And thanks for reading! Do you ever get discouraged on your journey in voice over and acting? And let’s be clear, voice over IS acting. They’re different and the same all at the same time. Well, this week, here is my message to you: DO NOT QUIT!
It’s said that it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at something. That’s not elapsed time, like I did a thing today and then tried it again 10,000 hours later and I was proficient. That is 10,000 hours of DOING something, which could mean 100,000 hours or MORE of elapsed time. 100,000 hours (yeah, I pulled that number out of thin air for illustration) works out to about 11 years.
What is success? I submit that you define success for yourself. Only YOU can decide if your career is a success and defining what that looks like for you up front gives you a target to aim for and helps you recognize when you have achieved success. Don’t make the mistake of letting someone else, or society, define what success looks like for you. What success looks like to me is likely far different than what success looks like to you. More importantly success to me MAY look like failure to you.
It’s not the root of all evil (that’s the LOVE of money, but that’s not a topic for my blog page). It’s a tool you use to pay your bills, put a roof over your head and food on the table. Even though society in general may have you believe that the more money you make/have, the more successful you are, that may not be true for you. What money IS, for certain, is necessary in today’s society.
And it may not be pouring in
You may not be earning enough money right now to support yourself and/or your family with VO or acting. And that can be discouraging, I get it. You probably need a “day job” or what we sometimes call a “survival job” to make ends meet while you pursue this career. And that job? It takes up 2000+ hours of your time each year, which is time you can’t spend becoming proficient at VO and acting. The message here is this: It can take a long time to reach the success you define.
All of that to say that the time you (likely) have available to pursue this career is less than optimal. Your survival job is not the only thing that sucks time away from your VO/acting career. There’s family, vacations, sleep (something a lot of people sacrifice to the detriment of their health BTW) and a myriad of other responsibilities and desires. It can take DECADES to reach that 10,000-hour proficiency mark.
And that can be discouraging
It can sometimes feel like you are just not getting anywhere in your career. First, know that you are not alone there. I’ve read numerous articles about very famous people who were ready to quit JUST before they got their big break. What if they had quit then? Well, you wouldn’t know their name now…and many of these people are names you would recognize.
A famous poem
Confession time: I am not much into poetry; I’ll just say that up front. However, there are a couple, and one in particular that fits this theme, that I like and remember. This one by a poet named Edgar Albert Guest jumps out at me (opening stanza below, the whole work can be found at the link):
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
Not for the faint of heart
This business is TOUGH. It’s definitely not one for the faint of heart. The industry is filled with “rejection“ (more on this later) and naysayers. There will be times when you feel like you are working tremendously hard, and not seeing any results. There will be times when friends, family and sometimes even COLLEAGUES suggest you “grow up” and get a real job. Or even suggest that you just don’t have what it takes in this business and should quit. It can be easy to get discouraged and want to throw in the towel.
Rejection (because I promised to address this)
The thing about rejection in this business is: It isn’t really a part of this business. Sure, it feels like rejection when we pour our heart into an audition, and they choose someone else to fill the role. The truth is you are not being rejected. Someone else is being selected (and sometimes you are the someone else to another person’s “rejection”). I have auditioned for thousands of jobs, and I have not been selected for most of them (typically we book between 2% and 4% of the jobs we audition for) but I have never once received a message from a producer that says: “You really suck at this and we are rejecting you”. Never. Once.
LOTS of reason
There are so many reasons to NOT be selected that I couldn’t possibly think of or write about all of them. Maybe your voice is too high, or too low. Maybe your accent (and yeah, we ALL have an accent of some kind) is just not right for the job. Maybe you are too tall for a scene partner, or too short, or the character has blonde hair and you have brown. You just never know, which is why “send it and forget about it” is the most common advice about your auditions. For whatever reason, someone else was just a better fit.
