feel sorry for myself. But how will I feel ten years from now, or twenty? Will I be one of the 42% that delays retirement… indefinitely? Will there still be a younger generation willing and able to pay for their elders? Will I still be relevant?

THE AGING VOICE ACTOR

When I look at my older voice-over colleagues, I wonder what it’s like to be them. How do they handle the pressure of being a professional in a fast-paced industry where technology is changing the name of the game? A game taken over by like youngsters who are like totally into virtual reality and stuff… like that.

One of my friends -let’s call her Lizzy- turned sixty-six this year. After she retired as headmistress at a private school, she just couldn’t sit still. People always said that she had a powerful, resonant voice, and she loved reading to children. So, when one of her teachers mentioned voice acting, she perked up. 

Thankfully, Lizzy had saved some money, and she hired a great voice-over coach. After twelve long months she converted a small guest room into a home studio, and even got herself a real Neumann microphone! A thousand dollars or so later, she had a demo she could pass around. With plenty of time on her hands, Lizzy was ready to break into the business!

Soon she discovered that having time, money, and a distinctive voice does not make a career. Finding work was hard, especially because Lizzy had never liked using a computer. “I don’t need a website,” she said. “That’s for the kids. I’ll do things the old-fashioned way. And forget about Facebook. I’m not going to waste my time chit-chatting about nothing.”

Her son convinced her to get a laptop, and helped her sign up for an online casting service. Once Lizzy became familiar with the inner workings of this service, she made a discovery that left her depressed for days.

BEING SIDETRACKED

“All the jobs on this site are for perky 20 to 40 year olds,” Lizzy said. “If you ever need an example of ageism, this is it. No one wants to hire an old headmistress. What am I supposed to do?”

But a week later her spirits were up. A client in Sweden needed a grandma for a number of English children’s stories, and he said Lizzy’s voice was perfect. “Can we set up a Skype session so I can give you some guidance?” he asked. Lizzy froze. She had heard of Skype, but had no idea what it was or how to use it.

“And,” said the producer, “once I have given you some pointers, I take it you can record the rest of the script without my help. We do expect you to deliver clean, edited audio that is ready to use. That’s not a problem, is it?”

“No, no, of course not,” mumbled Lizzy.

“Well, I’ll email you the script, and eh… can you send me the audio in let’s say.… four days? And shall we do our Skype session two days from now? Is ten o’clock your time okay?”

When Lizzy put the phone down she panicked because she realized she was not even close to being ready. What had she gotten herself into? That evening her son installed Skype on her computer, and showed her how to use it. He even took a morning off work, so he could be there when Sweden called.

MESSING UP BIG TIME

Once the connection was made and Lizzy started reading the script, everything was fine. Sven the producer seemed happy with her narration, and within the hour, Lizzy had recorded four three-minute stories. She even remembered how to edit the audio the way her coach had shown her. Things were looking up!

The next day she received a call from the client. He loved her storytelling, but he said they couldn’t use the audio. “Why not?” Lizzy wanted to know.

“Because of all the mouth noises,” Sven said. “I thought you would send me clean audio. That was our agreement.” 

“Let me see what I can do,” said Lizzy, and she went back to her studio. She must have listened to her stories four or five times, but she didn’t hear what the client was talking about. What on earth was going on?

She asked her son to come over and have a listen. After a few minutes he looked at her and said: “Mom, are you sure you didn’t hear all those clicks and smacks? They’re all over the place.”

“Not really,” answered Lizzy.

“Well, that explains why you have been talking louder lately. I think you should see an audiologist. Get your ears checked. And when’s the last time you’ve been to the dentist? I have a feeling you may need new dentures.”

“Ah, the joys of old age,” said Lizzy. “The joys of old age.”

A REVELATION

Two months and two hearing aids later, Lizzy missed being at school. A year ago, people still knew who she was. When she spoke, they listened to her. They even did what she told them to do. She missed being social.

In the world of voice acting, no one knew who she was, and no one cared. People were not polite. They expected her to drop whatever she was doing to record a demo. They never told her why she didn’t book a job she’d auditioned for. Whatever happened to patience and good manners?

When she called her coach, he wasn’t very supportive.

