Lesson 125: Translation fears, worries and insecurities. Do we all have them?

Lesson 125: Translation fears, worries and insecurities. Do we all have them?

Thank you for your wonderful response to my idea of the “behind the scenes” series. This month, I’d like to look deeper, look behind the nice images and see what’s going on below the surface of working as a translator. I asked you both in my newsletter and on Facebook to suggest the areas and topics you’d like to find out more about in this series.

One colleague in her response said it would be great to know what worries and insecurities other translators have, or is it just her. Well, it’s definitely not just her because I share some of her translation fears, worries and insecurities. Do we all have them? Let’s take a look at some issues that I collected, and added a few of my own.

There won’t be another project

Perhaps most often, all translators seem to fear that the next project will never materialise. It’s totally irrational, difficult to explain and unreasonable. There always is the next project, but try to tell me that the day after I finished one assignment and there’s nothing lined up. Three days without a project and I’m getting paranoid. And no matter how hard I try to take a logical approach to it, I subconsciously fear “what if”. Then of course I laugh at myself when three new projects come in all at the same time.

I’m not good enough

This constant doubt and striving for perfection can, of course, be good. The majority of us are perfectionists and in a profession like translation, it’s generally a good sign that we’re doubting ourselves. I’d like to say that with time, this fear goes away, but I think it just diminishes but accompanies all translators throughout their careers. My weapon to fight it was to take all tests and obtain all qualifications possible to use these as arguments against my doubting self. But then I started thinking “ok, I was good for this project, but this is a completely new thing… what if I’m not good enough for this?”. Is there a way out of it?

How do I know I’m doing things the right way?

Working alone has its benefits, but it’s also limiting our opportunities to secretly benchmark ourselves against co-workers. In a normal office environment, as far as I experienced it, you get an idea of how others work, how they perform and what their results are. You can more or less assess yourself against others and get a bit of peace of mind. You can also ask them how they’re doing things, or just follow their way. In my own business, I develop the rules, procedures, ways of doing things. And while there’s a lot of advice available out there, how do I know I was right? What if I’ve missed something important?

I’ll get sick

This may be just me, perhaps not all translators. As a sole breadwinner for years, I developed a real fear of getting sick and not being able to work. This fear applies to anything from a slight cold to imagining serious, chronic conditions. My head (and my business continuity plan) is full of scenarios and emergency measures to deal with sickness, accidents or unforeseen circumstances. Am I alone in this?

I’m doing too many things at the same time

Especially in the current climate where we’re told that multitasking is wrong and reduces our productivity, one of my colleagues said that she feels she’s trying to do too many things at the same time, spreading herself too thin and ultimately not being as efficient a translator as she should be. Of course, monotasking is the trend now, and questions such as “do you even have any time left to translate” don’t take the pressure off. Perhaps this fear is partially based on the underlying thought that others won’t take us seriously if we’re doing too many things. While many or too many things, or time, is subjective, sometimes cutting down on extra or side projects is counter-effective. There are people out there thriving when doing many things at the same time.

I’m wrong

The fear of being wrong, applying much wider than just to freelance translation, often underpins many behaviours and reactions. I’m scared I’m wrong when I’m proofreading or editing somebody else’s work, I’m scared I’m wrong when I’m giving advice, I’m scared I’m wrong when I’m approaching new clients. The good side of this fear is motivating and pushes me to be better. The dark side of this fear turns some of us aggressive and defensive.

Have you experienced any of these fears? Do you have anything else you’ve experienced yourself or observed in others?


  1. Jana , on Apr 9, 2015 at 07:25 Reply

    “Guilty” for having them all, maybe not all the time or all at once, but yes. I do have a lot of these doubts, lately especially the multitasking one … but on the other hand, I do not let this fears paralyze me, instead I try to use them as motivators to do things even better, the push myself harder, as you put it well. Sometimes though it helps taking a pause, try to see things objectively – and I cannot stress enough the value my colleague (translator as well) and her opinion has in such moments. So even if we are “lone traders”, some outside opinion/support is always good! 🙂 Love the post, Marta, like always! Kudos!

