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Professional burnout - have you experienced it?
Thread poster: Kyra
Kyra  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:17
French to English
+ ...
Oct 4, 2002

Hi, everyone

I started doing full time translation about a year ago. I didn\'t know much about agencies, rates, work load, etc, having done it only part time before.

I worked for Gedev. France, at the rate of 0.07 Euro per word, and was translating every day (cosmetic texts mostly).

I thought that if I could just get the translations out to them, they would slow down. This wasn\'t the case. They speeded up the number of assignments sent to me. I realized I needed boundaries and said no so a few assingments. They wrote back, saying, \"We know you\'re busy, but can you squeeze in an extra, for e.g., 2000 words by tomorrow?\" They just didnt\' listen.

I had to quit working for them, even though they put the price up, at my request, to 0.085 Euro, which is their \"top\" price. I actually said my rates were between 10-12c per word, which they didnt\' go for.

I was in a complete state of burn out. To the point where I no longer want to translate at the moment. I can\'t stomach it.

Does this ring true for anybody? Usually wnen I\'m doing the most work, I feel the most like I should be doing even more, and am not achieving enough.


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Deborah Spector
United States
Local time: 05:17
Spanish to English
been there, done that Oct 4, 2002

Hi, Melissa. I know how you feel. I didn\'t get to the burnout stage but I came close. I was working in-house at an agency and they just piled on the work with too-short deadlines. Then they\'d interrupt one urgent job with another more-urgent job until I just had to yell, \"STOP!\" I learned somehow to value my time and my professional and personal needs and began telling them that the job they had accepted \"for Friday\" just couldn\'t be done by Friday. Turns out they had no idea how long it takes to translate anything(!) and I ended up teaching them a lot. By the time I left the place, they were bringing me the documents and asking me how long it would take to translate them. You have to keep telling yourself you are a professional; they are coming to you because they can\'t do it themselves; you have limits and boundaries and have to enforce them. Good luck!

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Clarisa Moraña  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:17
Member (2002)
English to Spanish
+ ...
It sounds familiar to me! Oct 4, 2002

You are not the only one, I-m sure! The same happened recently to me, and I ended physically ill, with a terrible chest pain. Now I\'m better but those days were really ugly!



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Roberta Anderson  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:17
Member (2001)
English to Italian
+ ...
Learning to say no... Oct 5, 2002

When you are starting out as a freelancer it is very difficult to turn jobs down -- you are eager to find reliable new clients, to be recognised and valued as a good translator, and not letting people down becomes a priority. It\'s ok for a time, until you establish a steady network of clients and flow of jobs (and steady income!).

And then it\'s time to make the big step and learn to turn down jobs you phisically cannot fit in (there are only so many hours in a day, after all).

For the past couple of years I\'ve been so busy I had to turn down a number of jobs, which just happen to be mostly from one agency I always had great relationship with (they simply call me with a job when I\'m already busy with other longer projects, so I do not have any choice); I was worried that after turning down a few jobs they would \"score me out\" of their database, but as it turned out that did not happen; they still contact me when they have work in my field, and understand when I say I am unfortunately already busy.

Infact, I put them in contact with another colleague with similar experience and everybody seemed to appreciate this -- the agency, the colleague, and myself; it\'s an indication of trust and professionality.

When I receive an offer I cannot fit in, I usually offer my best possible delivery date (\"sorry, I cannot fit it in by Wed; would Mon am be too late for you?\"); sometimes it turns out 2 extra days are acceptable for the agency; other times not. Or I suggest that if they find another translator I could do a review of it; again, sometime this is possible, sometimes not. Or again, I put them in contact with other translators I know are good and reliable. It all helps in maintaining a good relationship.

Having said all this... I must confess last winter I went through a tough time myself, which lead to back problems and a spot of alopecia... when you are busy in long projects it\'s harder to let go, because all the requests are interconnected. And the one consolation is in knowing the long project will end by XXX, and you will then be able to take it a bit easier (unless another big project you cannot turn down comes along!!!).

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xxxPaul Roige
Local time: 11:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
A spot of alopecia???? Oct 5, 2002

Roberta! Now I know why I\'m going so bald (and uglier, besides). As a matter of fact, all my clients have long lush hair...

I\'ll try to cut work down then.

Alopeciously yours


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Laura Gentili  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:17
Partial member (2002)
English to Italian
+ ...
My experience Oct 5, 2002

The most difficult issue for freelance translators is joggling between jobs and clients. I suffer from burnout myself, as I have 4 major clients and sometimes jobs come all together. On the other hand, I think working with only one client is very dangerous. It happened to me in the past that the main client for whom I was doing 90% of the work suddenly had much less work, so I decided I needed to develop a network made of at least 4 regular clients plus the irregular ones. Of course it is very difficult to decide when to say no to someone; sometimes I use another translator I can trust, sometimes I say no, sometimes I ask to postpone a deadline. There is no easy solution to this problem.

