8 February 2016

The run-up, the big leap and new priorities

January has been a dream month, a time I had been looking forward to for about three years: I finally quit my day job and became a 'just' a freelance translator, after more than 15 years as a journalist.

As is the case with so many important decisions, the move towards an exclusively freelancing lifestyle was the sum of lots of little steps and the culmination of a plan I had developed a long time ago.

I had met my desired annual income target and my savings target. A control freak like me would not jump without some form of a safety net! I felt I was qualified enough and well-positioned professionally, with good clients to keep my project pipeline moving including my former employer. And I had solid evidence that there was room for greater growth without a job that kept me busy for many hours every day. I was ready.

Over the past two years, I had somewhat customised the concept of full-time work. I was using early mornings, evenings and weekends in such a way that I was virtually working full-time as a freelance translator anyway. However, while translation almost had a monopoly on my proactivity and my enthusiasm, it received only as much attention as I could muster in my off-hours, and that felt like a burden.

I was increasingly having to turn down translation projects for lack of time, my marketing was down to virtually zero (to say nothing of this blog!) and, while I am one of those people who can generally tackle a packed to-do list calmly, just one thing at a time, I was beginning to feel my stress levels rise. I never missed a deadline, but over the past year I did for example skip two parent-teacher meetings that were simply blanked out of my mind on the day. I knew that some things were getting out of hand.

When I attended the ATA's annual conference in Miami in November, the single thing that struck me the most was a slide in a presentation from former ATA president Dorothee Racette (@takebackmyday): 'Are you running a sweatshop?' I knew that I was exploiting myself precisely like that.

In contrast, the past few weeks have been blissful. I had got used to working two jobs to a point where I almost did not notice exactly how hard I was pushing myself, but I really enjoy having a more relaxed schedule and just one professional activity on my mind.

My new off-hours (those left over after sorting out new medical insurance and other administrative issues, at any rate) have inevitably led to the resurrection of old plans to revamp my website, come up with a consistent marketing strategy and develop a sustainable work routine now that a lot of the pressure I had been under in recent years is gone.

Life without a day job has reminded me that there is a lot to say in favour of work-life balance. In the years to come, I would very much like to be a little less busy than I have been of late, and coming up with a plan to make sure I stick to that is my top priority right now. I am doing very well and enjoying myself too, so I should think of a way to keep that up.

A good jump takes a run-up, and I would definitely not change the past two years. I always had clear objectives, I mostly knew what I was doing and I am very proud of the hard work I did. In fact, I achieved virtually every goal on my list in my first attempt and wasted almost no time. To me, the whole experience was a necessary stepping stone on the way to get where I am now.

And yet I am glad I did not let my run-up turn into an attempt to run a marathon in run-up strides. I have taken my leap, and it is only natural that things should be different from now on. Run-ups and jumps take a particular set of skills, which I suspect is quite unlike the set required for walking the ground where I now stand.

The learning process continues, as it should, and I still feel well-placed, excited and eager to grow and build on the career I have crafted so far. In the coming months, I hope to acquire or hone some tools and techniques that will be of use at this second stage in my life as a freelance translator. I am sure hard work will remain part of the bundle, but, as I tackle a different kind of race and a different set of goals, it is no wonder that pacing and sustainability have taken centre stage.