To Hustle Or Not Hustle

That’s the question…apparently. 

I saw a year end surge in social media posts by entrepreneurs  (not solely voiceover people either, all types of businesses) reflecting back on their ‘21 and realizing they’ve been grinding too hard. Force-feeding people their brand, blogs, podcasts, posts, and marketing campaigns 24/7 on every platform in every feed,  and not engaging in enough personal downtime, rest, and selfcare. 

And, they’re struggling with guilt over it! Not patting themselves on the back for a grand effort, nor taking in any other kind of inventory around it either. 

So many of us have conditioned ourselves to believe that a constant grind is a requirement, that it’s absolutely the only way to conduct business and present ourselves in this world of digital marketing, social media, and personal brands, when it really isn’t. In trying to position ourselves as competent, formidable professionals in the upper tiers of our industry, we end up often coming across as insatiably hungry scavengers and boiler-room closers. 

We Hustle.

Look, I get it. You want to send a message, convey a prowess, differentiate, impress, and book the job. Yes, this has to be done. I’m merely of the opinion it should be done more carefully and with more taste.

Okay, so, I’m no spring chicken. I’m closer to 50 than 40, despite being exceedingly cool in a unique and unparalleled way (…I am, I really am, …my mom says). Maybe my age is the reason why I feel the way I feel about the hustle, as a business methodology and as a term. And, from talking to artist friends of mine who I admire and trust, I know I am not alone.

Some memes write themselves.

*Upfront* – this is aimed at no one in particular whatsoever. Let’s get that out of the way. If you think this is about you, or is some personal attack of some kind, it isn’t. There is way more than one entrepreneur out there bragging about hustling or calling themselves a hustler. None are the subject here. Only the word “Hustle” and it’s message. This is purely my personal and professional take on this matter. If it’s working for you it’s working, and I know for some it is. Great. Woo hoo. Now get back to work…

My true feelings are that the use of the very word hustle itself is nothing less than heavily problematic in business.

Aside from its connection to the world’s oldest profession, as well as making me think of selling watches out of a trench coat (thank you, Peter Faulk in “The Great Muppet Caper”), it isn’t necessarily always viewed as a shall-we-say “desirable attribute” by the buyers to whom we market. Some will be reminded of this connection while others will not, true. However, others may have a different takeaway, such as below.

I immediately ask myself (and this is where I differ from others, I suppose), “Could this potentially hurt my business?”. 

Everyone has a different answer to that question, determined by a line drawn in a different place. It isn’t my line to draw for them. That’s what makes this anybody’s ball game. All fine. Good for them. Not for me. The doctrines I abide by are cut from similar cloths but used in a different way that works for me in a unique and positive way while keeping me safe from the downfalls of this so-called hustle.

One thing I keep thinking of, though, is that the only person to ever really pull this off is the ballplayer Pete Rose, “Charlie Hustle” himself. That being said, even he couldn’t make it last in a good way [I bet odds are you know what I mean…(wink)].

For one thing, classifying oneself as a hustler often implies that for this person it is an all-go, no-quit, non-stop pushing, never-ending Batman-esque war on marketing, where idle time, recreational activities, and reflective self-care have no place; marking the ultimate beginning of one’s personal and professional downfall.  That is as unhealthy as it is absurdly inaccurate, obviously. And yet, it is the result of an excessive commitment to an excessive paradigm.

“But Big Z, whaddya think THIS is then? Huh? Isn’t this blog and your funny little posts all about the same hustle?”

That’s a No. And here’s why.

When the offspring got sent home from school in March of 2020 for 2 weeks that lasted a year, the hustle sickness would have been an absolute deal breaker.

Some people had different situations, different child care needs and options, different spousal incomes and availabilities, blah blah etc. Us? It was me. Just me. The boy was 5, the wife was employed and working on-site. I knew my daily tasks were going to change, but for a few months I tried to manage being Mr. Mom and being Mr. VoiceOver simultaneously. In an immediate and colossal fashion, I was failing at both. I learned that each of these important tasks requires both hands on the wheel.

Well, I mean I already knew that before, but I still had no choice but to try to pull it off anyway.

In the end, I had to look at what my son’s and my business’s daily needs were like, and how(IF) I could even make any room in my day for quality work and auditions where I wasn’t cross-eyed and drooling or being pulled in all sorts of directions (…you ever go one on one with a 5 year old day after day during an apocalyptic crisis?).  The struggles were very real, endlessly mounting, and monumentally challenging from an endurance standpoint. By the time I had relief in the evening I was useless. Utterly and completely.

If I had brought that hustle sickness into the pandemic with me, my child would have spent literally hours upon hours every single day being neglected and alone. Watching TV and playing video games in near-isolation while daddy “hustles and grinds”.  Say whatever you want, but there aren’t enough paychecks on Earth to make me do that to my little boy. Equate it in any way you like to “doing what you have to do, what needs to be done”.

I knew what needed to be done, and I did it.

Another smaller but important component I also think gets overlooked and downplayed automatically as a result of being known as a hustler is that it compromises the idea of being authentically and fully connected to your work and artistry. Instead it says something more like, “I’ll take anything, whether it resonates with me or not. Don’t really want it, just gotta get it before you do!”. 

It cheapens, no? A lot of this I’ve discussed with peers and friends as well and I know I’m not alone, as some of the above is paraphrased directly from these conversations.

While I know “we all gotta eat”, we also should consider a couple of things. The first is what a massive turnoff this ‘hustling’ potentially looks and sounds like to our future clients. The second is what it does to the mental health and wellness of the entrepreneurial artist to have only this grind as their daily aim and purpose, and not the vastly enriched life that should accompany it.

Of course clients want “capable and confident” vendors.  HUMAN vendors. They don’t want vultures and wolves. That’s been my experience anyway. I’m sure it isn’t absolute, but it’s what works for me and is in alignment with who I am as a person and a professional.

And again, if it works for you… then you are probably too busy hustling to have read this anyway.

VoiceOver 1st Grade – Rule #2 “Be Nice”

A lot of factors go into the voiceover decision making process when the auditions are being filtered through by the end client.

Many of these factors are completely random and not even close to being able to be swayed by the performer. Even if the specs are well-written and you hit them perfectly, one never truly knows what the producer or creative teams are hearing in their head. What criteria they seek to match in order to make a selection.

After a couple hundred MP3 auditions get whittled down to 5 or less, what decides it from there?

Sometimes it’s nothing more than the cosmic alignment of even more factors beyond the performer’s control.




Last minute “directional” changes. All out of your control.

Shoot, once it reaches that point who even knows what criteria they use? “The dog’s tail wagged when we played this one, so that’s the one we chose.”

…I’ve heard crazier.

Some components, however, are in your control. Things like the vocal performance itself, how well you took the specs and direction, the audio quality, your existing web presence, etc.  Another key component within your control is establishing and maintaining a reputation of being easy to work with.

Being nice. Businesses and creators want a good final result, of course, but they also want to work with good people who are easy-going and nice.

