After today you may ask me everything about the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, and the early onset of puberty.
I promise you one thing: it will make me cry like a baby.
Normally, I don’t concern myself with gonadotripin-releasing hormones stimulating steroid secretion. But as a voice-over, people send me the strangest scripts with the weirdest words. My job is to sound like these words are my bread and my butter, even though I prefer to have other things for breakfast.
Just to give you an idea of my voice-over diet so far:
On Monday I was telling the world about how “metabolic programming” can change the genetic expression of young farm animals. On Tuesday I pretended to be the monotonous Swiss CEO of a company refurbishing projectile weaving machines. Tomorrow I’ll be talking about the art of selling on eBay in Germany.
But today… today was all about the regulation of the reproductive system in kids with central precocious puberty, and a discovery I made about myself. Don’t worry. I won’t take you back to my childhood in the Netherlands, where naughty boys are forced to stick their fingers in dikes, while eating insane amounts of cheese.
This story is about a medical script, and how easy it is to fool ourselves into believing that we actually know what we are doing. Well, I cannot speak for you, but I’m usually pretty confident about my skills as a professional narrator.
After years and years in radio, I always thought of myself as a solid cold reader. You can throw any text at me, and I’ll sound as if I know what I am talking about. It’s a dangerous skill to have, by the way. It’s like wearing glasses. Somehow, people automatically assume that the bespectacled among us, must be more intelligent. Those who sound like they know what they’re talking about, are mistakenly put into the same category, until they’re exposed as professional pretenders.
The medical script in front of me, came with a page-long pronunciation guide. It was like learning another language. A language of affliction, clinical trials, and a cure. It was about one of those medications advertisers want you to ask your doctor about. Some kind of pill that takes ten seconds to describe, followed by thirty seconds of rapid-fire contraindications and sickening side-effects.
It took me a while to record the 5000-word script, and even longer to edit it. I like doing my own editing. My voice gets a rest, and my ears and eyes can do some quality control. After all the files were cleaned up, separated, and properly named, I uploaded my work feeling confident about what I had accomplished. I was sure the client would be just as impressed.
Two hours later I got an email from the guy who had proofed my audio. “Great work,” he said. Out of thousands of words, I had only mispronounced about a dozen. But here’s the kicker: I had mispronounced the same word twelve times!
Instead of “pituitary-gonadal axis,” I had read “pituary-gonadal axis.” At least I was consistent in my mistakes.
What struck me the most was this: even though I had prepared the script, read the script, and edited my audio, I had missed my slip of the tongue again and again and again. I didn’t see it, and I didn’t hear it. Why? Because something in me believed that “pituary” was right.
I saw what I wanted to see, and I heard what I wanted to hear.
It made me oblivious to my errors.
It reminded me of the copywriter who was ready to distribute a press release about a local public market to hundreds of news outlets. He had been working on it for hours, and gave it to me so I could take one last look at it.
I said to him: “Nice work, but I hope you’re not going to send it this way. Look at the headline.”
“What about it?” he asked defensively. “It says:
Public Market Attracts Thousands Of Young Visitors.”
“No it doesn’t,” I said. “Look closely.”
He still didn’t see it, so I told him:
“You forgot the letter “L” in the word “Public.”
“Oh my gosh,” he responded. “I have been staring at that headline for hours, and never even noticed it. Who wants to send their kids to a Pubic Market? How embarrassing!”
Well, that’s how I felt after my pituary debacle. It also had me thinking.
Have I become one of those people who lives life guided by conformation bias? You know, the idea that we’re always looking for evidence that supports our beliefs (and we’re conveniently ignoring the rest).
I really believed the word was “pituary,” and I didn’t even see that the word in the script was spelled differently.
What if I look at people that way? That’s pretty scary. They’ll never be able to be any better or different from whom I think they are…. until someone points something out I had never considered. It’s all a matter of perception.
Perceptions are powerful. And they can be so wrong.
Perceptions tell us more about the perceiver, than about what is being perceived.
This afternoon, instead of being done with my medical project, I had to revisit every file with the word “pituitary” in it, and correct my mistakes. It was a humbling, uncomfortable experience that took up way too much time. It taught me one other lesson.
Sometimes, something happens that makes us change our perception of who we think we are.
In those moments, it is time to have a word…
with the person staring back at us in the mirror.
And after some reflection, please tell that person:
Everything is perception, but perception isn’t everything.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
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