It dawned on me today that just around this time 10 years ago was when I first started out in the language industry. It’s quite difficult to avoid cliché territory so I’ll start with one: It’s been one helluva ride, with its fair share of joys, thrills, successes, difficult moments, and lessons learned. One thing holds true, though — never in my wildest fantasies would I have imagined where I’d find myself 10 years on.
So, here is a collection of 10 things I’ve learned along the way, for your entertainment and my remembrance.
1. You must put in the reps
My father used to refer to his early career as the “apprentice years”. It didn’t make much sense to me back then, and when I first started out in the industry, all I wanted was to put them in the rearview mirror. It doesn’t quite work that way though unless you’re born into the world from a position of privilege. Most of us have to work our way up.
I started out as a blank page. Had a vague idea of what it is that I want to do in life (I didn’t) and what I am good at (I didn’t, at least not fully). Then, I got the first few assignments that I probably got wrong more often than not. I persevered, knowing that with effort and practice, I ought to get better at it.
Now when I look back at it, all the long hours put into work were necessary to get me to where I am now.
2. You never stop learning
I don’t think there ever was a time this past decade when I felt I was stagnating because I ran out of material to learn. I held several hats during this time and every time I had to adapt or downright reinvent myself. With that came a lot of angst and fake-it-till-you-make-it moments. But I soaked up all the information I could. It expanded my horizons. It helped me perform my job. During a conversation with a friend of mine today, we concluded that we get paid to learn. I thought my learning days were over as soon as I exited university. I was wrong. We are in an industry where you learn every day if only by virtue of engaging with people from all over the globe. I feel fortunate to be part of it.
3. The people you meet along the way make a difference
In 10 years of professional life, I’ve met maybe a couple of thousand people (and the last 2 years working remotely for a 100% remote company half of which happened during a global pandemic isn’t particularly conducive to meeting a lot of people). Some people I just met for the duration of a 30-minute speed date at a conference. I’ve probably worked only with a small percentage of the total number of people I met.
Regardless, they all make a difference. You learn from them. They inspire you. They push you out of your comfort zone. You compete with them. Sometimes against them. Someday someone notices the (good) work you’ve done and gives you a call asking you to join his team.
If I could time travel and teach my 22-year-old self one thing it would be to value the connections you make. Some of them can be life-changing!
4. .And some remain friends for life
A minuscule percentage of the people I’ve met over the years have become more than colleagues. They’ve become friends for life. I for one cannot imagine not having them around, even if we sometimes message each other months apart. The experiences we shared, the trenches we dug together, the coffee breaks, and the rants, all of it makes you a better, more resilient person. I am a firm believer that the one thing you can influence is the lives of those closest to you. I won’t presume I influenced them in any way. But in different ways, knowingly or unwittingly, I know they have influenced me. I’m better off now than I ever was without them.
5. Remain authentic
Back to clichés. I strongly believe you ought to remain true to yourself, throughout the ups and downs. Keep it real. Treat others as you’d like yourself to be treated (running out of clichés now). That doesn’t mean you’re impervious to mistakes. They come at you fast and hard and, regrettably, can damage some relations, sometimes for a long time.
At the end of your day, the person you spend the most time with is the one in your head. You must be at peace with your actions and be honest with yourself. Have you done what you could this day? You’ll be the first person who tells you that you should stop cutting corners and get it done. About that—
6. Get stuff done
This is hard. There have been days I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. Days where I struggle to get any work done. Weekends where I sacrificed personal and family time to catch up with my own procrastination or because a deadline was looming. Throughout this all I’ve prided myself on my ability to get things done. It may not be perfect and sometimes good enough is just good enough. It’s your most recent effort that people will remember, though.
7. We share a common passion: language
What I knew 10 years ago was that I had a knack for languages. Learning and using them, that is. I didn’t necessarily know there was a language industry. I was happy to find out it is made up of people who share the same passion as I do. Naturally, there is a multitude of reasons why we ended up working in localization and a fair few of us (including me) might have landed in it by circumstance. But it comforts me knowing we can talk about something else than what the weather is like (even if we end up talking about COVID or apologizing why our Zoom cameras don’t work properly that day). I’m properly spoiled: I don’t think I’ll ever be able to work in an industry that doesn’t have an international or multicultural dimension to it.
8. Our work is impactful
This may apply to other career paths in other fields too, but I feel fortunate (and equal parts intimidated) working in an industry that has such a big impact on the ways people communicate and experience the world. In so many aspects localization blazes the trail for other industries. We facilitate communication. Often we call out the BS methods and opinions of others. We are those who help those who are lost in translation. This is not a pep talk — except it is, in a way, and I am exceedingly grateful to work with individuals and companies who, in their own way, make a difference.
9. A thank you goes a long way
To me, some of the most powerful moments (in both day-to-day professional or personal life) have been the unexpected thank yous I received.
Especially in those whirlwind moments where you are at the epicenter of said whirlwind of busy-ness and the next random request will have you going on a rampage. But you do it anyway. Then the “thank you” comes and the whirlwind suddenly ceases. I’ve been stunned to silence on a fair few occasions like that.
It’s essential to repay the gratitude. I try to remind myself not to take the random requests I send to my team for granted.
10. Keep plugging away at your personal projects
Ultimately, work is only just that: work. You need to balance that out with other aspects of life — whether it’s your family or a hobby. No one is going to move the needle with your personal projects, except you. And work can certainly take the backseat every now and then.
Golly, sometimes I wish I would follow my own advice. Now, bring on the next decade!