Looking back on 2015: 5 lessons I have learned
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Looking back on 2015: 5 lessons I have learned

The end of the year is a great time to reflect on what’s been accomplished and learned over the past 12 months. For me as a translator 2015 was one of the most important and productive years. Today I’m sharing five important lessons I have learned. This is something I definitely want to keep in mind in the coming year.


Build relationships


I’ve been a freelance translator for my whole career (well, almost). When I was just starting out my Grandmother was worried about how I would endure being alone for my whole working day. There was absolutely nothing to worry about, though. Like many other freelancers, I love working on my own.


So much so, that apart from talking to a couple of colleagues now and then, and sending my CV to some agencies from time to time, I wasn’t communicating much for business purposes. Bad mistake!


If there’s one thing I learned this year it’s that relationships with other translators, potential customers and just people you like are vital for professional development. Yes, it requires getting out of your comfort zone sometimes, but you need to do this to get all good things in life.


Being a lone wolf is great, but you need other people to know where you stand and in which direction to go. We learn form each other. Other’s successes give us something to look up to and strive for. Their mistakes give us a warning that we should think twice before making the same choice as them. That’s how people are wired.


On the one hand comparing yourself with others is counterproductive. We have different sets of skills and talents. We come from different backgrounds and have different stories to tell. Compare yourself blindly with someone more successful, and you’ll feel depressed. Compare yourself with someone who has achieved less than you, and you’ll settle. I’m not sure which is worse, because both depression and complacency prevent you from taking action and making your life better.


Other people show you, what you can achieve, because if they have managed to do it, so can you! Moreover, they often tell you exactly what you need to do to get where you want to be. You just have to listen and have enough courage to follow the advice.


Try new things


This year I have tried tons of new things.


I have built a website, even two to be more exact. I have started contacting the people I admire (and getting replies from them!). I have talked to potential customers on Reddit. I have conducted a marketing survey to gather information that might be useful for my prospects. I have started two mailing lists.


I knew nothing about any of this a year ago and I’m thrilled to see what I will learn next year.


Learn with your purpose in mind


Speaking of learning, with so many CPD options, it’s important to keep your business goals in mind when you make the choice.


What is it you want? Do you want to learn how to market your business? Do you want to deepen your knowledge of your subject matter? Do you want to improve your writing skills? Do you want to put a line on your CV that will impress some agencies you want to work with?


I know that planning my CPD with this perspective in mind is something I have to learn.


Done is better than perfect


This has been my mantra since July when I launched my web-site. I can perfect things for ever, if I let myself do it. I can play with fonts and colors (if it’s a web-site) or rewrite one single sentence (if it’s a blog post).


The problem is that tweaking and altering is just a fancy way to give in to your fears. Fear of rejection. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of what others will say about your work. Fear that you aren’t good enough. Fear of failure or even fear of success.


So when I start working on something new, I give myself a deadline. I’ve found that 3 months is a sufficient amount of time to do some major preparations for a big project without too much fuss while not sacrificing the time I spend on work and life in general.


A deadline helps me beat procrastination. Knowing that when the 3 months are up I will have to do the launch is a great motivation to keep going. I have enough time to evaluate ideas and even learn some new skills that I need for my project. At the same time, I won’t agonize over every word or spend hours on thinking over ideas.


There is one important thing to remember: as a translator, I rarely have a chance to make a mistake that can ruin my life or career. I’m not talking about translation mistakes. They can have some nasty consequences. I’m talking about the mistakes connected with running my business: marketing, networking, building my own brand, that sort of thing.


Although all these things are important, I can’t think of any mistakes that couldn’t be corrected, if you are willing to analyze the results and to listen to the feedback you get.


Embrace the criticism


This brings me to the last lesson I want to share. If you’re doing something publicly, and you will have to do that in order to market your business, unless you’ve learned some secret marketing trick that lets you hide in your cave and still get referrals and clients, if you put yourself out into the world, you will be criticized.


I don’t mean the situations when you really make a mistake and someone nicely points it out to you. I’m talking about people who just love to ‘say what they think’ about your work regardless of whether you asked them about their opinion or not and whether it can even be relevant.


I’m not good at taking criticism (I’m working on it, though), so I’ll share with you an example of how you shouldn’t react to it. At the end of September one of my posts went viral and was shared over 4k times across all social networks. Other articles I wrote around that time got quite a lot of views and shares, too.


This resulted in several great things. Firstly, I got to connect with some of my wonderful colleagues (by the way, this is another lesson I learned this year — translators are amazing!). Secondly, I was approached by several translation agencies that offered me collaboration and included me into their databases.


Then one day I came across a post, where my colleague translator shared my article on why working for peanuts is bad for you. The post is about an incident I had with a low-paying translation agency and the conclusions I drew from it. And there was a comment made by another translator, which went something along the lines of how far-fetched my arguments were. She thought that I had read somewhere about content marketing and everything it could do for a business and was now struggling to come up with some articles for my blog, while not really having anything to say, and that it really showed.


I took these words to heart, in spite of the fact that there had been literally hundreds of people who liked that post enough to share it with their followers. I didn’t want to acknowledge it at the time, but it scared me enough to loose my inspiration for blogging for several weeks (and another lesson here — there’s no such thing as inspiration, you just go and do what has to be done).


And then I watched a talk by Brene Brown and heard a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. There’s a shortened version in Brene’s talk, but I’ve found the full quote while preparing this post and I want to share it with you, because it beautifully sums up everything I learned this year:


“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and make mistakes, because this is the only way to become better at something. Find something that makes you enthusiastic and passionate and just start working on it. It doesn’t matter if you fail, you still got the credit and another chance to try.


So, these are the things that I’m taking with me into the new year. I’m sure that it will bring a lot of new lessons to learn and exciting opportunities to take. I wish the same to you!


  • Kozue Macmichael

    18.02.2016 at 21:11 Reply

    Elena, this has become one of my favorite blog posts to read! Thank you so much for sharing how you overcame criticism. It really resonated with me when I read this in December, and again today.

    Congratulations on your new talk show, blabbing translators! You’re inspiring! I’m looking forward to watching more episodes in the future!

    • Elena

      20.02.2016 at 19:09 Reply

      I’m happy you like it, Kozue! Self-criticism is something I’m really struggling with. And one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that I can do things in spite of what that mean little voice in my head is saying. 🙂

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