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.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019