A year ago, I would have been embarrassed to admit that I’m in the early stages of my translation career. It’s because I wanted to know everything already and be translating full-time: fingers flying over the keyboard, clients filling my inbox, organized accounting system, and confidence oozing from my pores. I just knew I was ready… But the fact that it wasn’t happening yet embarrassed me. I thought something must be wrong.
Fast forward one year, and work has gone from the rare, random visitor at my front door to multiple semi-regular ones. Looking back, I see that I did a lot of growing and learned important lessons from those random visitors. Each experience contributed to the foundation of my business. I see that nothing was wrong, I just needed to change perspective. I now gladly tell people,
“I’m in the building phase of my business.”
This period starts with (A) building a small, unfurnished house in a forest and only having water to serve to the rare visitor who finds you. It continues on to (B) putting in infrastructure (like a nice driveway and road that visitors take regularly), and hosting them, sometimes two or more at a time, with pizzazz.
It takes time to do all of that, and that’s fine. No way was I ready a year ago. I would’ve been overwhelmed if two clients made it to my house at the same time, one with a 90-minute documentary to be subtitled in English, the other needing a three-page marriage certificate translated. I needed individual hands-on experiences first. I needed to visit other translators and invite them to my small house to chat over lemonade. I also needed to figure out what made me stand out. (Side note: I’m still adding onto my foundation.)
I hope other new translators will read this and recognize that they’re in the building phase, too. In fact, not just translators, but any business owner goes through this. It’s part of the process.
Being a newcomer in the translation and interpretation industry is like being in one of those reality shows where they drop adults with various skill sets in the middle of nowhere, and see what happens:
Will they adapt to the wilderness?
Sounds dramatic, I know. Just keep reading, you’ll see what I mean.
In those TV series, the participants rely on skills acquired in life while learning new ones to survive. They go further outside of their comfort zone than they thought possible. At the end, an airplane whisks everyone home, back where they started, and they do a happy dance because, "Whew, I won’t ever have to go through all of that again!!"
For us, new translators & interpreters, it’s kind of the same – minus the ending and with less drama. We find ourselves on new terrain, using our skills from previous careers, and gaining new ones by pushing our boundaries. However, instead of getting to leave, we stay… because we love it! We learn the ways of the land, cultivate it, and connect with the inhabitants.
In this environment, one of the best survival tools… whoops, I mean, learning tools is a professional association for translators and/or interpreters. The instructors in the Bellevue College translation program all insisted on the importance of actively participating in the ATA and, if possible, NOTIS, the local chapter. However, my classmates and I did not understand how we could participate because, well, it's for professionals, and we weren't professionals, yet. We said things like:
“Professor C told us to join and participate, but how?
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