It’s very much like what I tell my son, and what he learns at school. If you don’t play nice, no one will want to play with you.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how good your dodgeball game is, or how many cool toys you have. It doesn’t matter how clean your audio is or how much training you have.

If you are boorish and unpleasant you have less of a shot at catching on somewhere and staying on. You might get “a call”, but you might not get “called back”. The work may have been good, very good even. But if the experience left the client feeling like their vendor was difficult and problematic, they will remember that next time for certain.

Sometimes work requires seriousness, and focus, yes. Sometimes there’s no time for games or shenanigans. Sometimes you just have to buckle in and get it done, of course. This can all be done while simultaneously being nice, though, and does not have to leave a sour impression on your client.

It is possible to convey a sense of priority and urgency all while maintaining a pleasant and positive disposition. It’s also critical that this be the case right from the start. From Day 1 on the launchpad, one’s goal should be to build a solid reputation of quality and ease.

The importance of being nice. Some early feedback from a corporate client.

Your energy is just as important to the team and the project as your vocal contribution. That’s one of the extra miles.

Some of my earliest corporate clients confirmed this for me. Their feedback about the product itself indicated that they were thrilled with and impressed by the level of quality, and not just in my audio but in the quality their finished content reflected once my voice and audio were added. But they always went a step further by saying how much they enjoyed the process of working with me, and stating that was one of the reasons they kept coming back.

In returning to the 1st Grade as a 40-something father along with my 6 year old, I am frequently reminded of little lessons such as this which can and should still be applicable in our adult lives. Something as simple and basic as “be nice” ends up playing a gigantic role in one’s success. The deciding factors aren’t always one’s voice, or one’s audio quality, or how far one can kick the ball.

Whittling 200 or more auditions down to 5, or 3, is not easy at all.  Make it easier for the decision makers.

Give them a reason to say, “We’ve selected you (again) because you are always so great to work with. You’re always so nice!”

Corporate Training

It’s very common, when people hear that I am a voice-actor, for them to say something like “Oh, wow, yeah. You DO have a nice voice!”. My reply is always something like “Well, thank you kindly for that, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.”

A lot more.

One of the things for which I am most grateful, and which helped make me a strong partner for businesses and content creators, is my 20+ years worth of corporate training and experience with customers as well as leadership. I have worked in many different roles during that time including customer service, collections, in-house recovery, credit analysis, supply chain, inside sales, and also training manager/class facilitator.

And to top it all off, these were roles in a call-center environment. So my voice, listening skills, and communication prowess were honed and utilized as well.

One of the earliest things we were taught during our 800# training was how to ask questions, listen to the customer responses in full with no assumptions, check for understanding, and then ask the next relevant question. We were answering customer service calls literally all day, one after another, every day. Dozens and dozens of customer contacts per day.

It was important to be an open receiver of information when the call starts and not be a sender until we have all of the details needed. Take it all in without anticipating or assuming what they are trying to say. Get the full scope, the big picture from the caller, and then respond. We would also check for understanding along the way by repeating their concern back to them and ensuring that, before we answer anything, we understand what exactly is being asked.

And when all was said and done, there was the single call resolution piece. Before letting the call go, we’d do one last sweep to verify that we’d addressed all their concerns, and ask if there was anything else that we could help them with that day.

This training was in 1998 when I was in my early 20’s, and I worked there until the end of 2018. Everyone was trained the same way back then. There were over a dozen people in my training class, and there was a new class rotating-in every 1-2 weeks.

They were also very gung-ho about making sure that the “customer can hear your smile”. Voice actors are extremely familiar with this, as it is a direction that’s commonly given. “That was a good take. One more like that, please, but more smile! Ready, aaaaand…GO!”

If you are unsure of what I mean, take a moment and search online for the animated show “The Cat in the Hat” featuring Martin Short. In all my life I don’t think I’ve ever been able to more clearly “hear a smile” in a voice-over performance than his in that role. Every word he says in every episode, plus the theme song he sings, sounds like he is wearing a gigantic grin while performing. It’s uncanny.

Nowadays if you call an 800#, or speak to a front-line contact at a medium to large company, you are highly unlikely to encounter that type of attention, active listening, and cheer. Employees seem to not receive that kind of training anymore at all, almost as though it has been deemed outdated and unnecessary by the employer. Customer care has a much stronger ‘drive-thru’ vibe now than ever before, in my opinion. Single contact resolution is not a priority, seemingly. Checking for understanding? Nah. Strong listening comprehension and communication skills? Nuh-uh. And an audible smile? Nope!

This quote of mine was originally a social media post from several years ago. One of my core values.

As I started to make my transition into professional voice work I was still working at the company in question. But their training was so well ingrained that I found myself applying many of these same tools in communications with my corporate clients. They definitely seemed to appreciate and respond well to my listening and my giving their words attention and priority. The professional business-like conduct was well received and beneficial, and even seemed to catch some by surprise at times.

By applying my “800# training” as well as my knowledge of corporate training, business communications, leadership expectations and approval, forward-thinking, attention to detail, and my qualifying and soft-closing skills from my years as a sales rep (and sales trainer), I was easily able to differentiate myself from many in the field.

My awareness of and fluency in the language of business and the language of arts and creativity became one of my biggest assets. Many artists remain immersed in the art world only, and go to great lengths to avoid venturing into white-collar jobs. However, many others have done and are doing both in long-term temporary capacities as I did. Bills have to be paid and families need benefits, etc.

This is what I mean when I say that there’s a lot more to being a voice actor than just having a good voice. Combining the knowledge and wisdom of both worlds makes for a well-rounded freelance artist who fits and functions well in each. This has helped me go from being a mere “vendor” to being considered a true partner by my clients on their current (and ultimately future) projects. This fluency has also aided in my marketing efforts and networking with businesses and creators.

Now if only I could stop trying to coach the reps I speak with when I call 800 numbers…

We Interrupt This Program…

There’s a lot of things I love about being a small business owner who works from home. I get to do a lot of the little things such as the meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking for my family. I enjoy being able to have my wife come home to clean clothes that have been folded, clean floors, garbage out, and a hot meal that’s ready and waiting for her.

I get to be the person who puts our child on the school bus in the morning, and to take him off in the afternoon. I enjoy getting to give him his snack, playing outside with him, helping him with his homework, and having special 1-on-1 dad-and-son time, the kind that we’ll both remember fondly for years. That’s all very important to me and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

In addition to the above, my job is in the arts, which I love. I’m not an accountant or a dentist with offices in my basement or anything. I get to do many artistic and creative things regularly as part of my work and it’s quite fulfilling.

It’s also quite necessary. My primary job when I am not at the microphone is marketing myself and my studio business. The creativity is heavily relied upon in that facet of my work. Between making and editing image posts, video and audio files, and coming up with more and more unique tools to market myself, creativity has become the life-blood of my business. It goes hand in hand with my marketing campaigns on my various social media platforms (all a requirement these days, as any working professional voice-actor will tell you).

My son is young and very demanding of my time. I don’t ever complain about that because it truly warms my heart that he and I are well-bonded that way, especially since my own relationship with my father was not quite that same way. Therefore I never ever want to say “No” to him when he asks for my time. I’ve been forced to say no from time to time for various reasons, like auditions and bookings, conferences, classes and training, etc, and he’s rolled with it nicely.

