Translation Blues

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.

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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.

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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 …

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  1. 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.

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  1. 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!

 

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*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.

 

 

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12 comments

  1. Great post! I so hear you sista’ 🙂 Have exactly the same kind of feelings and find exactly the same kind of solutions the only way to get through them. Some days I think “Oh gosh, I’ll just have to go back to a ‘normal’ job, or I’m going to become a complete recluse and lose all ability to relate to other human beings in real-time” and on others I’m on top of the world precisely because I often don’t have to deal with other human beings in real-time! As always, lovely to know you’re not alone/crazy and so yes, your posts do matter. They make a difference 🙂

  2. Lovely as ever, Galina – I’ve missed your blog posts too. Keep up the good work! I find having dogs and taking them out twice daily, rain or shine, keeps those blues away, that or wiling away the hours at the allotment as you suggest. And for what it’s worth, I’m the repository of all parcels here too, so much so that the postman now even runs the gauntlet of the frantically barking (but really daft as a brush) dog in the garden….

  3. Knowing that this happens to everyone – and that everyone has frenemies – feels like a big boost. Thanks so much for sharing. In fact, I think I’ll head out to the park right now! Perfect timing, Galina.

  4. Beautiful post, Galina. This is my first time on your blog and I love it! It is so comforting to read that other translators have a hard time dealing with the isolation, I really do! And what I get from frenemies all the time is “Oh, aren’t you lucky? You don’t have to commute!” or “Why can’t you volunteer at the school? You are always home, anyway”. Excellent advice also, by the way! I particularly like number 2…

  5. Good on you for solving your problem by offering solutions to others, instead of moaning. It struck me as ironic that the ‘real’ communication with someone made you feel bad while you got so many positive thoughts coming back to you from good people via the air. Good old internet after all.

  6. So soothing and encouraging. Good not to get upset by critical comments even if they are made in a perhaps slightly mean spirit. Because they may contain some truth worth investigating and can be made constructive. I find it ironic that a real life encounter made you a bit miserable while over the air you received all those warm and friendly comments. Good old internet after all.

  7. Thanks for your tips and insight. I love my job but I find that, working alone, it’s easy to come down with the blues every now and then. Although working solo (being in my head, organising my own time, not having to sit through endless meetings that have nothing to do with me) is one of the things I like about my job, it’s true that as with many things in life, it’s a question of balance. We also just bought a house in the sticks, so I think adding these tips to my arsenal will help ward off feelings of isolation (tip 2 has got me thinking about a vegetable garden :). Your blog is also a fun way to feel connected to someone else in the industry. Maybe spend less time with negative Nancy, though?

  8. This is so close to how I’m feeling right now! Business has slowed down a little after a very busy summer, which leaves me with a lot of free time to contemplate whether I am even cut out for this job in the first place. Good to know I am not alone.

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