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.
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.
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.
Alan Curry says
Paul, my sincere condolences on the death of your Dad and thank you for sharing this moment with us.
Everyone copes with grief in their own unique way, using whatever coping mechanisms may work in their given circumstances. Sometimes, this can present a challenge for us to find the appropriate words to express our sympathies to the bereaved.
Some years ago at a time of profound loss, a friend sent a card on which was written the following poem by Bishop Charles Henry Brent. I hope these words may be of some comfort to you and your family at this time…
What is dying?
A ship sails and I stand watching
till she fades on the horizon,
and someone at my side
says, “She is gone”.
Gone where? Gone from my sight,
that is all; she is just as
large as when I saw her…
the diminished size and total
loss of sight is in me, not in her,
and just at the moment
when someone at my side
says “she is gone”, there are others
who are watching her coming,
and other voices take up the glad shout,
“there she comes!” …and that is dying.
Finally, an Irish saying that can mean many things but never clichéd and always appropriate, “mind yourself”.
Paul Strikwerda says
Thank you for sharing these touching words with me, Alan. I appreciate it very much!
John Florian says
Paul, as always, this is wonderful advice that touches me. I felt a calm reading it, and am glad to be among your true friends!
Greg Koester says
I am so very sorry to hear about your father, loss is never an easy thing.
Your blog really struck a cord with me and touched me this morning. Partly because you lost your dad, and partly because my mom talks about this sort of thing quite a bit.
She is not going through any major medical issue right now but she is dealing with the things that comes with getting older, pain, memory ETC (she is almost 70)
Whenever she talks about not wanting to live with pain, or not wanting to live with different issues
as she gets older it fills me with a great sadness to think she can just choose when she wants to go, but I realize that is selfish of me. If her quality of life deteriorates to the point where she is living in pain then it should be her choice. Still it makes me sad, anyways thank you so much for sharing this. I am a novice in the VO business just starting out, I very much enjoy your blog and I learn from it all the time. I am working hard to make a career for my self in VO and Voice Acting.
Thank you again, have a great day
John LaPiana says
Sorry to hear of your father’s passing, Paul. Please accept my condolences.
Tracey Kelley says
Very sorry to hear of your dad’s passing, and peace to you and your family. You wrote with eloquence and care, and how fortunate that your dad could maintain his focus on life exactly as he wanted to.
A dear friend of mine has ALS, and I know he would do everything in his power to spare he loved ones some of the hard days ahead.
No matter our business, we are humans first, and should always allow compassion to determine our interactions with one another, because we may never know, as you pointed out, what someone else may be feeling.
Peter K. O'Connnell says
First, along with everyone else, let me offer your family my family’s sincere condolences at the loss of your patriarch. I was 25 when my parents died but I felt literally like I was 8 years old and I just wanted my Mother and Father back. It’s devastating and I’m sorry you’re going through it.
The most annoying part of the mourning and healing process is it takes time and it is a sloooow clock. But with that time comes reflection, whether you want to or not — it will come. And I think for those in the arts, we more “sensitive” souls, it’s a more intense reaction to such reflection.
So my only words for you as one who has sadly been there and done that is that almost everything you have experienced and will experience is normal. It won’t feel that way because it’s a new experience but it is what it is. Just take your mental and spiritual temperature more regularly for the next year and adjust your attitude and actions (even work actions) accordingly.
God (with the vowel) has pretty strong shoulders should you care to lean on them (or even pound on them).
Debby Barnes says
Your ache is palpable and we’re all sharing it with you, brother.
What a timely word. What a meaningful expression of life as we’ve all known it at one time or another.
Stay covered with our prayers, Paul.
Jack Elias says
My condolences to you and your family on your loss, Paul.
This is from Tennyson:
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
Rick Lance says
Paul… so sorry for your loss. Nothing is quite like the loss of a parent. I have only one left myself.
Yet the greater good of your article is strong and effective.
I’m afraid I’m one of those people who deals with loss in bits and pieces over time… usually alone. Which only extends the grief instead of embracing it early on.
Appreciate your thoughts!
Conchita Congo says
You have no idea how much this blog post uplifts & enlightens me. There is always a certain Synchroncity going on for me with the content & timing of your posts. Thank you.
My heartfelt condolences, prayers & many (((HUGZ)))
Roxanne Coyne says
Paul, my deepest condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your life with the rest of us. Your post comes at a time when I really needed to hear these words.