For this reason, I make it a point to try to get done as much work as possible in a condensed time frame each day. I allocate myself a heavy workload from the time my son’s bus departs until he returns on it that afternoon. It works out to be a whopping 7 hours, which is not really a lot. It’s not the most ideal scenario but I do what I can to make it work.

I make efforts to get as much offline work done as possible in the evenings and wee hours (planning, prepping, making and editing content, making schedules and writing drafts) so that I can be on the marketing front-line during the business day when potential clients are also working. There’s no one single hard and fast rule about this, but generally speaking, it is much more effective to show up in their Inboxes and make these connections when they are also online and working themselves. The 11pm or 2am connections and messages do not have the same impact or results, by and large. So the daytime availability and contact efforts are big and important. The system I have in place and have been adhering to has been good for a while. Do I wish I had more business hours available? Yes. But I’ve been making it work.

Enter COVID 19.

Pretty Much.

Things have blown up recently, as we all know, and now many schools are closed for anywhere from a week to over a full month. Parents are being assigned home-schooling duties. Kids will not see their teachers or classmates for an indefinite amount of time. Campuses have sent the student body home to finish their work online through e-learning modules. Some survival jobs have made concessions for their employees to either work from home, work an adjusted schedule, or even take family medical leave for this time. Other businesses are slow to the party with these concessions, but likely coming around with the influence of the national state of emergency.

So, now what? My already-packed daily schedule just got thrown into a wood-chipper as my son will be home for this indefinite extended period. My wife’s job has not (yet) made a decision as to how they will handle this with staffing and remote work. Daddy-duty has just been called into full-time active status.

There will be a daily curriculum which he and I must follow to ensure he continues with progress and retention, which will be largely online as well. We will be able to have outdoor playtime, but with restrictions. No play-dates. No movie theaters or trips to the mall. No playgrounds. No visiting family and friends. It is not going to be easy on parents and young kids during this time.

But we of course step up because that’s our job as parents. They need us, so we’re there. It is what it is, right?

But as a small business owner and professional voice-actor, my schedule just became…hmmm, how shall I put this?- a very interesting challenge. My success depends heavily on my ability to network effectively, build relationships with people in many different jobs and industries, and work towards finding opportunities within those relationships. There is no selling , or asking for the close, or any of the old school sales/boiler-room tactics that apply to what I do. Those tactics barely work at all anymore for most products and/or services.

And I know I’m not alone. In fact, due to the aforementioned shift away from crowded classrooms to online course completion, my cohorts in the Learning & Development and Instructional Design fields just had their work loads increased exponentially and their deadlines bumped up too, perhaps. This is not exclusive to academic purposes either. Think about all the new training and compliance videos being requested now. And the medical explainer videos as well, all being updated to include new guidelines regarding the virus.

Some people just received an unexpected vacation of sorts. Some received the perk of working from home in their pajamas, and all the added benefits that go along. Others received a forced fast. And others, still, received a whole new host of duties and responsibilities and some subsequent limitations along with them.

So how do we begin to solve the problem of doing even more with even less time? I’m not a lover of plopping the kid down in front of the TV or handing him the iPad for a couple hours so that daddy can do some direct marketing, but will there be many other choices? We can’t bring them to a daycare or a sitter. We can’t send them to grandma and grandpa’s for the day. We can’t hand them off to the neighbor or friend’s house for the day, even if we were willing to take turns and cover for each other day after day. None of that is recommended. The lock-down is far too serious and all of those options are against the whole purpose of the social distancing.

Wait, there’s more! As parents, we are also being urged to be as mindful and positive as possible while the young kids are home. We need to lessen the negative impact of the severity, the fear, the stress, and the uncertainty for their sake. Nobody wants their kids traumatized or having childhood anxiety over any of this. Nobody wants to break down in front of them and scare them even worse. No one wants their child to see them buckle. It’s now just about the tallest order I’ve ever been asked to fulfill (so far, …sigh), and I refuse to let people down. Especially my family.

My inner voice, for years and years now, has been telling me to do my best with whatever I have control over and to let go of the rest. Let those chips fall where they may. And now, even the things I did once have control over have changed. My control has been taken somewhat away in certain vital areas. Very vital areas.

My inner voice is struggling to receive that message and process it fully. It understands the logic and rationale, and it does not disagree. But it also knows what’s at stake with my family and my business. It knows the pickle I’m in now regarding the needs of my child, the needs of my business, and the needs of the many. It’s become such a challenging time across the board that even the mental process of sorting it all out has taken extra time. Each day the information we are trying to process and maneuver around becomes a little different, and usually worse than the day before. But eventually the inner voice establishes the cooler head and some progress can begin to get made.

It’s been a difficult end of one week and start of the next for many of us. Small businesses all across the board are going to take a hit, as are the bigger ones too. Restaurants. The service industry. Businesses in and around heavily populated cities. Food trucks and vendors. Event facilities. Even public transportation. The impact will be far-reaching and long-lasting to say the least.

I’m sure companies like my wife’s job will up their game and make some kind of announcement soon which will be considerate and beneficial for their people. Some places are just a bit slower at that type of thing, that’s all. But, oh yeah, it will definitely take the two of us to get this done the way it needs to be done. The needs of our family must come first. Those needs include doing what’s best for our son, but they also include keeping the train moving and the coals burning.

I am hopeful that she will be allowed to work from home, even intermittently. I will be a vigilant, positive, and present father while she is working. And when she is able to relieve me, whenever and for however long, I will be smart and work as much as humanly possible. This new endeavor will take equal parts planning, improvisation, sacrifice, flexibility and dedication.

Realistically, I will not be able to do the volume and hours of marketing needed in the way that I was previously and in the exact way I need to, but it’s going to have to be enough. I am not able to control anything beyond that, and that right there is the trusted collegial inner voice that I know and love. The one telling me to be brave and go forth.

I wish everyone out there reading this all the best, through these times and always. Good health. Good times. Good luck. May you find what you need to get yourself and your loved ones through this. And if you don’t find it, then may it find you.

Know Your Worth-Pt. 1. “Toxicity”

Many of us have been in positions or jobs where we’re compromised in some fashion. We’re stuck between staying true to our professionalism and our word by doing what we said we’d do, and staying true to our morals and guiding principles as both workers and humans. Our ideals.

Listening to our inner voice is not always easy. Or clear. Sometimes that voice is telling us two different things at the same time. Neither is wrong, but they can still be in direct conflict with each other and cause confusion as to what we should do. Is one voice coming from your head and the other from your heart? Is there a third yet, coming from your gut instincts? Most likely all three, yes.

It’s up to us and us alone to determine which voice to follow in a given scenario, and for what reason(s).

Years ago I took a part time job at a start-up company in my hometown. It was an internet radio station begun by a friend of a friend. They knew of me, my voice-over work, and my acting history. So when I made the contact and asked about voicing promos, ads, and doing some of their imaging narration, I was instead offered a gig as host of a daily morning show. They desperately needed capable on-air talent for their launch to establish credibility and an early base of listeners.