“Lizzy, clients don’t owe you an explanation,” he said. “We’ve talked about that. You may not have that young, hip voice everyone is looking for these days, but there are still jobs out there. It takes time to build up a network and a reputation. You’ve got to work at it. Every. Single. Day.”

He paused for a moment and said: “Lizzy are you listening?”

He continued:

“A client doesn’t work on your schedule. You work on his or hers. And if you want people to find you, you need to have an online presence. You need to be comfortable with technology. I know you don’t like computers, but clients don’t care about what you like or don’t like. If you want to play the game, you have to live by their rules, no matter how old or how young you are.”

Spring was in the air. Outside, kids were playing tag. They were obviously having a good time. “There’s nothing like the sound of children laughing,” Lizzy thought. It always made her happy.

“Now, Lizzy, dear, can I ask you a question?” said her coach.

“Go ahead,” said a distracted Lizzy.

“What is it that you really want? Why did you want to become a voice-over?”

The answer immediately popped into Lizzy’s mind.

“Because I love telling stories!”

“Then why don’t you go out and do that!” her coach said. “There’s no need to stay home and stare at a screen all day long, hoping to get the perfect part. If you have stories to tell, start telling them!”

FINDING A PURPOSE

Two weeks later, Lizzy invited me to come down to the library. Ten four-year olds sat in a semicircle around her. I’d never seen a group of kids being so attentive. And when Lizzy started telling her stories, you could hear a pin drop. The toddlers were mesmerized.

“Lizzy, they absolutely loved you!” I said after the kids were gone. “You were fantastic! Now, are we still on for tomorrow?”

“What’s tomorrow?” asked Lizzy.

“Tomorrow’s Friday.”

“In that case, I can’t make it,” she said. I’m going to the hospital.”

“Oh no, is something wrong?” I wanted to know.

“I’m fine,” said Lizzy. “I’m going to the children’s ward to tell some more stories.”

“But what about your voice-over career?” I asked. “Weren’t you going to set up a website, and do some more auditions?”

“Oh forget that,” Lizzy responded. “There are so many places where I can make myself useful. This world needs more volunteers than voice actors, and I need to be around people. When I looked into the eyes of those children this morning, there was a connection. I felt I was doing something meaningful. I bet that’s not something you can find on Facebook.”

“Oh Lizzy,” I said, “when I’m your age, can I be you?”

“No way,” she answered. “I’m already taken!”

When we walked out of the library, she gave me a big hug and asked jokingly:

“Do you want to buy a microphone? It’s a Newman. It didn’t do me any good.”

“Hang on to it my friend,” I said. “Sweden might be calling back soon. Over there they know how to take care of senior citizens. They treat them with the respect they deserve.”

“Oh, stop it,” said Lizzy. I’m not ready for retirement.

I may be old school, but I am no old fool!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet. Please retweet.

photo credit: Kids and Library! via photopin (license)

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Poisonous Pens

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 33 Comments

Intimidation“When you step into a boxing ring, expect a few punches.”

That’s how I would paraphrase a well-known Dutch proverb.

I had to remind myself of that saying quite a few times last week, after publishing a critical blog post on podcasting.

Last time I checked, over 2,500 people read it, and many felt the urge to respond. Here’s what some of the fans had to say:

“I LIKED the article specifically because it addressed many of my pet peeves (long intros, crappy audio, self-aggrandizing hosts).”

“Your story basically said: “Try harder, and don’t put out sh*t.” To which I wholeheartedly agree.”

“This article is SPOT ON. And the industry is suffering because most podcasters are not paying attention to opinions like the one expressed there.”

“I’m going to print this out and remind myself to read it once a week for a month. FANTASTIC! I couldn’t agree more!”

But not everyone was as pleased with what I had written:

“The central point of this article is pretty ridiculous, and contains a very “get-off-my-lawn” sentiment that I believe is incredibly harmful to the industry of podcasting.”

“I think people need to step off of their high horses.”

“Wow this is insulting. Was this written by a radio dj threatened by podcasts?”

“The author, hilariously enough, made his article about himself by injecting snide attempts at humor.”

“New podcasters don’t deserve to be mocked or shunned.”

These reactions were pretty innocent, compared to what a few others shared with me after I had published my story.

