I sometime complain on my blog about the problems and challenges that freelance translators have to face on a daily basis. Problems such as competition from people I call “zombie translators” who can’t really translate, but who are very cheap, lack of respect for our profession, brutal deadlines, or low rates that many translation agencies (and some direct clients) would like us to accept for our demanding but underappreciated work.
But in spite of these problems, the freelance translation lifestyle has also a number of important advantages. The main advantage of being a freelance translator is in my opinion the flexibility of the freelance lifestyle.
This is a lifestyle that can be adapted to different demands of our lives as we go through the different stages of our life.
1. First of all, thanks to the Internet, the job of a freelance translator is almost completely location-independent. When I moved in 1992 from beautiful, exciting and stimulating, but also crowded, hectic, dirty and very expensive San Francisco 1 hour north to the Sonoma Wine Country, it was like moving to a completely different world. This new world, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, was green, clean and almost serene. Instead of listening to excited discussions of drunks from a nearby Irish pub walking under my window, I was now watching cows who were quietly ruminating in a green field across the road from my new home office in the suburban paradise of Northern California.
Then after 9 years in the Wine Country, we decided to move again in 2001, this time not just across the bridge, but 3 thousand miles from California to Virginia. Thanks to the Internet, the transition was fairly smooth since my website stayed exactly in the same spot where it was before. There are things I miss about California, but on the whole, it was a wise move.
We were even able to time is so that we sold our house while the real estate bubble was already in full swing in California, but not yet in Virginia – the bubble was delayed by about 2 or 3 years in Eastern Virginia, although the crash then hit the entire country at about the same time.
You can’t do something like that when you are an employee. When you have a boss, you simply have to stay or move when your boss tells you to stay or move. But fortunately, we freelancers are bossless.
This means that we were able to afford a house that we would not be able to buy now, even though the prices are now much lower, both in California and in Virginia, after the bubble quite predictably burst in 2007.
2. The second important advantage of the job of a freelance translator is that our age makes no difference to our customers. Young people don’t realize it, but as we grow older, we become less desirable as potential employees to potential employers for obvious reasons.
As the saying goes, when you are on the Internet, nobody knows that you’re a dog – and when you are a freelancer, nobody knows or cares how old you are, as long as you are not likely to die before the current translation project is finished.
Since most jobs in this country no longer offer defined pensions (as most of the money that used to be paid into these pensions was stolen by Wall Street), being able to work until you drop dead is a major benefit these days.
3. The third major advantage is that we can keep doing what we have been doing for a long time and simply work less as we grow older because we need less money when our children leave our house and become independent.
As I work with freelance translators and people who run tiny translation agencies who are in their sixties, seventies, and even eighties, I noticed that many old timers are much less gung ho about working as much as possible.
Life is short, and then you die.
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There are also other advantages that translators allegedly have and other people don’t. We are supposedly less likely to develop Alzheimer disease, for example, because switching between different languages is an important mental exercise which keeps our brain well functioning a little bit longer.
I don’t know if it is true, but it make sense to me.
We are usually better informed about all kinds of things because we are able to read foreign newspapers, or watch news on teevee in several languages, which means that it is much more difficult for our government to keep us as brainwashed as the monolingual population.
And that is also a major advantage these days.
To me this is indeed a major advantage, as is the fact that our work for the most part is, or at least can be, quite interesting. This is probably also one reason why people who should be retired based on their age keep working well beyond the retirement age.
Every time when I see a senior citizen who has to stand for long hours on her tired feet bagging groceries at my local Food Lion or Farm Fresh store, and I see a lot of theme these days, I have the same thought:
“I am so lucky – no matter what happens, I will not have to do something like this to make ends meet when I am old”.