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Establishing a work-life balance and overcoming loneliness April 1, 2009

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Business practices, Random musings.

“I could never work from home like you do. I’d miss being around people too much.” How many times have you heard this statement? When you are a freelance translator working from home it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming socially isolated. There are many reasons for this. If you have a huge deadline you may have to work 12 to 14 hours a day to meet your deadline. Since our jobs allow us to be so flexible, you might have moved to a new location for your spouse’s job, and you may not know anyone in your new location. There is also a Catch-22 in the fact that since many of us work from home, we don’t often get the opportunity to make friends locally. You may even be introverted to begin with, and translation allows you to hide behind your desk. Human beings are not programmed to be socially isolated. Even the biggest introvert feels better when socializing with others, albeit in a comfortable situation.

Freelance Folder had a great blog post today on Overcoming Loneliness: How To Develop a Flesh-And-Blood Support Group. As the article states, “[w]hile it is great having virtual friends and colleagues from all walks of life and all over the world, there comes a time when most of us want to be around real people.” This is especially true for freelance translators. We know lots of people all over the world and rely on the Internet and other virtual methods to keep in touch. I know many of my fellow German/English translators constantly rave about the collegial interactions on the ATA’s German Language Division listserv or the Germany-based PT list. It is our virtual watercooler, where we post terminology questions, offer business advice, share amusing language-related articles, and occasionally warn others of possible scams. But virtual interaction is not the same as face-to-face.

It is so important to establish a work-life balance. Here are some of my suggestions to make sure you are balancing a social life with your career:

  1. Set up a work schedule and stick to it as closely as possible. Consider turning off the computer so you don’t have the temptation of quickly checking e-mail before bed and then spending an hour answering e-mail and reading blogs, tweets, websites, etc.
  2. If you find you are working over the weekend more than during the week consider blocking off two of your slower days during the week for a “weekend” and do fun things like treat yourself to lunch or go to your local museum or botanical garden. I am looking forward to the Case Western Reserve University Used Book Sale at the end of May. I pick up some great books and treat myself to lunch in Little Italy
  3. Meet friends and/or colleagues for coffee, lunch, or dinner as often as you can. You might think about setting a goal for yourself of two get-togethers a month or even one a week to ensure you actually do it.
  4. Treat yourself to a meal in a favorite restaurant in the middle of the day – just you and a good book or the newspaper – even if you have work. The little break will do you good.
  5. Take a break and take a walk to clear your head and recharge.
  6. Grab a book and sit in the park. I love reading fiction (especially mysteries), because it allows me to focus on something other than stent implantations and risk reports.
  7. Join the local recreation center or a good gym and attend an exercise class or chat with folks in the gym’s social areas. My class of choice is water aerobics, but I have also attended yoga and zumba classes there. This also has the added benefit of making you move and keeping you sane and healthy (see also #5).
  8. Take a class. Does your city offer Community Education classes? Check with your local college to see if they offer any non-degree courses for working adults. Take a pottery class, learn how to play the guitar or how to sell things on eBay, take a decorating class, take a cake decorating class, learn how to do home repairs, learn medical transcription. The sky’s the limit. Is there something you have always wanted to learn but have never found the time? Just do it. By taking a class you are among like-minded people and may make a life-long friend.
  9. Keep in touch with former contacts (schoolmates, friends or coworkers). Not only is it nice to catch up with old friends (I have been regularly meeting with old schoolmates from 20 years ago with whom I’ve recently reconnected on Facebook), keeping in touch with people has the added benefit of network building. I have several friends in various fields who I can contact if I have a translation question. A former boyfriend is a Diplom-Biochemiker, and he has helped me several times. Another friend is a cardiothoracic surgeon, and he has proofread a particularly tricky cardiac-related translation as well as presented at the ATA Medical Division conference last year.
  10. Join your local translators’ group or a professional group in your field. Also, most groups have trouble finding volunteers. The more you put into the group, the more you’ll get out of it. Consider helping the board or joining the programming committee.
  11. Check out Meetup.com. Find out which groups in your area might interest you, and join a couple. It’s free to join. If they don’t have a group for one of your interests, start one. It costs about $11-12 a month to start your own group. I write it off as an advertising expense. I love Meetup.com. I found out about it through the GLD List. I went there to find a German group but there wasn’t one. I joined a Dining Out group and had so much fun that night that I went home and started a German group. We now have 115 members, and many of them have become really good friends. We go to dinner at German restaurants and hit all the beer festivals and Oktoberfests. We even took a road trip to Cincinnati for their Oktoberfest. I am usually out two or three nights a week at a Meetup or hanging out with friends I’ve met through Meetup. My friends tell me they are jealous of my social life because I’m “never home.”
  12. One of my friends regularly organizes “Tweetups” or “jellies,” which offer participants in various online social networking sites the opportunity to meet offline. I was a member of a coworking group through Meetup.com for a while until the organizer disbanded it because he stopped working from home and joined a co-op office.
  13. Join a co-op office. If you hate working alone, a co-op might be the right choice for you. Or you might do well working at your local coffeeshop. Once you’ve been there long enough you will start recognizing your fellow patrons and will naturally start chatting.
  14. Volunteer. I really enjoy getting out of my apartment to deliver Meals on Wheels – and it makes me appreciate what I have. Become an usher at the local theater. Become a literacy advocate and teach people to read. Work as an election monitor. Volunteer at the local food or furniture bank and help those less fortunate.
  15. Get a pet. I lived in my apartment for two years and never knew my neighbors. Once I got my dog and walked her outside, I struck up several good friendships – and met one very close friend who had also lived practically next door to me for two years. Because she worked full-time at a local college she too went to work and then went straight into the house. We now go out to dinner at least twice a month (if not more) and go to water aerobics together.
  16. If you can’t afford a big vacation, go on a mini-vacation. Take a two-day trip to someplace close by that you have always wanted to visit. Go camping and/or hiking. Visit a Civil War battleground. Treat yourself to a weekend at a spa. Visit a quaint little town about an hour or two away. Visit a friend within driving distance. Just remember: no laptop allowed!

So, those are my suggestions. What are some of yours?



1. Johanne - April 1, 2009

Nice advice. I believe more people should do volunteer work from time to time especially now when the country needs a semblance of unity.

2. Corinne McKay - April 2, 2009

These are fantastic suggestions! I think that one of the issues is that most translators are fairly introverted or at least enjoy a quiet work environment, which can pretty quickly lead to isolation. Personally I think that kids, pets, volunteering and classes are great ideas. Sometimes when I do some of these things, I find it a little socially overwhelming, which I take as a sign that I need to do it more in order to avoid becoming completely socially inept… Also for translators who have kids (like me!) I think it’s important to preserve some shred of your own life. I really try to have one out-of-the house plan every day so that I don’t spend 100% of my time either working or hanging out only with the two other people in my family.

3. Gabi - April 2, 2009

Sound advice. But the hard part is getting yourself to actually do these things. Working from home, you have all the excuses right at your fingertips.

4. Kevin Lossner - April 2, 2009

Dogs are a great way to keep things in balance. Taking mine out several times a day keeps me sane with a tough schedule, and one gets to know all the other owners of nice dogs very quickly. We have regular hookups to watch them play too.

I also decided recently to organize a small local translators’ Stammtisch, which was a lot of fun at the first meeting. I’m looking forward to the second one.

5. Alejandro Moreno-Ramos - April 3, 2009

Nice list.

My suggestion: start a blog 😉

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