  2. Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) , on Apr 9, 2015 at 13:03 Reply

    What a nice post, feels good to see we are not alone in our insecurities 🙂 Agree with you and your fears 100% Marta, I suffer from all the above almost daily (the exceptions being days when the workload is too high and all I can think about is taking a nap or going for a walk)

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 10, 2015 at 17:02 Reply

      Thank you, and working hard is also one of my favourite solutions not to worry 😉

  3. Yael Cahane-Shadmi , on Apr 9, 2015 at 13:16 Reply

    Great post! I think that’s another reason joining translators communities is so important, especially local translation organizations and other forums where you get to meet your colleagues in person. Not only do you get to meet great people, you also have someone to talk to, consult with, complain to and compare yourself to. The connections you make might also help you get more work. So except being sick, I think being part of a professional community helps with most of the other worries.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on Apr 10, 2015 at 17:01 Reply

      You’re right, Yael, it does help. I think finding something positive to focus on also helps to alleviate these worries, but they tend to be quite persistent 🙂

  4. Jane Davis , on Apr 9, 2015 at 21:34 Reply

    Oh dear, now I’m worried that I’m not worrying about some of these – like getting sick!

  5. Olga Apollonova , on Apr 12, 2015 at 04:34 Reply

    Thank you for sharing your insights. Some of these fears are so very familiar. Especially “There won’t be another project”. I used to have them in the past and it took me at least 10 years to get over them. As for the tests, qualifications, and certifications… They do matter if you want to get assignments from government agencies or translate documents that have to be submitted to the authorities that accept documents translated only by certified professionals.

    But I’ve found that meeting other translators and interpreters who work in different language combinations in an unofficial atmosphere is so much more rewarding than simply being a certified and recognized professional. We used to have a so-called “Translator’s Happy Hour” here in Toronto. I truly miss it.

    We were meeting in nice pubs, had fun, made friends, exchanged ideas and concerns, generously shared all kinds of useful information, and gained a lot of confidence from learning that we all have similar fears, problems, and insecurities.

    It’s a real pity we’re no longer meeting. I’d recommend such informal meetings of professionals for any major metropolitan area. They truly help.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 14, 2015 at 17:05 Reply

      I couldn’t agree more and it’s definitely something to think about and maybe plan for 😉

  6. Simon Berrill , on Apr 13, 2015 at 11:28 Reply

    I think I’ve been through most of these fears, Marta, especially the “There Won’t Be a New Project” paranoia. You’re definitely not the only one, but it’s brave of you, as such a high-profile figure in the industry, to come out and talk about all this stuff. Personally, I see perfectionism as an enemy, not a friend, in all aspects of life. It’s something I’ve gradually managed to cure myself of and I’m much healthier, psychologically, than I used to be, without, I think, being any worse at my job. If you can do that, I think you’ll manage to reduce most of the fears you mention.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 14, 2015 at 17:03 Reply

      Thank you very much, Simon. Personally, I quite enjoy being a perfectionist, I do think however that sometimes it something to be mitigated 😉

  7. Marta Di Martino , on Apr 14, 2015 at 17:47 Reply

    I think the fear of not being good enough is also linked to the fact that, basically, apart from OBVIOUS MISTAKES, translation is also a matter of personal approach. Sometimes people find “mistakes” in our work which are just matters of personal preference and that you should learn to feel less anxious about. Which I still haven’t.

    It is kind of comforting, though, to know that I’m not alone in my perennial quest to stop these feelings of inadequacy.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 14, 2015 at 17:14 Reply

      You certainly aren’t alone, and it’s so much better to be in a group of kindred souls – we can banish these fears together 🙂

  8. Zosia Demkowicz (zosia_d) , on Apr 14, 2015 at 17:57 Reply

    A reassuring admission that I think will comfort many fellow translators! I also miss the support and team atmosphere of my old office environment. I am guilty of many of these worries and insecurities, but am learning to combat them by reminding myself of the work and projects I have already completed.