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Suzanne Blangsted  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:17
Danish to English
+ ...
total shutd-down Oct 6, 2002

Burn-out hit me a couple of years ago after being immersed in work 40-65 hours a week. Then I hit the wall and \"retired\" to catch my breath and enjoy life, though a bit difficult financially. I learned to \"enjoy\" my friends and home. I am now back at work with a new insight and truly enjoying it. I totally agree with others input that it is of utmost importance to learn to say NO -no matter how difficult that is - and knowing what NO means.

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Kyra  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:17
French to English
+ ...
Burn out due to computer exposure Oct 7, 2002

Thank you everyone for your responses. They were very helpful.

Actually, since I stopped doing translating, I\'ve been doing transcribing and experiencing much of the same symptoms - nausea, etc as I did when I was doing full time translating. It was the same nightmare.

I took these symptoms seriously and investigated - it turns out a lot of people experience these symptoms due to working on the computer. The electromagnetic fields and radiation, and flicker and glare of the screen can all cause this.

It causes something called electrical hypersensitivity, which means just looking at the comupter screen can make you nauseous.

I think a significant factor in my burn out was the fact of working on the computer for so many hours at a time. I felt so nauseous I couldn\'t go on, and attributed this to the translations. It never occurred to me that working in front of a computer could make me feel so dreadful.

I am now going to look into getting a zero radiation flat screen, and a top of the line filter for it as well, for glare etc, or try and find out if there is such a thing as a zero radiation laptop.

Laptop screens are said to emit less than desktops, but I experienced the same symptoms with a laptop, so the emissions must be quite signifcant.

Apparently working with a laptop on your lap can cause REPRODUCTIVE damage!! They tested a huge amount of laptops and found that they all exceeded the limits for safety for EMF and other emissions.

So it\'s all looking up! Between learning to manage my workload and steering clear of EMFs and other health hazards, I may be able to take up translating again in the future at some point!

Thank you all for giving validity to my experience!


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Tanja Abramovic  Identity Verified
English to Serbian
+ ...
Managing the Workload Dec 3, 2002

I will just quote a passage from a publication issued by the American Translators Association (ATA) - \"An Introduction to the Professions of Translation and Interpretation\", Chapter 7a:

\"Managing the Workload\":

\"... Not maintaining an adequate flow of work has the obvious result of diminished income and, at the extreme, starvation. But accepting too much work is also dangerous, for at some point it leads to missed deadlines...

Accepting too much work may also cause a \"burn-out\" syndrome. In the initial stages, eyes glaze or hives erupt at the thought of facing a word processor. Later, the translator stops collecting receipts for deductions and loses interest in money itself, and may become cavalier about deadlines. In more advanced stages, depression, chemical and alcohol dependencies, and chronic physical ailments set in, with the potential result of premature death or (worse yet)protracted life in living hell.

It should be noted here that interpreters who fail to manage their workload face problems different from translators, although the consequences are often the same: overworked interpreters miss not deadlines but appointments and airplanes. The physical problems are also quite different. Translators are particularly susceptible to the same ailments suffered by other so-called sedentary \"knowledge workers\": repetitive stress injuries, coronary disease, chronic backaches and bad eyesight. Interpreters are more likely to suffer from high cholesterol from eating too many fancy meals with clients, sore throats from talking too much, and the physical danger inherent in rushing to airports and flying regularly... Interpreters who interpret too much may develop a hatred of people who talk too much with poorly organized thoughts.

One of the best ways to learn about managing the workload, or to learn how to improve one\' s management skills, is to share information...


(Comments of one translator): \"I always say \"no\" if I don\' t know the field, unless I have an agreement with the client that the \"finished\" product will not be up to my usual standards or that they will provide terminology assistance. I also say no if I know I can\' t meet the deadline. For mental health, I \"fire\" clients who are unpleasant or risky to work with, or consistently slow to pay. To stay healthy physically, I establish a certain average workload per month and ease off on the accelerator if it looks like I\'ll make this month\'s goal, or if I\'ve been sick or traveling...\".

I hope this excerpt will be of help to you.

Good luck,


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Nathalie M. Girard, ALHC  Identity Verified
English to French
+ ...
Excellent article Olyx! Dec 3, 2002

Good afternoon everyone,

Olyx, I am glad that you shared this excellent article...

We really need to look after our physical and mental well-being in order to perform at optimum levels.

I think that one of the big problems in our profession (whether it is as a translator and/or as an Interpreter) is that you normally do not know where your next assignment is going to come from.

As mentionned above, you need to keep a certain number of clients so that you are not dependent on one in particular (not having all our eggs in the same basket), but this said, it is rather impossible to predict the future (regarding upcoming job offers).

Making sure that we take regular breaks throughout the day/evening, exercising (even if only for 20 minutes per day before hitting the shower), eating as healthy as possible etc... helps.

The main thing is:

Listen to your bodies -> If it is telling you that it needs *REST*, it knows best, and you should take at least a nap.

Trust me on that one. I learned the very hard way many years ago.


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Empty Whiskey Glass
Local time: 12:17
+ ...
Professional burnout - the necessary evil Dec 5, 2002

My point of view may sound strange to most of you. Yes, professional burnout is exhausting, terrible and so on. However, we all need to experience it in order to become aware when to say NO, how to value our work. What I would like to say is that professional burnout is the necessary evil of our profession.

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