UNLEASH THE BULLIES

Some angry, resentful readers told me to “stick it where the sun don’t shine.” They accused me of being an arrogant son of a gun, who should just go and “F” himself. One person suggested that I go back to the Netherlands, if I didn’t like what I heard over here (as if podcasts stop at the border…).

I’ve gotten some nasty comments before, even from my own voice-over community, but this podcasting piece seemed to have hit a raw nerve.

One thing separated the more graphic commentators from the rest. The vitriolic ones responded anonymously. Quite a few used an online identity like fartface5 or bigwillywonderman.

That’s not surprising.

Last year, assistant professor Arthur Santana of the University of Houston found that 53.3 percent of anonymous online comments included language that was vulgar, racist, profane or hateful. Only 28.7 percent of non-anonymous comments were found to be uncivil. 

This is often attributed to the online disinhibition effect. It’s the idea that people’s inhibitions drop when their identity is hidden, and their actions have no visible consequences.

INVISIBLE ENEMIES

In the days before the Internet, when someone spoke in public, the audience would be able to see who was talking, and they could hold that person accountable, right there and then. In the virtual world we live in that’s not always possible.

Some people believe that because they’re invisible online, they are safe, and they can say whatever they want. There are no authority figures to stop them. Free speech is free speech, right? Besides, they weren’t even serious. It was just a joke. The online world isn’t “real life.”

Well, tell that to the victims of cyberbullying, and their friends and families! I think they have a different story for you. Personally, I’ve never believed the children’s rhyme:

“Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never harm me.”

Words can have a profound effect on someone, in a very positive, and in a very negative way. I know people who haven’t spoken to one another for twenty years because of words that were exchanged. I know people who are comforted and uplifted by words of love and encouragement.

Words can heal, and words can hurt.

Words can be wonderful, and they can be used as weapons.

There are these sick individuals who find joy in publicly humiliating others in a most vicious and obscene way, using no more than 140 characters.

SCHILLING’S WAR

Perhaps you’ve read about retired baseball great Curt Schilling. After his daughter Gabby became the target of relentless Twitter trolls, he decided to go after them, and expose their identities. Within an hour and a half, Schilling found nine of them.

One troll was a student at Brookdale Community College in central New Jersey. He was suspended from school. Another turned out to be a vice president of the Theta Xi fraternity at Montclair State University in northern New Jersey. He lost his part-time job selling tickets for the Yankees.

The message was clear: Nobody should have to put up with trolls and other cyberbullies. There are serious consequences for this type of behavior. Just because we cherish and celebrate free speech in this country, doesn’t mean that anything goes. 

ZERO TOLERANCE

What was said to me after last week’s blog post wasn’t nearly as vulgar as what Gabby Schilling had to endure, but I was thoroughly disgusted. I am not going to expose the culprits, but I am going to do something else. 

From now on I will no longer accept anonymous comments, or comments by people using a fictitious online identity.  

On this blog I want people to own up to what they’re saying, and not hide behind a made up character. Comments that are rude and disrespectful will be deleted immediately.

This is my platform, and I will act as moderator.

I welcome a spirited, civil debate on this site, and if you would like to take part, I encourage you to create a Gravatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. A Gravatar lets us know who you are.

Click here to create your personal Gravatar

One last thing.

Trolls intend to provoke, and they want to see which buttons they can push. They live for the fear they instill and for the outrage they create.

We have seen that their insults can lead to injury and worse if we let them get to us.

Luckily, we are not like Pavlov’s dogs, and we don’t have to fall for their dirty games. 

Like Schilling, I have zero tolerance for trolls.

As far as I’m concerned, they can take their poisonous pens, and stick ’em where the sun don’t shine!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Dare to share if you care!

photo credit: Determination via photopin (license)

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The Confident Skills of a Sex God

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 20 Comments

DSC00347Dear Prudence:

I am a bit of a prude, and that’s a problem. You see, I work as a voice actor, and recently I was asked to narrate a script that turned out to be very erotic. There were certain words in the story I just couldn’t pronounce. It was too embarrassing. The trouble is: I already committed to the project. What am I to do?

That voice actor could have been me, not so long ago. Do you want to hear the story?

