Post #4 — That soft underbelly

Fear was on the agenda at the recent Ruckusmaker workshop—a Gollum-like creature writhing and muttering within even the boldest of hearts.

For both freelancers and entrepreneurs, we’re talking fear of failure.

Fear of your prototype exploding or the bank manager cutting your credit line. Of your brilliant new app finding no users at all. Or simply the conviction that people will laugh, point fingers, or say nothing at all when your art is displayed (but man oh man, you just know what they are thinking and whispering…).

So speaks the lizard brain.

The message from Seth Godin: if you’re really interested in promoting change, be prepared to face down fear. It’s natural, part of the vulnerability you embrace when you do new things. So get over it, get out there and take your turn.

Now a little riff for linguists.

In the translatorsphere, most practitioners still work in isolation—a long tradition. Translator receives text. Translator translates text. Translator shoots translation into black hole in space and awaits new text. (Translator often lives in cave on mountaintop.)

In the language industry, we all know that most clients can’t judge our output in what is for them a foreign language—that’s why they commission a translation in the first place. So we know, too, that our frontline readers and payers-of-invoices probably won’t give us too much grief if the work is adequate but less than stellar. Because they won’t know.

My own focus is the high end of the market, which I’m inclined to believe is populated by skilled professionals with enormous integrity. I really want to believe that. But over the years, I’ve often asked experienced translators how they know their work is good and the answers are inconclusive. Usually an uncomfortable silence, followed by “Well, clients have never complained” or “Well, clients keep coming back for more” or even “Well, I’ve been doing this for 25 years.”

Not to feed the lizard, but all of those answers are non-starters. Clients may be sticking with you solely because it would be even more work to go out and find somebody else; you are their path of least resistance.

Failing spontaneous and enthusiastic feedback, your position is weak until you’ve sat down and had a serious conversation with your client. And it’s a short step from awareness deep down inside of that weak position to feeling like an imposter. Uneasiness. Fear. Which may be one reason why translators are so twitchy in, say, price negotiations. And so reluctant to show their work to peers: at the monthly Translators’ Café in Paris, a table reserved for show and tell (“Vois-là mon travail”) tends to collect promotional brochures and business cards more often than actual samples of work.

One solution is to team up with a reviser or editor. True, that person will get to see whatever it is you are actually delivering (ah, scary). Yet the give and take will almost certainly make the product you ship better. And your reviser’s insights will make you a better translator.

Imagine, the two of you might even feel secure enough to sign your work—a promise to yourself and clients that you take this translation stuff seriously enough to put your reputations on the line. Taking responsibility and credit.

One way to overcome fear is to face it head-on and connect with peers.

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