Although I have a degree in performing arts and no small amount of experience as a performer of multiple genres (stage, screen, voice, even some live music), I had never taken broadcasting in college. I had also never worked for a radio station before.

My subject-matter-expertise in this area was limited to years and years of radio fandom, though. Growing up in the greater New York City area, I received a radio education from the likes of Howard Stern on K-Rok, Don Imus on WNBC, Scott & Todd on WPLJ, 100.7 WHUD in the Hudson Valley, CBS-FM, and more. As I got older there came the Morning Zoo on Z100, Opie & Anthony, X107, Q104.3 (and their former iteration of WNEW 102.7).

I was the unwitting recipient of a radio education without the formality of a curriculum and degree. I loved many genres of music and also had an appreciation for live talk radio, with and without the edge. So I knew I could deliver whatever they wanted to have on the menu for listeners.

I had no problem proceeding bravely into uncharted territory. For me, that’s a place in which I thrive and have fun too. I embrace such challenges and take them very seriously. My goal is always to leave people with no clue that the territory is new for me. And I am proud to say that I am frequently successful in that vein.

This gig gave me an opportunity to learn an all new aspect of communications too. Things I could apply to my own business. The equipment. The process. The vernacular. The ups and downs. The challenges. Even the pitfalls. I was having a blast right from the get-go, learning a ton while doing quite well and having fun.

I got to exercise creative muscles, both old and new. Soundbite production and placement. Writing. Live improv comedy. Playlist curation. Promotion. Marketing. So, so much.

The owners were two long-time friends who had studied radio and broadcasting about 20 years earlier, in the mid 90’s. They knew a lot about radio. Old radio. Unfortunately that industry has evolved a lot since then, and not necessarily for the better. But they gave it an effort, despite their idea being 20 years too late and closer to a non-profit passion project/hobby.

A couple of local businesses signed on for temporary ad space on the air from the get-go, but many only did a month or so with the station before letting their deal expire. The station was getting very little traction and the businesses were showing practically zero interest in us.

As host of a daily 3-hour show I felt I might be able to have some positive impact on the marketing effort myself as well, despite having a dedicated marketing rep already employed at the station. So everywhere I went I was wearing the company shirt and speaking with business owners about who we were and how we could work together. Every local event, like festivals and street fairs etc, was a place in which I could work to drum up new business and do my part to help get this endeavor into an orbit. I even ran into the actual official marketing rep at one of these events as I was making the rounds and doing the pitch. We were attending the same crowded family event with our kids.

She saw me in the shirt doing the spiel to the local business owners and asked me, “Do you, like, do this a lot? With the shirt and the magnets and all? You do a lot of marketing for them on your own?”

I knew I was already going above and beyond the rest of the team, and now someone else finally saw it too. And even though I did wish others were carrying as much water as I was trying to carry, I made no complaints. I persevered.

As a point of fact, I was doing this job every weekday morning while still employed by my then-day job (a corporate job of almost 20 years at the time, with benefits and responsibilities). I would arrive at the station just after 6am, leaving my wife and young son home to do the morning routine alone as I was on-air from 7am-10am, 5 days a week. I was doing this with the blessing of my day job boss, because he knew what this meant to me and my future voice-over work.

I was working my butt off late every night writing show material, creating promotional posts and memes, show humor, soundbites, bumpers, audio files for imaging, and more. And I was also responsible for making up as much of my lost survival job hours as possible before allocating my own personal time off to cover the rest.

This radio job started off as a paid gig which was definitely a part of why I took it but not the sole reason. However, in week # 6 the owner approached my co-host and I and advised us that their ad sales were far below their hopes ( I refuse to call them expectations because, really, who the hell were they kidding?), and that if we wanted to stay on the air as hosts, we’d have to agree to a pay cut and split whatever ad revenue that they managed to bring in until they can eventually get us back to full pay.

It was at this moment that my Inner voice started arguing with itself. There were already other negative factors in play from the start but I was dead-set on powering through them towards success. But with this news, the internal debate escalated.

“Bail. Walk away, now. You don’t work for free. You owe them nothing and you have other responsibilities, other opportunities. You’re getting dumped on, abused, taken advantage of, and still going the extra 10 miles, all while being restricted from your other pursuits. Don’t let them do that anymore. Do. NOT!

“No! Don’t quit! You aren’t a quitter. Have faith. Be steadfast and determined. Work harder. Make things happen. Get out there and sell it. Make the show so good that it creates such a buzz that you can single handedly be the one who saves the day! Don’t quit! Do. NOT!

This went on for weeks.

I’m deliberately leaving out the parts where the owners as well as my co-host were guilty of absolutely horrid treatment, much of which was corroborated by my fans and by people close to them who knew them well and could see (and hear) the obvious.

Gas lighting.
Total lack of professionalism.

I’d get calls and texts after the show, and even during, saying “why do they keep interrupting you like that?! What is that person even doing on the air with you?? They are ruining the show every day and don’t belong there. It’s taking away from the good you are doing, and it’s so unprofessional sounding. You’d do so much better on your own.” Seriously, this happened almost daily. Some of my biggest supporters found themselves unable to listen to the show solely because of the co-host who audibly hated my guts and went out of her way to trip me up and ruin every planned,scripted effort I was making. She would routinely help herself to the segments I had created and worked hard on because she was incapable of originality in any way.

This person did not bring any radio, music, or performance experience to the table either. It was painful to listen to, and even more-so to be the one having to work along side it. During a song she asked me “who is this woman singing?” The ‘woman’ was actually Robert Plant singing Immigrant Song. I was hosting a show with someone who had no idea who Led Zeppelin were. To be fair, she knew more about top 40 pop music than I ever wanted to know in my life, but her knowledge began and ended there.

In addition, the owners demanded that I make zero mention of my acting career on the air. They accused me of sounding like yet another desperate actor looking for a new opportunity. And although I didn’t use quotations above, those truly were their words. They simply refused to recognize that there could be a benefit to letting listeners know that a true trained professional was working there, and not just the unemployed and untrained wives of their friends. They just did not get it, or could not.

I eventually received liberty from my gas-lighting, uber-negative, super toxic, disastrous excuse for a co-host and went solo with my own 3-hour nightly music show. A bit more free-reign and creative license, which was kind of nice. That part was a lot of fun too. Ultimately, the owners knew full well that I was a valuable asset and they truly did not want to lose me. They really liked the work even if they did not like me and had allegiances to the people they knew better. But I still couldn’t allow it to continue.

The owner and I had a meeting one night after my show ended at 11pm and he revealed to me that they can not and would never be able to get us back to full salary. Ever. They had planned poorly, budgeted badly, and overextended themselves in every possible way. He even went as far as to say he’d rather have the place filled with interns if he could, and that his experience was limited to non-profit businesses in the past.

Really?!?! I would have never guessed…

I got up, gave him my key, shook his hand, said thanks, and left. I quit on the spot. The handshake and the gratitude were more than he deserved as well, but it was important to me to maintain my own professionalism till the very end and not stoop to their level. By the time I arrived home, my entire presence had been deleted from their website and social media platforms. Every post, every file, all of it.

