self discovery for interpreters

That Interpreter’s Holiday

I went on holiday this March.  That Interpreter’s holiday?  “Well, you know, 2012 was a crap year for me and I came here to mark a new beginning for myself.”  This is what I was thinking when someone at the yoga retreat in Costa Rica asked me how I’d ended up there.  From experience, I know that this kind of answer makes people uncomfortable, so I went with the more palatable, “I just needed some time away from work.”

Who doesn’t?

A few weeks ago, I flew to Costa Rica on holiday, where I’d spent a year of my college life, to ask myself some questions: Do I want to abandon the corporate career track and go back to interpreting?  Do I want to spend time improving my third language (French)?  Where is my passion? In short, What the hell am I doing with my life?  How will I know?  When I figure it out, How will I do it?

Truth: In the big picture, 2012 was one of the greatest – not crappiest – years of my sweet life.  Personally and professionally, I was stretched way beyond what I thought was possible.  I got kicked while I was down, and then picked myself up (you can read about it here and here).  Which is a good thing (right?).  It also left me with a lot questions about where I was going.  If you’ve been a working interpreter for a long time, surely you’ve asked yourself, as I did, Can I do this long-term?  You ask yourself those questions because interpreting is tough work.  Hell, I asked myself those questions just during my first few years of interpreting: Through still births, suspected child abuse cases, end-of-life conferences, assaults, and some very intense mental health evaluations, I hung in there.

Speaking what others say as if you were saying it is not normal.  Telling others’ stories as if they were your own is intense.  Especially when the stories are not happy stories.  “I always thought he had seizures because of something I did while I was pregnant with him.”  “What brought this on?”  “Why did this happen?”  “This is happening because of that one time I did that one thing.”   And then interpreting the doctor’s response, “There was nothing you could have done to prevent this.”  Interpreting these words, you feel the relief of the person who has been burdened with this guilt.  And all at once you feel the gift of delivering the message from the doctor: It’s not your fault.

Just as you’re feeling the impact of speaking the words of one side, there is the healing of speaking the words of the other.  It’s a roller coaster, and it’s strangely gratifying.  But like I said, not normal.  Interpreting is not a normal job.

On the other hand, for an interpreter who moves in to a position where she’s supervising other interpreters (a promotion?), you have a different set of questions:  How am I contributing to serving the LEP community when I’m trapped in my 0ffice correcting time cards?  Now that I’m not working as an interpreter, how do make sure that my work contributes toward equality?  Am I on the right track?  Am I better suited to interpret, or to work on a system level and promote language access?  On a more basic level: What is this doing to my language skills?  One day will I tell people, “Yeah, I used to speak Spanish”?

And what were the answers to my Big Questions?  Do I want to throw in the corporate towel and return to interpreting?  Am I on the right track?  I didn’t come up with a definitive answer, but I did manage a big realization: I am one lucky girl.  I have a great job working in language access, and an amazing boss.  I go to work every day with a fantastic staff that represent twelve countries.  Though I lament the lack of interpreting in my work, I do get to speak Spanish at work with my staff.  I have the freedom to consider going back to interpreting, maybe in a different capacity (check back for a post about my court interpreter training).  I get to explore dedicating more time to training interpreters.  If I want to work on French, I can do it!  Having these choices before me, and struggling to decide which path will be most awesome, is a good problem to have.

So, what did I learn during my time away in Costa Rica?  My Big Questions don’t have to be answered right now.  Or ever, really.  When you’re in the middle of something, so big, so great, when you’re doing the work that aligns with your core values, you have the support of your family, of your community.

I’ve already figured out what I love to do, which is further than a lot of us get.  Growing up, my dad always told me, “Find a job you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life”.  And it’s true.  Yes, I needed time away from work, but not because I don’t love it.   I learned that when you love what you do, when you’re driven to do something, you never really get a vacation from it, because it exists within you.  For true interpreters?  We never get a holiday.

When you’re an interpreter and you love interpreting and you’re lucky enough to make a living as an interpreter, you feel that you’ve never worked a day.  As an interpreter, I don’t want a holiday.  Every day is like a holiday.  And every day, I come home to it.  Home to my passion, interpreting.

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