This week, I’m going to stray from talking about voice over directly and instead spend some time talking about it peripherally. The title may seem a little self grandiose, but it is a direct quote by the Admiral I work for, so I feel good about using it.
I’m going to apologize for getting this posted late this week, but It’s been a weird week for me (ALREADY!) as I have spent a good bit of time contemplating my career at my “day job” because of my imminent retirement coming up on the 31st of this month. Monday, my employer held a retirement ceremony for me, and last Saturday I packed up and moved out of my office there. It’s real folks, after 41 years I am leaving the government (Navy) and finally getting ready to do something I love doing instead of working for, and having my priorities established by, Uncle Sam. A huge milestone such as this in a person’s life causes one to contemplate how they got here, and I have been doing a good bit of that lately. So I’ll ask you to take a brief (OK, maybe not TOO brief…41 years after all) trip down memory lane with me.
It all began…
The story begins in August of 1979 when, realizing my pretty much completely blowing off High School may have been a huge blunder, I decided that if I ever wanted to have a skill that someone would actually PAY me for I was going to need to do something drastic…I enlisted in the navy!
All the way through grade school, I was pretty much a nerd and got straight A’s on every report card. I did OK for the first year of middle school, but got in with the “wrong crowd” and my grades, and frankly behavior, saw a steep decline. The decline continued through High School where I “majored” in metal shop and pretty much failed most every other class. It’s likely my grades were a direct reflection on how often I actually attended classes, and it was my favorite thing to attend all three lunch periods, even though I was only assigned to one of them. I also discovered two things that assisted in my decline: girls and “chemical compounds” (Hey, it was the ‘70s!).
At the end of it all, I barely squeaked by, graduating with a D average (thanks to straight A’s for the final 9 weeks of my senior year). No way I was getting into college, and honestly no way I could afford it anyway.
When I graduated, I was working full time days in a body shop and nights in a machine shop. I never knew from one day to the next what color the tissue would be when I blew my nose from inhaling paint spray, and all the hair on my legs was gone thanks to the oil soaking my work pants at the machine shop. I decided I was tired of being dirty all the time.
So, I called the Navy recruiter (I would be the first one in my family to join the Navy, but not the last.) All my relatives had served in the army. I headed downtown to take the enlistment exam and scored quite high (despite not doing well in school) which excited the recruiter. After reviewing my high school transcripts and then looking at my score, of course they were sure I had cheated, so back into a room, by myself this time, I scored just as high the second time. After some wrangling (they wanted me to go to nuclear power school, but it was going to be 6+ months before I could leave) I selected an advanced electronics field, was sworn in (the first of many swearing ins) and set a departure date.
Boot camp and training…
Like the naïve dummy I was, instead of selecting boot camp in Orlando, I decided to stay closer to home and was on my way to Great Lakes Illinois, just outside Chicago. In the winter. By the time I finished boot camp on the day after Thanksgiving in 1979, it was like the frozen tundra. Not a smart move. I spent two years at Great Lakes in training finally leaving in June 1981 for my first ship.
I was part of the pre-commissioning crew of the USS Carl Vinson, CVN70. Two more years in the shipyard to finish being built, then builders and acceptance trials with deck and engineering certifications thrown in, and we finally left for deployment in March 1983. What was supposed to be a six month deployment with a change of homeport to Alameda California (from Norfolk Virginia) turned into eleven months, crossing the equator twice. I only spent three weeks in Alameda before heading back to the east coast for my next ship. Literally around the world in one year. Quite a first experience.
I joined the Navy to get an education and to have a skill I could carry forward as a career, but ultimately, I went on to stay for 20 years, serving on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN70), USS Nicholas (FFG47), USS DeWert (FFG45) and USS O’Bannon (DD987) as well as several shore commands. My career culminated in a five-year assignment to Fleet Technical Support Center, Atlantic Detachment Naples Italy (FTSCLANT DET NAPLES), retiring from active duty in 1999.
It was QUITE a career and experience. So MANY interesting things happened if I tried to write about them all it would turn into a full length novel, and I’d never get this post published (it’s ALREADY a day late!), but the TL;DR version is this: a young, uneducated kid from Cleveland Ohio turned into a man who spent twenty years travelling the globe and seeing some of the places most people only dream of. From Europe, to the Middle East, to Asia and the Far East, northern and southern hemispheres. I was blessed to spend time in more countries than I can count, experiencing cultures from across the globe. All of this colored the man (and the voice) I am today.
And beyond even further!
Returning to the US from my assignment in Italy (I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in Italy for five years, right?), it was time to find a “real” job.
Dragging my family from Naples to a small southern Indiana town (Bedford, near Bloomington) was QUITE a culture shock I can tell you! I began my civilian career as a support contractor at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane Indiana (Yep, that’s right. I “left” the navy, only to join them again in a different capacity!) where I repaired electronic equipment and returned it to the supply system in support of the ships around the world. It wasn’t long before I was hired as a government employee to begin my NEXT career with the Navy as a GS civilian.
Off to the nation’s capital!
Almost immediately, a new position opened in Washington, DC managing a radar refurbishment program. It should be noted that throughout my entire twenty-year navy career I avoided the DC area like a PLAGUE (maybe not a good word choice given the present circumstances?) Nevertheless, I accepted a position as Deputy to the Program Manager and after spending several months commuting from Indiana every other week, I finally moved to the DC area on Labor Day weekend in 2001. Yes, I moved to DC ONE WEEK before the 9/11 tragedy. Talk about timing!
And we’re off!
