The Truth Will Set You Free

Recently I wrote a post that was inspired by another blog written by Seth Godin.  In it, I was pretty harsh with my self criticism and received quite a bit of feedback saying I was too hard on myself and I should look at all I’d accomplished so far.  I was surprised at the reaction and wondered if I indeed had been too hard on myself.

I don’t think so and here’s why.  Humans are wonderfully able to fool themselves into thinking they are thinner than they really are, more wealthy than their bank accounts would reveal, are smarter than all others and work harder than anyone else around them.  We’ve all run into people who make you shake your head in their total lack of self awareness and the ensuing “Are they for real?!!”  All too often we fool ourselves into a reality that isn’t based in any truth.  And when you work for yourself and don’t have a boss or a spouse or some other accountability person giving us the stink eye when we say we’ve been working really hard, being brutally self honest is extremely important.  Let’s face it, no one cares about you or your projects more than you.  Ok maybe your Mom does but in her eyes she thinks you do no wrong.  Assessing your progress with honesty allows you to move forward with renewed purpose and vigor.

So I’m ok with what I wrote.  Just so you know, I’m firmly in the altered reality with regards to my weight but one reality check at a time please!

A Well Deserved Kick in the Rear

Seth Godin’s blog is something I read every day and have mentioned to here several times.  I have to say this guy’s writing is so on the mark.  He makes very relevant points more often than not and puts out an incredibly consistent amount of good content.  The consistent part is what I truly admire.

Today’s post was another home run.  He talks about the world’s worst boss.  And he’s telling me to point the finger right back at myself.  When I did, I didn’t like what I saw.  After reviewing my work this past week, I think I would have fired me, or at least put me on probation.  My organization, time management, productivity and employee (me) development was mediocre at best.  The only thing I have going for me is the amount of hours I put in.  But many of those hours were spent cruising websites and tracking down obscure info that really couldn’t be mistaken for revenue producing activity.  When I was managing, I would look very hard at my employees when they were goofing off for long periods of time.  Sure there were times that we were slower than molasses and this helped balance the crazier-than-a-loon’s-nest times.  And I am not inhuman enough to recognize the need to unwind a bit after an intense amount of activity.

But, I can honestly say I haven’t had that insane amount of activity lately, certainly not on a consistent basis.  I haven’t really earned the right to goof off as much as I’ve been allowing myself to.  My lack of planning my day has left me to flit from activity to activity in a very unfocused way with the results being haphazard at best.  To be fair, I have launched a major project that has taken much of my time and attention these past few weeks.  I’m starring in and co-producing a web series called Mags N Mel.  It’s my first time producing anything and it’s been overwhelming with all the details to take care of.  But we are only shooting 1 day a week over several weeks which is a very manageable shoot schedule.  Although I’m not getting paid (cheap producers!), this is an important project in that it has made me eligible to join the Screen Actor’s Union.

What I haven’t been focusing on are projects and auditions that will directly result in generating revenue.  And I knew what I was doing.  I wasn’t being honest with myself and calling a spade a spade.

So now that I know what I’m doing, the real key is to not continue the behavior.  They say the first step to recovery is to recognize the bad behavior.  The bigger second step is to not repeat the behavior expecting a different result.  That’s the difficult part.  First I have to get this big boot out of my rear though.

A Starbucks with no coffee

I know, sounds a bit ridiculous doesn’t it?  But that’s what happens when you don’t give yourself the tools to properly market yourself in your chosen profession.  Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to intern at a local casting office.  This is a very busy casting office with sometimes several different sessions going on all at once.  Working in the room was great but I also really liked working at the front desk.  I like greeting everyone, telling them which waiting room to head to and then shushing them when they got too chatty and loud.  Right up my “I’m the boss/big sister/know-it-all” alley.  When a talent would come in to audition, they present their headshot with a resume of previous work attached to the front desk so we could attach an info sheet for that particular casting.  I was continually amazed at how many experienced working actors would come in without a headshot, or the picture was in black and white still (meaning it was at least 5-6 years old) or they were bald and the photo clearly has hair.

Voice Talent does the same thing.  They sit on a demo that was produced back in the mid 90’s with a style that clearly is no longer current.  They don’t have a website.  They don’t promote or market themselves to those that can hire.