It was only six weeks before they ran out of money and yet I worked there for another 2 ½ months for the equivalent of less than 25% of my expected pay. And that was after upping my own game in helping them market (without commission) and sacrificing over 40 hours of my own personal time off from my day job. I refused to quit when I was taking their crap daily from the onset. I refused to quit in week #6 at the first sign of financial challenges. I saw it through as far as I possibly could and endured so many more personal attacks and professional abuse than an employee ever should. AND my job, my own business, and my family life were all suffering.

The reality? I wasn’t an employee for those 2 ½ months. I was a volunteer, donating my time. A lot of it. And I was receiving nothing in return for it except endless flack and higher demands. The harder I worked, the more crap I received.

Preach on, Sister Janis!

They didn’t want to lose me, but…
They never said thank you to me.
Never acknowledged how much legitimacy and credibility my work gave them.
Never went to bat for me, not once.
Never expressed gratitude for how I helped them grow a following online.
Never acted like a leadership team regarding my pathetic excuse for a co-host and their antics.
Never showed an appreciation for the marketing effort I was making, nor for the way I ignored my own entrepreneurship during those 4 months (a mistake I will NEVER make again, by the way).

Months later, I received a call from the aforementioned marketing rep. She had just quit herself due to a commission dispute with the owner, and wanted to tell me how smart I was to leave when I did and how much she admired my being the first one to do it. It was a very nice compliment and affirmation (the only one of its kind) from a phone call I was not expecting in the least.

During our call she also apologized to me directly for not doing as much marketing as I had been doing, and that she felt bad immediately when she saw me out there working it more than she was. She also apologized for not standing up for me more during the 4 months. It turned out that she was aware of all of the above as well, including the co-host’s total and utter discontent for me. The marketing rep had been a life-long friend of my morning co-host and candidly revealed to me that they had it in for me from pretty much day one, too (duh).

Since she had no prior broadcasting or hosting experience whatsoever, she was heavily intimidated by the live-without-a-net aspect of radio, as well as by the studio tech. She also had a bit of jealous rage towards me for not being intimidated by it at all and for thriving on the air in a way she never could. She was completely out of her element, despite my frequent kind and genuine offers to help her and show her how it all works. This offer was not only never accepted, but only made her hate me more and increase her attacks, on and off the air. She simply didn’t belong there so she made sure that I sounded terrible too. Daily. I’d be in the middle of something I had written and prepared while she was texting her family at home, and would then just cut right in and say hello to her mom or daughter or husband right when I was getting to the meat of my bit, as if I wasn’t even there at all. That’s usually when my own phone would light up with texts saying “Is she kidding?? How could she DO that??”

I swear. It was beyond ridiculous.

There’s no reason to get further into the details of what happened during those months. There’s dozens and dozens of such occurrences. It would part bore you and part enrage you. I had been given the affirmation I needed, and I rested well at night knowing that I took the highest road available amidst a group of people who didn’t come close to deserving that from me.

In the end I’m thankful that I listened to the part of my inner voice that told me to stick it out. If I hadn’t done that, I may have spent the last few years wondering “what could’ve been”.

But by staying as long as I did and pushing through, I quelled that curiosity sufficiently. And in doing so, I also now know which of those arguing inner voices to listen to from now on. In the highly unlikely chance that I ever find myself faced with such a quandary again, I will now know exactly what to do and when to do it. I know my value and my worth. I know who I am, where I belong, and what I should be doing. And no one gets to tell me different.

No one will ever get me to compromise myself like that again. My loyalty, when all is said and done, is to myself, my family, my goals, and my business. I had to get taken for a ride in order to never be taken for a ride again. This lesson came at a great cost, both monetarily and mentally, but will surely be saving me from something worse later.

Too Long, Didn’t Read

In the spirit of Random Act of Kindness Week, I have made this week’s entry very voice-over business-specific. This will hopefully serve as solid productive advice for anyone getting started, or considering getting started, in the business as well as shine a light on both the perks and the challenges that things like the internet and social media bring to our industry.

As I was going through various levels of corporate training in my early 20’s, one of the most enforced and drilled-down concepts of the curriculum was the act of utilizing one’s available resources first, before asking your coworkers or manager for help and answers.

This means that one would be required to do, and responsible for doing, their own research and seeking the available answers somewhere already within the company’s extensive database. There were already tons of documents, quick reference guides, frequently asked question pages, tutorials, and explainer videos pretty much everywhere and covered pretty much everything.

If you had a question, odds were that the answer could be found. At most, the answer you find would guide you to an ultimately more specific but different question than the one which started you on this path. And that secondary or tertiary question would be the acceptable one to ask.

For anyone who has worked in a corporate function anytime in the past 10 years or so, you already know that it isn’t like that anymore. Documents and materials aren’t quite written that way anymore as much as they used to be. That is mainly because the audience is simply not doing the reading anymore.

My last corporate job started out as the former but evolved into the latter over the years as the average employee age began to drop. The younger crew brought with them, it seems, this new doctrine of instant gratification and immediate return. At least when it comes to seeking info, anyway.

Research, note-taking, asking preliminary and secondary follow-up questions – all gone. Even the emails I was responsible for sending to the end-user as a reply to their inquiry had to be groomed and shortened because there were too many words. Literally, that was the reason I was given. It was “too long, they won’t read it”.

Attention spans plummeted and the desire to seek knowledge went extinct along with it. Seekers want their info delivered right to them, already organized and outlined, so they can skim and move on.

This much is evident online in focused groups and social media communities as well. I am a member of no small amount of said groups. On a near-daily basis, I’ll see an inquiry posted in one of the social media groups from new talent, asking “How does one get started in this business? Where do I begin? Where do I go for work?” etc.

One of the problems is that this question has been asked and answered thoroughly numerous times already. Entire threads filled with lengthy conversation and extensive banter are easily found. Existing pros have spent tremendous amounts of their valuable time laying out these details and their own experiences, for better or worse, all throughout these threads online.

In the time it takes a new member of the group to ask this question in a new active post to the members, they could have entered the same text into the search field and found pages and pages of data, already existing, from which they could mine for information. And this is my suggestion for the new talent out there, as it was also my own method as well (still is, actually, and remains very fruitful).

… Are you still reading? …Good!

By finding these existing conversations where long-time and very successful pros have laid out their info, experiences, and resources, I was able to go through each one slowly. All the comments, replies, debating, devil’s advocates, experiences, and takeaways from every established professional was all there in black and white. As I would read through, I would take copious notes.

Some provided details on their daily practices, such as warm-ups, business related tasks, and organizational tips. They would go back and forth about early mistakes they made in the business, where it led them, what they learned, and what they wished they had done instead.

Others would review their coaching teams or demo producers, and I would make lists of who to seek out for more information (and also who to avoid as well, which is often equally valuable knowledge to sponge up). Others still would talk about their equipment, what they started with and why, what they upgraded to and why, and all the pros and cons that came up along the way.

