imposter syndrome

Learning vs. Implementing: A Simple Strategy to Overcome Overwhelm and Start Taking Action in Your Freelance Business

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A good number of us translators and interpreters would classify ourselves as lifelong learners. This is an excellent trait to have as people who study and use languages in their work and daily lives, and also as small business owners. The same can be said for professionals in many fields, but I feel pretty sure that many translators and interpreters would actually classify themselves as lifelong learners and perfectionists.

With so much information available to us with the click of a button these days, we can learn in a variety of ways – whether online or in person. And while it's excellent to continue gaining knowledge and honing our skills, this can sometimes create a bottleneck in our businesses when it comes to actually implementing what we learn. It can be hard to know how to overcome the overwhelm as a freelance translator or interpreter when there is so much to learn (and do).

As I was listening to a business podcast recently, the interviewee mentioned how important it is to do a "learning vs. doing ratio" check-in with ourselves. So, I started to think about how this could apply to myself and to my colleagues.

The concept, in a nutshell, is that we need to be conscious of how much learning we're doing versus how much we are (or aren't) implementing what we learn. I think we can all raise our hand at some point in our career if asked whether we implement only a small portion of what we learn in workshops, conference sessions, webinars, online courses, etc. We set the best of intentions, but life and work quickly take over, and we find ourselves not implementing as much of what we learned as we'd originally intended.

This could be due to many reasons, of course, but it got me thinking… How many of those reasons not to implement something we learn are simply due to fear of that thing not working out, or even due to imposter's syndrome

Could it be that we don't think we'll succeed or that we don't yet have all the information we think we need to move forward?

I can tell you, I see this a lot, especially in the courses and webinars I teach. There are a few students who take my advice of "done is better than perfect" to heart. And there are others who tell me they know the best approach to actually move the needle forward in their businesses is to take action, but they just don't have something quite perfect yet. That tells me they don't actually get it.

So, they pause. They hesitate. They stall. They come up with a million reasons why they can't take action. We have all done this, right?

So, I'd like to challenge you to start thinking of how much you learn and how much you implement as two dials that you can turn up and turn down.

A Simple Strategy to Overcome Overwhelm and Start Taking Action

One dial is the learning dial. Anytime your learning dial is turned up, the implementing dial is likely to be turned down. In some courses and cases, your learning and implementing dial will both be turned up to about the same level. However, as most of us know from experience, this is not sustainable for long periods of time.

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If we intentionally turn up one dial – let's say, learning –, then we know that we will soon need to turn it down. This allows us to turn up the other dial – implementing. 

Problems arise when you turn down both your learning and your implementing dials for long periods of time. This is the best recipe for stagnation that I can think of. And it's fairly easy to do. 

If you do happen to turn down both the learning and implementing dials, ask yourself:

Is this because I'm feeling overwhelmed or burned out in my business? Or is it an intentional and temporary decision?

Once you know whether the dials are turned down due to overwhelm or an intentional decision, you can then make plans to turn one of them up again soon.

Ideally, the best pattern is to turn up the learning dial, and then simultaneously turn it down a bit while turning up the implementing dial. Once you implement what you learn on a given topic, then turn up the learning dial again, and turn down the implementation dial until you're ready to put into practice what you're learning. A steady pattern like this will keep you moving forward intellectually and professionally. 

Be careful not to keep the implementation dial turned down for too long, especially if you realize it is fear of failure that's keeping you from turning it up. Work out the reasons why you think you might fail, and then decide that it's okay if you do. Great things come from failing. Just ask any of the successful people you know.

One thing I tell myself when I'm procrastinating the implementation of something new I've learned is that everyone has to start somewhere. I only have to take the first small step, and then usually, momentum will allow the rest to follow.

Do you find yourself turning up the learning dial and then finding reasons not to turn up the implementation dial soon after? What would you like to start implementing in your business soon?

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?