Dee Bradley Baker's "All to Know About Going Pro in V.O."

“Failure” & Growth


Be the baby:

Actors often feel like “failures.” Ongoing hardship and rejection are prominent features of any acting career. Doors slammed in your face, calls not returned, horrible auditions, no apparent interest, no bookings, lots of time “paying dues” and trying to make ends meet while slowly building a career. You often feel disregarded, disrespected and devalued. It can be frustrating!

Though it’s hardly pleasant, the difficulties and challenges are something that you must accept and learn to use to your advantage.

Think of a baby learning to walk– she tries unsuccessfully to push up from the ground for days and “suddenly” one day succeeds. She can look around! Then she resolves to take it further- to walking! She then stumbles for a few weeks, falling and bumping herself constantly. Bruises, wipeouts and face plants abound. Then “suddenly” one day she can walk and a whole new chapter of development begins! During this process, she could be described as practicing falling down, but she is in fact practicing getting up and walking. She is driven to go beyond her limitations by constantly triangulating improvements from her fails at walking. She is moving towards mastering what she was born to do! This is how a career should build as well.

There is an admirable fearlessness– a singleminded yet open laser focus to a baby teaching herself to walk. Each wobbly step is a calculated risk directed at a goal like an arrow shot from a bow. It’s a kind of mini-experiment in a lengthy process of refinement, calibrating and strengthening the body’s mind and muscles to enable a developmental “quantum leap.”

What if her folks stepped in to “protect” their little girl from ever getting a bruise or experiencing any frustration and disappointment? If she couldn’t fall or cry or be allowed to find her own will to try it again and again despite it all– she would never learn to walk. Babies are masters of learning and growing through this kind of trial and error. Their seeming disregard for obstacle in their pursuit of what they want I find inspiring. Ever tried not giving a baby what she wants? It’s damn near impossible!

As we become “educated” and then “grown ups” we often begin to avoid this kind of experimentation and openness to “failure.” As our focus shifts to insuring and reinforcing comfort and stability rather than seeking out quantum leaps, we begin to lose our practice of learning. Our growth, and our the quantum leaps in ability and skill begin to level off.

In childhood we are natural masters of learning and growing. As we get older, we must increasingly exercise this process consciously. A creative person maintains a habit of taking calculated risks.

As an artist, you should understand that the path towards professional “quantum leaps” is necessarily fraught with frustrations, discomfort and dead ends. And this is how it should be!

This is how I think about the long process of becoming who you are (which may, in your case, be a voice/actor). It’s not a matter of “practice makes perfect.” It’s a matter of persevering towards a specific goal and learning from obstacles rather than being blocked by them.

Keeping a sense of “failure” or blundering or missteps for the right reasons should be an on-going part of your expectations for your career and your life, in my opinion. Even as you age and find success. Ever seen an established great writer, director or actor produce an epic wipe out of a project? Yes. In fact, it’s a hallmark of great artistry, in my book. Taking a chance at failure takes guts and confidence. Learning from it even more so.

Broadly speaking, if you stop your stumbling and “failing,” you also stop learning and growing. Once bitten with success, many seek a life/career free of failure, that walls out even the appearance of mistake or error. They reach a kind of dead plateau– comfortable and stable, but rather dead and lacking growth or artistic vitality. This becomes an unsatisfying stage of atrophy and stasis.

Don’t ever lose your sense of learning and growth by trying what you feel you are born to do– and stumbling as you go.

To sum up: Always encourage yourself to experiment, take chances and “fail” –over and over– on your way to becoming whatever it is you were born to do!


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© Dee Bradley Baker 2023

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