Well, a client from an Eastern-European country approached me, because he was looking for someone with a hypnotic voice. Since I’m also a certified trainer of hypnotherapy, I thought this was right up my alley.

The client explained that I would be recording a 5-session audio program that could trance-form a shy wallflower of a man into a confident guy who had no trouble approaching women.

Before I tell you more, there’s something you should know.

THIS IS ME

Many, many years ago, I was that man: rather nerdy, and terrified of the opposite sex. Every time I liked a girl, I got this burning feeling of “move away closer.” It was a strange mix of being fascinated and frightened at the same time. I never dared to take the first step, paralyzed by an intense fear of rejection.

Of course I blamed my parents. They weren’t very touchy-feely people, and they rarely showed their affection in public. When my dad tried to explain the principles of procreation, he did it in a way only a Dutch Reformed minister could illuminate the miracle of life: in technical terms. He might as well have read me the manual of motorcycle maintenance.

Even though Dutch society is often seen as liberal and open, I grew up with the notion that nudity was naughty, and that sex revolved around dirty deeds taking place behind closed bedroom doors. I should stay away from it as long as possible. And that’s exactly what I did. At age 20, the sex life of a missionary might have been more exciting than mine.

We all know that repression leads to rebellion, and eventually the hidden hedonist in me won over from the conflicted Calvinist. These days everybody knows me as the uber-confident, outrageously charismatic chick magnet I am; the guy who turned down the lead in Fifty Shades Of Grey. I beat myself up over it, and it was quite enjoyable.

But seriously, I’m a big believer in the benefits of hypnosis, and I really want to improve the life of my fellow-man. So, when the offer of narrating a self-help program came to me, I said to myself: “Why not?”

THE POWER OF SUGGESTION

If you’re at all familiar with hypnosis, you know that it’s based on the power of suggestion. A simple phrase like “Imagine being in a beautiful place where you can totally relax,” will elicit a certain state in certain people. It’s nothing mysterious. Words have the power to evoke images, sounds, and feelings. Why else would so many people be hooked on audio books?

Most hypnotic scripts begin something like this:

“Sit in a comfortable chair or just lie on a couch or a bed with your hands resting in your lap or by your side. When you are ready, begin.

Draw in three slow deep breaths… and another … still another. Each time you inhale, focus on filling your lungs with clean fresh air. As you exhale feel all the tension leave your lungs and your entire body. You feel so good. Perfectly relaxed.”

Once the listener reaches a deeper state of relaxation, the idea is to bypass all critical thinking, which increases the openness to, and acceptance of more direct suggestions. And so the self-help script I was working on continued….

“You can achieve anything when you use your own power of mind. You will find yourself sleeping better. When it’s time to sleep, you’ll dream pleasant guiding dreams about becoming the guy with all the girls around him, and it’s a great dream that you enjoy having regularly. This dream further empowers you to be the Sex God you truly desire to be. That’s because you are now the guy that all the girls love. You possess the qualities that women look for and want to have a sexual relationship with.”

At this point I could see where this was going, and the prude in me started to protest, but the script went on:

“As of this moment, you can successfully flirt a woman into a ‘more’ situation, and then provide the best nights’ entertainment, and an amazing night or weekend of shagging, and she will always beg for more.”

I beg your pardon?

I had to stop the recording, and wondered: “Am I really saying this? I would never use the word shagging. It’s vulgar. Do I really want to go on?

“10… going deeper, deeper and deeper…
9… more and more relaxed…
8… deeper and deeper, than before…”

The temperature in my sound booth began to rise, and I took my sweater off. It felt like there wasn’t enough air in the small space. What on earth had I gotten myself into?

“7… deeper still…”

After taking a deep breath, my inner voice started reading the words in front of me:

“Imagine that you are with a lover, in a hot tub, and you are still making love and feeling her pleasure because you are very sensitive, caring… slow when she needs slow, fast when she needs fast, deep when she needs deep, just stimulating the first 1” of the entrance near the G-spot, and sometimes throbbing and contracting to bring her greater pleasure, and you KNOW that being a gentle and caring lover is more important, and by practicing what you are doing with care and gentle warmth you enhance your own sexual talents, enhance your penis’ awareness of how to make love, and she can feel it and it thrills her.”

