No one is you, and that is your power – Jenny Garrett

This post was inspired by:

What Can We Learn from Swimmers of a Certain Age? by Bonnie Tsui

A fellow entrepreneur recently asked me, for the second time, if I’d be interested in starting a company in the US with him and his brother. The first time he asked, the answer was a clear no. Although I spent a lot of time in the States then, I didn’t live in the States and therefore didn’t see the point. This time, I went straight into panic mode. Was it because I had become accustomed to filling my days with my workouts, handicraft projects, and gardening? Was it because I was terrified of having to go through lists of potential customers and cold-calling the ones I thought would be suitable candidates? Was I lazy? Or was it, as the fellow entrepreneur concluded from our e-mail exchange, because my workouts were more important to me than making money?

We were trying to schedule a call at a time to be determined by me. I, however, was not the one in the awkward time zone, and I was trying to make everything agreeable to everyone by avoiding calls around dinner time, after 8 p.m. or at 5 a.m. I made a few suggestions and said I would not be available on a certain day because I was going to a lake to swim. The fellow entrepreneur is someone I have known and worked with for almost 30 years and who knew business at my end was slow, so I thought it would be safe to be honest about why I wasn’t available. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Trophy Lakes

For weeks, I beat myself up over his rejection. What was wrong with me? How could I have been so unprofessional as to tell him that I was going swimming? Stupid cow! You’ve started a business before. How hard could it be a second time? Have you learned nothing from the past 20+ years? So, your workouts will take a backseat – uhm, yeah, no. There it was, that feeling of panic. Your workouts make you happy, your work not so much. And there we had it, those dreaded words: your work does not make you happy. In fact, work hadn’t made me happy in a very long time, probably not since some industry guru started telling people many years ago that translators would soon be out of work thanks to machine translation and AI.

With that statement, the industry’s race to the bottom picked up pace and the competition to see who would get there first got fiercer. More and more translation agencies jumped on the bandwagon and have since transformed their business into predominantly post-editing. The word rates have gone down, the rationale being that post-editing is faster than translating so you can do more of it and still make the same amount of money. Cognitive dissonance here – then and still now. I opted out of that line of work and have no regrets. You see, machine translation and post-editing may be great for some industries, but it isn’t great for all industries. It most certainly isn’t great for the unsearchable and uneditable PDF documents that need translating. And I’m not even going to get started on all the machine translations companies do themselves because they’re cheap, i.e. only cost the time of the employee who runs the text through whatever online translation application seems to work best. Needless to say, the resulting texts are just as hilarious as they are useless. Should you be wondering, this was not the kind of company said colleague wanted to run. Like me, he doesn’t believe in making a margin by paying fellow translators a pittance, and quality very much matters to both of us.

What this panic mode also brought to the fore is that 16-hour days at my desk 6 days a week is not really the way I want to live my life anymore.

Having moved on from beating myself up for something I didn’t do, it was high time to look for inspiration. I spoke about what had happened with a few good friends, none of whom gave me advice but asked questions instead. My answers were what set things in motion. One friend suggested I check out Jenny Garrett and her virtual Bounce Forward retreat. Bounce Forward was all about resilience in this time of Covid-19. That wasn’t my issue. But I checked out Jenny and liked the TedX talk I listened to: Ditch the mask and don the cape. So, I looked at the agenda for the retreat again and thought why not? Two of the sessions on the second day really spoke to me: Rewriting your story and UnglueYou. There was no doubt I was stuck, and do people really rewrite their story?

How many times have you thought you know everything about something just to find out you don’t? Exactly. With that in mind, I signed up, and signing up meant committing to being awake and ready to rock at 4 a.m. The retreat was held in the UK, five hours ahead of me. Boy it better be good!

One of the first tasks on the first day was to think about something that had given us joy in the last week. There was no doubt that that was swimming with my friend Janine. What a brilliant day we had had! So much laughter, so much joy! I could feel my face light up when I spoke about it. Hm, could the fellow entrepreneur be right? Is there really no place for work in my life? That didn’t feel quite right either.

As Jenny walked us through the different levels of resilience and we graded the statements she put together for each one (this is the part of the retreat I didn’t think I needed), a clear picture emerged: I had lost my purpose. I realized how much I miss helping people shine. That had always been my purpose: to help people clearly communicate their ideas in a language that is not necessarily theirs or their audience’s, and to help native speakers of English do the same, too.

That was a pretty big wake-up call. I guess it’s a good thing I have so much time on my hands after all. Time to start finding direction and paving a new way forward!