Posted by: patenttranslator | November 27, 2012

A Missed Opportunity Is Sometime For The Best

There are many opportunities, big and small, in every person’s life. But each time we decide to take advantage of an opportunity, the decision we make usually also negates another opportunity that is then no longer available to us.

There is an interesting English idiom that says:”That ship has sailed”. Every time when we decide to take advantage of an opportunity, we kill another opportunity – another ship that will sail without us. Some of us grow old watching ship after ship sailing away from us, never to come back again.

When we are young, we don’t give a second thought to missed opportunities because the one thing that we are not able to realize is that we will not stay young forever and there may be no more opportunities for us at some point. As the French proverb says, “Si la jeunesse savait, si la vieilesse pouvait” (If the young only knew, if the old only could). Or as Mark Twain put it “Youth is wasted on the young”.

But as we grow older, we also realize that not every opportunity is worth taking, sometime based on bitter experience.

Translated into the reality of the life of a freelance translator, I think that this also means that while we should try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, we also need to carefully scrutinize every offer of potential work before we agree to accept it rather than saying yes simply because we have the time and we could use the money.

At this point in my life I may not be much smarter than 20 or 30 years ago, but at least I realize that not every offer of work is worth the trouble involved. Some jobs are too small to bother. I often bid high on short translations, such as translation of marriage certificates for agencies who just found me in a database. If I know that they are willing to pay 40 dollars and I don’t really want the job, I ask for sixty. It would take me only 15 minutes to translate it, but then it would be another 15 minutes to prepare an invoice and then I would still have to create a new file for the agency and wait another month for a pitiful check. So I only quote 40 dollars to agencies that I know and like. And if you are a regular reader, you probably know that there are not too many agencies that I like.

I also usually don’t answer e-mails asking me to quote a price for very long documents that would be really expensive to translate, for example when an inventor wants me to quote a price for translating his 3 patents (each has about 50 thousand words) into 4 languages because I think that it would be a waste of time, not to mention the potential risk. They just want my price for reference and I don’t like to waste my time creating reference points for people I will never hear from again because they don’t have the money.

Most people don’t understand it when somebody else does not want their business because all customers think that their business must be extremely desirable.

I once quoted a price through e-mail for a few personal documents to a direct customer. She called me on the phone within minutes and said the price was too high. “I’m sorry, but if you can’t afford me, you can’t afford me. I think you should be able to find somebody cheaper”, I told her to humiliate her. She said “It’s not that I can’t afford you, I just don’t think that you should charge that much.” So I hung up on her, which gave me the freedom to return to the serenity of my day as I was reading a really good book. I could not care less how much the time that I would have to spend on that translation was worth to that woman since I knew how much it was worth to me.

I have a friend who is a manager at a car dealership. He told me that last week he got rid of a potential car buyer who was just too unreasonable. The guy had a truck that he wanted to sell first to buy a new car, but only at his terms.”I told him to take his damn truck and get the hell out of my office”, said my friend. The customer was extremely irate and called the owner of the dealership to complain about the rude treatment. The owner did his best to calm the frustrated car buyer, and then he called my friend to tell him that he did the right thing.

Some ships will sail away from us never to come back to our great chagrin. But some missed opportunities, ships disappearing in the night without us, are Titanics just a few days away from hitting a big iceberg. A missed opportunity is sometime a missed seat on the Titanic.

There are some really unpleasant people out there, waving pages and pages of documents they want us to translate for them.

The trick is knowing when it makes sense to go the extra mile for a new customer, and when it makes sense to tell him:”Take your damn truck and get the hell out of my office!”.

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Responses

  1. You timing is amazing. I enjoyed this post tremendously.
    I let a ship sail without me this week and I am very happy with my choice: a woman contacted me saying she would love to collaborate with me, and upon my initial agreement to get the ball rolling she sent me an unmarked document (no logo, no address, no name… “no nothing”) for me to sign in which I was to agree to the alteration of my CV (to remove contact details).
    So I explained to the woman that I don’t sign ‘unmarked documents’ and asked if she was a freelancer herself. She said she represented an agency…
    To make a long story short, I insisted on receiving some form of identification (a web site, company logo, street address, phone number – anything to show who she or the agency she represented were), to which her lowly response was: “OK I work in XXX company and to be more comfortable Do you accept to work with me with out sign any document”? (typos copied from source…)

    This woman was obviously lacking too many skills to count and even if she provided me now with the information I requested, I would not touch her work with a 10 foot pole.

    Some ships are indeed better missed than boarded.

    PS. Loved the Jim Carrey clip.