Here’s where I completely lost it. This wasn’t a hypnotic self-help induction. This was pure, unadulterated porn, and my awareness of it didn’t need to be enhanced. It made me utterly uncomfortable, and I had to ask myself one question:

“Do I want to be known as the Ron Jeremy of voice-overs?”

Of course not!

MIND OVER BODY

To make matters worse, my mind decided to convey this message to my muscles, and my lips responded appropriately by refusing to say the p-word. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pronounce it.

It was as if I had regressed. That sometimes occurs when people are under hypnosis. My prude, Protestant self was penalizing me for what I was doing. I’ve had this happen once before, when I had to read a short story filled with brutal, gratuitous violence. It was too graphic. I just couldn’t do it.

The problem with this job was that I was working on session five. I had recorded the previous four, and the illustrious Uncle Roy Yokelson had already added hypnotic music, and mixed and mastered the audio. The finish line was in sight. I’d also signed a contract, and it would be silly of me to back down because of a stupid two-syllable word.

TAKING A BREAK

I decided to leave my studio and walk around the block. Once I had cooled down a bit, I zoomed in on the heart of the matter: I was taking this way too personally.

These weren’t my words. This wasn’t my script. I was just an unidentified voice, whispering in someone’s horny ear.

“Get yourself out of the way,” I said. “Be a man, and do the job you were hired to do. You’re a voice actor. You get paid because you’re good at pretending. Now, get in front of that microphone, and finish what you started!”

These were almost self-hypnotic suggestions, and they did the trick. I was only a few pages away from completing this project, when I spoke the following words:

“Your subconscious now hears these special suggestions deeply and profoundly: I am sure and confident about myself. I know what a woman wants and I have the skills to deliver it. So, hold that image of successfully flirting with her in your mind. No Fear – No Intimidation. You walk tall and proud, shoulders back with total and complete self-confidence and purposely walk up to this woman who is everything you have always wanted and here she is in body and soul. You visualize being her lover, and her going absolutely wild with you and for you.

Your own mind reaffirms: I am a wild sexual tiger, hear me roar.”

LATER THAT DAY

A few minutes after I was done recording, my wonderful, gorgeous wife came home.

“How was your day, honey?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said with a smile. “Totally fine.”

She stared at me for a moment.

“What’s that look in your eyes,” she wanted to know. “Is there something on your mind?”

“Sweetie, you look absolutely amazing,” I said. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“Right now?” she asked.

“Right now!” I roared.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

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My Dutch Digital Detox

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, International, Internet, Journalism & Media, Personal, Social Media 13 Comments

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.04.38 AMIt is often said that the internet is a cold and superficial place.

I tend to agree. 

Even though we can connect with practically anyone, anywhere at any time, it doesn’t make us less lonely or more engaged.

If anything, the online universe is a distant world in which reality is observed instead of experienced. A world that I find increasingly trivial, and uninspiring.

It is a shallow hideout for the self-absorbed, the self-promotors, and for those dying to be distracted.

Do you want to see Jennifer Aniston test the incredible vibrating bra? Her video went viral, and has almost 17 million hits. 

Do you want to watch Teddy Bear the porcupine predict the winner of the Super Bowl? Be my guest!

And speaking of that Bowl, Kim Kardashian West’s T-Mobile commercial is already an internet sensation, well before the big game has started.

Some say that this is utterly insignificant, but I urge you to pay attention to what the masses are watching. It tells us something about people’s priorities: football and bouncing bosoms!

And I don’t even like football…

For many years, I have been downplaying the effect the world wide web has on my life, but it has become this huge black hole that doesn’t like to be ignored. I couldn’t do my job without it, but that doesn’t mean I like it. 

Even though I spent many years in a newsroom, I find it harder and harder to separate online fact from opinion, information from propaganda, and sincerity from sales. Part of that has to do with the sheer volume of slick and seductive online messages I am bombarded with on any given day. I cannot properly process it anymore. My brain goes in overload, and when that happens, it loses its critical focus.

Thankfully, I still control what I allow myself to be exposed to, and for how long. Nobody tells me how many hours a day I should spend on social media. No one forces me to watch silly videos on YouTube. I can still lead a happy, balanced life without the wonders of WiFi.

Or am I kidding myself? 