To me, this is tantamount to going into a Starbucks and being told they don’t have any coffee.  Really?  This is what you do for a living people.  Get the beans.  Grind the grounds.  Foam the foam.  Overcharge me.  Ok that last one wasn’t really relevant but I couldn’t resist.  Just so Starbucks doesn’t feel as if I’m picking on them, it’s as if McDonald’s didn’t have any burgers or the pretty Apple store with no overpriced Macs.  There I go again.

Having the proper tools, up to date and relevant to today’s work and world is a basic responsibility of a talent.  It’s hard enough to get hired, why make it harder on yourself by using old materials.  Do yourself a favor, lose the 10 pounds, think about the image you want to portray and get thee to a photographer.  Or not.  But no griping when there are no calls or coffee for you.

Just what is a no?

No is a pretty powerful word.  When we are growing up, it stops us from putting our hands on a hot surface, keeps us from eating all our candy at Halloween and as a teenager, creates wails of agony, foot stomping and cries of “you just don’t understand” when it follows a request to hang with the crowd.  We learn pretty quickly that no is not a good thing.  Avoiding a no becomes an eternal quest.  Anything to feel that disappointment or shame from hearing it.

When you choose to become an actor, no becomes in intrinsic part of your world.  It’s not often expressed verbally but you know the no is there when you don’t get that call back or the shoot date comes and goes and by golly you weren’t on set.  Or heaven forbid, you don’t even get the call in the first place.  Ugh.  It’s hard not to take that personally.  Especially when the product you are behind 100% is yourself.  And if you hear, or don’t hear but it’s implied, no often enough, you start to believe it.  I’m not right.  I’ll never get hired.  I’m just not good enough.

I had an AHA moment recently when I heard something about the word no and it hit like a 2 x 4 between the eyes.  No is just a result, it’s not a judgement of me or my talents.  So while it’s not the result I wanted, it is nothing more than a result.  And I can take that result and refine whatever it is that I’m doing so I get closer to the result I do want.

Taking the judgement and rejection out of no really helps dull the sting.  It is merely a notation in the grand experiment of life that gets you closer to the yes you want.

Announcing FaffCon 2!

As many of you know I was involved in the planning of the first FaffCon and was able to attend due to a schedule switch at the last minute.  It was a career and life changer all the way around and I was so happy I made the effort to make it out to Portland.  The second one has been in the works, just like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, since the day after the first one ended.  All the i’s have been dotted, all the t’s crossed, and we can now announce that FaffCon 2 – Electric Boogaloo (don’t you just love that title?  I keep singing the old disco song Electric Avenue for some reason!) will be in Atlanta on February 25-27, 2011 and the registration is now open.  FaffCon is an unconference for working voiceover professionals.  The Westin Peachtree Plaza right in downtown Atlanta will be the HQ for the fun of it all.  I’ll be there, with bells on of course.  Wouldn’t miss is for the world.  It’s kind of hard to describe what the premier event was like.  I hate to say you had to be there, but that really was the case.  Over 50 people, not just Voice Talents but engineers and marketers, took a chance on a new concept in conferencing and their courage paid off.  It was a paradigm shift for many, including myself.

The growth I underwent and the great stuff I learned went way beyond my expectations.  I usually have a great time with my VO peeps, and have long asserted this is one of the most, if not the most, supportive branch of performing artists.  So I knew I’d have fun with these fabby people.  What I didn’t expect was to learn so many nuts and bolts of how people run their businesses.  The event far exceeded my expectations.

There are many ways to separate a talent from their hard earned money.  Many people and companies who offer this service or that coaching.  FaffCon was designed purposely to keep the costs low.  Let me tell you, the return on my investment would make many a hardened Wall Street investor smile.

Noteworthy vs. Noticed

The Midwest Independent Film Festival is a film festival with a twist.  Instead of running for a week with an insane schedule of movies to try to see, it runs once a month and focuses on films either shot in the Midwest or made by folks from the 7 states included.  The presentation this month was a series of shorts done by people from the advertising community.  Before the films are shown there’s always a producers panel that talks about the film to be shown and how they were able to get it made.  This time the panel was made up of judges from the selection committee for that evenings program.  The 3 gentlemen were all from ad agencies around the city.

