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

“Self Help”



Weathering a rough road

A freelance actor (or any aspiring creative entrepreneur) will often feel powerless- at the mercy of others more powerful and established, rejected by unsympathetic gate keepers or outplayed by entrenched insiders. It’s easy to get down on yourself about seemingly “not getting anywhere” and the constant rejection and uncertainty you face. A sense of defeat or failure is easy to amplify unnecessarily, especially when you’re starting out. It’s hard not to take it personally!

An acting career ebbs and flows, fast and slow, progress and setbacks. Training and experience can take years to payoff (if they pay off). It can be a slog! Staying positive and constructive in the face of all this can be a real challenge. 


Do you create your own obstacles?

Up front, you gotta be okay with the bumpy road of an actor’s life. This is why you must enjoy the activity and process of it. It can’t be about chasing money or fame or even getting work- at least at first.

But some seem bent on making their journey longer and bumpier. They may not realize that they are complicit in amplifying their difficulties or limiting their horizon. They may become their own biggest obstacle.

If their mind were a road, they would be actively adding potholes rather than laying smooth asphalt.

For example:

  • Dwelling on what you have no control over.
  • Reinforcing unhelpful boundaries or obstacles in your life.
  • Loyalty and commitment to failed strategies and behavior or negative people.
  • Worrying about a thing before it’s an active issue.
  • Charging into a battle you are clearly not equipped to win.
  • Dwelling on dead-ends.
  • Inability or refusal to stop revisiting what has proven toxic, wasteful or injurious.
  • Unwillingness to cut losses and move on.


Two circles: Focusing on what matters that you can influence:

I once saw a simple diagram that I often think of: It showed two intersecting circles. The one circle labeled “Concern” contains everything that you care about, that you love– what matters to you. The other circle is the “Influence” circle, containing everything you have influence or some control over. Outside these circles is everything you cannot in any way influence or control as well as everything that doesn’t really matter to you. 

Here’s my version of these intersecting circles:


The idea is this: You focus your efforts inside the intersection of these two circles- on things that matter to you that you have power to influence. The more you to do this, the bigger this area of overlap becomes, expanding your empowered effectiveness to live the life you want. You are upping your agency in life.

Focusing mind and efforts outside this intersection means either wasting energy on what you cannot influence or don’t really care about. This leads inevitably to frustration and dissatisfaction, a diminished sense of agency in your life. 

An increasingly effective life grows optimism which feeds back into your efforts. You build a productive path forward by affecting what matters to you, thereby growing a sense of agency in your day and in your career and hopefully expanding your influence and connection with what matters to you. 


Regular effort is more important than achievement. 

Write out a short list of attainable goals

Many versions of an “align your mind to align your life and future” concept can be found in self-help books, religions, therapies, and other programs touting “self improvement,” enlightenment, or whatever. Like dieting, most of them probably work to some degree– as long as you can put up with the part that doesn’t work–and the price tag. I’m typically pretty skeptical of gurus in general. 

At the Self-Help Diner, I tend to skip the menu items and go right to the all-you-can-eat buffet. Take as much of whatever looks good that works for you and leave the rest. I tend to trust what’s in front of my eyes, rather than what’s pictured on the menu.

My version of “self-help” is simple (and free) and is neither exciting nor original. Basically, it’s just a process of setting goals, combined with what I’d call positive “self-talk,” assisted with some simple time management. Follow the fun with an open, improvisational stance, mixed with a healthy dose of skepticism.

All I can do is tell you what I do and you can use it or not. 

I start by writing down what I want to accomplish today, this week, this month and this year.  I try to keep my goals specific and attainable.  The list is simple and do-able. I write down where I want to go, what I want to improve, how I’d like to change or feel differently. I try to aim my mind at where “the possible” intersects with what really matters to me.

A version of task management journaling I’ve recently discovered is called “bullet journaling.” I find it simple and quite powerful and effective. Look it up. I’ve also enjoyed the insights from James Clear’s book, “Atomic Habits.”


Recognizing and removing self-imposed roadblocks

During this, I am also constantly trying to identify and neutralize any of the mental roadblocks I may be setting for myself. This might include anything I say or do to reinforce an inaccurate or disproportionately negative view of myself and my situation (e.g. “I always lose,” “I’m so unlucky,” “I don’t deserve this,” “I’ll never be able to change this,” “Everything’s against me,” “I’ve never done this and never will,” etc). These self-defeating mantras often turn out to be exaggerations or misunderstandings, when more closely inspected.

Then, I try and pay special attention to how I talk to myself so as to change this negativity, to bend my thoughts in a more positive and hopeful direction. It’s a kind of “self-talk.” I talk to myself constantly about the goals I’ve set.

Essentially, I use my goals list and my self-assessment to “narrate my day” differently. I consciously try to reinforce “mantras” that I choose. I’ve found this habit of talking myself into accomplishing my goals effective. I also find talking myself out of a dead-end or negative mind-space can be effective as well.

As I talk to myself, I try to emphasize the possible instead of the impossible, solutions instead of obstacles, progress instead of missteps. The goals I’ve decided on and my progress towards them remain central to my focus. I try to acknowledge all ground gained as a victory and a positive step forward. 

