A majority of the people that know me envy my job (all of them do, actually). It’s not that these people are envious because they have a great interest in my work or have a thorough knowledge of how I work. My guess is that the fact I don’t have to go to work on Monday mornings might be the main reason. Of course, even without bragging to others, I’m very satisfied with my choices and think proudly of them. But that definitely does not mean the life of a translator is always lively and full of ambition or is the epitome of peace where one can work in tranquility surrounded by music. Just as with any other job, translators also have work-related stress. And there are moments when we become discouraged and melancholy because of that stress.
Personally, I haven’t experienced stress or discouragement big enough to make me doubt my decision, and because I think discouragement and stress is an unavoidable part of life, I don’t think it’s something you need to think too seriously about. Furthermore, I don’t think you should be afraid to experience those kinds of things. Even those experiences are a part of your life and can become a medicinal remedy if only you digest it well. However, I think every translator should know how to cope when such a time and such an experience comes. So today, I want to share my thoughts on how you can successfully live through those kinds of moments, those kinds of days, and those kinds of periods in your life.
To be honest, I’m not the kind of person who lives his life always energetic and optimistic about everything. Sometimes, when I’m upset, I spend several days in silence or disappear all day. But I don’t think it’s good to let yourself remain in that kind of state for long. Depression and discouragement are also a form of habit, so if they persist, you can spend your days upset without even being able to remember why you became upset or melancholy.
I also think that, to a certain extent, a translator’s depression might be related to our strong points, the personalities or characteristics that allowed us to become translators in the first place. That’s because it seems to me that people who translate or have reading or writing as their jobs have the tendency to be perfectionists to some degree. Even if it’s not as extreme as perfectionism, translators are people who work hard and diligently at whatever task they’re given and who think a lot. (I know the characteristics I just described are different from perfectionism, but I think a lot of people tend to call the people who have those characteristics perfectionists.) That’s why I think translators get more hurt and depressed than other people when they receive a bad evaluation or no evaluation at all or negative feedback from a client after working hard on a translation or a piece of writing. Even though there’s no right answer or perfect score for writing or translating, once you receive a negative feedback for whatever reason, you get angry for a very long time, forget everything you’ve done well until then and all the positive feedback you’ve accumulated, and your heart gets completely crushed from that one negative feedback. Others might tell you to stop moaning about this and to just forget about it, but that might not be so easy for you to do.
Have an antidote prepared for times like that and use it.
Create your own secret antidote
I’m not talking about some kind of wizard’s potion; just a phrase, piece of writing, photo, card, etc. to remind yourself who you are. I’ve collected those kinds of things into one folder. I secretly keep it in a place that even my wife doesn’t know about (I can’t be sure that she actually doesn’t know…) and take it out to look at sometimes. I don’t just look at it when I’m feeling gloomy, I also take it out on my birthday, at the end of the year, etc. Ta-da!
This folder contains all kinds of bits and pieces that I collected for almost over a decade. There are things in here that I’ve written, but the things that really give me strength are things that other people have written for me. I can’t show you everything because of privacy reasons, but to share one thing related to translation, there’s something that my son carefully wrote for me by hand as my birthday card when he was little.
The picture above shows 200-something words that my son used to describe me entwined horizontally and vertically, and can you see that he wrote “world-renowned translator” among those? I’m not brazen enough to have said such a thing myself, so he probably remembered something that my wife might have said while I wasn’t present and wrote it there. Of course, that description is far from the truth, but those words are still infinitely comforting and encouraging to me, because at least my son thinks of me that way. On days when I feel upset and depressed for whatever reason, I think I’m able to shake off that mood fairly quickly thanks to the powerful antidote that I’ve collected over the past 10 years including phrases like the one I showed you above. You should try making an antidote like this for yourself. Title the folder with a stylish name instead of with something childish like I did (why is my title like that…) and put together things that you’re personally proud of. If your loved ones wrote you comforting and encouraging words for your birthday, immediately put it in the folder. Or if a client gave you positive feedback regarding your translation, print out the text or print out a screenshot and put it in the folder. And (secretly…) pull it out to look at. You will feel energized!
Talk to someone
The thing that’s more powerful than the secret antidote I wrote about above is actually conversing with my wife. I feel really awkward writing about this here, so I’m going to keep it short. Anyway, once you start talking to someone about your problems, situation, anger, and despair, before you know it, those things start to feel a little more relative and a lot of the time, you will start to realize that those things are trifles compared to the bigger problems in life, more serious situations, and long-term issues (I think even dogs can be conversation partners.)
Leave work for a moment
If you think intently about an event or a situation that occurred and there’s a way to resolve it, you should obviously do that. If there’s a problem that can be solved, you should solve it; if there’s something to apologize for, you should apologize; and if there’s something to compensate, you should compensate. Then you’ll feel a lot better. However, you might become depressed even if you do so or because you can’t do so. In this case, the answer is to leave work for a little while. Letting something that you can’t do anything about continue to weigh down your heart is foolish and wastes your life energy. But the important thing here is that you’re not simply trying to forget about it. Don’t you think that’d just make you think about it more? Instead, it’s good to do something that you normally like to do. Despite what I look like, I like listening to music as well as singing. Going outside to spend time in nature is also something that I always want to do (except during the winter). I like watching movies, and I like going for a drive through the seemingly endless Ontario countryside with my wife sitting beside me. I also like going out for ice cream. My private life is being revealed by the bundle today… Anyway, you should also do something enjoyable instead of trying to do something refined. You will really feel a lot better, you’ll be able to shake off your worries, and there’s a high chance you’ll be laughing before you know it.
Finally, although it’s hard to call this one a method, it’s necessary to get back into your thinking mode for some brief analysis once you’ve recovered emotionally. Analyze whether this situation was the result of your mistake and insufficiency or if the client was just in a bad mood and took it out on you, or if it’s something that occurred randomly or something that occurs continually. And then follow up accordingly. That’s the wisdom that turns crisis into opportunity and stumbling blocks into stepping stones. If you judge that these kinds of situations keep happening because you’re careless with your proofreading, you should do something about your work process. If there’s a client that continues to upset you even when you’ve done nothing wrong, you should stop doing business with that client. Also, if work-related stress continues to creep up without any special reason (that’s a weird thing to happen), you should analyze your freelance business in general to find out what went wrong to solve the problem. If you’re feeling stressed and your time is being wasted because you’re mainly dealing with lower level clients, if you’re working for a very low payment rate, if you feel like you’re not managing your time well, if you feel your understanding of the source language or writing skills of the target language is fundamentally lacking, you should set a medium and long-term goal and take action. You should do so and start resolving your problems. If your emotional fluctuations aren’t a simple issue of emotions but the result of some reality, you should make efforts to change that reality instead of just trying to deal with your emotions.