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Poppy in front of fireI mentioned recently that I’d been offered the opportunity to do something a little different from my normal translations and I’m now able to report back, somewhat relieved, from the other side, having well and truly stepped outside my comfort zone and thoroughly enjoyed it!

I think we all have a tendency to get into a nice, comfortable rut and to carry on doing what we know and enjoy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but every now and again I think it’s good to test ourselves and experience life outside our own little bubble. If you don’t enjoy it, fine, at least you’ve tried, but if you do, well, it could be the start of a whole new adventure!

In my case, I was offered the opportunity, out of the blue, to go and work on a client’s site in France, providing language support services for a large international assignment. Client confidentiality forbids me giving any more details, but suffice to say that merely venturing out of my cosy office, travelling abroad, and working with clients face-to-face represents a huge change to my normal humdrum routine! I would be working alongside interpreters, but I wouldn’t actually be interpreting myself – a huge relief, as that would have been a step too far for me! I have interpreted before, when I used to work as an in-house translator, but always found it terribly stressful, despite (or perhaps because of) the huge adrenalin boost, leaving me in dire need of lying down in a darkened room for hours afterwards! It’s not a situation I would want to put myself in again: horses for courses. This, however, would involve assisting non-native English speakers to write reports in English. Many of the engineers would be French, so there would be plenty of scope for speaking French and interpreting what they wanted to say on a one-to-one basis, but there would also be a number of other nationalities, so a challenging mix to understand, adapt and formulate their words in an appropriate and correct English style.

When the job was broached in the first place, my initial reaction was to hesitate; did I really want to go and do something so vastly out of my comfort zone? Although my boys have grown up and left home now, I still have the dogs to consider, and a garden/allotment to nurture, so logistics came into play too. Then I came to my senses: here was a fantastic opportunity to go and do something very different, in a beautiful part of France, and in one of my specialist fields to boot. I absolutely knew that I would regret it if I said no; even if I hated it, at least I would have had a go, but chances are I might well enjoy the experience…. Decision made, logistics sorted (dogs booked in with their favourite dogminder, in other words!) and planning commenced.

Looking back, I’m so glad I made the decision to go. When you work in isolation most of the time, you forget how rewarding it can be to work with a team of interpreter and translator colleagues, and to deal with clients, engineers and managers directly. The satisfaction of getting instant feedback and knowing your efforts are valued is enormous, yet it can be quite rare for clients to take the trouble to send feedback when you’re working as a remote freelancer. I had forgotten about the camaraderie that exists when you’re working away from home on an assignment and how lovely it is to mix socially with like-minded colleagues. Then again, it’s a treat to explore a different part of the world and to have plenty of opportunities for speaking your source language for a change, and visiting a client’s site, something I haven’t done for years.

The work itself was full-on, intensive and challenging: I’d forgotten how tiring it is to work fixed hours and be in full demand for the duration (and beyond!), with no chance to procrastinate on social media, or wander down the garden with a much-needed cup of tea… I had to keep reminding myself to keep hydrated, as I wasn’t used to talking so much, and even going to the loo required military planning if you weren’t to be waylaid en route! I learnt a lot, too: hearing the latest technical terms used in context was a joy to my magpie mind. A valuable lesson too in using very straightforward English for an international audience: even seemingly simple words like “compile” (for a report) might be misunderstood by a non-native speaker with a propensity to right-click to bring up the Word thesaurus and see “pile up”…. It was also fascinating to get a glimpse of office politics and to feel grateful that I didn’t have to contend with it on a permanent basis. I was very lucky to be able to work alongside a friend and colleague who’d recommended me for the job in the first place – lovely to have someone show me the corporate ropes and have fun with in the process, as working away from home can be a lonely business if you’re all on your own.

So, mission accomplished, several weeks back into my usual routine, would I do it again (assuming I’m asked, that is!)? Absolutely, like a shot. I wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but a change most certainly is as good as a rest and you only know what you’re capable of when you try. Working directly with clients certainly requires you to be more outgoing than the solitary life of a freelance translator dictates, but I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed the interaction.

I’m certainly not advocating plunging into different specialist fields without due consideration: suddenly deciding to accept a legal or financial or highly technical translation when you have no experience in those fields is verging on the foolhardy and will probably do your reputation no good in the process! But if a suitable opportunity comes your way, be it the chance to work in a different way, or to visit a conference, or even attend a workshop or event, why not take the challenge?

ProZ conference ViennaEach individual’s comfort zone is different, of course, and it changes as you develop. Not that many years ago, I well remember the trepidation I felt before signing up to attend my first networking event with the ITI Scottish Network, jollied along by a kind colleague. Then there was my first solo overseas conference in Vienna – could I really walk into a conference room on my own and not be crippled by shyness? Yes, was the answer – and I’m sure there were plenty of others there who felt the same way. It gets easier the more you take those baby steps outside your comfort zone, and it actually becomes quite empowering. I can do this – and what’s more I really enjoy accepting those challenges! Getting to grips with technology is another hurdle for many translators, be it learning to use a CAT tool, trying out speech recognition software or launching yourself on Twitter or Facebook – yet if you don’t try, you’ll never know what you’re missing. Socially too, we all put certain barriers up; going on my first solo holiday last year after my empty nest became a reality was a daunting step, but thoroughly enjoyable in retrospect. I needn’t have worried!

So what are you waiting for? Are there any challenges you’ve been putting off because it might mean disrupting your carefully ordered existence? I can only advise you to go for it: you never know, it might change your life! And if it doesn’t, at least you’ll have had a go. My next challenge is to cross the Atlantic and attend an ATA conference (gulp): San Francisco 2016 is in my sights. Oh, and to try online dating – now that truly is a terrifying prospect….