Agents, managers, producers, filmmakers, casting people, content makers, beneficial networking opportunities and methodology, methods of communication, guidance on direct marketing, and so so much more. It’s all in there.

To be successful in voice-over, one must become a student of the material. A LOT of material. It doesn’t begin and end with your performance or your determination. It actually begins with the homework you assign yourself, and the extra credit you choose to undertake as well.

I always recommend to people, when they ask how to get into it, that they google the statement itself. Put in “I want to be a voice-actor” and hit enter. There are more than a few detailed articles written already by established, working, big-name voice-over people. The articles provide some tough-love but also very accurate descriptions of the prerequisites to getting into this business as well as the joys and benefits.

I tell people “read one of those articles two times and take notes, then if you still think you want to try this, send me the new questions you have and we’ll go from there”.

Mining the data from LinkedIn and Facebook groups has been essential on my path into professional voice-over. For one thing, the information is abundant to say the least. Gem after gem of solid gold info, complete with the strong perspective and sincere hindsight of the person providing it.

For another thing, it is free. The only cost is the time it takes to read through it all and take notes (and that’s normally where we lose people). It allows me to educate myself and put myself through the punches that someone else already endured, but without having to take the beating myself. It also enables me to cross off many of my existing questions and come up with pages of new ones that I can now search for as well, all without actually having to ask anyone anything (yet).

Over the years I have made this a hard and fast rule of my own. Before I ask an active question in a group or to an individual, I first enter that exact same question into the search field and see what posts I can find on the subject with comments. Almost 100% of the time I find my answer, plus the answers to the next handful of questions too.

The only questions I will tend to ask in a live forum are the ones I myself was unable to answer for myself in research. The depth of detail found online is considerable, so I view it as my responsibility to use what’s already there and not take someone else’s time until/unless I have something I cannot find on my own first.

We are forever challenged in this industry to stand-out, to differentiate, amidst an ever-growing field of “competitors”. There are many subtle ways to accomplish this, and one of those ways is to be the person who does the work. Don’t be the person who wants it all laid out in front of them to follow blindly, but rather be the person who rolls up their sleeves and starts digging.

I am personally more impressed with the person who doesn’t ask the first question, but rather asks the third or fourth after having found the previous answers themselves. That person is a forward-thinker who shows intelligence, drive, and respect.

Respect for the industry itself.
Respect for the steps necessary to success.
Respect for the people, their time, and their expertise.

The Journey of a Thousand No’s

For the record, believe it or not, the conversation I mention below was had long before I knew of any such similarly-named children’s book. It’s purely a coincidence, but one that indeed proves great minds think alike.

Most of us have hopes and aspirations that are different than where we are currently. Right? Maybe you always wanted to be an artist of some sort, a writer of books or songs or music. A painter. A digital artist or cartoonist. A performer. A filmmaker or storyteller. Maybe an athlete or other competitor in some sort of professional capacity.

Whatever it was (is, I should say), the usual tendency is for so many of us to opt for the safe route. We get a job with benefits and security. We pay bills. Buy houses. We may never go all-in and go for it with those dreams out of fear, or maybe out of sensibility and logic. Maybe we’ve been told it’s too tough by someone we love and trust, and maybe we took their word for it.

Maybe our inner voices are not telling us the truth. Sometimes these voices sound like us, but are really the words and skepticism of someone else. Not everyone’s inner voice is as trusted and collegial as others. It all depends on what you have been fed and told in your formative years, and by who.

Sometimes what keeps us from the pursuit is the simple matter of the challenge itself. Some of these dreams take years to come to fruition and might involve going up against high volumes of competition with even higher stakes. They might cause us to risk spending years in poverty and financial insecurity before the eagle finally lands, if at all.

For some there is one thing and one thing only that dissuades them from going for it, and that’s fear of the sheer amount of rejection involved. The Arts in particular have this characteristic (as well as the aforementioned poverty and competition factors, of course).

But what if someone told you that your greatest dreams and aspirations for success, and the most ideal version of your happy life, are right around the corner? That the only thing standing between you and victory… is a thousand rejections?

No, seriously.

If you finished that rock opera you’ve been writing since the 8th grade (or that book you’ve been penning etc) and started out on the journey to get it produced/published/recorded, and were guaranteed to succeed in your mission on your terms and live the life you’ve always dreamed of… with the sole condition being that you have to endure one thousand rejections first before getting a Yes, would you go for it?

I have a friend who is an aspiring novelist. She is an extremely creative and artistically minded person with an exceptional imagination, an inventive way with words, and a unique perspective. She wrote a book and was unsure about seeking publication. The primary concern which she voiced to me? Rejection. The stress and disappointment, and risk, of rejection. After all, it’s a hard thing to take in any sized dose and it makes some tasks unattractive to those who would otherwise undertake them.

For many people, fear of rejection is enough to keep them away from their true goals and desires and cause them to choose a safer road with less uncertainty, less risk, and less rejection.

And less fulfillment.

As we were talking about this fear and it’s power to limit people’s ambitions, I naturally gave her my related take on it all as an actor. I mean, performing artists are no strangers to rejection, so I knew where she was coming from. I didn’t ask her the question above, but rather told her how I came to terms myself with this fear and with the massive obstacle that is rejection in my business.

Embrace the “No’s”. They are not permanent.

I knew going in that I was bound, absolutely and totally predestined, to be the recipient of numerous rejections before I’d get into orbit with my freelance voice-over work, as well as the other facets of performing arts (like TV and Film). My rationale was simple: if it takes me 1,000 rejections before I achieve success, well then I better get crackin’!

It’s not that I enjoy the rejection, I don’t at all. And I certainly do not go into these auditions and opportunities hoping to be rejected, ever. But I am acutely aware that there will always be more No than Yes in my line of work, and that the No’s will be abundantly front-loaded in the early years of this endeavor. This allowed me to fully embrace the notion of rejection. To accept it as merely one component of a larger process, and one that is essential for progress and success.

Each occurrence of rejection gets us closer to our goal. Sometimes we receive criticism and feedback from which we learn and improve. Other times we get rejected because we barked up the wrong tree, such as publishers who favor one style of writing over another or producers who favor only one genre of music, etc, and yours isn’t it.

We get turned down for various reasons. Some reasons have to do with us specifically, but not all. Fortunately, we get the opportunity to grow from each “No” and show up stronger the next day (yet another absolutely essential component). We learn what to do and what not to do. We learn where to go and where not to go. That’s where the power lies in this perspective. That’s why I’ve never been heartbroken or devastated by getting passed over for an opportunity. You cannot let it in.

I make sure I take away a lesson from each “No” and show up better and stronger the next day. And I also count that rejection as one of the thousand needed. Therefore, with every “No” I hear, I view it as being one more closer to the big “Yes” (not the ‘Harry & Sally’ kind of “Yes”).

This doctrine must have resonated with her too, because the next day she emailed me her manuscript to read. She had decided to start on her journey of a thousand No’s after our talk. To me, that felt like a win for sure. It warmed my heart to have been able to say anything at all that helped my friend, a true artist, to break through and break out.

