We don’t talk about failures enough.
Translation is seen as this super competitive industry. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where only the best survive. If we show our weaknesses, our failures, then we’ll damage our job prospects forever.
Don’t let you’re PM know you’re struggling with mental health issues. Don’t let them know you have issues at home which will impact that deadline. And especially don’t let your peers find out that you’re struggling with a section of text.
I’m sure those experienced editors, project managers, and translators reading this had a chuckle. On the one hand we know how stupid that is. On the other hand…we’ve all done it.
Don’t let them know… Because if they know, then they’ll find out you’re a “fake.”
In my Interviews With Localizers series I don’t think there’s been a single interview where someone hasn’t mentioned impostor syndrome.
imposter syndrome noun
“the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved
or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”
I would like to discuss the wide spread issue with imposter syndrome in the translation industry another time.
Right now I’d like to talk about real failure.
Failure such as failed translation tests. Failed interviews. Failed applications. Quantifiable failures, and not what’s swirling around my head like a nagging self-deprecating fog.
I’d like to talk about…
My failures as a translator
I have a folder on my computer called “TRANSLATION TESTS”, which I don’t like looking at. I daren’t open it, but for the sake of this article I will.
Since I started trying to get work as a freelance translator I have taken around* 40 translation tests with 30 companies. (*Numbers may vary because there were online tests too.)
These tests have ranged from technical, academic, and business, to manga, anime, video games, and light novels.
Looking back over this folder there was a number I did pass, buuut never heard back from the company again.
With agencies it’s been my experience that even if I “passed” I would get thrown into a pile in their database, never to hear from them again. The quick rush of adrenaline from the success of that “you passed!” email quickly turns to nagging anxiety. Because when you’re ghosted, it still feels like a failure and you wonder what you did wrong.
One of my worst ever failures…
was when I was working full time for a fishing export company and translating on the side. I figured I could balance the work.
I could not.
For one assignment I was so tired that I rushed it, and didn’t even proof read it when I sent it back. I just wanted to be done. But the feedback I got was awful. It wasn’t just “you did bad”, it was “we expected better from you.”
Oof, that was a kick in the gut.
I was so ashamed of myself and I never wanted to feel that way again.
Life had a funny way or working out as I lost that full time job with the fishing export company because I was too distracted trying to work on the side. (I didn’t really like managing fishing projects anyway. I was mostly upset about the loss of human connection with my coworkers.)
But that kicked me into gear. It was sink or swim, as at that point all I had was freelance translation.
I was in the red for a number of months. Every week it felt like failure after failure as I pumped out unpaid translation tests, desperately hoping for that one job that would tip me into the black!
There was a point where I was averaging one unpaid translation test a week. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is when each free test can take 3-10 hours away from paid work.
In hindsight some of those weren’t my best translations either. It’s hard to put your everything into something when you’re exhausted.
Out of those 40-odd translation tests there were about 8-10 tests that I passed. That’s 1/4 of the tests that I took! (A lot more than I thought.)
As I mentioned, not all of those passes bore fruit. One company forgot to tell me I had passed until 8 months later. Another didn’t get back to me with work for two years.
Not all of them were instant successes either. One I had failed their test four times (once a year) before I passed on my fifth try.
I even passed the test for Nintendo and went to their office for an interview. I was told “I’d love to give you a chance, but I think right now you might really struggle with the work load. But you’re this close.”
Despite my failures
I have failed. A lot.
But despite my failures I feel like I have grown a lot, and gained a lot. It was incredibly hard at times, especially when I had to force myself to take another test. Or to work until my brain was fried, and I couldn’t do a good job.
Those experiences have taught me that pacing myself, and being kind to myself, and improving myself, are all incredibly important things.
I’m still learning and driving to achieve a better me than before.
I no longer work freelance, but in-house as a localization assistant with a video game company in Japan. I work with one of my idols, alongside two amazing coworkers. All three of them inspire me to work hard and be better.
I’m still not perfect, and certainly nowhere near the level of translator I want to be. But I’m getting there.
We don’t talk about failures enough
Our successes are the only things we want to show off.
We don’t want people to know our flaws. But this puts a lot of pressure on ourselves, as well as other people who are struggling.
I know seeing other people’s (seemingly) flawless success, have made me wonder “how come I can’t do that?” And I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to be “successful.”
Yes, we should celebrate our successes. We should celebrate each other’s successes. But on the other hand it’s important to be reflective and honest of the failures that have helped us achieved those.
Accept that we have failed in the past, look at what we can learn from those failures, and grow.