An opportunity missed

Post date: 01-Mar-2011 21:55:40

Making recommendations is not as easy as it looks, or at least it shouldn't be.

I'm constantly asked to recommend fellow translators for a myriad of jobs and assignments. Whilst there are a few whom I really trust after having worked with them for so long, I make it a point not to recommend them unless they are the right people for the right job.

The first reason is that I don't want to lose face myself, as the people who ask me for suggestions really believe I can exercise good judgement.

But the most important aspect for me is that I like to help those who deserve it. I was a beginner once too, and I'm grateful for all the people who believed in me and referred me for specific jobs.

Reputation is one of the most important assets in our profession, and a good word from a colleague is sometimes worth more than a long CV or innocuous cold calls to potential clients.

I had a good opportunity to refer the right translator for the right job just a few weeks ago. A good client of mine (good here meaning a direct client who pays what I charge, provides feedback and encourages collaboration between translators, editors, IT and management) was looking for somebody to help localise a card game, for which I recommended a fellow translator with whom I had worked a few times before and whom I knew was an expert.

Couldn't go wrong, right? Wrong. After but a few days, that translator simply gave up at the first hurdle, in the middle of a project that had been assigned to him on the assumption that he was the right guy.

I had spoken to him a few times before he quit, and I saw it coming, but there was nothing else I could do. It would have been simply too much to tell him how to behave professionally and how to negotiate.

It is my impression that he undersold himself and then afterwards became frustrated with the great amount of work. He had the whole path laid out for him to become a lead translator in the project and to eventually coordinate a team, but he thought that the training and the technical requirements were too much for him, even though the time spent would be paid for.

"Man, I'm a translator", said him, implying that he wouldn’t want to have any involvement other than translating a few words, getting paid for them and moving on to something else. Metaphorically speaking, he would have preferred being a factory worker even if given the chance to manage the plant.

My words may sound a bit too dramatic here, but he was being given the opportunity to use his expert knowledge to leave a legacy and to produce something which could set future trends in that specific area. Very often do we find ourselves reading a book, watching a film or playing a game involving our area of expertise and thinking how much better the translation would have been if we had been able to contribute with our knowledge. He had that chance—whilst at the same time making good money—but he chose to let it pass.

The whole story reminds me of a short conversation I had with a translation student a few weeks ago in Brasília. She said it is frustrating not to have the power to enforce one's own translations, and to have to see one’s own words be changed by countless editors, proofreaders, revisers and all such people. To which I told her: yes, you can be the person who has the last word and decides what is going to be published. But that takes time, you need to become an expert, and you must seize your opportunities.

I've just witnessed the tale of a man who missed a good opportunity. Not only that, in a profession based on reputation, there are a few people who will think twice before recommending him again.