Powering through, staying strong, and staying positive are among the prerequisites to success. Listen more closely to your inner voice than you do to the “No”. Never stop moving forward.

“So, how did you get into voice-over?”

This is a question I get asked a lot. I’m sure many of my peers in the business hear it often as well. Some of these questions come from people who have an interest in VO, or in the arts in general perhaps. Some come from those who want to break in and are struggling to find that point of entry (as it is a narrow one).

There are others though who, in the midst of the discussion, reveal to me that their question was based on an assumption. Meaning that I either must have “known someone”, or got handed a unique opportunity and tried to run with it, or some other unearned short-cut which led me to an unintended career. It’s usually pretty clear that one of the next questions they want to ask is “can you do that for me, too?”

When I give them my answer though, and tell them the abbreviated story of how and why, many change their tune fairly quickly.

The truth is this is a fantastic job to be fortunate enough to be doing, but it in no way gets handed to anyone. No one gets bubbled up or fast-tracked. There are no short-cuts on which you can plot a reliable course. There’s no side-doors or secret passwords to the upper levels. There isn’t anyone for us “to talk to you for you” or anything like that.

Even in the extremely rare instances where unexpecting talent gets handed a large opportunity to voice something, it rarely goes anywhere after that unless/until said talent puts in the rest of the work required.

So, how did I actually get into it? Simple. I decided to.

I made the choice, did the homework, paid the dues, did the diligence, and started kicking doors open myself. That’s it. I’m sorry the answer wasn’t more romantic, or more Rocky-movie-esque or whatever. But that’s the deal. I just freakin’ went for it.

Where it really started, though? Acting.

I have been an actor since I was 18, and an acting-hopeful prior to that. In 1998 I took a bit of an unintended hiatus and started a corporate job at 22 years old. This turned into 9 years away from acting entirely, and a geographic change of 650 miles away from my New York home. That became too long, and too far for my taste. So I started up again. I’m sure many of ushave something we did in our youth that eventually phased out or fell by the wayside. But how many of us have the guts to go back to it and re-commit to it?

I began auditioning for local productions and got my chops back pretty quickly by doing several great plays with excellent people all over town. Even after my first audition in phase ‘Steve 2.0’, I knew I was back where I belonged. The feelings of elation and exuberance were familiar and undeniable. I had found home. I had found North again. And this time I had no intention of losing my way.

My inner voice was now shouting at me, desperately trying to get my attention to make sure I didn’t derail again. Even as I left that first audition in 9 years, I walked down the sidewalk on Second Street in Wilmington back towards my car with a literal spring in my step. At that moment, I was speaking out loud to myself with no one around, saying “Yes! YES!! That was awesome! You did it! You’re back now!” For the first time, my real voice and my inner voice were in perfect sync with each other. They were one voice. I’ll never forget that night.

After a few years of this I had racked up a solid resume, a couple nods for best actor, an agent, some commercials, and film work. Two primary goals emerged out of this. The first? Get back to New York somehow some way. The second? Find a way to unload the day job I had at the time.

As many people know, but maybe not everyone, having those pesky 40hr/wk scheduling issues makes it near impossible to get traction and make progress as a serious professional actor. The conflict is too great and the powers-that-be within the industry do not have the time nor the inclination to deal with whether or not you can get the time off work. It’s viewed as a metric of your seriousness. Yes, it sucks. But that’s how it is.

So how do you keep the lights on and food on the table without a survival job?

Answer: You make a new one for yourself.

People start businesses from home all the time. Etsy. Ebay. Making and selling products online. Apparel. Jewelry. Customs artwork, graphics, photography, etc. So many possibilities.

For me the answer was obvious. Voice-over was something I had always been interested in doing but didn’t know how. Yet. However, it was cut directly from the very same cloth of my acting training and experience. It did not require me to reinvent any wheels and start learning to make coffee mugs or anklets to sell online. It did not require me to embark on any new ventures in learning, equipment, or fabrication of any kind that was UNrelated to my career goals.

Don’t get me wrong. There was a huge learning curve and I most definitely had to embark on a research and development mission. There was training, yes. Equipment needed, most definitely. But all of this was under the acting umbrella, which made it easier for one thing, but more importantly it made it obvious. A no-brainer.

It wasn’t the same as starting something brand new and unfamiliar completely from scratch. It wasn’t the same as going all the way back to formula. It was more like “what can I do with what I already have, what I already know, and what I’m already pretty damn good at?”.

I worked long and hard to turn myself into a trained professional with knowledge of and respect for the many, many facets of this business. Through homework and humble questions, I started sponging up as much data as I could (and a future blog entry will explain how and where I mined much this data).

There were no favors done or hands-out given. I didn’t get bubbled-up or fast-tracked. I didn’t stumble into this blindly or accidentally. There was deliberate planning and action. Phases. First this, then that. Preparation. Budgeting. Spending. Patience.

Think of a rocket. Before they put any two pieces together, there’s countless months of drawing board work. Then, countless more months building inside the hangar where no one can see the progress.

The first items built are the tools. Then using those custom tools, they build machines. Then using those machines, they build the parts of the rocket and begin assembly. After that, the rocket gets rolled out to the pad. Not for launch, yet, but for more months of work. Tests. Adjustments. Improvements. It takes time. Lots and lots of time. Take it apart, change it, put it back together, test it again. Over and over.

“The more time at the drawing board and in the shop, the more powerful and perfect the launch will be.”

Like I said, I kicked the door in, but not on day one. Nobody came to me and said “Hey you, handsome man, wanna fly this rocket for us?” No. I built it myself with the help and guidance of others who built theirs as well. I came to the party with my own tools and machines, my own rocket, my own mission control, my own crew, and my own flight suit.

Most importantly, I arrived with my own mission. The same mission as it has been since inception.

This information is frequently off-putting to those who make the inquiry and/or seek entry into the business but don’t know how or where to find it. Of course it would be much easier if we all had Uncles who work in the business or people who vouch for us with their connections. It would be lovely to ask the question today and have the job tomorrow. But that isn’t reality. The people who ask the first question will sometimes ask a follow-up such as “but isn’t there a faster way for me to do it? I don’t have that kind of time or money to do it that way. I’m looking to earn money sooner than that.”

What else can I say except,, “if there were an easier, faster, cheaper, more effective way, I would have found it already and gone that way myself.” But in the end I know full-well, it can’t be achieved without the struggle, without the work.

“Someone always knows more.”

For the past several weeks to months, I have been doing no small amount of podcast homework. Before launching anything and trying to invent it as I go, I have to ensure I do my diligence and pin down as much as I can.

Could it grow on its own, organically as I progress? Sure, of course it can. I count on it doing just that.

But with what I already know about recording and producing, to the accessibility of a fairly vast network of people in various backgrounds and careers, I owe it to myself to have the best starting point as possible when guests start coming in. To be honest, I owe it to the guests as well.

I also knew it was time to relaunch a blog as well. Not just in addition to, but in conjunction with the podcast and utilizing my various platforms already in play.

