4 December 2014

Enjoy success, celebrate progress as the year draws to a close

It is that time of the year again, and I am inevitably reflecting on how everything went, looking back on my original plans, recalling the milestones of my very own 2014 and devising ways to hopefully build on it from January.

The first thing I thought about was that, as a freelance translator, I have met and even exceeded the income goal I had set myself for the year. It was an ambitious goal, and it looked almost impossible as recently as July, so it is a major achievement.

However, the more I think about it, the more I become convinced that the real story of a fantastic year for me is not success, but progress: the best thing about 2014 is not that I attained my income goal, but rather that I am a lot closer to my long-term objectives as a freelance translator.

Meeting an income target is great for at least three reasons: the achievement itself feels very nice, it means I have an extra cash injection rather than have to worry about making ends meet, and it will allow for investment that is perhaps a bit more ambitious and even expensive in the year to come.

However, what I will be taking away from 2014 is certainly not an income figure. As I came to realise that, I tried to come up with a list of the things that will hopefully stay with me from 1 January.

One would like to think that effort, skills and perseverance always pay off, but, at 38, I am old enough to know that is not always the case. Still, it is no reason not to go for precisely that mix: it may not be infallible, but it remains the safest bet.

This year, I have worked hard, got my DipTrans, took several MOOCs to improve my knowledge of my areas of specialisation, tried to be helpful and pleasant to deal with, and delivered the best translations I could muster. When I got stuck, I looked harder for possible solutions and I tried to listen to anyone with a different approach. When I was doing well, I tried to build on my achievements.

I started the year with resounding failures, and the effort I made to get over those probably set me up for the successes that were to follow. I looked into the ATA Mentoring Programme, and a suggestion from my mentor took me to the ATA conference in Chicago.

I got several new clients, and they are generally a lot better than the clients I had last year. I even had a few lucky, almost unexpected breakthroughs with very good direct clients, but luck was hardly part of the equation as I tried to gain their trust and, hopefully, repeat business.

A couple of direct-client projects where I felt overstretched became my first project management efforts, as I found translators and proofreaders, negotiated other people's rates rather than my own, and tried to build relationships with fellow freelancers for the future. I found project management hard, stressful, and definitely out of my comfort zone. However, those projects were instances of major personal growth and learning as well as huge business development.

I refloated my blog, which had fallen through the cracks when things were not going so well, for lack of anything positive to say. I also made the leap into Twitter, which I had consciously avoided (as too time-sapping) until them. Surprisingly enough, not only did I find that I enjoy Twitter and can keep it in check, at least for now, but also got a nice translation job from a colleague out of it!

The ATA conference was a major expense. Imagine a trip from Buenos Aires to Chicago! I hesitated a lot, but it was honestly worth every penny. I got a great confidence boost, inspiring exchanges with colleagues and sessions and a bunch of business cards that may or may not deliver actual work. There again, however, I did my homework: I travelled to the conference, tried to enjoy my time there, and did the follow-up. I will be back next year, and it was important for me to make sure that my second experience is different, because it builds on earlier discoveries and earlier efforts.

I can also count some achievements at a more personal level. Spending over a month in Brazil, to cover the World Cup as a reporter, brought home the fact that, inside, I am now a translator rather than a journalist. A dream reporting job was suddenly not quite as perfect as it could have been, just because the heart was not completely in it.

Anyone who has read my blog from the start will know of my conflicted relationship with French. I love it, but I eventually dropped it from my translation CV altogether because it did not seem to convince clients and was effectively just noise in my profile. This year, I received one French-English 8,000-word project and could not believe my luck. I took it on, and got the following reply from the project manager: "I want to congratulate you, because it is really a pleasure to read your translation."

In this post, I want to highlight my own realisation that this year's achievements relative to my income goals are tiny compared to those that will lead to more and better work in the years to come: more and better clients, closer relationships with colleagues, a greater understanding of the profession, in terms of both depth and scope, and above all a clearer idea of my own potential role within it.

On 1 January, both my income target and my professional development goals will be different. However, they will incorporate everything I have learned this year, and they will be all the more solid for it.