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The Underdog Advantage

By Remie Michelle Clarke | 26th February 2020

Everyone loves the underdog.

Picture this: a casting director is reviewing 200+ voice actor auditions for a lead role in a new AAA video game title. 

There are auditions from some heavyweight personalities, their agents touting myriad accolades. And then we have the lone wolves, grafting for years with no agent representation. The lone wolf is most certainly (at least on paper) the underdog, but they don't all operate with the underdog mindset. 

When Voquent casts for projects, they are frequently humbled by how some of the most sought after voice actors go the extra mile when they audition for a project. They are respectful and a pleasure to communicate and work with—it's no surprise they are already successful. 

They've embraced the underdog mindset. 

Something is energising about an indomitable spirit hustling against the odds, compelling us to stand in their corner and root for them. Whether we're watching a film or following a political campaign or sporting event, there is something in the human psyche that wants to believe the weak and oppressed can overthrow the strong. 

It's a large part of what made the Rocky films so successful and a significant reason why Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar. 

Even when you're anything but the underdog (like some of the voices mentioned earlier), it's still worth operating like the underdog.


Rocky was the underdog  


There is freedom in having nothing to lose.

The underdog remains teachable, is open to new ways of being and doing, and is always alert to new opportunities. 

Becoming successful and established, as desirable as it is, can create a rigid mindset. It can inspire the belief that we have life figured out and we no longer need to try.

The danger of becoming successful is that we can 'tap out' of life, become complacent, and perhaps even apathetic. 

When you feel powerful, it changes the brain. Power (or the perception of power) changes who you are. After all, if we've achieved the goals we've set out for ourselves, done the jobs we've wanted to do, won the awards, worked with who we consider being the best in the business, and have a hefty bank balance to boot—why would we imagine there is anything else left to learn? 


Sally Field  

In truth, we only have the luxury of certainty when we are young and ignorant, and most of us slowly learn to discard this way of processing the world with life experience. However, if we reach what we believe to be the pinnacle of our success, we are at risk of losing our openness to life and returning to that state of certainty, like a sort of mid-life ignorance crisis. 

The rigidity of attaining worldly success can sometimes go hand in hand with an elitist mentality—which can poison communities if it is allowed to run unchecked. 

By contrast, the underdog is a pack animal. Family and community-oriented, the underdog will always look for ways to serve the group he belongs to above his own egoistic needs for gratification. And this is especially valuable in an industry as disparate and insular as the voice-over game.


"In truth, we only have the luxury of certainty when we are young and ignorant, and most of us slowly learn to discard this way of processing the world with life experience."


As voice-over talents and freelancers, we are often on a personal journey of discovery. Much of the joy we find in our work comes from the uncertainty that lies ahead. Not knowing where the path we are forging will go compels us to live by our wits. To use our will, charm, ingenuity and talent to overcome whatever obstacles the unknowable journey may throw at us. 
But as thrilling as this solo ride can be, we also need the support of a community for those moments when our internal compass feels scrambled. It is then that coming to the watering holes - like Voquent -where all the other questing individuals like us occasionally congregate, that we can receive the guidance that will re-orient us and send us back off on our way.

It is doubly important, then, that these collective spaces are populated by supportive, solution-oriented, group-focused individuals rather than those who have set themselves apart and above from the pack. Believing they have attained a higher level of knowledge than the hoi polloi

Even for these types, already confident that they have everything in hand, things will inevitably change, and they will be left behind if they are too proud to reach out and ask for help. 

Perhaps, they will look at the changing world and blame it for an undefinable sense of creeping dissatisfaction—blaming technology, immigration, the gig economy or the government. Not quite able to put their finger on why it is they feel at odds with the world. Nonetheless, they have separated themselves with their arrogant 'Top Dog' mentality.


They have forgotten how to be an underdog.

The only constant of life is change. Always be prepared to adapt and overcome and to flow with changes as they arise. Even aged 80 years old, when we've lived whole and prosperous lives, there is still more to learn. 

You are never too good for others, no matter your status or place in life.

The lovable underdog understands this. He knows the importance of remaining fun, friendly and innocently teachable. Even when considered a 'master' of his craft, he is never above taking advice. He is never above learning and being coached, viewing every perspective as valid. 

The underdog knows that making a habit of listening to feedback means there is always room to improve and grow. 

He persists against challenges and stays abreast of the changing world around him. He remains curious. 

Many people of the voice-over 'old world' are angry or stressed at how wholly and rapidly the industry has changed in the last few years. It's understandable. Many are working harder and for less, but most will probably admit that they got 'a bit complacent' if you ask. Falling into the complacency trap is only human, after all. 


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An underdog will find ways to adapt because the underdog always retains a sense of humility. Even if others place them upon a pedestal, they never see themselves standing taller than anyone else. They are community- rather than individually-minded. Being community-minded as a 'lone wolf' freelancer may seem contradictory, but it is this sort of contradiction that can ensure not only external but internal success that lasts. After all, what is external success worth if a sense of true contentment and peace does not accompany it? 

The underdog has a greater chance at achieving this internal/external balance simply because he doesn't identify too strongly with his work and success. That is not to say that it is not essential to the underdog. It is crucial, but it is not the defining ingredient of his happiness. His self-worth is not dependent on how much he managed to earn last year. Someone who does not possess the open, friendly, cooperative mentality of the underdog is likely to be quite tricky to work with. And someone challenging to work with is not going to book as many jobs! 

The underdog values relationships and knows that building lasting ones is a major secret of his success. 

But let's be clear. I'm not talking about him bending over backwards, undercutting himself and selling his wares for peanuts. 


The underdog knows when to growl

He has learned to maintain a tricky balance between being open to negotiation and collaboration whilst also honouring the value that his unique vibe brings. Knowing this is the best way to support his success—maintaining a certain level of innocence and vulnerability is not just the underdog's qualities. They are qualities that make for a great performer: that sense of having fewer layers of skin than other people. 

Being vulnerable makes someone more responsive to direction, feedback, advice, and collaboration. These are all critical signposts for the pioneering voice actor. 

So, consider this. Even when you reach a certain level of professional fame or success, don't rest on your laurels. Work with more fervour than ever. There is always more to learn, especially in this constantly and rapidly shifting industry. There are always exciting new avenues to explore, new technologies to try out, and new communities, like Voquent, to join and grow. Start by asking yourself:

'How can I better embody the qualities of the underdog in my work today? '

The underdog advantage is real. 


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Remie Michelle Clarke

Remie Michelle Clarke

Remie Michelle Clarke is an author and voice-over artist with more than a decade's worth of experience in the booth.

About Author

Remie Michelle Clarke

Remie Michelle Clarke

Remie Michelle Clarke is an author and voice-over artist with more than a decade's worth of experience in the booth.

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