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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome as a Translator or Interpreter

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Imposter Syndrome. Everyone has it at some point in their life and career. Even the most successful translators and interpreters experience imposter syndrome from time to time. It's simply a part of being human.

In case you're not already familiar with this term, imposter syndrome is the fear that we are not good enough at something we set out to do or that we are asked to do, coupled with a fear of being called out as a "fraud". Psychology Today notes, "Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have."

Whether it's a tricky translation job or an interpreting assignment that doesn't exactly fit into our typical wheelhouse of assignments, we all have challenging aspects of our work from time to time, as no two days (or assignments!) are the same. Our work is challenging. Heck, if it weren't, then anyone could do it, right? But we know that's not the case. It takes years of training, practice and professional development to become a successful and well established translator or interpreter.

And even knowing that we have these things under our belts, we still fall prey to that feeling of not being good enough at times. So how can we deal with imposter syndrome when it rears its ugly head?

Accept that it's totally normal to doubt yourself at times.

Having Imposter Syndrome is not something that makes you any less of a professional. In fact, it's completely normal to feel like an imposter at some point in your career. Perhaps you want to add a new specialization to your service offerings or study a new language. Perhaps you simply want to market your services better to clients, but you're a bit skeptical about what you could say or do that would feel authentic and not come across as salesy.

Remembering that it's normal to feel like this from time to time is the first step in moving past those bouts of imposter syndrome. In fact, if you ever meet someone who doesn't admit to feeling less than adequate at some point in their career, you might want to start questioning if they are really someone you want to take advice from in the first place. Nobody's perfect, after all.

Choose to be proactive instead of inactive.

Try not to let having the occasional bout of Imposter Syndrome get the better of you. Instead, choose to be proactive. Write down why you feel like an "imposter", whether it has to do with your language skills, your specialization or something completely different. Then, write down what you believe will allow you to feel like less of an imposter, and more like someone who "belongs" or "walks the walk".

Instead of letting Imposter Syndrome take over, you now have the ability to tackle it head on. Keep learning, marketing, and translating or interpreting the hard stuff. Take the items you wrote down that you believe will make you feel like more of someone who "owns" their work and waves their translator/interpreter flag proudly. And continue to nurture those items while you continue your practice.

While recognizing the fact that you feel like an imposter is part of the battle in the first place, the other piece of this puzzle is to keep working and honing your skills as you confront the issues that make you feel like an imposter. The rest will follow!

My top tips for battling imposter syndrome as a translator or interpreter (in no particular order)...

  1. Sign up for more professional development in the area in which you often doubt yourself. This could be a semester-long course in a given area or specialization, or you could take a trip to a country where your target language is spoken in order to immerse yourself in the language on a daily basis. Continue to work while you do these things so that you can immediately apply what you're learning to your work.

  2. Ask a colleague to mentor you. If you're an ATA member, there is a great (and free!) mentoring program you can join. You might also consider paying a colleague to mentor you for a year. When you surround yourself with others who know more than you with regard to an area in which you feel lacking, you can only improve.

  3. Read! Yes, I know you probably read for work, but try to set aside time to review articles by others in your field, topics in your subject matter area(s), etc. The more information you consume related to an area in which you feel less than adequate, the more confidence you will gain.

  4. Make time to think. This is a big one. Don't just accept all the input or information you're consuming without also setting aside some time to produce your own output. It is important to give your brain a chance to think through the information and input you consume so that you can decide what is best for you going forward. This also helps you to keep a check on what you're learning and apply it to your life and work.

  5. Talk to others to discover ways they have found to better themselves in the area in which you feel like an imposter, and surround yourself with these people. Not only is it a good idea to place yourself in the company of others who already do the things you want to do, but it's the best way to learn. And you'll likely have something to offer them as well. Remember, input balanced with output!


In what areas do you feel like an imposter at times? How do you cope with this feeling and turn it around to improve yourself as a professional translator or interpreter?