    Like

  2. Amen.

    Like

  3. […] There are many opportunities, big and small, in every person’s life. But each time we decide to take advantage of an opportunity, the decision we make usually also negates another opportunity…  […]

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  4. Just read a sentence: 思う人のそばへ割込む炬燵かな. It’s winter, Steve. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity. 🙂

    “Most people don’t understand it when somebody else does not want their business because all customers think that their business must be extremely desirable.”

    Aha, you got it perfectly right. “I could not care less how much the time that I would have to spend on that translation was worth to that woman since I knew how much it was worth to me.” That’s what Wendell Ricketts means when he wrote:

    “The main problem with agencies is that they have an inherent conflict of interest: Their attention is on their end client, not on the translator. Finally, agencies have the tendency to forget that it is not up to them to establish the conditions of the job: rates, deadlines, conditions, payment practices. That’s backwards. From the translator’s point of view, the agency is the customer, and the translator establishes the conditions for providing his or her services… We need to stop being so passive.”
    http://provenwrite.com/articles-interviews/moving-beyond-%E2%80%9Cgarbage-in-garbage-out%E2%80%9D-translations-a-conversation-with-wendell-ricketts/

    “There are some really unpleasant people out there, waving pages and pages of documents they want us to translate for them.”

    The trick is: do we agree with the conditions? Ⅰ’ve missed so many ships that sunk eventually and I am so happy that I wasn’t on board.

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  5. 思う人のそばへ割込む炬燵かな. ?????
    I think I know what it means but I am not sure.
    Does it mean that if you stop next to a thinking person, some of the warmth will be transferred to you just like when you put your feet under a kotatsu in a Japanese house?

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    • Sorry, I should have splitted the sentence:

      “思う人のそばへ
      割(り)込む
      炬燵かな”

      (squeezing in next
      to my lover …
      quilt-covered brazier).

      Like

  6. I thought it sounded like a haiku.

    My translation of this haiku into modern English would be:

    Kotatsu is so small …. no space for hanky-panky.

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    • Ha, I knew you would do it that way!

      Like

  7. […] " (…) while we should try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, we also need to carefully scrutinize every offer of potential work before we agree to accept it rather than saying yes simply because we have the time and we could use the money."  […]

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  8. Another American classic:

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

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    • Valerij, I did choose the road covered with frost and it does make all the difference by the end of the day.

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      • There is an old Czech song from the thirties (by Voskovec & Werich) about an old cow who is giving advice to a young donkey, telling him that based on her experience, he should always take the middle road (zlata stredni cesta = the middle road is always golden).

        So because the young donkey listens to the old cow, he dies of hunger because all the cows and donkeys who took the golden middle road ahead of him already ate up all the grass.

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      • Daddy’s of Gangnam style.

        Had he chosen the golden middle road, he’d stay a streetwalker.

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  9. I agree with the gist of your article, but I don’t think rudeness is ever the way to go. A firm but polite “no thank you” or something along those lines usually serves. The more rudeness we put into the world, the more rudeness that comes back at us… not to mention that you never know who these people know, and long after the ship has sailed, they may have a contact who needs a quality translation and is willing to pay for it, and the price you charged may or may not linger with them, but the way you interacted with them surely will. And I certainly wouldn’t use a car salesman as a model for doing business!

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  10. I agree with the gist of what you are saying too, but I’m not really rude to people.

    I just hang up on them sometime when they are being rude to me, or ignore their e-mails. It saves time and trouble and I value my time and I want to stay out of trouble.

    Sometime you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, as I learned from the car salesman who is almost always extremely polite, to the point of being obsequious, because he always needs to sell more cars.

    But almost always does not mean always. Even a car salesman has his limits, which is why he made such a good example for my post.

    I also said a few words about the well established tradition of strategic use of rudeness in business in this post: https://patenttranslator.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/be-rude-to-your-customers-when-they-are-being-rude-to-you/

    Of course, some people disagreed with me.

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  11. […] There are many opportunities, big and small, in every person’s life. But each time we decide to take advantage of an opportunity, the decision we make usually also negates another opportunity…  […]

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  12. […] Translation – No Copyright On The Result Devenir traducteur indépendant en auto-entreprise A Missed Opportunity Is Sometime For The Best People who rock the industry – Kevin Lossner Frightening Foreign Language Faux Pas 1 […]

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  13. “Don’t be afraid of missing opportunities. Behind every failure is an opportunity somebody wishes they had missed.”
    – Lily Tomlin

    It’s been my motto for a long time now 🙂

    Like

    • Ashita no koto o iu to tenjou no nezumi ga warau – if you speak of tomorrow, the rats in the ceiling will laugh, a Japanese proverb meaning something like “clovek mini, panbuh meni”.

      Like


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