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 as the underdog in our experience.
When we cast for projects here at Voquent, we’re often humbled by how some of the most sought after voice actors, go the extra mile when they audition for a project. They are so humble and such a pleasure to work with it’s really no surprise they are already successful.
They’ve embraced the underdog mindset.
There’s something 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 downtrodden can overthrow the strong. It’s a large part of what made the Rocky films so successful and a major reason why Slumdog Millionaire won the Oscar.
Even when you’re anything but the underdog (like some of the aforementioned voice actors), it’s still worth operating like 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.
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The danger of becoming successful is that we can ‘tap out’ of life, become complacent, and perhaps even apathetic. When you feel powerful it actually 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 to be the best in the business, and have a hefty bank balance to boot – why would we imagine there is anything else left to learn?
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 personal success, we are at risk of losing our openness to life and of returning to that state of certainty, like a sort of ignorance mid-life crisis. The rigidity that comes from attaining worldly success can sometimes go hand in hand with an elitist mentality, and this can poison communities if it is allowed to run unchecked, and, ultimately, be believed. 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 artists, and freelancers, we are often on a personal journey of discovery. For many of us, much of the joy we find in our work comes from the uncertainty that lies ahead and what that inspires in us. Not quite knowing where the path we are forging will lead. We are compelled 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 own 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 because they believe they have attained a higher level of knowledge than the hoi polloi.
Even for these types, already certain that they have everything sorted, 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 a world they continue to be a part of, but have nonetheless separated themselves from, through 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 when we’ve lived full and successful lives, there is still more to learn. Just as nothing is too good for anyone regardless of their status or place in life, no one is too good for anything, either.
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.
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The underdog knows that making a habit of listening to feedback means that even if he is already really good at what he does, he can only get better. He persists against challenges and stays abreast of the changing world around him. He remains curious.
There are many people of the voice-over ‘old world’ who are angry or stressed at how rapidly and completely 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.
An underdog will find ways to adapt, because the underdog always retains a sense of humility. Even if they are placed upon a pedestal, they never see themselves as 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 important to the underdog. It is important, 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, co-operative mentality of the underdog is likely to be quite difficult to work with. And someone who is difficult 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.
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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 develop and maintain the tricky balance between being open to negotiation and collaboration whilst also honouring the value that his unique vibe brings to any project, knowing this is the best way to support his success.
Maintaining a certain level of innocence and vulnerability are not just qualities of the underdog, they are also the qualities that make for a great performer: that sense of having a few less layers of skin than other people. Being vulnerable makes for someone who is more responsive to direction, feedback, advice, and collaboration. These are all important signposts for the pioneering voice actor.
So, consider this. Even when you do reach a certain level of professional fame or success, don’t rest on your laurels, work harder and smarter 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? ‘
Go on, give it a go right now. The underdog advantage is real.
Al Black (Co-Founder), Miles Chicoine (Co-Founder)