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Are you a whiner or a winner? January 19, 2011

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

WordCount had a great post back in December entitled As a freelancer, are you a whiner or a winner? that has me frequently reflecting back on it in my dealings with clients or while reading translation listservs. She offers a very good example of a winning football team in Oregon and how they won the championship through hard work, grit and determination. She then equated the story with being a freelancer, and it really hit home because it is true in our profession as well.

Too often I hang out with writers – in person or virtually, on writer message boards and forums – who spend a lot of time complaining about how hard they have it. This editor isn’t returning their emails. That one took months to get a story back. This assignment only pays 50 cents a word. The industry is changing,  the markets they used to work for aren’t there anymore and there’s nothing to replace them.

To which I say: suck it up.

Nobody forced you into this profession, and nobody’s making you stay.

Times are tough, but complaining isn’t the answer.

The answer is hard work, commitment, creativity – and attitude.

This is very true in our industry as well. It seems as if people are constantly complaining about “The Recession” or thinking that the sky is falling (or prices – same difference). It is this self-perpetuating negativity that keeps bringing a lot of people down. They spend their time thinking negative thoughts and thinking this behavior is normal. Since reading this article I realized I could either listen to the whiners or ignore all the negative talk and keep plugging away and being successful.

I support myself translating full-time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am having a slow week at the moment, but I am relishing having a little time off to recuperate. Back in December when this post came out I had five translation jobs on my desk, and I had just turned down a proofreading job due to the next-day deadline. I have enough work to keep me busy most every day, and I have worked very, very hard to get here.

As an undergraduate I had an Advanced Composition teacher who belittled my German skills, and I had to work hard for the Bs and Cs I earned when I was used to getting As and Bs in everything else. I studied abroad the next year to improve my language skills and graduated from college cum laude with a double major in German and Russian. In grad school I had a teacher accuse me of cheating on an interpreting assignment when that wasn’t the case. I graduated anyway, and he later apologized to me. I also constantly felt that my German wasn’t as good as the other students, so I moved to Germany after I graduated to improve my language skills. After those six years in Germany I have an excellent grasp on the language AND the culture. When I was an intern in Germany the owner of the agency told me I couldn’t translate because I had made two errors in translations that were way beyond my abilities (texts on steel processing and making paper). He did not consider the 40+ other translations that I had translated before that without a single complaint and with nothing but praise. I stayed in Germany and proved him wrong, supporting myself as a freelancer for five more years (and have never again accepted a translation that was beyond my abilities). When I moved back to the United States I had to market myself and worked very hard by sending out resumes and networking, attending conferences, participating in listservs, writing articles for my local and national translation associations, and presenting at ATA conferences. If I had listened to all those people who kept telling me I wasn’t good enough I wouldn’t be where I am today – a single woman who supports herself as a freelance translator. I don’t need to have a second job to pay the rent. I am successful doing something that I love.

I get really tired of hearing people complain on listservs about the ATA, about clients who don’t pay on time, about agencies and their deadlines, about prices, about their colleagues, etc. Life is what YOU make of it. So the next time you find yourself wanting to complain ask yourself “Are you a whiner or a winner?” and act like a winner. I promise it will be self-fulfilling.



1. Craig Morris - January 19, 2011

Interesting – in a class in graduate school, I had to write two papers, and when I did the first one in German, the professor handed it back and told me not to try to write in German again. I said that I thought I was studying German in order to use it, but she said I should stick to my own native tongue. When I saw her corrections, she had marked up a couple of things that were actually right.

So when the second paper came around, I wrote it in German again (you can imagine how unbearable I am ;-)). This time, she accused me of plagiarism by saying that I had stuck too close to the original (I had, of course, provided footnotes for everything) and simply used Konjunktiv I, etc., so we had an official inquiry, and the other two professors involved just rolled their eyes at the matter and told me not to worry.

Ironically, most of my publications have indeed been in German, and the first book I published was in German.

Jill (@bonnjill) - January 19, 2011

Thanks, Craig. You just illustrated that the people who criticize us aren’t perfect either. You have to believe in yourself. (Well, and in your case it helps that you are a freak of nature and are very, very good at your foreign language 😉 )

2. Tatjana Dujmic - January 19, 2011

Wonderful post and SO true! Thank you.

I like the “Nobody forced you into this profession, and nobody’s making you stay.” the best. 🙂
All the time so many of our colleagues waste complaining and writing posts complaining should better be used to improve their marketing skills. Maybe they should ask themselves why so many translators actually earn enough money and what THEY could change. If you cannot change the situation, do something to change your position in it.

3. Jenn Mercer - January 19, 2011

I am glad to hear from another professional translator who did not receive perfect grades in her language classes. I rode the fine line between an A- and a B+ for most of my French classes, but darn it if I didn’t pull out a summa cum laude with my English and general ed classes. I was not able to move to France, but I work harder every day to improve my skills.
I like being a freelancer because it is me and my little brain against the text every day. There are some valid complaints, but whining won’t help you meet deadline.