One of the judges was a guy named Dennis Ryan.  He’s the Chief Creative Officer at Element 79, which used to be DDBNeedham a lifetime ago.  Dennis writes a blog about the ad business called Brands Are Opinions.  I like reading it not only because I was a part of that world for so long, but also because it’s well written and it makes me think.  He wrote a posting recently that really struck a nerve. It was about the subtle distinction of being noteworthy versus just being noticed.  Dennis was talking about the ad agency world but I took it far more personally.  That stopped me for a minute.  Lately it seems like there really is no such thing as bad publicity.  Being mentioned, no matter what for or why now, is the ultimate goal.  In today’s media savvy culture that craves more and more content, staying in the headlines seems to be the goal many are chasing.  And the work you did to get noticed and become noteworthy gets shunted aside in the quest to feed the publicity monster.

I think at some point every person unconsciously decides what kind of career they want.  Do they want to do good work over and over again and have their body of work be their most noteworthy item?  Or do they want to be in the tabloids coming out clubs at all hours or getting thrown off of sets?  This decision is usually not made with any deliberate thought.  It seems to be made as circumstances sweep a person along with the tide.  And by the time one becomes aware of what kind of career one has, it’s usually too late to make a change.

Dennis’s post made me thing about what kind of career I wanted to have.  While I will admit I want to be in US Magazine at some point on the red carpet INSIDE the ropes posing in some fabby gown (hey, I can dream!), I decided I want to craft a career that consistently does good work.  One that is far more noteworthy that noticed or notorious.  I can handle a photo or two of me taking out the trash with no makeup on, but I want to be known for quality not crap.

45000 Personal Bests

This morning I hung out with 45000 folks.  It was a lovely way to start a Sunday morning at 730am.  You see today was the annual Chicago Marathon.  The course, as it winds it’s way through the city, usually runs somewhere in the vicinity of my house.  I can remember one year it went right by Wrigley Field.  It was really cold that year, I was wearing my Columbia jacket with the lining zipped in.  I rode my bike down with my dog Lily and we arrived in time to see the elite runners.  They are amazing to watch.  You can’t hear them as their feet barely make contact with the earth as they fly by.  It was incredible.

This year, the weather was much warmer, although not as hot as the year they had to stop the race.  The humidity was really high that year and the organizers didn’t have enough water out for folks.  This year it was dryer and there was plenty of H2O for the runners.  We learn lessons really well in Chicago.  Like how snow removal, or lack thereof, will ensure you don’t get re-elected the next time (see How Jane Byrne Became Mayor in Wikipedia).  So the organizers were very ready for conditions this year.

I had a special reason to get to the course.  My friend Stephanie was running in her hometown and for a wonderful charity (PAWS – Pets Are Worth Saving).  I donated to her fund as did others and she wonderfully dedicated each mile to a furry friend she’d known throughout the years.  My dear departed Lily was mile 8 which is where I was standing.  A nice bit of serendipity wouldn’t you say?

I was worried I wouldn’t be able to spot her.  After all, there were 45000 people running, how on earth would I be able to pick her out of the crowd?  And since I was still pretty near the front, there were coming in big groups as the crowds hadn’t had time to thin out.  I kept my eyes peeled all morning long.  But in the midst of all this pressure, I was cheering on whomever came into my eyeline.  Lots of runners put their names on their shirts so I was calling out to random people urging them on.  Lots of thank you’s came back.  The sheer magnitude of what they were undertaking was overwhelming.  I was blaming it on the sunscreen getting in my eyes, but I found myself tearing up thinking about their quest.  It was humbling to see all those people from all over the world running for themselves and any number of charitable causes.

Finally I hear my name being called out and look to see Stephanie with the biggest, most beautiful smile on her face waving at me.  I was so excited for her I started whooping it up, bad for the voice but oh-so-necessary for the accomplishment!  She finished with her personal best even with the hot conditions.  I’m so proud of her, proud of all those who even signed up to attempt such a goal.  They stuck their necks out and just showing up that morning was a win for them.  Kudos to all.

Makes me think…nah.  That’s just crazytalk.

Generosity Plus Plus

This post has been noodling around in my noggin for several weeks now.  I’ve been struggling with what to write and how to write it.  You see, I recently returned from the first FaffCon, which was a voiceover unconference.  I’d never been to an unconference before and due to a scheduling conflict, wasn’t originally planning on attending this one.   Fortunately I was able to rework my schedule and get to Portland for the event.   I wasn’t sure what to expect even though I’d helped to organize it.

