Standing out as a translator: A conversation with Andrew Morris 2

Andrew_MorrisIn less than a year, Andrew Morris‘ Standing Out Facebook group has become an active place for discussion and engagement for language professionals around the globe. The experiences shared there by both Andrew and his colleagues – the themes of which center around self-empowerment in the profession, healthy business practices, developing an attitude that fosters a successful career, to name a few – have been categorized and compiled by the group’s founder, and will be released as “The Book of Standing Out” at the end of this month.

You may remember Andrew Morris from the Bright Side of Freelance Translation project, an e-book that he co-authored with Nicole Y. Adams, which took home this year’s Community Choice Award for best translation-related book. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Andrew on his new project, the Standing Out community, how the book evolved from the discussions that took place there, and on some of his personal views on how to be successful and “stand out” in the industry.

MK: To what do you attribute your success as a freelance translator, and how has your success in the language industry carried over into the Standing Out project? What spurred you to create the initiative?

AM: Before I ever developed this recent more public profile, I was already beavering away fairly happily as a translator, and running a boutique agency on top of that, so things were going OK from about two or three years into my practice onwards.

The way I see things right now, I’d attribute that early success to 25% linguistic and technical competence, plus a few presentational skills, and 75% attitude and mindset. The 25% is crucial, if you can’t actually translate you’ll get nowhere, but it’s everything around that basic competence that fascinates me.

And then four years after I started out, the Standing Out project began with a few random contributions to the Watercooler forum on Facebook, which ultimately led to launching my own page, which has now turned into a book.

The whole endeavour was in a sense spurred by an attempt to work out the nature of that X factor that helps people thrive, once they have the requisite skills. It’s a complex set of answers and any analysis is going to include a fair amount of hypothesis. But it’s an engaging quest all the same.

MK: How did the “Standing Out” book come about?

AM: Well after that initial involvement in fora, then on my own page, the initiative gathered momentum and the page itself seemed to attract lots of readers. Meanwhile, the book came about as a result of a chance conversation with my brother, who pointed out the ephemeral nature of all things Facebook and the undeniable prestige and indeed joy of producing a real book.

From that conversation, and a few explorations online, I soon found my way to the Createspace self-publishing subsidiary of Amazon and it was just a matter of weeks before I was holding that real book in my hand.

MK: The Standing Out Facebook page sees a high level of community interaction and engagement. What do you think draws people to participate?

AM: It’s exceeded all my expectations, with readers often writing thoughtful and thought-provoking comments, asking probing questions and, it seems to me, feeling a strong sense of both belonging and ownership. I think a number of things explain this:

First of all, I think there was possibly a need for discussion of what we might call the ‘softer’ side of translation. The 25% is well covered in many books and blogs, ranging from the linguistic to the technical and Standing_Outmarketing aspects, but to my knowledge there was no-one writing in depth about the whole attitudinal dimension. It popped up now and again, with people referring in passing to ‘passion’ or ‘commitment’, but it was never the focus of anyone’s writing in its own right.

Second, the focus is by and large on the more uplifting and motivating aspects of our job, rather than on constant complaints. I don’t deny the existence of problems, but I do question the benefit of circling around those issues day after day and month after month, just for the sake of it. Where we do look at challenges, the focus tends to be on manageable solutions and not on lamentation. The feedback I’ve received suggests that readers like and appreciate this stance.

Third, I set out from the beginning to create a safe, non-confrontational space, in which there are debates and disagreements, but none of the vitriol that characterises certain online discussions. And certainly none of the personal invective. It’s about issues, not people.

Fourth, I respond to each contribution and wherever possible to every single person, so that people soon feel validated and encouraged to write more. And of course they all interact happily with each other, in an atmosphere of support and mutual respect.

Fifth, people tell me they enjoy the way I write.

And finally, my previous career was in teaching, so I have a strong pedagogical instinct and I try to frame my observations and questions in ways that will draw people in.

Those six things put together probably go some way to explaining the growth of the page, but I guess the readers would all offer their own explanations.

MK: Apart from online fora, in what other ways do you maintain relationships with your fellow language professionals?

AM: My whole online life is still less than a year old, but it’s true it takes up a fair amount of mindspace now. Still, I have developed more personal friendships with quite a few readers around the world, and one or two face-to-face relationships too with translators living locally. On a grander scale, the recent ATA conference in Chicago was a fantastic chance to put faces to names, and I have a few more conferences lined up now, including ITI and I’ve been bitten by the bug!

MK: The discussions on the Standing Out Facebook page touch heavily on the idea of having the right mindset and attitude in professional practice. In your opinion, what kind of thinking should one avoid in order to be successful in this industry?

AM: I think the most important thing is to avoid a victim mentality. From my reading of those who seem to be suffering in their careers, they appear to feel powerless in the face of demands from clients. It may very well be that there are other areas of their lives beyond work that need attention, but in strictly professional terms, they tend to express that suffering through hostility towards clients and colleagues, as well as towards the ‘system’ in general.

There’s also a great deal of fear around, of future technology, of falling rates, of exploitation. I have the sense that many people feel disempowered, and that they see the world of translation in a certain way as a direct result of that.

Paradoxically, this means that their experience of the world is the consequence of their frustration, rather than the cause of it.

There are so many realities out there: from so-called bottom feeders to premium clients, but I firmly believe that our perceptions are subjective filters based on our own emotional experiences and beliefs.

Of course in the book I try to address these from all sorts of angles. The content started out as random posts but has since coalesced into an approach – a philosophy even.

MK: Your book will be released at the end of this month. If there is one thing that you’d like your readers to take away from it, what would that be? How is the “Standing Out” book different from other professional development resources for freelance translators and interpreters?

AM: I’d like readers to feel empowered, and to realise how much they can do to affect their own professional destinies. And thus to pursue their own path with even greater conviction, towards a fulfilling working life that leaves them feeling inspired.

I certainly don’t offer a blueprint in terms of what to specialise in, how much to charge, or who to work with (or not). However, I do urge people to take a good look at themselves, start to make decisions more allied to their own characters and needs and sculpt out the career they want and to trust that the rest will follow.

It’s what happened to me and I don’t see what should prevent it happening to anyone else.

I’m just an ordinary translator – I know people even in my immediate circle who are more gifted than me. But when it comes to, self-knowledge, a sense of autonomy, confidence and attitude, I suppose I’m doing all right…

You can learn more about Andrew’s mission by visiting the Standing Out project’s dedicated Facebook page:

The “Standing Out” book will be released at the end of this month, and will be available for sale via the books section.

I hope you enjoyed this interview. Questions or comments can be left below, or via Twitter @ProZcom


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