We had a lovely meeting with translation and interpreting colleagues in London yesterday. It was 15 of us, all coming from different backgrounds and doing different languages. Meeting so many happy and satisfied colleagues left me really warm-hearted and made me think with a lot of optimism about the profession.
It also made me think: what does it mean to be a successful translator? How do we measure and define our success?
Perhaps it is easier to measure professional success in other domains. Imagine a successful lawyer, or a doctor, or a business person, and you have a clear image of their lives. The definition of their success is clear. But I know a number of successful translators, and their success looks completely different from one person to another.
What is it then that makes someone a successful translator? What do we take into account when we talk about success, and how do we measure it?
Money is important when talking about professional success. But I find it hard to determine the scale. Someone could work too long hours and make decent money – is that still a success? Or is there a certain cut-off point of income that helps us determine if someone is successful or not? Or should it rather be our per word/hourly rate? And how much money should we make to be successful compared to other professions?
If we were considering time as one of the factors of success, what would we consider successful then? I’m not hiding the fact that I love my profession and I don’t mind committing and dedicating a lot of my time to work. My work is my passion and my life, and I end up working on Sundays, like today. But I know colleagues who decided that they will work only 8 hours a day and have weekends off – and they are still successful.
3. Types of texts
Maybe it is about what do we translate and interpret? If we get texts we like, we are successful then? But then, from time to time we all get our hands on texts we’d rather leave and we still do it. What if the ability to translate less exciting texts is one of the ingredients of success?
Someone may suggest that recognition and approval among colleagues is the measure of success. Is it really? Is recognition necessary to deem someone successful? I think it’s the other way round: recognition comes after success.
This point is the most troublesome for me, and crucial to our profession. I know many translators who are simply miserable in their professional lives, complaining about poor rates, long hours, no weekends, and little respect from clients. This is the opposite of success.
It seems to me that success in translation depends on mind-set. Problems like market saturation, low rates, long payment terms, and astonishing discounts for repetitions are obstacles, but not excuses. It is always down to us whether we think of ourselves as successful translators and we do all we can to get there, or we just stand by and watch rates drop. Money, time, types of texts and recognition may help to measure one’s success from the outside. But I strongly believe they all are just effects of our success-thinking.
Now question over to you: What does it mean to be a successful translator to you?