Just to recap, the previous post in this series, “In for a penny” ended with the conclusion that translation rates in the bulk market are not increasing because translators are becoming more and more efficient, at least on average. It also pointed out that competent human translators are relatively rare in comparison to the demand for their services, and so that translator incomes were unlikely to collapse in the near future.
However, that’s still not a very rosy image of the future of our profession, given that speech recognition software is delivering a new productivity boost in many major languages and that stagnant rates would mean stagnant incomes over a large part of an individual translator’s career. Is there any way out of this hole?
Fortunately, I think there is; but, before I say what I think the solution is, I’d like to burst a few balloons. Firstly about business skills. These days it seems that everyone and their dog is organising a translators’ conference, or giving a presentation at a translators’ conference, about the importance of business skills for translators. Hell, even I’m doing it: my talk on “Financial Fallacies for Freelancers” will be part of the Translation and Localisation Conference in Warsaw on 11 March! But business skills aren’t everything. Yes, they can help some people in their businesses, but on their own they won’t make us better translators. They can help our professional (and personal) development, but they are not an end in themselves.
And so what will help us become better translators and achieve higher rates? Well there’s another group of sirens who would have us believe that it’s all about a professional attitude and positive thinking. That we’re holding ourselves back because we’re not acting like professionals and we’re complaining too much. This one’s a little trickier to address, because obviously the proponents will accuse me of negative thinking! But let’s think for a second. I’m supposedly being held back because I’m thinking in a manner that’s too negative… So what should I do about it? Buy course X, read book Y! And if that doesn’t work? Buy additional course ABC, and certainly don’t listen to the nasty people on that other Facebook group!
I will assume that most readers of a blog about professional translation are adults, and have been in adult relationships. And I apologise in advance if what I’m about to write contains triggers for survivors of relationship abuse. Because that is effectively what the purveyors of “positive thinking” are trying to sell you: abuse. The “positive thinkers” are telling people that they are not good enough, but they can get good enough by changing the way they think, and in the way that the guru tells them to. It doesn’t work? It’s because the person isn’t trying hard enough, not following the rules! It’s always the person’s fault, not the guru’s. Now imagine being in a personal relationship with someone who is always telling you to improve yourself, that you aren’t good enough because of your attitude and the way you think… and that whatever you try to do, it’s still not good enough… No clear goals, no idea that you have achieved what you set out to do, just a constant tirade that you should be “more positive”, i.e. that you’re not good enough, but we can try to help you.
It’s well known that many people get trapped in emotionally abusive personal relationships, many more than get trapped in what we would formally describe as cults. But I think translators are particularly prone to this sort of abuse in our professional lives, because so many of us work in one-person businesses and so don’t have colleagues close by to bounce ideas off and to provide a psychological balance. There are some outlets for this isolation on social media, but also other sites that will try to sell you a better way of thinking against your euros or your dollars.
Some people reading this post will be clinically depressed, i.e. depressed to the point that it affects their everyday functioning as an adult. If that’s you, you don’t need to be told to think more positively: you need to speak to a doctor and probably to discuss your situation with a professional counsellor.
Thankfully, most people are not in that situation: they don’t need to be told to think more positively either, because they’re already thinking positively enough. If that’s you, GREAT! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.