I became who I am today mostly by accident. Through my journey as an unexpected entrepreneur and an untaught teacher for the past thirty years, I learned that although I never had a Plan B, the universe had one for me. The unforeseen turned out to be far more satisfying than I could’ve dreamed of, and I consider myself to have a black belt in dreaming.
I started out fervently determined to become an actress since I realized that I could imagine a life beyond my reality and that I had the ability to transport myself to worlds distinctly different from my own. Acting was my destiny. I knew this in my fiercely tenacious little girl brain, which had nightly trouble sleeping because of all that was going on in my head, in my resolved heart, and in my childhood home. If five year-olds can consciously have a raison d’être, acting was mine. Oh, the thrill of it all, to dive headfirst into a role until you are entirely immersed—not pretending at all; until you become another person, at least for a little.
But “acting” as a teacher and an entrepreneur in real life were roles I never thought I could be ready, willing, or able to play. In the Dysfunctional Olympics of Life I must have had gold medalists as examples of what bad teachers and business owners could be. I consider these early “role models” as anti-mentors, perfect examples of what not to be like, filling the playbook of what not to do. Following my own #Metoo experiences as a teenager and my exposure to unscrupulous business practices that permeated show business culture in ’70's, I swore I would never be a teacher. I certainly would never want to run a school filled with students whom I would have to teach to do the very thing that I was burning and yearning to do myself.
Samantha Paris with first student Tom Applebaum
Then life, or should I say kismet, called me out of the blue and I picked up the phone. A man in his 30’s was looking for a voice acting teacher and my former husband Thom Pinto, also a voice actor, referred him to me. Thom believed that I would make, in his words, a wonderful teacher. It did not seem to matter to him that I did not have any teaching experience, possessing only a high school education, or the desire to teach whatsoever. I was only half-listening anyway because my mind was preoccupied with my busy voice acting career. When it came to voice acting, as with most things in my formative years, I was almost completely untaught and had created my own techniques out of sheer necessity, that mother of invention.
To paraphrase that funny malapropism, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”, I suggest that when you come to a fork in the road, see it for what it is. It’s a chance to grow and expand beyond your preordained ideas of your life. This surely was one of many pivotal moments in the story of my life, as told in my newly published book, “Finding the Bunny” (Voice Haven Productions, January 2018). I turned the right way in that road’s fork. Widening my perspective, I took on that one student, which eventually became two, then four, then twenty. Then, in the blink of an eye, I created the largest voice-over training academy in the United States. Now I have taught more than 10,000 aspiring and working voice actors, and I’ve learned so much about myself and this journey called life by helping other people realize their own truths, find their voices, and find their “bunnies”.
You may know that philosophical saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” In my case, the student appeared well before the teacher was ready. In hindsight, always conveniently provided after the fact, I finally understand the truth behind Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s classic, The King and I, when Anna speaks the words leading into her song, Getting to Know You: “It's a very ancient saying, But a true and honest thought, That if you become a teacher, By your pupils you'll be taught”. The good news for all of us is this: in business, in art, in relationships, and in life, we all can be teachers and we can be students in one form or another throughout our lifetime. There is so much to learn in life if we let ourselves be open to it. It gets even better when you make it your practice to find the bunny in all things.
"The good news for all of us is this: in business, in art, in relationships, and in life, we all can be teachers and we can be students in one form or another throughout our lifetime. There is so much to learn in life if we let ourselves be open to it. It gets even better when you make it your practice to find the bunny in all things."
Ironically, I’ve built a business helping people realize their dreams — while shelving my own as an actress — without any business training or experience. My gut instincts did the heavy lifting and my heart was the project foreman. Even so, putting aside my own acting career to play the role of “teacher” and “CEO” of Voicetrax San Francisco, created a slow-burning conflict within in me between my business and my own potential as a voice actress. Until finally, after two and a half decades, I took a sip of my own Kool-Aid and tasted the sweetness of self-acceptance and personal freedom, lessons that I had no problem teaching passionately and tirelessly to my students since day one!
So What’s Finding the Bunny?
I chose the metaphor of “Finding the Bunny” for the title of my memoir because to me, it’s the essential quest to find the hidden meaning in all things, where truth can be found. Whether it’s looking for the “bunny” in a voice-over script for toilet bowl cleansers, interpreting the nuance of an exchange between co-workers, or the subtle point of a complex story that you are watching, searching for the bunny will lead you to discover what it’s all about beyond the obvious. As I tell my students, when you hunt down the bunny in a script, you’ll surely find it. In every circumstance, when you make it your point to find the hidden bunny there’s an A-HA moment waiting for you. And you will be better off because of it.
I learned this technique from an unlikely place for an eight year-old. My older brother Larry, eleven at the time, was able to get his hands on a copy of Playboy Magazine. And having take out its’ centerfolds he had plastered Miss January through Miss December on his bedroom walls. Larry taught me that on the cover of the magazine there was always a small Playboy bunny hidden somewhere, with that recognizable logo of those big ears. Larry would test me to see if I could find it and I would spend what seemed like hours staring at the cover.
Samantha Paris with Voicetrax Student Maureen O'Donaghue (Photo Courtesy: Lisa Keating Photography)
The search for the bunny was captivating, but I loved it when I finally found one. So when I started to learn voice-over when I was fifteen years old I didn’t have a lot of life experience to use. Looking at my scripts back then and knowing I didn’t have a special voice, although possessing an extensive and essential imagination, I knew I had to try to see as much as I could in the copy. In other words, I was looking for the bunny.
This simple but profound idea formed the basis of my teaching philosophies, along with other guiding principles that were born out of necessity in my early life experiences. The beautiful truth for us all is that, whether we were nurtured and taught by others or had to figure things out for ourselves, we can always grow beyond our circumstances, transcend our stories and evolve— as long as our eyes, minds and hearts are open to it.
Interestingly, the art and craft of voice acting takes you down a road of self-discovery and self-acceptance, since truth and authenticity are the secrets to success in this field. It never ceases to amaze me how so many of my beloved students—whether they’re marketing executives, realtors, police officers, soccer moms, belly dancers, stay-at-home dads or moms, and much more—have told me that their voice acting training has transformed their lives in ways they could never imagine. I am humbled to know that they found their true selves through the process of finding their voices.
"The beautiful truth for us all is that whether we were nurtured and taught by others or had to figure things out for ourselves, we can always grow beyond our circumstances, transcend our stories and evolve— as long as our eyes, minds and hearts are open to it."
This fact transformed me. Today, I not only found my bunny but I hold her in my hands lovingly and cherish her. I am grateful beyond measure for the opportunity to give to others what I never had myself, and share the best of me to benefit the growth of another. The roles of teacher and entrepreneur, although accidentally assumed, are the best parts I’ve ever played.
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.