I’m going to contradict myself just a bit here and suggest the only valid reason (in my mind) to quit. Here is what you need to ask yourself: Why am I pursuing a career in voice over or acting? Clearly, we all do this work with the hopes of making money at it, and probably with the hopes of making enough money to survive (or even thrive) on. It makes sense because none of us want to live on the street or starve. I submit, though, that if money (or fame) is the reason you do this, or if that is your sole motivation…then you are in the wrong business.
You HAVE to love this and be passionate about it!
Some people will tell you that you have to love or be passionate about this business and to that I say folderol. And I’ve always wanted to use the word folderol in a sentence. So there…SUCCESS! Seriously, you do not have to LOVE this work, but you should enjoy it. The very nature of freelance work like this, with its uncertainties and financial ups and downs can really only be pursued if you enjoy doing it. If you DON’T enjoy it, then I submit that you can find a different job that you don’t enjoy that provides a steady income and be marginally happier.
You could get rich though…
Yes, you could get rich doing this. But like winning the PowerBall lottery (which would also make you rich): You won’t. Or more correctly: You probably won’t. The odds of getting rich either of these ways is roughly the same. The odds of being able to make a decent living, however, are much greater. And the odds of being a working voice over artist or actor are nearly 100% if you aren’t dependent on it to fully support yourself or your family. It again begs the question: Why do you do this? If you do this only to get money, either to live on or become rich, then you are likely going to stay discouraged. But if you do this because you enjoy it, then you are probably not going to be disappointed.
Not mutually exclusive
By the way, enjoying the work and making a living at it, or even getting rich and famous, are not mutually exclusive. You can make a living AND enjoy the work at the same time…but you are not likely to make a living AND dislike the work.
And here is the real message this week:
Your success may be in your next audition, but if you quit, you’ll never know. Therefore, assuming you do this because it is something you enjoy and you are NOT just “in it for the money” (or fame), then regardless of what friends, family or colleagues tell you; DO NOT QUIT!
JW Hathaway says
I just read your blog. Correction, I just devoured your blog. Your subject resonated with me for several reasons.
First of all, I have a don’t-quit-mentality. I cannot give up on something I have invested thousands of dollars, hours (not quite 10,000) of time, and tons of effort into, especially when I know that I have what it takes to be “successful” or at least profitable in this industry. I’m not haughty, just confident.
Second, properly understanding “rejection” is critical to keeping your sanity in this business. Feeling rejected creates a whirlpool of self-doubt that can quickly torpedo your business before it even launches.
Next, that Edgar Albert Guest poem rocks with a capital R! Permission to plagiarize, please. (Forgive the corny alliteration).
Finally, I thank you for taking the time to post this topic. While I have no intentions of quitting, I am sure that there are many VAs on the verge of calling it quits. Frankly, when the rent man comes knocking and you are not booking work, he might not understand (or care about) the complexity of our industry and the time it takes to be solvent. Yet, this post may give them pause.
I appreciate you, Gary!
Gary Mason says
Thanks for taking the time to write such an AWESOME comment on the blog! I appreciate YOU for that!
Imagine where we would have been if Thomas Edison had given up trying to come up with a working electric light? HINT: In the dark (OK, probably not, someone else would have likely done it, but you get the point).
And if I looked at not getting booked for a given gig as rejection, it would have sent me packing a long time ago. I see myself as just one choice on a menu of choices. If I go out to eat and there is pork, chicken and beef on the menu and I choose chicken, does that mean I reject pork and beef? NO! I just chose chicken. I may get beef next time and pork the next. So many things not related to your talent can cause you to not be selected. I just can’t think of it as rejection. I think I’m going to write an entire blog on this topic.
Well, it’s not plagiarizing if properly attributed…so go for it!
I actually wrote this one because not long ago another blogger wrote a piece that essentially said: (paraphrasing here) If you aren’t booking work or making money, maybe you’re not cut out for this and should quit. I just found it so discouraging, in a career that comes with enough discouragement already, that I felt compelled to write a dissenting opinion. 🙂
Thanks again for your awesome comment…it makes the time to come up with a topic, research and write it worthwhile!