This applies to what I say as well as what I think in response to anything positive or negative. I believe the habit of response and the tone and direction of your response as you talk to yourself and others about your day, your life, the bumps in your road, powerfully affect the path out of your difficulties as well as the possibilities ahead of you (or lack thereof).

Map your path

I track my progress with a task management app and revisit my list regularly (I like Microsoft’s “To Do” app, but the basic Apple task app is okay). I’ve been using what’s called “bullet journaling” recently, where you write it all out and map out your goals and life events and other details concisely, filtering them out as you go, all hand written. That’s the key- writing it out daily. I like it and find it very helpful and motivating. Look it up.

Checking off tasks and goals as “completed” gives me a sense of quantifiable progress, no matter how small the steps. (I’ve got the kind of brain that responds to this.) I find I need it, as many of my projects these days are rather open-ended and the “pay off” is quite delayed.

“Know Thyself”

Another helpful habit I’ve cultivated is daily journaling. I call mine “dry erase journaling” because I erase it after each day’s entry. The idea is I have a space of complete and utter honesty where I can say, express or let out everything- the good, the bad, the ugly. Because I erase it, there is no need for self-editing. I want to know all that’s inside me, whether I like it or not- give it a bit of time to crawl out of its hole and stretch its legs in the sun before it re-submerges to its safer solitude.

Everyone (especially an artist) should follow the Socratic, “Know Thyself” imperative. So why not do this in a way that allows maximum honesty and freedom? All you have, all you’re left with after expressing it, is who you are anyway. I’m not writing this journal for posterity or anyone by myself- so I don’t need to conserve my entries. I know myself better after journalling, and that’s the payoff. That’s my “dry erase journal.”

Finally, back in the light of day, I’ve discovered daily “mindfulness meditation” as very helpful in dialing down my reactivity and dialing in a sense of calm connection and mental readiness. I like Sam Harris’s “Waking Up” app, but there are many good sources for learning meditation. 

I’ve also recently found a better night’s sleep with a sleep mask and a heart/sleep tracker called a “Whoop.” Sleep breeds optimism.

Forward with Optimism!

I have found that if you surround yourself with positive people and attend to your health while mapping your progress towards goals, you will energize an expanding sense of agency in your daily living, which will flow into creative empowerment and professional momentum.

“Find out who you are and do it on purpose.” -Dolly Parton

16 Responses »

  1. Dear Mr. Baker,

    Hello, firstly I want to reiterate what everyone else has said and say thank you for this website and also this information in particular… I used to suffer from anxiety and this sort of cognitive thinking really helps, not only people like me but everyone… I mean, the world and life can be pretty intense and I think when trying for a career like this (which I seriously am) its good to remember to make a plan and to work at it diligently without getting too tied up in the self-defeating mantras. I live and work in London and I’m working at my plan to wow an agent and get out to L.A in the next seven years. I’m doing the courses and learning the positives from the No’s and the Yes’s and building on my performance with each little step… I will get there in the end. I’ve wanted to be a Voice Actor since I was a teen but it’s only now I’ve had the courage to really try and give it my all.

    Anyway, thank you so much. You’re a hero.


  2. Hey Dee!

    What task management app do you favor? I have long believed that writing down goals, and referring to them frequently, tends to lead to results with surprisingly little heavy effort. My experience here has mostly been in group business planning. I really dig the idea of turning this strategy in a personal direction.

    Thanks for sharing–what a great resource!


  3. […] I ve been writing fan fiction about [a particular animated show]. [Do] you know an e mail of someone who can evaluate my work?

    • I would suggest you research the show creators you admire and either send your work to their representation or better yet connecting with them in person at a convention if you want feed back. Most artists in animation have art school training. If that’s your passion and talent, find the schools that feed the shows you love (Cal Arts, for example) and get training and make connections there.

  4. …As a guy from a small town…, what is the best way to get serious feedback on a reel aside from traveling to hot VA areas such as LA, Chicago, NYC?

    [Also,}… Did you even have to deal with being in a position where you have some indication that you have the talent to move forward, but haven’t necessarily acquired all the skills, resources, or know-how to move forward?

    I feel as if I have hit a huge roadblock and am unsure how to move forward reaching out for more feedback that is pivotal for my future success.

    • Your own ears will tell you a lot when you compare your favorite voice actors‘ demos to yours by visiting their agencys‘ sites. Some good voice teacher in the market you target may do Skype and demo critique remotely. Moving forward always felt like jumping off a high diving board to me. You are never assured of success or whether your hopes are favorably confirmed. Best you can do is fortify your talent locally before taking your calculated risk. I always found that „readiness“ is best confirmed by either a live audience or a paycheck, or preferably both.

  5. …when I see [other voice actors perform] makes me realize how my effort may not be enough despite my ambition and need for training. This takes the fun away from my desire to voice act. I am losing confidence in my abilities.

    • Don’t focus too much on comparing yourself with your heroes. At best they provide inspiration or instruction but beyond that, you must found your enthusiasm on the enjoyment of improving your craft and on the process itself. This focus secures a better path towards continued improvement, no matter how far it leads you. Focus on unearthing your own talent and potential, not on becoming someone else. Find enjoyment in that.

Newer Comments ›

Leave a Reply

© Dee Bradley Baker 2022

%d bloggers like this: