Donnerstag, 31. Mai 2012

A different kind of translation work

I received a large envelope in the mail today. I get them about every six to eight weeks. Inside are between ten and twelve letters which I am asked to translate. Sometimes from German into Spanish, sometimes from Spanish into German. I have two weeks to complete the translations, which I then send off in another large envelope enclosed in the original package for this purpose. If I don't have time to do the translations, I can send them back, no questions asked, and somebody else will do the work.

Up to this point it's not really much different from my usual work: I receive an inquiry, the texts to translate and a due date, I accept and do the work and send it back or I decline. That the original texts are on paper and I have to print out my translations is not too terribly unusual (having to staple them to the originals, on the other hand, is something I usually don't do with originals). 
The fact that the entire transaction takes place "in the real world" and not digitally is a bit different, true, but that is not what makes these translations so different. The real difference to my normal work is that I don't send an invoice. My only physical reward is a hand-made Christmas card I receive sometime in December. But I don't do this for personal gain or profit or because I collect hand-made cards, but rather because I like to help people communicate. 

People from completely different cultures (Europe and South America) and social standing are brought together through an organization so that disadvantaged children get a chance to go to school, learn a trade or study, and ultimately lead a better live, and so that their communities develop. And while the sponsors give money, I give my time to enable them to "speak" with their sponsor children on the other side of the planet and vice versa.

Oh, the things they tell each other! The way the children write (and spell!)! The outpouring of love and affection on the pages! I think, being allowed to peak into these relationships, sometimes from the timid and cautious beginnings through a growing friendship to a successful finale, is a true privilege, and one that cannot be measured in coin!

It's true, I sometimes groan when an envelope arrives, because I am booked out or my time is otherwise limited, but I always smile when I drop the package with the finished translations in the mail, because I know I am helping people communicate and connect who would not otherwise be able to do so.

Donnerstag, 24. Mai 2012

Neuer Job, neue Verantwortung und was so dazu gehört

Seit der letzten JMV des BDÜ Landesverbands Bayern bin ich ja dessen neue Schatzmeisterin und somit auch Mitglied im Vorstand. Das heißt, dass ich auch bei den Sitzungen dabei sein muss, die ca. alle sechs Wochen stattfinden.
Letzte Woche nun war meine erste und es war eine sehr interessante Erfahrung. Die anderen zwei "Neuen" waren ja schon vorher im Vorstand gewesen, kannten sich also aus und wussten, was sie erwartete. Für mich dagegen war fast alles neu und spannend: BDÜ-Visitenkarten, ein eigenes Fach in der Geschäftsstelle...

Ich fand es besonders interessant zu sehen wie so eine Sitzung überhaupt abläuft. Netterweise kannte ich die anderen sechs Vorstandsmitglieder schon, teilweise auch schon länger, was es mir natürlich gleich deutlich leichter machte mich wohl zu fühlen. Außerdem gab es Kaffee (wichtig bei einer Nachmittagssitzung!), einschlafen konnte also auch keiner, und das war auch keine ernstzunehmende Gefahr.
Sobald alle versammelt waren ging es ohne große Zeremonie los - wir hatten schließlich jede Menge Punkte auf der Tagesordnung. Ich hatte schon befürchtet, dass es deswegen stressig werden würde, aber weit gefehlt! Alles wurde so detailliert wie nötig besprochen und diskutiert, ohne dass jemand Druck gemacht hätte, und selbst spontane und ungeplante Unterbrechungen waren kein Problem.

Überhaupt ging es sehr locker und kollegial zu, und nicht so formell, wie ich das in anderen Sitzungen schon erlebt habe. Vielleicht liegt es daran, dass wir Kollegen sind, unsere Zeit sinnvoll, aber nicht bierernst verbringen wollen, jeder sein Ressort hat, alle sich vorbereiten, und wir alle gut miteinander klar kommen. Auf jeden Fall empfand ich es als ein konstruktives Miteinander, und ich bin auch ein bisschen stolz darauf ein Teil dieser Truppe zu sein und dazu beitragen zu können den LV Bayern gut in die Zukunft zu führen.

Übrigens: Da wir inzwischen wirklich aus so ziemlich allen Ecken des Freistaats kommen, wird die nächste Sitzung als Telefonkonferenz stattfinden - darauf bin ich ja auch mal gespannt!

Mittwoch, 16. Mai 2012

Why I love being a freelancer

Inspired by the recent Labor Day (May 1), I thought I'd share with you why I am a freelancer and why I do not want to be employed.

Let me start with how I came to be self-employed in the first place. While I was studying to become a translator and interpreter, I was already working freelance on the side (although not very much), doing small jobs mostly subcontracting with another translator. This had the great benefit of my work being checked by someone who had been doing this for quite a while already, plus feedback both positive and negative, and if anything was seriously wrong, his head was on the line, not mine (which really only happened once, btw). That way, I was free to give this whole thing a try without having the stress to having to deliver perfect results while still learning how to do this, plus getting really helpful tips and a few tricks from a pro for free! (Thanks again, Tim, I really appreciate that time!)
During the last two years of my studies, I also worked as student worker at a very large international company, translating tons of documentation with the combined support of the five other people sitting in the same office with me, who were not translators at all, but rather specialists in this particular field, and who taught me - more or less inadvertently - how to research terminology.
When I had passed all my exams, my boss at the time asked me to continue working and translating for them, which would have been great, except for one little detail: I would have had to enroll for some more studies (of whatever type) at university, so they would be able to keep me as student worker aka cheap labor! Beside the fact that a semester of university in Germany now costs quite a bit (nothing compared to the US, I know, but before it was virtually free), that would have been just wrong and cheating the system. Besides, if they thought I did such great work, why not hire me "for real" and pay me what I'm worth? Well, needless to say, I graciously declined.
I had been looking for jobs all over the place, but as most of my colleagues will be able to attest, there are not very many jobs out there for translators, especially decent-paying full-time jobs.
I had always been playing with the idea of just working from home, and having a husband who earns enough so we don't have to starve definitely was a plus a lot of my fellow fresh-out-of-school translators did not have. Since nothing worthwhile came up on the employment side, I just decided to officially become a freelancer.
Since I had already been doing work on the side all this time, I already had some connections, and registering as paying member for a few select online platforms and communities quickly supplied me with clients and work. I had originally figured that it would take me at least a year to get somewhat established and make more than I needed to pay for all the insurances etc. but surprisingly, my business really took off within just a few months. I am now at the point where I actually have to turn down work fairly often, simply because I am booked out. Of course I could work more hours, but then I wouldn't have social life, and that is precisely what I do not want.
Which brings me to the reasons why I love being a freelancer.

One of the main reasons is that I don't have a boss who tells me what to do, how to do it and when to work. Well, in a way I still do, of course - the customers are the boss of any job I take - but it is up to me which jobs I take, i.e. I get to decide how much I want to work, I can work however I like, as long as the result is right; and I can make my own hours, take a day off in the middle of the week or meet with friends for breakfast whenever I want etc. It's really all a matter of how much work I accept and how I chose to carry it out. If I take a lot of jobs that all have to be done very quickly, naturally I will have to work long hours, maybe even nights and weekends, to get them all done and turn them in on time. Of course, I am also free to not do that and only take as many jobs as will comfortably fit in my personal office hours (i.e. the hours I am willing to work on any given day or in a week), so I have sufficient free time to do what I want.
And that is really important to me: to have time for myself and the things I like to do. I have many colleagues who seem to have little to no social life, because the are always available to work. Well, I am not. I decided from the beginning that I would have regular office hours and stick to them, unless it is absolutely necessary to work longer or on weekends. Yes, I usually do not work on weekends. If I was employed at an office, I wouldn't have too, either, so why should I do it when I am my own boss? If I get an inquiry for a new job, I never calculate the weekend in as workdays, so unless I totally misjudged how long a translations takes me, I close my office at 5 pm on Friday (sometimes even earlier) and do not open it again until 9 am on Monday. And you know what? I have not lost a job because of that policy yet. And even if I did, well, there's plenty of work out there that does not require me to give up my free time.

Another great thing about being a freelancer is that I can move my working hours around, too, if I want or need to. For example, I want to meet with a bunch of friends for breakfast, which I know will take at least 3-4 hours out of my morning. If I have work that needs to be done, I just add those 4 hours onto the end of my usual workday. If I don't have work, great, a relaxed and fun morning with only half the work in the middle of the week!
Or if the weather is perfect, I can go swimming in the morning and have it pretty much to myself, or ride my motorcycle during the week, which is  definite plus where I live, since on the weekends the roads are packed with cars and motorcycles coming from the big city to the country.
Another point are spontaneous mini-vacations. My husband works shifts, which can change on very short notice sometimes, so it is great to be able to take advantage of a few free days off to take a short trip somewhere without having to ask permission from the boss and co-workers.

Of course, there are some downsides, as well, such as the lack of a secure and steady income, lots of paperwork employees don't have to worry about, the need to pay for insurances yourself etc. But still: I have not regretted taking the plunge and becoming a freelancer at all, and I don't think there is a job that pays enough for me to give it up, either.

What about you? Are you a freelancer? Are you thinking about becoming one? What do you love about it? Is there anything you really don't like or that keeps you from working for yourself?

Freitag, 11. Mai 2012

Aufgabenmanagement oder Was mein Hirn kann und was nicht

Als ich neulich endlich mal wieder dazu kam im MDÜ, der Fachzeitschrift für Dolmetscher und Übersetzer, die mein Berufsverband heraus gibt, zu lesen, stieß ich auf einen Artikel von Ramón Hansmeyer über erfolgreiches Aufgabenmanagement, der mich sofort an einen Blogbeitrag erinnerte, den ich zum Thema Mutlitasking geschrieben hatte. Der Artikel im MDÜ 6/11 (ich weiß, ich bin stark im Leseverzug) hat zwar einen etwas anderen Schwerpunkt, aber grundsätzlich geht es auch dort um die Frage wie ich mir Aufgaben einteile und wann ich sie erledige.
Es ging um Listen und fünf Schritte, diese abzuarbeiten, nämlich:
  • Sammeln (alles aufschreiben)
  • Verarbeiten (von der Sammelstelle zum nächsten Schritt)
  • Organisieren (was mache ich damit)
  • Handeln (nach Priorität - Kontext, Zeit, Energie - abarbeiten)
  • Durchsehen (System aktuell halten)
Das alles beinhaltete für mich nichts wirklich Neues, ich war im Gegenteil positiv überrascht, dass meine persönliche Methode, die den gleichen Grundsätzen folgt, nicht nur eine ist, die für mich funktioniert, sondern die auch noch quasi wissenschaftlich als 'gut und richtig' belegt ist. 
Was ich aber interessant fand, war die Aussage, dass unser Gehirn schlecht ist als Datenspeicher, Aufgabenliste, und Kalender. Gut dagegen kann es "intuitive Entscheidungen in klar definierten Kontexten treffen". Das Problem, das die meisten Menschen haben ist aber folgendes: "Wir hauen unseren Zwischenspeicher mit Daten voll und wundern uns dann, dass die Leistungsfähigkeit des Prozessors dramatisch abnimmt."
Diesen Vergleich mit einem Computer finde ich super, v.a. weil er mich darin bestätigt, dass ich Recht habe, wenn ich alle Termine, Aufgaben etc. in meinem Outlook und meinem Smartphone speichere, anstatt zu versuchen mir alles zu merken. 
Immer wieder wollen Leute mit mir diskutieren, weil es doch gutes Gehirntraining ist und die grauen Zellen fit hält, und dass ich es mir zu leicht mache. Nun habe ich aber erfreulicherweise endlich einmal eine Bestätigung dafür, dass dem eben nicht so ist, und es keine faule Ausrede ist, wenn ich mir alles aufschreibe und mir Erinnerungen einstelle etc. Ich habe einfach zu viele Termine und Dinge, an die ich "denken" muss, und die meisten sind auch wichtig, so dass ich es mir nicht leisten kann sie zu vergessen. Und interessanterweise habe ich dann irgendwie doch fast alles im Kopf, zumindest so, dass ich weiß "da war was". Und dann kann ich ja schnell nachschauen...
(Zitate aus MDÜ 6/11, "Endlich erledigt! Erfolgreiches Aufgabenmanagement" von Ramón Hansmeyer, S.32 f.)

Donnerstag, 3. Mai 2012

You know you've worked too much when...

... your shoulders won't straighten anymore because you've been in a hunched-over position for so long
... your jaw starts hurting because you yawn so much
... your eyes start hurting because it's gotten dark and you haven't noticed, thus not turning on a light
... you turn on the coffeemaker without placing a cup underneath/filling it with coffee/filling it with water
... you start using the keyboard shortcuts of your translation program while writing an e-mail
... you can't feel your legs anymore
... you spend more time correcting your spelling mistakes than actually translating
... you keep rewording your sentences in normal conversation - without noticing it
... you (simultaneously) interpret the news or conversations going on around you in your head
... you forget to eat and wonder if that gnawing feeling in your midsection might be the onset of a flu
... you can't answer the phone without keeping tapping away at the keyboard
... your dog has to remind you to take a break (using more or less drastic measures)
... you're surprised that your significant other is "already" home, when he/she is actually an hour (or more) late
... your time-tracking software asks if you are still working on the project since there has been no keyboard activity in 15 minutes - while you've been lost in thought
... your coffee is cold and you don't even notice it
... there are no more clean dishes because you haven't taken the time to load the dishwasher even once in a week
... you keep staring at the same sentence/paragraph/page without having a clue how to start translating it

These are in no particular order, but sadly, I have experienced them all.
Feel free to add to the list!