Lesson 121: Translation and personality: a perfectionist with controlling here, and you?

Lesson 121: Translation and personality: a perfectionist with controlling here, and you?

Whenever I’m writing about a certain topic on my blog, I always research it. This month, researching translation and personality, has been particularly insightful. I managed to look at some of my strengths and weaknesses as a freelancer and start working on some elements that weren’t quite right. This weekend I came across an interesting article on Freelance Folder looking at different personalities: perfectionist, people person, rebel, controller, and the shy one, and how to make them work for you if you’re a freelancer.

By no means I think these are the only categories or typologies of personalities, but I found it interesting how the author, Laura Spencer, analyses the constraints these personalities put on us if we’re working as freelancers.

The perfectionist is, according to the author somebody who is “constantly finding fault with his/her own work and the work of others”. Perfectionists set very high standards and are detail-oriented. One of the problems that the author identified is that perfectionist can’t let work go when it’s good enough and constant revisions often lead to missing deadlines.

Now, while this isn’t happening all that often for translators (can you imagine missing a deadline and telling the client ‘oh, I’m a perfectionist, that’s why’?), we tend to sacrifice other things just to meet this deadline, don’t we? For example, we keep working nights or weekends, or we cancel appointments. In my opinion, this isn’t really handling being a perfectionist, this is just letting it take over.

Of course, perhaps it’s perfectionism that makes us so good at what we’re doing, so we don’t want to get rid of it, but where do you set yourself a limit? I’ve created a QA checklist and after I check the work against this checklist, I send it out. I don’t dwell, I don’t go back to it. That’s how I’m managing my perfectionist.

The People Person is someone who, according to the author, “seem to make friends with everyone they meet.” These types of freelancers often have huge networks and know how to network easily. The main drawback is that for people persons, it’s actually difficult to sit down and get some work done.

This is totally not me. I’m not a people person that much, and I always can just sit down and start working. Facebook or Twitter aren’t that tempting because I know they’re there to distract, so I don’t look at them while working. But if you are a people person and you work from home with others around, how do you deal with it? How do you set yourself boundaries?

The Rebels “became freelancers because they couldn’t stand the rules and restrictions of a more long-term working arrangement.” They sometimes come up with great ideas, but tend to lack patience, especially in communicating these ideas to others. Rebels often diverge into side projects to keep them interested and alive.

This is so me. I need a few other things going on apart from translating or I’d just go nuts. A small thing here, a little job there, a blog post here, I need to work on a few things at the same time to keep my energy and adrenaline high. What about you?

The Controller, as the author says “freaks out if he/she doesn’t know exactly what’s going on with business and projects at any given time.” Someone close to me is a total controller. He is an excellent project manager with outstanding organisational skills, but at the same time he tries to do too much, never mind trying to delegate work. Plus, Controllers will have an issue with unpredictability.

To a certain extent, I’m a Controller myself. I need a plan and structure for everything (do you remember my five year plans?), and my every single week is planned out in advance. But, at the same time, I enjoy unpredictability and the challenges it poses. What about you?

The Shy One, according to the author, “is less outgoing than others, a sympathetic listener and can be very loyal to clients.” Yet, the problem with the shy ones is that often marketing is a struggle for them.

When comes to this aspect, I’m a naturally shy person, but when comes to business, I leave it all behind. I find super strength and courage somewhere and I can market away. One of the ways I’m dealing with managing my shy side is that when comes to business, I tell myself that I’m now working for a business so it’s not about me, it’s about the external brand. I see myself as an employee, rather than the individual concerned, and I carry out work as if I was doing it for someone else. The shyness seems to go away. What about you, if you’re the shy one?


  1. Anthony Teixeira , on Feb 17, 2015 at 07:29 Reply

    “Perfectionist controlling” sounds a little scary to me!
    I guess I would be a Rebel Shy One (whatever it means) – thanks for the great tip in the last paragraph.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 20, 2015 at 17:38 Reply

      It does, doesn’t it! I promise you, however, that it’s not scary at all up close 🙂

  2. Rebecca Darby Sims , on Feb 20, 2015 at 16:14 Reply

    People Person and Rebel, for sure! Almost the reverse of you, Marta, with people: outgoing socially, but reserved with clients, so yes, marketing is still a struggle. Not at all Perfectionist as described here – I’ve been known to send out first drafts with one quick revision, which I imagine would horrify you! (but I’d only do this on a really good day, if the text just flowed) – although I do enjoy thinking and talking about the very best way to say something. Controller is another private/business split: I can be quite controlling in my personal life, although gradually relaxing there, while business things I’m quite content to let others manage. Just not to the extent of actually being employed and having a boss – for me, it’s more of a mood thing, and a refusal to sit in an office with nothing to do!