As you may know, I just spent eleven days abroad. The high-speed internet connection we thought we would have in our apartment, wasn’t there. So, every day we went to the nearest Hotspot to get access to the online world. Its epicenter turned out to be in the freezer section of a nearby supermarket.

Every morning, my wife and I sat down with our devices, surrounded by ice cream, pizzas, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, and frantic shoppers.

I’ll tell you one thing. Putting a Hotspot in one of the coldest places forces a person to use his time efficiently, and effectively. You should try it!

I surprised myself by how little effort it took to dump all the fluff, and get down to business. And once our online business was done, there was a whole day left to live life offline.

We walked. We talked. We connected with people in person.

We had wonderful dinners, instead of watching cooking shows.

We explored interesting sites, instead of websites.

We survived over a week without internet trolls trying to sell us stuff, and feeding us fluff.

Yes, at times being offline was mighty inconvenient, but boy did I love this digital detox! I could get so much done in very little time, and I didn’t have to stare at a screen all day long. Why did I only do this while I was out of the country?

Back home I began to limit all the electronic time suckers that used to drain the energy out of my days. I unsubscribed from automatic updates, boring groups, newsletters, and blogs I never had the time to read anyway.

I deleted half of my Facebook contacts, only to keep close friends, family members, and the people in and around the town I live in. For those interested in my voice-over work, there’s always the Nethervoice page.

And this is barely the beginning. 

Liberating myself from all the impersonal online crap and clutter feels phenomenal! As I said in my very first line: “the internet is a cold and superficial place.” If you’re hoping to find true companionship, collegiality, and connection, you better look elsewhere.

That’s obviously an overgeneralization, and life simply isn’t that simple. How do I know that?

Because of YOU!

Even though we never met in person, or we may know each other only professionally, you were there for me when I recently wrote about the death of my father.

Shortly after that, I received hundreds of messages from all over the world. Some of you even sent cards and flowers. Your comforting words gave me strength, and touched me and my family deeply. Your thoughtfulness, your prayers, and your support traveled with us to the Netherlands, right to my father’s funeral. 

When the moment came to deliver the eulogy, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I had imagined myself doing it, but this was different. This was the final farewell.

Right before it was my time to speak, I thought of all the things that you had written. This really moved me. As something lifted me out of my seat, I suddenly felt calm and determined. I walked towards the lectern, took a deep breath, and started to speak.

Thank you so much for caring!

Thank you for showing me that the medium we use to connect, is just a tool. Like any other tool, its use and impact depends on the integrity, the emotions, and intelligence (or lack thereof) of the people using it.

May we all use it wisely, creatively, sparingly, and caringly.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!

photo credit: solomonborxes via photopin cc

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Feeling Like A Fake

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 31 Comments

Waterlily in Longwood Gardens. Picture credit: Paul StrikwerdaYou know me, don’t you?

I love pretty much every aspect of my job as a voice-over.

I love the variety, the challenges, the cool colleagues, and the interesting scripts.

Yet, like in any job, there are things I struggle with. Number one on that list is the fact that I sometimes feel like a fake, and it’s awful. 

Now, in this line of work there are two kinds of fake. The FUN fake, and the FRUSTRATING fake.

The FUN fake I can totally live with.

When a client asked me to record a promo for a Beatles revival show on Broadway, I was over the moon because I could use my fake British accent. When I had to play a seven-year old boy for and educational computer game, I embraced the challenge to be childish. 

You see, part of what attracts me to this work is the fact that I can play so many different characters in so many ways. Better still: I get paid for pretending to be someone else! It’s something people usually get arrested for (but when they’re really good at it, they get a shiny statuette or a star on a boulevard). 

The FRUSTRATING fake needs a little more introduction, because it’s not exclusively related to the acting part of my job.

TERRIBLE NEWS

Recently, I received some very bad news about a family member I was very close to: my dad. He lives in Holland, and I have written about him in the past, so you may remember he had two incurable diseases: Cancer and ALS. 

On January 9th my dad and I Skyped for seven minutes. He was already in a hospice, and his body was breaking down rapidly. His mind was still as sharp as a razor, but he could hardly breathe, and the pain had become unbearable. During that conversation, he told me that he had decided to die the next day, at 10:00 a.m.

