Mentorship: Helping Those Coming Up From Behind
Paying Opportunity Forward
Within my theatrical agency, I’m one of the go-to people for voice over. This has especially been the case this past year when pretty much everything else in the entertainment industry ground to a halt. Yes, VO took a bit of a hit in the spring of 2020, but over the summer it bounced back strongly, while on-camera productions continued to languish. Not surprisingly, many actors who were thrown out of work were very seriously looking into VO as a possible expansion to their careers.
I like being a resource. During Covid, at the request of my agency, I gave a few webinars introducing actors to VO work and how to get started the right way: avoiding the traps that many new VO talent fall into, particularly the scamsters who are always out to take advantage of the uninformed. Many of the suggestions I gave eventually became a series of six articles in my blog under Resources. (They’re still there, if you’re curious about VO yourself.) And I’ve been regularly adding my two cents in the relevant Facebook groups when actors, both within and outside my agency, ask questions about the business. I’ve even worked directly with a few folks who were recording their VO auditions on their phones and needed help with their sound quality or proper formatting of their auditions.
Most people do like to help others. There’s something intrinsically within us that rewards us with a bit of happiness when we do something nice for someone else. It can be as simple as answering a question or providing directions, to full-on mentoring of someone who’s coming behind you on the same career path. And most of us appreciate being helped. So useful to know how to apply our efforts most productively, to understand the steps others have taken to become successful!
While these opportunities to help others pop up in our everyday lives, most of us think of mentoring in career terms. It doesn’t even have to be a well-defined, full-on mentorship program! It can be as simple as helping another person from one place (where they may be stuck) to the next through advice, introductions, or sharing of resources. I still fondly remember those who went out of their way for me when I was first getting started in my business career. Their little suggestions, tips, and even warnings saved me a lot of time and trouble. They may not have thought twice about them, but they meant the world to me when I needed them most. And I found it most gratifying when I could help someone else, in turn.
Early in my corporate days, I was asked by our manager to guide a young woman just a year out of college to looking and acting more professional. Honestly, I was hesitant, because the request didn’t come from her and most women wouldn’t care for unsolicited advice from a co-worker. Fortunately, he must have suggested that she have a talk with me, because she eventually approached me and asked for ideas about a new hairstyle. From there, we discussed appropriate hair, makeup, clothing, and business etiquette – things I’d picked up over the years along the way. She adapted, the manager approved, and she was eventually awarded with a promotion. I felt good, knowing that in a small way I had helped her along her career path.
More recently, I’ve been asked and given guidance to other women who, like me, decided to pursue an acting career later in life, usually after kids are grown or at least more independent, or in retirement. It’s been a great way to begin new friendships and it’s been so gratifying to see them make progress in their training and accomplishments. The same is true for voice over. Many of those conversations actually begin while I’m on set with another actor or a crew member. I love talking about VO and sharing the names, websites, and podcasts of more experienced and well-known talent who offer classes, coaching, and other resources. The appreciation from the other person reminds me of how much I valued the time that others took to do the same for me when I first began. It’s also a bit of paying forward the incredibly valuable coaching and career advice that some of my favorite teachers have given to me over the years.
Sometimes, it’s the personal advice or heart-to-heart talks that can make all the difference in someone’s life. I love talking with younger women about the challenges that they face in the workplace, whether it’s in the entertainment industry or other workplace. I’m dismayed at hearing stories of sexual harassment or unwanted attention thrust upon them, especially in the business environment where I thought much more progress had been made since “my day.” At least there seems to be less criticism of women who are forthright and confident in their work. When I was in the trenches, it seemed that women were forever managing the balance between appearing assertive vs. aggressive. It’s the old joke: 51% sweetheart. 49% bitch. Don’t push it.
Pay it forward is an expression for describing the beneficiary of a good deed repaying the kindness to others instead of to the original benefactor. - Wikipedia
The idea of paying something forward has been around for a long time, but the phrase entered the popular lexicon from Catherine Ryan Hyde's 1999 novel Pay It Forward, which became a movie of the same name in the year 2000. The story is about an 11 year old boy who devises and puts into action a charitable plan of networking good deeds to change the world for the better. It's similar to the Jewish concept of "tikkun olam," which literally means to repair the world through good deeds or mitzvahs. And helping another person, such that you are both smiling and feeling positive about it, goes a long way to making the world a better place.