A brief thought here, before Thoughts on Translation goes on hiatus for Spring Break! It’s a crossover thought from another area of my life, playing the lute (my mid-life crisis obsession!).
I don’t have a ton of musical talent; actually way, way less than a ton. I can carry a tune and clap to the beat of the music, but that’s about where it ends. But in the two and a half years that I’ve been playing the lute, I’ve found a compensatory mechanism: practicing more than most people do. Having trouble with the rhythm in a tricky piece? Practice more. Can’t play the hard part fast enough to keep up with the rest of the group? Practice more. Can’t play chords without sounding like a dying cat? Practice more. Practice doesn’t totally overcome a lack of talent, but it’s a good all-purpose solution. You up your practicing from 15 minutes a day to 20, to 45, to 75, and suddenly things get a little easier.
Let’s apply this to translation. When I started translating, I had a Master’s in French, some translation experience (internships, pro bono), but essentially no contacts in the industry, and no experience running a business. So, when experienced translators said, “You could apply to lots of translation companies…like 75 or 100,” I figured that 400 was a better target. If experienced translators said, “You could try asking potential clients for informational interviews,” I started asking any potential client in Colorado for an informational interview. I pretended that I would “be in their area” as an excuse to have coffee with them and ask about their business. If people suggested, “Add a personal touch,” I started sending a handwritten thank you note to everyone who responded (in any manner) to my inquiries. My sense was that if I couldn’t out-think the competition, I could at least out-work the competition, and that might turn out better in the end.
I’m not saying there’s no place for talent, or working smarter instead of harder, or for strategizing and optimizing. In our industry for example, if your language skills are poor, there’s no way to compensate for that: you just have to improve your language skills. But assuming that your basic skill set (the language equivalent of carrying a tune and clapping to the beat of the music) is solid, I’m inclined to follow NBA player Kevin Durant‘s advice, “Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.”