Yes, we all have bad days. Even translators. We may well have the best job in the world, helping people to communicate across the globe using the tools we love, words. And if we are good, after a few years, we can work wherever we want, whenever we want, experiencing the digital nomad life that everyone seems to covet.
But the truth is, we often work alone, sometimes completely isolated from the outside world. Some days, my only face to face contact is with the DHL delivery guy who drops off packages for the whole neighbourhood with me because he knows I’m always home. He gives me updates on the weather, as clearly I am not in touch with how warm or cold it is outside, either swaddled in thick jumpers on a summer’s day, or wearing a T-shirt when it’s snowing out.
So, without the constant camaraderie of office colleagues, after-work drinks in the pub or morning breaks spent gossiping around the coffee machine, it’s not really surprising that, as freelancers, we sometimes find ourselves in the doldrums.
There are so many things that can kick it off: a random remark by a frenemy, bad feedback on a job, no feedback on a job, that sickly feeling in your stomach that you might have sent that document to the wrong person late at night, or a misunderstanding with a client…
I’ve been at the terminological coalface for a long time now, but I still get wordsmith burnout every once in a while. Days where you doubt your own skills, and wonder if it is even worth it. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of work that – how can I put it – ain’t exactly saving any lives. After translating brochure after brochure on how to look younger and banish wrinkles or keep fit with the help of various expensive items of sports equipment and makeup, I have had a few “put a paper bag over my head” moments.
And then, to top it all off, I had the frenemy experience: while out for a drinks I was discussing the debts being racked up by a mutual friend. I hated the fact that despite being a trained engineer our friend couldn’t get out of his cycle of debt because he simply wasn’t earning enough. Unprompted, a snarky comment followed about “people like me” (read freelancers in creative industries) earning “shedloads” translating “stuff no one needs or reads”.
I know I should have just walked away, and I generally don’t feel the need to explain or defend my work to anyone, but some days your bitch-shield isn’t as impervious as you’d like. And I suspect all translators have these days too sometimes. So here are my tips on how to deal with the translator blues.
1. Watch the world go by
Venture out into the world again for a couple of hours. Even if it’s just to sit on the next street corner, watching people bustling by, going about their daily business. Last week I observed some road workers from a café window and I found it strangely soothing to see them painting white stripes on the road and worrying about which sign to put where, ensuring our road safety. I wonder if they also sometimes keep themselves up at night, worrying they put that “Give Way” sign up upside down …
- Get in touch with nature
If I’m feeling really out of sorts, the only cure is to head out to the countryside and rustle up a good fire by the lake. I like to do this alone, crack open a beer and chew the cud for a while. Plants, animals, lakes, rivers and sky all have a way of tweaking everything back into perspective. Suddenly that press release doesn’t seem as “pressing”. After all, if the woodpecker is still pecking away and the ants are still busy, all will be well with the world.
- Recheck your values
It’s not always a bad thing to have frenemies to “poke your bear”, so to speak. It often helps us question things we have taken for granted. In fact, everyone should have a bear poker in their lives. Maybe you’re a little bit too comfortable in your rut or perhaps it’s time to branch out and find a new client whose content challenges you more, or do some pro bono work.
4. Reach out to your peers
This, for me, is when social media comes into its own. Whether it’s through blogging or just taking part in online discussions, it’s nice to know you are not alone and that your experiences, whatever they may be, are often universal, or at least more widespread than you may think. Yes, even if you’re a plant-loving, budgerigar-breeding translator, you too have your tribe!*
For me, the Facebook forum Standing Out has been a game-changer, as a place I can go for advice, support or mostly just a little virtual chat over coffee. It’s like having your very own gang at work.
But basically, what I’m saying is – a bad day can also lead to a productive rethink. In the middle of such a day last week I got a lovely comment on my blog from someone who had noticed I hadn’t written for a while, which, apart from comforting me and cheering me up, led to me writing this post! Someone took time out of their busy day to let me know that, in my own small way, I do make a difference.
So instead of hating yourself for being weak and having a bad day, despite having the best job in the universe, see it as a much-needed break, pull the blankets back over your head and go wallow. And as for tomorrow: them words ain’t gonna translate themselves!
Happy translating to you all!
*Shout out to a translator colleague in Syria who I “met” on Standing Out, a wonderfully upbeat, generous-hearted Facebook forum for translators all over the world, who gave me invaluable advice about buying budgies for my daughter. You never know where you will find support and friendship.