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 20, 2015 at 18:28 Reply

      I think every freelancer is a bit of a rebel (even if it’s just a tiny bit as in my case), as the society still values in-house positions a bit more. Thankfully, this is changing for a better future 🙂

  3. Marián Amigueti , on Feb 20, 2015 at 20:44 Reply

    Very interesting post! I’m very identified with the rebel and controller translator 😉 Thanks a lot!

  4. Jadwiga Ruchlewska , on Feb 27, 2015 at 19:32 Reply

    I’m definitely a perfectionist – but as for the other things, it’s really hard to tell as it seems that I’m a little bit of everything… Always felt there are two conflicting personalities in me – introvert/extrovert-wise, but I think generally, I’m a bit more of a shy controller than a people’s rebel. Having said that, there are times that I’m a real people’s person…
    I’m definitely a sympathetic listener (always had everyone around confiding in me) and definitely don’t know how to delegate work – could the latter be something with that perfectionism thing?? Or perhaps with the rebel thing – as it seems to me that it’s WAAAAY much quicker to do things myself than to try to explain how to do them and then have to do them again myself anyway as they haven’t been done properly…

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 27, 2015 at 20:35 Reply

      I think you’re really complex 😉 Thank you for sharing!

  5. *Elena Salas , on Feb 27, 2015 at 19:38 Reply

    Hello Martha!

    Thanks for your great blog!
    I’m definitely a rebel, somehow perfectionist (but yes, time-price-quality balanced) and whilst I’m a people person, I can concetrate easily and not look for distractions (lucky me!). It’s a reward to see how much I can get done if I ignore everything else and makes me feel great after accomplishing a work task (so yes, no facebooking until lunchtime! and I write down on post-it notes anything that crosses my mind that should be in a “personal life to-do list” to deal with them later.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 27, 2015 at 20:37 Reply

      Great idea with the post-its, and thank you for sharing 🙂

  6. Agustina Bellino , on Feb 27, 2015 at 19:48 Reply

    Well, I think we all have some of each of the qualities you describe here, Marta. I consider myself a Controller: Yes, Friday is the day for planning the following week. I also feel the adrenaline when challenged by last-minute translations to be done for yesterday, but I welcome them since they also keep me alive.

    I believe we, translators, are also curious and insatiable; and they go hand in hand. We usually never feel we are done with knowledge, always looking for any course or material to read and get to know more about something, always looking for the reasons and/or etymology of words… just to name same. I’m sure every translator has one more example to add.

    Great post, by the way. Now, gotta go and schedule next week. Read you around!



    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Feb 27, 2015 at 20:38 Reply

      I agree, I think we are more complex than any short typology, but it’s still helpful to know more 😉

  7. Jane Davis , on Mar 1, 2015 at 19:35 Reply

    Interesting post, Marta! I think that to be a successful translator you have to combine a number of these to some degree.

    Perfectionism is definitely a big part of the translator’s personality. Who else would spend hours researching a single term to make sure they’ve got it right?

    But you’ve also go to be able to deal with people to an extent; I’ve encountered translators who are rude or just can’t accept boundaries, and neither of these are likely to become successful.

    Then again, you have to be happy working at home for hours – or days – without talking to another soul IRL. Whether this is because you’re a rebel or because you’re shy (or both), it’s certainly a pretty useful character trait.

    Is this me? Yep. The only one I’m missing out on is Controller, and I think this job would drive me mad if I liked to know what was going to be on my plate from one day to the next!

    So, yes. “My name’s Jane… and I’m a Translator.”

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 13, 2015 at 16:05 Reply

      It’s true – lack of predictability can be a challenge. Thank you for a great answer, Jane!

  8. Haydée Menna , on Mar 2, 2015 at 00:16 Reply

    Dear Marta,

    I think that all translators have some perfectionism, but it is essential to know where to set a limit. I personally try to devote enought time to every project, so that I do not miss deadlines.

    I am not a people person, I am shy, so Marketing is a struggle for me. By the way, I find it useful to mention one of your other lessons here, Lesson 109: The Introvert’s Guide to Translator Conferences. There is one of the points in that lesson which I find most useful when talking to people: not to try to fake being more sociable than we, introverts, are. I consider this important, because it helps me relate to people better.

    I have to force myself to get help when working on large projects, so I guess I am a bit of a controller in that aspect: I do not feel too comfortable when delegating. However, I think that, in my particular case, this is also because I am not a people person. Thus, I think that the key is to go out of our comfort zone, as you say many times, and to set the necessary limits so that things do not get out of control.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 13, 2015 at 16:06 Reply

      Thank you so much, Haydée, and I hope some of my posts help 🙂

      • Haydée Menna , on Mar 13, 2015 at 16:45 Reply

        They certainly do!!