Kitzie Stern says
Please accept my condolences on the loss of your Dad. Be gentle with yourself, and take the time you need to grieve. I was my Mom’s caretaker through her last illness and lost her four years ago. I echo a lot of what Peter said. It took me a full year to come through the grief, and I’ve come out the other side with a deeper center of gravity — also a deeper appreciation of the people I love and the need to be present to that love while they’re still here.
Mom’s illness & death made me a better actress, but much more importantly I think (and hope) a better human being. My thoughts are with you.
Sally Blake says
My sincerest condolences on the loss of your father. I am sending love, support and encouragement during this difficult time… and it does take time.
One thing I know for sure… during my twenty six years as a firefighter I realized that every single individual grieves differently and any way you grieve is ok.
Signed with sincerity,
Marie Hoffman says
My sincerest condolences. May G-d hold you gently in the palms of his hands. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
Glad Klassen says
Paul, please accept my heartfelt condolences at the passing of your father.
Know that you are loved….by your voiceover family, and by so many more.
Your honesty and vulnerability speaks to us all.
Thank you for that.
Be kind to yourself, and lean on the kindness offered by those who love you well.
Maxine Dunn says
I’m so sorry to hear this terribly sad news. Sending you love and comfort and healing from afar. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. ((hugs)) with all my heart to you, at such a sad time.
Kent Ingram says
I’ve expressed my condolences in previous posts, as you have expressed yours to me. We’ve both had fathers who passed away, close to the same date. Your current post hits home, in the best possible way. I had to put the VO business on-hold, for the most part, over a year, as I had to assume the role of caregiver. Being the only son, I had to keep it together, especially when everyone else was losing it. That meant stuffing a lot of strong emotions. I think I dealt with it, effectively, as I have a wonderful network of friends who listened to me vent, when I needed to. I’ve learned over the years that grief and loss are a process, that they don’t just go away in a couple of weeks. You have to allow that process to do its thing. Thanks, Paul, for a post that got to me, personally.
Moe Rock says
Oh Paul, I am so very sorry for your loss. You have been in my thoughts lately. While I know this is very difficult, I’m so glad you were able to visit your father one last time. Sending big hugs and thoughtful prayers. This community loves you! Anything you need please let me know.
Taylor Stonely says
Paul, I am sorry to hear about the loss of your father. It is never easy to lose a parent, but I’m sure that your memories of him will live on. I lost my father over 20 years ago and I still feel the pain, especially because he never got to meet my wife and kids. I help the memory of him live on by sharing stories about him with my loved ones. He had a special way with how he laughed and told stories. I’m sure you have many happy memories of your dad, and those will always stay with you. Take care…
Jennifer M Dixon says
My sincerest sympathies Paul. Your thoughts and words comfort us all as they in return help you.Thank you and many more wishes for Peace and comfort.
Sean Daeley says
I am truly sorry for your loss, and inspired by the way you continue to conduct yourself; with clarity, self-awareness, and even a touch of humor. Thank you for sharing with us. Many kind and healing thoughts to you and yours.
Abbe Holmes says
Thank you so much for sharing your pain in such a beautiful, inspiring way.
It’s always so hard to loose someone we love.
Your generosity and heart have made the world of difference to my life today.
My warmest wishes to you.
Silvia McClure says
Paul, Sending you strength, peace and patience.
Shiromi Arserio says
I’m so sorry to hear about your father’s passing. This article really speaks to me. My own father passed away 14 months ago and I had to take a break. I remember telling another VO friend that I felt like if I recorded, you could hear it in my voice, no matter how much I tried to fake it, those painful feelings would be there, naked for the world to hear. You take care of yourself. Healing does eventually come, but it is frustratingly slow, so take all the time you need.
Paul Garner says
Sorry for your loss, Paul. We’ll keep you and your family in our thoughts and prayers.
Karol Walkowski says
Rose C says
So sorry for your loss Paul.
& thank you for writing this entry for all of us to read. This post is so important as it reminds us to “feel” our feelings & not sweep things under the rug. You give great suggestions to work through tough feelings as a VO talent & I appreciate your words here!
Be well ~
Ruth Weisberg says
I also echo these heartfelt sentiments, Paul. In a world where we are often sequestered from others, how comforting and reassuring to know you have this immense community of support, brimming with our collective support and simpatico.