    I think an additional insecurity is self worth, in terms of setting your own rates and having the confidence to stick with them during negotiations with new agencies and clients. As a relative newbie to the profession (18 months in) I am just starting to feel confident enough to assert the value of my skills and services, turning down less well-paid work. However, I do think that this is a luxury that comes with more experience and a larger workload. Thanks Marta!

  9. Alexander V. Demidov , on Apr 30, 2015 at 08:25 Reply

    A good example of AA philosophy applied to the translation profession. Keep up the good work, Marta.

  10. Daniela Biancucci , on Apr 30, 2015 at 11:02 Reply

    Great post! Marta. I really identify myself with many scenes you mentioned. I had an office job for 13 years that gave me an economic security. Now, I´m a freelance full time and I really feel very anxious to have regular translation workflow to feel more confident.

  11. Sinéad Quirke , on Apr 30, 2015 at 14:29 Reply

    So True Marta – all of them – that’s why, as Yael said, it’s so important to join translation communities – but also networks/ communities within the branches that you translate. That gives so much insight.

    Really enjoy your blog 🙂

  12. Paulinho Fonseca , on Apr 30, 2015 at 15:20 Reply

    Hi Marta,

    You are always getting it to right point. 

    In the beginning of March, I was off for the weekend with friends and early on Sunday my phone rang; It was a client from Israel (we have been working for almost 4 years in different projects and things were always smooth), and she asked if I were available for a small project; I said yes and she sent me the job (just to let you know I was visiting some friends and cancelled our gathering for lunch).
    I asked for guidelines/TM/glossary, but client said it was not really needed as it was a small one. I did the job and sent it back. A few hours later, the job returned and client was not happy with translation; not that it was wrong, but it did not fit into their corporate language. I replied saying I asked for guidelines/TM/glossary. I reviewed or translated it again and sent it back. I did not hear from the client for a month or so.
    As you know, our mind starts processing things, thoughts; and I was very concerned if that client had refused the job, but did not let me know, did not send feedback. I emailed them two times; no replies. 🙁 Then, I decided to be more assertive on the third email and point out exactly how I felt about receiving a project without guidelines/TM/glossary and its outcome. It did not take any longer and I got a reply. “Hi Paulinho… Nope…” What do you think I should expect from this answer? 🙂
    Thank you for the good topics.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 14, 2015 at 17:39 Reply

      Thank you for great comments! You’ll see this attitude will pay off in the future 😉

  13. Laurence Rapaille , on May 1, 2015 at 19:52 Reply

    Thank you for this post, Marta!
    And I must say that I feel a bit less worried about having all these insecurities, now that I know that you also have them 😉 No, I am joking!
    I have accepted to feel this way, especially because I have only been translating full time for a year now. But also talking about it with friends of mine, also freelance translators, in the business for more than 10 years. After all these years, they have more stability than I do, but they still feel the same, more or less.
    The fact that we all have to earn directly our own salary makes us more aware of these kinds of things than most “normal” employees, I guess. Our lives, our economy depend on it.

    • Marta Stelmaszak , on May 14, 2015 at 17:53 Reply

      This is what’s best about sharing our insecurities – they become smaller 🙂

  14. Dmitry Kornyukhov , on May 6, 2015 at 02:25 Reply

    Thanks for the great post, Marta! Made it my Post of the Day. I do have those fears every now and then. I believe that the first step is admitting that you have fears rather than ignoring them. My wife also helps me a lot when I’m in dire need of confidence boost. I’m always trying to look at the bright side of things. After all, nobody is perfect, we’re not robots. It’s a natural part of the process. My credo is: just keep doing what you doing no matter how scared you’re. As Thomas Muller said: “All things are difficult before they are easy.”

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