Today I managed a new personal best at the gym. I managed to squat* a weight of 90kg. That might not seem much, but for a 53-year-old man who only weights 68kg it's an achievement that brought a smile to my face.
* If you're not sure what is squat is, you can find out here. Do them regularly, believe me, you with thank me in your old age!
And it made me think…
Being a translator is a lot like going to the gym (or whatever form of exercise you prefer).
And here’s why…
1. You’re only in competition with yourself
Every time I visit the gym, I see a lot of men who are lifting much heavier weights than me, are more muscular than me, and who can spend longer on the rowing machine than me. But at the end of the day, none of that matters, because I’m not in competition with them. That would just be crazy. Some of these men are half my age, others are obviously gifted with some very sporty genes, and the rest have just been working out longer than I have. I’m only in competition with myself - to be faster, stronger and healthier than the last time I worked out.
As a translator, I’m not in competition with other translators - after all, most of them work in a different language combination from me, and specialise in different type of translation to me. Even the ones, like me, who work from Spanish into English and specialise in sport or medical translation are not my competitors. There’s more than enough work for everyone in the various fields we specialise in.
Comparing yourself to others is foolish, because no matter who you are, there’s always someone in the gym who is bigger, faster or stronger. There’s always a translator who has more experience, more skills and better clients. By all means learn from them and grow with their support but don’t fall into the comparison trap.
2. You can find support and help regardless of your (lack of) experience
When you first set foot in the gym (or exercise class, or dance studio, or rugby club changing room) it can be a daunting experience. The setting is unfamiliar, everyone seems to know what they're doing and it's full of fit, healthy people, while you feel, well, out of place. But actually, people are generally more helpful than we give them credit for. Coaches will show you what to do and personal trainers (PTs) are human like the rest of us. And not all of them are are obsessed about showing off their chiselled abs on Instagram!
Similarly, the translator community tends to be extremely supportive, and that’s a refreshing change if you’ve ever worked in a large company where conspicuous personality clashes, office politics, and misguided management decisions made your work-life unpleasant. Networking and CPD events are abundant, so you can learn new skills. Help is available on online forums, professional bodies are there to support you and your fellow translators are happy to share their knowledge with you.
3. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s ‘a marathon not a sprint’
A few months ago, I would never have been able to squat 90 kg. It was a goal I wanted to work towards. By slowly increasing the weights I was lifting (progressive overload in gym terms) my strength and confidence grew. Soon, it wasn’t that scary. You don’t just pile on the weight and hope for the best. You have to progressively increase the weight while keeping good form and posture, otherwise you’ll injure yourself. It takes time.
When I started out as a translator, I was also a lightweight. Medical documents scared me because of their complexity. Impostor syndrome filled me with self-doubt. Even though I knew the ‘theory’ of translation, it took a while to bring my skills up to a professional level. But that’s OK, it’s called experience and it applies to every skill we aim to master. It takes time and persistence but you get there in the end. What was impossible becomes routine.
4. Muscles are made in the kitchen not the gym
It’s an old adage in the gym world, but it holds true. Yes you have to go to the gym regularly and do the work. But you also have to eat right and make sure you fuel your growth. Good nutrition is just as important as the gym session. In addition, you need to look at your overall lifestyle - do you get enough rest and time to recover? Are you drinking enough water? Do you move regularly on the days you’re not in the gym, especially if those days are spent sitting in front of a computer screen.
If you think that you’re going to be a great translator just because you can speak a foreign language, you’ll be disappointed. Yes, knowing your source language is vital but it’s only part of the equation. You need to make sure you develop your target language too. Read a lot. Write a lot. Learn about your specialist subjects. Network with other translators and hang out where your clients hang out.
And it reaches into other areas of your life too. What you watch, read and listen to will be closely connected to the languages you use at work and the type of work you do. My regular ‘diet’ includes health and fitness magazines, trade magazines for the fitness industry, podcasts in both English and Spanish, Spanish series on Netflix, good quality newspapers in both languages, blogs on business skills, technology and science, conferences and webinars… the list goes on.
5. If you want to progress, get a coach!
It's easy to turn up at the gym without any specific plan about what exercises you'll perform, what your rep range or weight range will be. Some days it'll result in a good workout, and on other days you'll have spent your time faffing about. In the long run, your progress will also be hit and miss.
That's why it pays to have a coach or a PT who can help you. They can help you assess your goals, work up a plan, show you how to use the exercise machinery etc. They can do that because they understand how to apply the sport and exercise science to fitness and weight loss, they understand the psychology of setting goals and seeing progress, and they've done the work themselves.
If you're a small business owner for example, starting a translation project can be daunting. You might not know what's involved in translation or how to organise a translation project. That's why you should get in touch with a professional translator and let them do the 'heavy lifting'.
When you collaborate with a professional translator you get just that - a professional who invests in themselves and their craft. Someone with just as much knowledge, experience and dedication as the PT who’s in the gym week-in week-out, helping all sorts of clients reach all sorts of goals.
What's your 'personal best' going to be? It's an on-going process, but it doesn't matter if it's down to squatting an extra 5kg or taking time to plan your translation project, the end result is going to be the same. The satisfaction of a job well done.