Specialists in oral translation services

Friday, September 29, 2023

Coping With Uncertainty

By Mary Fons, AIB

My generation is probably one of the last to have grown up with the idea, hope or expectation of lifelong employment with the same organization. In Spain, this was the province of civil servants and bank employees (landing an apprenticeship with a savings bank at an early age was seen as a sinecure), but everyone knew about the sarariman in Japan. Even in the United States, older relatives who held jobs (mostly male) seem to have worked for the same company for decades. My grandfather delivered milk for the same company from shortly before his marriage to the day that he retired.

Obviously, not everyone was in this position and not everyone wanted it. A sinecure sounds great, but sometimes the price to pay seems too high: underling status or uninteresting work. Creative people easily chafe in overly restrictive working conditions or when placed under supervisors who just don’t get it, and some people have physiological or psychological needs that don’t mesh well with standard working hours.

Are you certain?

My father was a full professor of business management at a public university (i.e., someone with a lifetime job) but he tended to be in favor of employment at will as a general principle.  That said, once he realized I wasn’t planning a sideways move into academia as he had originally hoped, he told me he thought I ought to seek a staff interpreter position in the EU or the UN system. At the time, the idea was horrific. I simply love the variety of events and topics I get to interpret as a freelance, and while this variety includes many varied and interesting assignments with the EU or international and intergovernmental organizations, I really get a kick out of any kind of assignment where I know for a fact my services are needed and will be actively used,  so it's good to have a mix.

I’ve been a happy freelance for many years and was living in a gig-economy industry long before the term was coined. These days, however, the degree of uncertainty is becoming hard for me to cope with. These days I find that juggling “very likely” options for the same dates is simply too many choices and too much stress. It’s an honor to be chosen and I like to respond to that honor by accepting when I’m free and able to take the assignment, but it’s hard to manage your life when you’re tentatively looking into flights and rail travel for potential assignments that many never materialize. At a certain level of uncertainty, you just have to bite the bullet and ask for confirmation or release by a certain date that works for you, even if the client or the consultant interpreter would rather have more time. 

Covid-19 lockdown was a black swan, an unknown unknown that hit us hard, but most conference interpreters learned new skills and managed to deal with it. This feels different. Maybe it’s my age, but I do find that the cumulative drip-drip-drip of known unknowns is having a huge impact on my personal and professional life. The “real” work of preparing for assignments and interpreting them is still great, but the admin side is growing daily and carving away at my enjoyment.

So far, everything I’ve written in this post is 100% my own. But I just used Bard (rather than ChatGPT) to help me with ideas for an upbeat ending – and realized that the really good ideas were there in the article all along. I still enjoy learning, so I can and will choose to enjoy learning to cope with the seemingly sweeping uncertainty. After all, however certain and necessary death or taxes may be, their certainty doesn’t make them appealing. So I will carve out bigger and better chunks of time for myself even if it means refusing the honor (and the fun!) of some potentially great assignments. Bard also advises surrounding oneself with positive people and I certainly see the point, but I will keep my sad-sack friends along with the positive ones because I appreciate real diversity and real friendship. Thanks, real friends!