4. Catherine Christaki - January 19, 2011

Excellent post Jill! I had two almost simultaneous cases of bad criticism at the beginning of my career. The first (translation agency owner where I worked in-house for 2 months) said that I have no idea about the English language and that’s normal because I had never been in the UK (he had obviously forgotten that I had studied and worked in the UK for 4 years), plus my Greek language skills were horrible, so I should read more “serious” Greek newspapers and maybe in about 2 years my Greek language skills would be better… (yes, that’s what he said).
Fortunately, his opinions were too absurd for me to take him seriously, but then 2 months after that, a director of an institute I did a translation for, reprimanded me in a very bad way for not knowing Greek grammar and syntax! I did question myself for a few days, but then I thought of all the great feedback I had received until then for my translation work, so I just kept on doing what I’ve always wanted to do and launched my freelance career (and stayed away from clueless direct clients for quite some time).
By the way, I was always the geek and straight-A student in every language I ever studied. I don’t think that plays an important role, everything depends on the passion you have for your work and your effort to get better every day. Constructive feedback is very useful and of course we can never be perfect in what we do. Whining has never helped anyone and never will.
Keep up the good work Jill, I love your blog!
Sorry for the long comment…

5. Julia - January 19, 2011

Hi Jill! Congratulations on your post! I have to say I understand your position, because the complainings are something very present in our industry, and people who just whine tend to underestimate the efforts of the ones that are really working on it.

Nevertheless, I have to say to you that, apart from the exaggerated whining, it is also truly useful to share negative views about our activity too, especially in some of the cases you mention, such as bad payment practices, scams, or unfair situations. It is more constructive to be realistic than to try to “forget” the bad part of it. And trying to be excesively positive can lead to self-deception and giving a wrong image of the profession we all share.

Anyway, you are right when you say that it is much more important to be positive than to let yourself demoralize by someone who can be definitely wrong (and teachers and bosses tend to believe that their opinion is law…).

Thank you for sharing our views with us!


Julia - January 19, 2011

What I meant was “Thank you for sharing YOUR view with us”, of course! 😉

6. Michelle Rafter - January 19, 2011

Jill, thank you so much for linking to my post. I’m so glad it inspired you, and I loved the post that you wrote as a result. Recession or not, people who like to complain will always find things to complain about, and people who approach life with a more positive attitude will always find things to be hopeful about. You just have to decide which kind of person you want to be.

Have a good one!

Michelle Rafter

7. Michel Marques - January 20, 2011

I don’t know, I believe complaining can be annoying sometimes, but it also might lead to discussions that help the profession.

8. Tolken - January 21, 2011

Interesting you write about this right now. In my post two days ago (http://interpreter.blogs.se/2011/01/19/what-s-my-contribution-to-the-gdp-10397240/) I started off by whining, I had just been to a meeting with other researchers in the humanities (wrong crowd ;-)), and a lot of the discussion came to focus on the difficulty of getting funding. But the whining (I hope my post reflects that) sort of changed my views, I wanted to fight back instead of just complain on how difficult everything is. I want to prove that it is not impossible to get funding, although your work will not cure Alzheimer. Thank you for a thought provoking and inspiring post.

9. Fiona - January 21, 2011

I totally agree with you, Jill. I was told over and over again “Oh no, you don’t want to be a translator, do you? There’s absolutely no money and no work!”. Result: I’m a freelance translator. Someone’s got to do the job! I won’t be going on holiday to the Bahamas every year but at least I can pay my rent with something I like doing (and go to the cinema from time to time).

I think it’s a question of personality and this is true for all freelancers. You need a lot of creativity and energy. But why not take up the challenge?

10. Judy Jenner - January 22, 2011

Good stuff. I am definitely not a whiner. As a former pro (short-lived) and then NCAA1 college tennis player, I learned as a small child that staying positive and working hard is the only way to go. Of course, if I need to vent, I vent to a very small group of folks in my inner circle and then I move on. I wouldn’t want to work in any other profession, and I am grateful every single day that I get to run my own business. That said, running a business is tough — but one must stay positive to succeed.

11. Jill (@bonnjill) - February 8, 2011

An anonymous comment from one of my PMs (with permission to publish because I liked his insight):

My coworkers and I wanted to tell you that we loved your “Are you a whiner or a winner?” post… I almost posted my comment but then I didn’t… I am shy, and I know and work with lots of your readers… 🙂 But you are right and it is true. It is amazing how people don’t realize that they affect their own image when whining all the time on forums. I personally would not work with those people. And it has nothing to do with rates. Complaining is like vomiting. Afterwards you feel better, but everyone around you feels sick. I try to mark my distance from those people. In the end, from a PM point of view, I have seen constraints bring the best out of people. It motivates and boosts creativity and leads to the improvement of procedures. A bad PM is the one that transfers all budget cuts to the translator’s invoice, while a good one seeks for options and looks for balance. Some people say “good, cheap, fast, pick two.” Well, I prefer to pick the three of them with some balance (at least between time and budget, since, at least for us, the only direction quality is allowed to move is up). I know you know this, the usage of technology/tools and creativity while planning/executing your projects can help you reduce costs a lot while allowing you to keep working with good dependable translators… who from time to time are flexible with their rates too hahahaha

Anyhow, I am talking too much and wasting your time… Let me just say that I have seen a lot of whining in PM too, so it is everywhere and I am happy you are making people realize about this and maybe some of them change their ways…

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