Do you ever feel like a fraud?

There’s a pervasive motif in this profession that divides translators into the “absolute pro” category versus the “mere hobbyist” camp—with absolutely no grey area, despite the fact that translators’ business styles are as varied as the subjects they translate. This, believe it or not, is probably my #1 source of stress as I develop my freelance enterprise.


For instance: everyone goes through droughts—of workload, energy, and confidence levels. It’s a normal part of business. Veteran professionals take weeks or months off at a time to prevent burnout, tend to family needs, or explore a new interest. I’m not sure why younger professionals, who have these breaks forced upon them by circumstance, are meant to feel it makes them something less than they are.

The same goes for mistakes in our work. Yes, there may be a sliding scale of “total newb” versus “tired pro” errors, but the truth is, no one is perfect. Pros can make dorky mistakes; newbs can create elegant solutions to tricky problems. What matters is how you handle correcting the mistakes you do make, and whether you learn from them for future projects.

Final example: I know some incredibly professional translators who “only” do it part time, in between raising children or working another job. Or they don’t have to worry about their business revenue, because a partner or spouse is the steady breadwinner. Are they less professional because they aren’t putting in X amount of hours, or sweating bullets about earning over some income threshold Y? Absolutely not!

Let’s stop putting this sort of pressure on our colleagues and ourselves. There’s pressure enough minding our grammars and building our translation skill sets (not to mention finding and keeping good clients).

Have you ever felt like a fraud? How did you get past it? Extra credit: share one positive thought about a colleague of yours. What does s/he do well?


16 thoughts on “Do you ever feel like a fraud?

  1. I just love this post – you have hit on so many critical issues. I was just telling a friend the other day that the worst part of a translation is doing my own final proofreading before sending it back to the client/agency because that’s when I stress the most about whether there are mistakes… this is completely unhelpful because the stress levels make it more difficult to concentrate!

    The pressure that we put on ourselves is unnecessarily increased by the bullet-proof image that others like to present and it is frustrating. I can honestly say that there was more compassion about making mistakes in the world of medicine than there is in the world of translation. There’s something wrong with that.

  2. Another great post, Carolyn, thank you!
    My first 18 months in business were part-time (I also had a full-time job) and I did feel like a fraud for most of that period. I couldn’t really market myself, especially on professional social networks!
    A few years down the lane, there are still moments when I still have that feeling, but they tend to be less frequent with time.

  3. Really nice post, Carolyn! I sometimes feel inadequate but I think it’s part of the game. Good to know one’s weaknesses and work on improving them.

  4. Great post, Carolyn. You have hit the nail on the head in so many ways. There are far too many colleagues out there making extremely unhelpful and even hurtful comments from their high horses. Thankfully more often than not when you meet peers in person at conferences they are much more approachable.

  5. Thank you Carolyn for bringing this out in the open. I think all of us feel like this sometimes. We are all on a roller coaster of feeling great, getting lots of positive feedback and having a steady workflow, only to start a downward spiral a week later if the inbox is empty or your client was not entirely satisfied. The trick is to be able to remove ourselves from it and have perspective, not always easy when you have your own business. It is never only just a job.

    • Thanks for your comment, Tess! I’m both relieved and not to hear many of us feel the same. There must be ways to make it a kiddie coaster, instead of the world’s highest!

  6. Thanks for this wonderful post that addresses issues I think are often considered taboo. I’m in a situation where I work closely with some top-notch translators on a daily basis, and know that nobody is immune from mistakes. Also, the work we do is of the sort that goes unnoticed if well executed, but any (even minor) mistake is glaring and sollicits prompt negative feedback. It’s just the nature of the beast.

  7. I wonder whether freelancers are especially prone to this type of anxiety. It’s that lethal combination of being a perfectionist as well as 100% responsible for your business and future success. Recently I made the decision to reduce my working hours because I have a toddler son who needs more of my time. It’s HARD not to worry about the impact this will have on my business, that this will make me less of a ‘professional’. I’m trying to keep it all in perspective though – I may take on fewer jobs but I still take great care over each one, so my clients are still satisfied. That’s ultimately what matters, I think.

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