  9. Raquel Carrilho , on Mar 2, 2015 at 00:35 Reply

    Definetely a perfectionist! And a controller… And shy too.

    Would be interesting to see someone both as a people person and shy. Would they ever go together?

    Great article, as usual, by the way.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 13, 2015 at 16:07 Reply

      One of my friends is a bit like that, it depends on the day and situation 😉

  10. Shizuka Otake , on Mar 2, 2015 at 00:35 Reply

    Really interesting post. I like reading about personality types.
    I’m a Rebel/Controller; I don’t like having the same schedule and going to the same place every day, and I also want to make the decisions.

    I’m not sure if that works with being an interpreter/translator. The definitions of extrovert and introvert eluded me for a long time; I assumed I was an extrovert because I’m not shy at all, but felt confused because parties exhaust me. Then my best friend explained that you’re an extrovert if being with other people energize you, an introvert if it exhausts you.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 13, 2015 at 16:08 Reply

      I think most of us have both extrovert and introvert qualities, so you just might be a bit of both!

  11. Martine , on Mar 2, 2015 at 07:33 Reply

    Hi Marta!

    I loved this series as I’m a fan of personality tests!
    It was interesting to apply my results to translation…

    So, it seems that I’m an ESFJ personality (which is quite true). Still, I’m not a “turbo type” (someone who manage to introduce him/herself to anybody easily and straight away…); I’m a quite good “easy chatter” just once I’ve managed to break the ice! 🙂

    I’m also a pefectionist and a bit of a rebel too. 100% translation does not suit me very well, just because I need to diversify my missions and create some “human contact”…(courses…).

    Thank you very much, Marta!


  12. Suzanne Smart , on Mar 2, 2015 at 15:29 Reply

    What an interesting post Marta. Reading through the comments, it’s clear that we all identify with these traits and I can see all of them in myself. I especially agree with Jane’s comment: “Who else would spend hours researching a single term to make sure they’ve got it right?” – that is SO true!! Translation is an art and I think all artists are perfectionists.

  13. Allison Wright , on Mar 2, 2015 at 22:56 Reply

    I am, quite possibly, a pot pourri.

    I am, among other things, a rebellious, controlling perfectionist who beats up on herself regularly, likes people enormously and loves interacting with them when not being the reserved, withdrawn shy and serious one.

    I don’t fit neatly into any box. Who needs a box, anyway? 🙂

  14. Florencia Castaño , on Mar 3, 2015 at 14:21 Reply

    I think that the career path we choose is definitely the reflection of our personality traits.

    I do not thing anyone in his or her sound mind would choose to become a freelance translator, knowing that he or she couldn’t stand spending hours in isolation, researching a single word or working on an endless text.

    In my opinion, the problem comes when people opt for translation as a way out of the fear of overcoming his or her personality weaknesses (not being a people person, not being a team player, introversion, etc.). What these people don’t know is that becoming a freelance translator takes much more than just being in love with words or being an expert in their subject matter. It takes great courage and determination to learn to build all aspect of a business by yourself. It takes self-knowledge and self-acceptance, to learn to live with this feeling of bipolarity that makes us love the silence of our lonely office hours, while urging us to go out and get in touch with others.

    I think that getting to know yourself deeply in order to take advantage of your personally strengths and learn to overcome your weaknesses is the first thing we, freelance translators, should do before even getting into this incredibly challenging but rewarding career. Like me, most translators are not aware of this when they start out, and some of them give up, feeling doomed, thinking that they are not self-confident or extroverted enough to really stand out as translators. But it is never too late. If we are passionate about what we do, we can learn to control our introverted self so that it stays away when needed.

    I happen to be an ISTJ, according to the test you linked in your previous post, so I’m probably not in the best position to give advice on how to reach our full potential as freelancers, but at least I’m aware of it and I’m already doing my best to overcome my personality challenges.

    Thanks, Marta, for such an interesting bunch of articles about personality types! It definitely steered m interest in the subject.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Mar 13, 2015 at 16:27 Reply

      I strongly agree with you, and I think the so-called ‘easy solutions’ are usually not as easy as we’d like them to be 😉

  15. Janice Crossfield , on Mar 4, 2015 at 16:06 Reply

    I came out as a diplomat! I never really thought of myself as such, though. It did say that a suitable career would be one involving writing skills, so it is certainly accurate in that respect.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 14, 2015 at 15:31 Reply

      It’s always so nice to find out something new about yourself, isn’t it? 🙂

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