I have a colleague who’s just starting out as a legal interpreter. She’s not too experienced, but she’s trained and she’ll make a good professional in this field. She admitted to me some time ago that there are nights when she wakes up terrified and frightened, because in her dream, she was interpreting in court and she didn’t know a word. Yes, she does get paranoid nightmares about court staff being angry with her because she couldn’t interpret a word.
Her confession was funny for me in the beginning. I mean, I thought it was just her being too stressed. Or too inexperienced. And then I realised that I also have these paranoid thoughts. I’m not scared about not knowing a word, but sometimes I have to check deadlines 3 or 4 times, because I’m sure I mixed them up. I started asking.
It’s either the fact that translators (and interpreters to some extent) are lonely and therefore prone to irrational fears, or we all care too much. Either way there is a link between translators and paranoid thoughts.
I’ll make a mistake
Think of a situation in which you diligently check terminology, find parallel texts, leaf through dictionaries. And no matter how many times you re-assure yourself, you’re always in doubt. It must be the fear of making a mistake, a genuine mistake, not just a typo or omitted sentence. Sometimes there seems to be nothing worse than making a MISTAKE. It hardly ever happens, but when you do, when you use a wrong word, that’s the end of the world.
Some time ago I’ve heard, or read, that we’re constantly trying to be right because from our spiritual point of view being wrong is like dying. Trying to extend that metaphor, translators think that if they make a mistake, their professional self dies.
And it’s even worse with perfectionists. If you are one, you know how hard it is to finish and send off a job. You’re followed by this feeling that something must be wrong, that you made a mistake somewhere. When you don’t get any complains, you start making up weird scenarios, like “they were so upset with my mistake that they won’t talk to me again”.
I’ll never be as good as…
It gets almost everyone at some point of their careers. You come across a website, a CV, a Proz profile, you skim through experience and clients, and here you are feeling low for a couple of days. Because SHE has so many clients, because SHE graduated from a better university, because SHE knows more languages, because SHE charges more. You grow your little obsession and research this person online, trying to find something to help you, to let you say “ha! She’s not that good in the end!”. But you never find anything like that.
There always will be someone more experienced or more educated. Accepting this fact is necessary to be able to develop your own career. Believe or not, there isn’t a closed circle of good translators and the rest is not admitted. Neither there is a benchmark to show that that much experience and this university is required to become a good translator.
But we keep comparing. It’s in our blood. And it’s not essentially bad, as long as it’s not destructive. The same colleague of mine I mentioned above almost gave up interpreting because she discovered Proz and developed low self-esteem. She asked for help, and I told her not to look at Proz, or not to research other translators until she gets a couple of clients. She did, despite the fact that she wasn’t the best one.
Ambition, is that what causes this irrational thought that we have to be better than someone? I don’t think so. You can be an ambitious translator, and never suffer from this self-esteem issue. I’d say that we want to be better than others simply to survive on the market. We think that only the best ones will be spared, and we’re struggling to be in this circle. Wait, there is no circle of the greatest of the greatest translators.
I’ll lose the ability
We all suffer from worse days, when we’re trying hard to translate and this textual creature in the other language is just a disgusting pile of random words. There’s the translator’s block, and we can’t force ourselves to ignore it (unless you do legal translation). Ok, it happens. But then it happens tomorrow as well, and the day after…
And then it starts. The paranoid thought, or the heart-trembling feeling that you’ve lost it. That whatever made you translate, it’s gone now. The Muse of Translation’s abandoned you, you’re forsaken and you’ll never be able to translate a single word again. Done and dusted, start looking for another job as soon as you can.
The good news is that it doesn’t happen. You may be overworked, overstressed, or too tired. But once cursed with the ability to translate, you can’t just simply be salvaged and relieved from your eternal duty. You’d sooner lose all your clients due to paranoid thinking rather than losing your skill.
I’ve talked about these three paranoid fears, because they all touched me at some point. There are many others, like “I won’t have enough work” when you’re booked for the next two months, or “I’ll lose all my documents”. The common thing of all these assumptions is that they’re completely unfounded. How to get rid of them? Rationalise! And read this post.
What paranoid thoughts you had to deal with? How did you manage to leave them behind? Do you think they’re linked to some turns of our careers?