I did this once before too, and I’m sure this will get touched on again as well. When I had bariatric surgery in 2012, I had about 4 full weeks notice from scheduling to surgery and I was given a checklist of must-do’s during that time as well. Things like Cardiologist visit, Pulmonologist, Psychological eval, and more.

This was going to be a process and a half in 28 days and would be a huge change in my life forever. I thought a method of documenting and sharing was in order. Thus I created There, I documented my pre-op process in detail in hopes that readers considering the surgery would have solid reference and expectations. It was also a record for me to look back on someday as well.

I continued posting for over a year steadily before it trailed off. I don’t post there anymore and am unlikely to do so further. So this will be the main spot now. But the old one is still there if anyone wants to see it.

The podcast is going to be 1-on-1 coffee talks with eclectic guests on a variety of topics. So many people know more than I do and I want to learn from them as much as I can. I am talking with potential guests now, some of whom have changed their lives by changing their career and leaving their survival jobs as well as some who have also had the surgery. I will also be bringing on guests who have helped change other people’s lives through kindness and generosity. Imagine something closer to talk radio as opposed to straight interview Q&A.

Similar to this blog, there will be a focus on people’s inner voices and the relationships they have with them. Not everyone’s path is linear. Not all progress is straight forward. Not all who wander are lost. These themes, among others, are very important to me and I am sure will cause my guests and I to enlighten each other, as well as enlighten listeners and viewers.

This will give us plenty of topics to discuss and react to/expand on for shows. I do not fancy myself a guru of any kind, no self-help expert or motivational speaker-type, but rather a regular normal person with a story of how I got here and where I’m going. Along the way I encounter others like me and am interested in how they got there and where they too are going.

My inner voice and I agree fully that these discussions will provide knowledge, perspective, and strength. I am a big advocate of listening closely to people’s stories and trying to find a parallel to our own for the purposes of growth and learning. In general, we’ve become people who don’t listen anymore. We don’t take the time to internalize the meaning and purpose of the message we are being sent. We have stopped “receiving” and are only sending now. Pure output, no input. I vehemently oppose such a doctrine and will always do my part to fight against it. By listening, truly listening, I can benefit and gain from the information I am receiving. If it then allows me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes and learn from their trip, then I save myself having to walk that mile myself and pay the cost of doing so.

Not to mention the fact that the sender of this information will appreciate being truly heard. Never underestimate that.

I made life changes in the past decade because I was heading like a rocket to being a sad, cautionary tale for others and I just simply could not allow or accept that. In doing so, my journey has presented me with challenges, hard lessons, and new growth. Some of the above came from others as well, because I knew their information and experiences were not only important, but also applicable.

Never stop learning. Mr Miyagi was right, someone always knows more. Your inner voice wants and needs that information and that knowledge from others in order to be able to fully communicate with you. Don’t keep yourself in the dark on purpose.

Collegial Inner Voice

Do you know and listen to your inner voice? Do you trust it and have you developed a collegial relationship with it? Are you even aware of its existence?

I spent an overwhelming majority of my formative years being a bullied fat kid who was too gentle, kind, afraid, and compassionate to speak his mind. I turned the other cheek endlessly and just took the brunt of it all head first, silently. Whether it was me getting picked on at school, or not having much of a voice at home as the youngest child, my own voice wasn’t being heard and eventually stopped being used. It was just where the chips fell back then. I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

This continued into my teens and stayed with me into young adulthood too, unfortunately.
And when I finally had been through enough, hurt enough, been unheard enough and choked down on enough, a change was forced into play.

I certainly didn’t fight it, but I didn’t really ignite it either. It just sort of lit itself, for lack of a better analogy. A new characteristic and attribute was now on the daily menu of available tools for me. A perhaps once-dormant side of myself that was always there but long forgotten about after years of being stifled.

Something fanned a dim heat, which slowly turned cold wet ash back to warm, red coals before ultimately sparking a fire that continues to burn, glow, and grow even today.

I have since described this to people, this shift in my thinking and my reactions to things, as my “awakening”.
I have also referred to it as the discovery of my strength.
My ambition.
My true voice.
Despite how magnificent that always sounds, it was never totally accurate. It was more of a shorthand for something deeper.

I didn’t really discover anything. I dug it up, out of the deep dark hole in which it had been stuffed down. It was always there, that strength and ambition. That self awareness and that true voice. All it needed was for me to acknowledge it, understand it, and put it to use. My inner voice was there waiting for me to start listening to it and to allow it to steer me.

It’s what got me out of a town and state in which I was miserable.
It’s what told me that I had to make plans to eventually separate myself from my old survival job.
It’s what sent me on the long and arduous path of entrepreneurship.
It’s what said to me over and over again, “This isn’t you. THAT’S you!”.
It’s what got me to yank the steering wheel away from the old life I was living and abruptly go off-roading, far away from a life of complacency.

I had finally heard my collegial inner voice, and put my trust in it as I developed a relationship with it.

Although life is better since then, it still isn’t perfect nor will it ever be. Whereas before, I would bite my tongue in moments and scenarios where I should have been vocal and firm, now my response is almost on autopilot. I rarely find myself in situations where I walk away thinking, “Man, I really should’ve said something back there. I really should’ve spoken up.” Now I just speak up. As you might imagine, it is not always well received.

I tend to speak strongly and from a place of genuine sincerity. I don’t like to mince words or tip toe around a point. I’ve seen way too many people’s time wasted by trying to find what to say without saying what you really think.

This is especially true in a corporate environment. Your real opinion is actually badly frowned upon, as is the act of expressing it (well, at least for the companies I’ve worked for and the teams I’ve been on throughout my many long years of survival job, anyway). I watched people chase their own and each other’s tails while trying hard to look and sound professional, all while completely failing to communicate clearly and effectively to make progress with their work.

Getting it right was never as important as “saying it right”. I just never got it, I guess. Seemed counter-productive to me. Same thing with the whole “too long, didn’t read” doctrine that essentially destroys that communication opportunity, even when it is definitely NOT too long at all.

“Too long, didn’t read” translates into “your message is not important enough to my extremely limited attention span”. And oh MAN do I hate that!

That being said, …if you have gotten this far and are still reading, well then I must say a very sincere Thank You!
You’ve made my day!

I’ll never claim to be the world’s highest authority on communication, because after all, I myself am on a learning journey till the end just like everyone else. But, it is important enough to me to make sure I listen close, speak clearly, be thorough yet concise, transparent, and forward-thinking. The way I see it, if you have something you wish to convey to me in any way, then I owe you at least that much. If you are giving me your time in order to communicate a message to me, and asking for reciprocation, then you will also receive my respect and courtesy as a full participant in the communication process. That’s simply just how it works.

For many people it can be the toughest thing in the world to hear their inner voice, listen to it, trust it, and use it. For others, it can be very tough NOT to do that same thing. Tough to trust in the knowledge that your voice is right and the voices of others are wrong. Are you tough enough to go forward with only your own voice as your guide? Are you tough enough to let your true voice be heard…by YOU?

I’ll give you the answer, don’t worry.
The answer is, Yes, you are.