downside of success

Giving Up

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career 18 Comments

two boys“What did you give up for Lent?” asked the boy in front of me.

He must have been seven or eight years old. His best buddy Paul, who was also waiting in line, answered:


Paul sighed and continued:

“Mom said we couldn’t eat meat because of what Jesus did for us. I don’t get it. I asked our priest if Jesus was a vegetarian. He said Jesus probably was more into fish because most of his friends were fishermen before they became the Cipels. I don’t even know what a Cipel is, do you?”

His friend Peter shrugged his shoulders and asked:

“Do you want to know what we gave up for Lent, Paul?”

“Tell me,” said Paul.

Peter looked annoyed and said:


Paul was stunned. “Are you kidding me? McDonalds? For Lent?”

He paused for a moment to let the message sink in, and said:

“Well, I guess it makes sense.”

“How so?” asked Peter.

“I don’t think Jesus was much into fast food anyway,” said Paul. “They didn’t serve burgers and fries at the Last Supper.”

“Maybe not, but giving up Big Macs wasn’t a big deal for me,” said Peter.

“Why not?” Paul wanted to know. “I thought you loved McDonalds. You guys go there all the time.”

“That’s true, but we went to Burger King instead,” answered Peter.


The notion of “giving up” isn’t very popular these days. Living in America, most of us grew up with the idea that you can and should have it all. That’s what the commercials tell us, and it’s the freedom our forefathers fought for, right?

The more things you own, the more successful you are perceived to be, especially in popular culture.

TV series are filled with pretty 20- and 30-somethings who seem to have risen through the ranks at lightning speed, and who drive their fancy cars to their fancy McMansions where a nanny is taking care of angelic twins. Even though we know it’s fake, we’re falling for it anyway.

Semi-documentaries take us inside the lives of celebrities, and show us what they have accumulated by topping the charts or dominating the box office for a number of years. Captains of industry eagerly show off their 30 foot yachts and Caribbean real estate to let us know how much they matter.

Our economy is entirely based on growth; on the more-and-more-and-more model. No politician likes to tell their constituents that it’s time to tighten the belt. Onward and upward we must go! Always.


Now, don’t get me wrong. I like it when my business is growing, and I have nothing against those who are doing well, as long as they use their resources responsibly. I enjoy watching intelligent portraits of successful people, because there’s something to learn from those who accomplish more in a year than some of us will in a lifetime.

Intelligent television digs deeper.

At its best, it’s three-dimensional, and it strives to reveal an uncomfortable truth: the fact that behind every story of significant success, there is a story of silent sacrifice. A story of “giving up.” A story most people don’t want to see or hear.

It’s a distortion of reality that things come easy to those who have reached the top. In most cases, they had to pay a hefty price, and some are still paying it.


An old friend of mine is a professional pianist who specializes in historic keyboards. He teaches in Europe and has recorded groundbreaking albums. Every year, people come to the village in France where he lives to take part in a music festival he organizes.

When Arthur plays, the sounds from his fortepiano turn into musical poetry, and you hear Mozart the way Mozart would have sounded in Vienna around 1787. It’s as close as one can get to time travel.

Arthur’s effortless technique and unique interpretation of the score comes from years and years of studying and hours of practice a day. It is the result of a disciplined lifestyle, dedicated to excellence and artistry. Only those close to him, know how much he had to give up, in order to reach a level of musicianship very few will ever attain.

I see the same level of dedication in my own line of work: voice-overs. There are a few master-storytellers that grab us from the moment they open their mouths. It’s amazing.

Some people believe there’s nothing simpler than reading out loud into a microphone. Anyone can do it, right? 


Author Laura Caldwell had written a memoir called “The Long Way Home,” and thought she’d make the perfect narrator. She went to the Audible studios in New Jersey and read for ten hours a day for five full days. I’ll let her tell the story:

“Before, narrating a book sounded so genteel to me, sort of like reading to a room full of rapt, small children. The reality is that you sit in a dark editing booth, the only light in the room shining on the print of the book in front of you. Read one word off — say, “She walked in the store,” as opposed to “She walked into the store,” and the buzzer sounds from the attached booth. “Let’s try it again,” you’ll hear from the engineer in there.

When you have to start over and over because you seem to be mumbling, the engineer sends you down the hallway for some Throat Coat tea. But that’s about all the break you’ll get. Time in the booth is money. Male or female, the engineer’s voice becomes the one you fear. (You hear it in your dreams after. Really).

The process of narrating “Long Way Home” was not just exhausting. It was injurious of throat and the brain. But I was glad for it. It gave me a whole new set of information for actually producing my own books in the future.”

There is no success without sacrifice. Sometimes you even have to give up your health and well-being for the sake of the greater good.


In an impatient world, giving up time to reach a level of mastery makes a lot of people uncomfortable. They take a voice-over class or two, and expect that an agent will sign them on the spot. They open up a business and hope to turn a profit in the first quarter. It’s like planting a seed, thinking it will grow into a fruit-bearing tree overnight. How silly!

So, the next time you see someone you admire, don’t just look at his or her accomplishments. Ask yourself: What did this person have to give up in order to reach the top? Family time? Being there for births and birthdays? Missing out on a baby’s first steps or words? Did this person have to sacrifice sleep, safety, privacy, or a chance to say goodbye to a parent or partner?

To what extent did a commitment to a successful career impact the people around them? Did relationships suffer because of it? Did they end? 

Then ask yourself:

What am I willing to give up to fulfill my dreams, and what am I willing to invest?

What would make it worthwhile?

It is important that you find the answers to these questions.

There is no success without setbacks, and when times are tough, you probably will need to reconnect with what ultimately drives you.

And when you do that, be sure to focus on what you will gain by what you’re willing to forsake.

Two things I can guarantee.

It’s very likely that you’ll have to give up more than meat and McDonalds, and it’s going to take longer than Lent.

I sincerely hope it will bring you all the success you deserve.

And who knows, one day your achievements may inspire two rambunctious boys named Peter and Paul!

Paul Strikwerda © nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet.

PPS You can read Laura Caldwell’s full story by clicking here.

photo credit: Eiraq via photopin cc

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