Imagine hearing that from a person you love. How would you respond to that?

Many people on this planet believe that we have no right to determine the moment of our own death. It’s up to G-d, the devil, fate, or a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We don’t let our pets suffer needlessly, but when it comes to human beings, many come to an agonizing end because we confuse kindness with killing.

My dad was consistently clear about what he wanted. Should his suffering become unendurable, and there was no prospect of improvement, he saw no need to lengthen his life. “Quality is what matters,” he used to say. “Not quantity.”

I realize The Netherlands has a certain reputation when it comes to euthanasia, but that’s largely based on misinformation and ignorance. Let me assure you that Dutch law doesn’t make it easy to die with dignity. Strict guidelines need to be followed by the patient, and by medical professionals. Otherwise doctors end up in jail.

ACCEPTING THE INEVITABLE

On the morning of Saturday, January 10th, my father passed away quickly, and peacefully.

Even though I had prepared myself for that moment, it wasn’t easy to accept that he was gone. Death is devastatingly definite. What’s even harder to deal with, is that most of the rest of the world doesn’t know, and doesn’t care. It’s business as usual.

Clients keep calling. Auditions keep coming. And even though I was overcome by emotions, I had to be professional.

That’s where the FRUSTRATING fake comes in.

In one area of my life I had to pretend that nothing had happened. If a script required me to sound happy-go-lucky, I would sound cheerful, and upbeat. If a client tried to push my buttons, I would keep my cool, and not overreact. If a colleague would make an insensitive remark, I would contain myself, and not respond.

Here’s one thing I learned: It takes a lot of energy to deal with conflicting emotions. They co-exist, and yet they can’t be in the same space together at the same time.

The only way to handle this, is to make sure that there’s plenty of room for sadness, loss and mourning or whatever is bringing you down, just not during working hours.

Clients don’t pay you to deal with your emotions in their time. Your job is to focus on them, and on the script in front of you. 

ESCAPING THE PAIN

However, there’s a downside to focusing on the jobs at hand. 

Too many people decide to flee from their emotions by burying themselves in piles of work, or by engaging in more destructive distractions. If you’re one of those people, you know that this coping strategy will eventually catch up with you. Repressed emotions often have a nasty way of presenting themselves. Eventually, the lid will fly off the pressure cooker, creating a big mess in the kitchen.

Another way of dealing with sad situations, is to rationalize emotions, allowing them not to affect you that much. You tell yourself that you must be strong at all times; that wearing your heart on your sleeve is a sign of weakness.

It’s tough to be a voice-over with a stiff upper lip! Proper enunciation becomes a problem.

UPS AND DOWNS

The trouble is that people who don’t allow room for the lows in their life, often have a hard time experiencing the highs as well. It’s like taking away strong colors from a picture, or the bass and treble from a moving piece of music.

Not acknowledging your true feelings at an appropriate time creates internal tension, and robs you of experiencing the richness of life in all its ups and downs. Not sharing these feelings with others, robs your friends and family of a chance to really get to know you, and to be there for you.

There is no light without darkness. Going through the anger, pain, sadness and desperation, will help you understand yourself better, and to be more compassionate towards others.

Actors use life experiences to create characters, and to give depth to their performance. These experiences help them to become less fake, and more human.

GOOD FRIENDS

Here’s what I like to suggest if you’re feeling down.

Embrace your emotions like good friends that are trying to tell you something important. Acknowledge them. Listen to them. Kindly ask them to leave when you need to get to work. 

I know that’s easier said than done, and it’s not always a solution.

When your feelings are about to overwhelm you, and you can’t take it anymore, don’t sweep them under the carpet. Don’t fake that you are fine.

Take a break from work. You probably won’t be at your best anyway.

Clients are a lot more understanding when you let them know what’s going on. You don’t have to go into details, as long as you tell them this is serious, and you need a little more time.

And if you like, let your thoughts and feelings pour out of your pen, as I’m doing right now. It will take a weight off your shoulders. 

Allow yourself to be comforted by the people who are near and dear to you. Give them a chance to take care of you. I know you would do the same for them.

Find a space where you can be safe, and be yourself.

After all, you never have to fake it for true friends.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

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