Over the course of the last twenty years, I’ve managed numerous radar acquisition programs, spent a year at the Missile Defense Agency (Remember the “Star Wars” program from the 80’s with President Reagan? Yep, THAT Missile Defense Agency!) and then back over to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) to manage some MORE radar programs. I managed to rise through the ranks from a deputy, to a Project Manager (where, over time I managed 8 different programs) to an Assistant Program Manager responsible for 2-3 programs and finally to a Principal Assistant Program Manager responsible for nine programs, with over 400 systems on every single ship in the fleet across the globe. I was trusted with a team of more than 1000 people, from multiple organizations and disciplines in locations spanning from DC, to Indiana, California, Hawaii, Japan and Bahrain. Literally AROUND THE GLOBE.
As far as “day jobs” go, you couldn’t ask for a better (or, at times, worse) one. As I look back over the last 40 years, it is difficult to believe it all happened to me; a kid who barely graduated high school. There is a message here for any young people reading this and struggling to get their feet under them thanks to bad decisions as a kid. Work hard, keep pushing forward, never give up. As Churchill once said:
Don’t give up…better days are ahead and your perseverance will pay off. I am living proof of that!
Reflections and waxing a bit philosophical…
Besides persevering, one of the MOST important things I’ve learned over all this time is: People make the world go ‘round, and without them NO organization would exist. The most important thing anyone, in any organization, can do to succeed is to treat people well. Understand that everyone has a back story, everyone is struggling with something, everyone is trying to succeed. We all want the same things in life after all; to have a safe warm place to live, food on the table and a little extra cash for entertainment. We want our families to be protected and happy. We want our kids to have a better life than we did and we want SOMEone to recognize our hard work. That is, of course, somewhat oversimplified as we are, if nothing else, complex creatures, but in the end it all boils down to these simple things.
So, the take away here is to treat people well, especially if you have the honor of managing them in an organization. But even if you don’t manage them, remember a couple things:
- Everyone has a story and a struggle you may not know about
- Everyone is really good at something, even if they haven’t figured out what, and it may not be what you have hired them to do (and if you ARE their boss, it is your job to find out what that is and either “exploit” it, train them or encourage them to move on).
- Everyone can be trained to improve their skills
- KINDNESS goes a long way no matter what situation you are in.
If I had to sum up the lessons from the last 40 years in one sentence it would be this: Persevere, be kind and understanding, treat people the way YOU’D like to be treated and remember that they are as imperfect as you are.
One other lesson…
The one other lesson I’ve learned in life is this: You WILL fail. Over and over again. Never let failure stop you. It doesn’t matter how many times or how often you fail, learn something from it then get back up and keep trying. Any idea how many light bulbs Edison made before one worked? How many times did Alexander Graham Bell try to get the telephone to work? Here are a couple quotes from Edison:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” and “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” (Thomas Edison)
It’s reported that Bell tried and failed 31 times to develop a communication system to replace the telegraph. Imagine if he had given up before the 32nd try? Our lives would be far different today!
And a bit about the government…
I can tell you from personal experience that working with the government is an exercise in frustration and futility. You’ve all undoubtedly heard stories about government inefficiency and waste. I’m here to tell you those stories are just skimming the surface. The government is a HUGE behemoth, with so many tentacles that reach in thousands of directions and rarely if ever talk with one another. It’s enough to drive a sane man bat-crap crazy (hey this is a family friendly blog!). From the outside looking in it seems as though the people who work for the government are lazy, greedy and not at ALL good at their jobs. That could NOT be farther from the truth.
Over the last 40 years I’ve had the pleasure to work around some of the smartest, most well educated, hardest working and servant minded people on the planet. With VERY few exceptions these people get up, fight traffic (and DC traffic really IS a battle) and come to work to fight bureaucracy every day to serve the people of the United States in the best way they know how. It is a well-known fact within the government that to leave government employment for the private sector generally means not just a less secure path, but about 25% more salary for the same job. Yeah, senior people in the government can be well paid, but their industry peers are MUCH better compensated. Some stay for the security, but many (most?) stay to try and affect positive change. This is like trying to push a fully loaded dump truck up a steep hill by yourself. It’s almost impossible, and a thankless job.
Most are resigned to the fact that their sphere of influence in the government is small, but they strive to improve within their sphere of influence anyway. The lesson here is this: Even if you don’t have a large influence, work to improve the areas you CAN influence and make it better. Also, no matter how frustrating it may seem at times, KEEP PUSHING THAT TRUCK UP THE HILL!
So, what does this have to do with VOICE OVER?
I’m glad you asked!
In a way it has EVERYTHING to do with it. As my 40-year long stint with the navy is “past and opening” as of December 31st, the lessons I’ve learned from that time will serve me (and you if you’re paying attention!) well in my THIRD career in voice over. Just getting started seems, again, like pushing a fully loaded dump truck up a steep hill alone. Only THIS time it truly IS alone much of the time. Not a lot of room for extra people in my very small sound studio. Having said that, I can say that this business offers some of the kindest, most helpful and least competitive people in any industry, so it’s not REALLY alone…but I digress.
As an unknown artist this career is fraught with failure and rejection. It can be disheartening at times. But I just keep remembering that even with 10,000 failures, Edison did in FACT succeed at lighting our home and offices. I’m reaching for the 10,001st audition (or later? Man, I HOPE NOT).
Also, this career is ALL about relationship (and YOU thought it was about talking! HA!). No matter how frustrating or discouraging, if nothing else I will be the kindest, friendliest most understanding artist I can be. Even clients have bad days, are frustrating and need compassion and understanding.
The biggest thing for me to remember is that it takes a long time, a lot of hard work and a little luck to become an “overnight success” in any endeavor, and this business is no different.