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Releasing the fear of competition

Updated: Apr 19, 2022

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. – Ryunosuke Satoro

Sometimes we may find ourselves wondering: Is that other interpreter or translator in my same language combination my colleague or my competition? Does he want to take my clients away from me? Is she threatening my livelihood by taking jobs that could be mine? Is that other translator saying bad things about my work? If we ever get called to work together, will that other interpreter try to make me look bad?

When we think that way, we see other interpreters and translators as threats and isolate ourselves instead of reaching out to build coalitions that can make us stronger and alliances that can help us grow. The thought process of professional interpreters and translators moves in the opposite direction of competition and mistrust of our peers. Professionals embrace those who join their ranks and uphold the same high standards and principles.

Bonding with your colleagues

When you see architects, lawyers, doctors, engineers, and other professionals getting together and forming partnerships or other joint ventures, do you ever wonder, “Are they not joining forces with their competition?” Chances are they are doing it because professionals don’t see each other as competitors—they see each other as colleagues. Even in those fields where you would expect more competitive attitudes, like in real estate, you find a certain bond that puts collegiality above competition.

Have you ever seen an ad from the National Association of Realtors? “Work with someone you can trust. Work with a REALTOR®” They have branded the designation of “realtor” as a unique credential that must be earned by studying and getting tested, one that requires continuing education and has a code of ethics. You may think of realtors as salespeople, but they think of themselves as professionals.

Defining yourself as a professional

Once you define yourself as a professional, you connect with others who define themselves in the same way and who are aligned with the same values and principles. They are your peers, not your competition. They are the people you can consult, the people you trust to help you on matters related to your professional practice, the people you can ask to take your place if there ever comes a time when you cannot cover an assignment or provide a service to a client. That’s why it never surprises us when our doctor goes on vacation but leaves a colleague in charge of her patients in case of an emergency. They are not in competition with each other and our doctor would never fear her colleague would try to steal her patients away. There are certain principles involved. It’s what professionals do.

Competition is a lonely sport

Interpreters who isolate themselves because they perceive their peers as competition and rivals are missing out on opportunities to learn from their colleagues. Maybe it’s just finding out about a new dictionary that just became available online, or one that’s been available in print for many years but is rare and hard to find. Maybe it’s finding out about a social media study group you can join and where, as a bonus, you can also make new friends who share your fascination with language. Who knows? Those friends may also become your extended family of interpreters and translators.

Isolation can lead to stagnation, which is never a good thing when your working instruments are human languages, because those are always evolving and it is our responsibility to stay abreast of those changes. Taking pride in what you do, not just as a way to earn a living or as a business venture but as a true profession, is the first step away from isolation and towards those coalitions and alliances that I mentioned earlier.

Collaboration is the key to our future

It is in our best interest to reach out to our colleagues, get to know them, and join forces when necessary, always looking out for each other rather than stabbing each other’s backs. Yes, sadly, it happens. It is the most unprofessional thing I can think of. No one can call themselves a professional if they have no personal ethics.

Collaboration is about sharing resources, knowledge, benefits, and responsibilities. Collaboration is a choice to pursue a common goal. As the world continues to evolve into a global village instantaneously reachable no longer by climbing on a steel bird but by simply flipping on a computer screen, collaboration is inexorable. Isolation is untenable.

The future is now. Our fellow interpreters and translators, no matter where we live, are not our competition—they are our colleagues. And each and every one of us is an essential part of a network of practitioners committed to reaching the next level of excellence at every turn, a network of empowered advocates on behalf of our profession everywhere we go.

Embracing unity

If you have been hesitant to reach out to a fellow interpreter or translator because you saw them as your competition, this is the time to let go of that notion and start to build partnerships, alliances, and coalitions with your peers. Remember all those other professionals, the engineers, dentists, accountants, pharmacists, lawyers? Notice how they always appear to the outside world as an internally cohesive group? Let’s follow their example!

The interpreting profession can gain recognition from the people around us much faster if we all work together to educate the public about who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why. We have everything to gain from the aggregate wisdom and experience each one of us contributes to this mix. We are not each other’s competition. We are each other’s allies. We are each other’s teammates. We are each other’s colleagues.

- Janis Palma


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