There have been a number of posts recently on social media forums about stepping outside your comfort zone and I wrote about this very topic last year, when I ventured out of my cosy office environment and worked for a client overseas. Running your own business can be a constant series of challenges, pushing yourself to do things you might not have done before – and it’s the only true way to expand your horizons and grow as a person and a business.
Over the years, I’ve had to force myself to be more sociable, embrace networking (that word again!) and market my skills, albeit in a fairly low-key way. When I first set up as a freelance translator in 1989, I rarely said boo to a goose, but the advent of the internet and social media has certainly made it easier for even the most timid amongst us to dare to have their say. At school, my teachers always complained that I never spoke up in class and even now I struggle to project my voice in a noisy environment – it’s just not my scene! I gradually worked up confidence to attend workshops and then full-blown conferences, and then to take on a minor committee role in one of my language networks – all challenges in their own right, and ones which inevitably take you into the public sphere.
Blogging has also given me a “voice”, in that it seems much less daunting to write down what you want to say and post it gingerly into the ether, than to stand up and say it out loud. Of course, however you say what you want to say, the moment of posting is final: it’s out there, your head is above the parapet and people are free to shoot you down in flames. My first blog post was about the importance of good old-fashioned manners in the world of business, something about which I still feel very strongly – so strongly in fact, that it made me venture out from my translator’s hidey-hole and into the world at large. Quite liberating in many respects, and I’ve carried on contributing my various twopenn’orths ever since. There’s always a risk, though, that putting your thoughts on public display will lay you open to attack from various sides – and you have to be strong enough to take that in your stride. Not for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.
Each individual will have different challenges to take them over their own personal parapet – and many different levels of parapets to overcome over the course of their career, for that matter. Another recent hurdle for me was to overcome my fear of public speaking when I was asked to give a presentation to the ITI London Regional Group on Foodie Translators, the Facebook group I set up back in January of this year (another milestone – I had no idea how much that was going to take off!). Sue Fortescue, from Translators Without Borders, was giving a talk about TWB’s work and the TWB fund-raising cookbook that had come about as a result of Foodie Translators, and it seemed logical for me to talk about the group. Gulp. I’ve never liked the sound of my own voice and always avoided speaking in public, but it seemed churlish to refuse, so I took a deep breath and accepted. Bigger gulps. I’d never even created a PowerPoint presentation before (although I’ve translated many, of course!). Fast forward a few weeks and I managed to calm my nerves and all seemed to go well. I wouldn’t say I particularly relished the experience, but it felt like a tremendous achievement to actually do something I’d been anxious about for so long. Making the upside-down cake I took as a token of the Group was definitely the easy part….
So why is it good to do these things that take us out of our comfort zone and into the unknown? Precisely because it makes us reassess our own abilities and proves that we can do it if we try. It makes us more inclined to stretch ourselves in other areas of our lives and businesses, perhaps being a little more assertive with clients or colleagues, or putting forward our ideas for change for once, rather than merely sitting back and accepting the status quo.
I think one of the keys is to know your own limitations. That might seem like a contradiction in terms, but there’s a difference between getting butterflies in your stomach at the prospect of doing something new and feeling absolutely filled with horror! Accepting a text that’s way out of your comfort zone is downright foolhardy and positively unprofessional, for example – unless you’re prepared to have it proof-read by a more experienced colleague. Following on from the LRG presentation, another colleague asked if I’d be prepared to do a short video clip for an online newsletter she circulates – now that really did strike dread into my soul! I can’t imagine how I ended up on a BBC quiz, Battle of the Brains, with a group of linguists some years back – I can only think that my love of quizzes must have outweighed my fear of appearing on camera… I even rather enjoyed the whole experience, but then airbrushing covers a multitude of sins! We didn’t get very far, unfortunately, coming up against a team of professional quiz champions, but it’s further proof of what you can do if you put your mind to it.
I was offered the opportunity to attend a Seth Godin webinar on leadership recently with other members of professional translation associations from around the globe, and it was extremely enlightening to hear what he had to say and exchange ideas with colleagues. I certainly don’t consider myself a leader in any shape or form, but as I’ve now been translating for over thirty years, I am passionate about the image of translators in general, and if passing on the benefits of my experience can help, then I’m happy to do so. Precisely by extending ourselves and sticking our head above the parapet, we can make a difference, both to less experienced colleagues and to boosting the public perception of our profession. I think that’s well worth doing. I wrote my first blog post, as I said, because I was so incensed by a colleague’s rudeness and simply couldn’t comprehend why anyone should think that was any way to run a business! Only by bringing things out into the open can we hope to bring about change – and if we make ourselves more thoughtful, rounded people in the process, that has to be a bonus. Another point we discussed was that we are always predestined to fail in some respects, because we can’t hope to get everyone on our side all of the time – something to remember as we launch ourselves over the top…
My next challenge is to take my first transatlantic trip to attend the ATA Conference in San Francisco in just a few short weeks’ time. I have to keep on pinching myself that I’ve actually taken the plunge and am really going! Yes, it will be scary to fly all that way on my own and a conference with over 1800 attendees is a daunting prospect – but one I’m really looking forward to! I already know a few attendees from other events and social media forums and I’m going to throw myself into getting as much as possible out of the experience. Strange to think that it was only 9 years ago that I attended my first ever translation conference, the ProZ event in Aix en Provence in 2007 – and how nerve-wracking that seemed at the time. I’ve come a long way since then, and I’ve learned a lot along the way, as I hope to continue to do.
So what’s your next “above the parapet” challenge? Try it – you might even enjoy it!