What happened during those 2 days was absolutely unbelievable.  Let me back up a bit.  The structure of an unconference is different in that the attendees create the topics to be discussed and the expertise comes from within.  So if I want to learn about accounting software and there’s someone in the group who’s a wiz at it, they offer to lead the discussion.  Or I may know a ton about marketing that I think would benefit the group so I’ll lead a discussion about that.  The physical structure is such that you sit in a loose circle or something close to that and move chairs around as needed to accommodate the group.

So here we were in this new structure not really knowing what to expect.  Which was great because the sharing that was done and the knowledge that I gained blew me away.  You know when you see someone who seems to have all the answers and you wonder just how they found all that out?  What was the secret key they used to open the door to the success they’ve gained?  You know it’s there; you just can’t seem to get it for yourself.

This was the type of stuff I learned during those two days.  People were really letting down their guard and showing me the way to grow my business and exceed my goals.  It was truly life altering.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and so honored that those in attendance trusted everyone else with their secrets.  I hope FaffCon continues for a long time because; to borrow a line from the organizer Amy Snively, this is the conference I’ve always wanted to attend.

The Gift of Aspiration

Everywhere in this world there are people who are further up the spectrum than I am.  People who have more money than me, have achieved more fame than I, are skinnier, more proficient, more talented, you name it.  But there they are, ahead of me in some way.  As I write this, I am sitting on a plane in coach 2 rows back from first class so I have a bird’s eye view of the way they get to fly. I usually sit further back on the plane so while I know first class is there, I’m not as acutely aware of it. Lunch has just been served, on china and the flight attendant is bringing around petit fours for dessert, along with a refill of wine.  I haven’t even been asked if I want to buy an overpriced snack yet.

I say this not to complain about how awful air travel has become but to highlight where they are versus where I sit.  Watching the lovely way they are being treated made me want to be up there.  To figure out a way to get in the club.  Research the challenge.  Problem solve to achieve the goal.

Having those backs to look at as I travel my path is a wonderful gift. It lets me know what I want is achievable and if they can do it so can I.  I don’t look at those who have achieved with anger or envy (ok maybe a little envy, lunch sure smelled good and I would kill for more leg room) but with assurance that one day I’ll be up there, eating lunch on china at 35000 feet, accepting accolades on my performance and finally fitting into a wee size (or at least a wee-er size).  Just need to keep aspiring.  That’ll make it happen.

I coulda been a…

Salesperson for a membrane leak testing company.  Really.

Recently I was on a flight traveling to a voiceover conference (FaffCon in case I haven’t mentioned it several times in the past) and the gentleman seated next to me was reviewing his presentation for a meeting he was travelling too.  Being the nibnose I am, I was looking over his shoulder at the Powerpoint and realized I was looking at lots of pictures of holes in roof membranes.  Pretty earth shattering stuff.  It made me think of all the jobs there are that are of necessary but mundane nature.  Airline fabric manufacturer, car battery supplier, subway train operator.  Necessary but hardly invoking passion.  I wondered if those people who held these jobs loved what they did.  You see, I’d just come off of a week of filming a television pilot, working with some very talented cast and crew on a hilarious script.  I had an absolute blast and though the days were very long and work challenging, the time just flew.  Before I knew it I’d been on set for 6 hours and it seemed liked I’d just arrived.  And now I was on my way to meet with a group of incredibly talented Voiceovers to share ideas on growing business and creatively collaborate.  I can’t tell you how lucky I felt.

Now I was in sales for many years.  I sold television time, or bathroom breaks as I like to call them.  That job could be considered necessary but mundane.  But it was in advertising and television and there was a bit of glamour attached to the job.  And for a long time I was passionate about it and got to the point where I’d call myself an expert at what I did.  I’m sure lots of people would consider my old job in the category of “how can she do that job?” but I liked it and it was fun.  And I’m sure my seatmate likes his job and considers it interesting.  In fact he even said so.  But as I sat there looking at his presentation I couldn’t help but be thankful for my life and my career.  I was doing something I absolutely love and how many people get to say that?

I’m pretty sure my seatmate will do fine with his presentation.  He was also reviewing on from a competitor and on one headline in a huge bolded font they’d misspelled the work “leak”.  For a minute there I thought we’d switched to onions.  Not so good for a membrane leek testing company.