This post has either nothing or everything to do with translation, depending on how you look at it! Here goes: I’ve been thinking a lot about Shosin, the Zen Buddhist concept most commonly translated as “Beginner’s Mind.” It’s most commonly described as an attitude of openness and lack of cynicism about experiences, or as the ability to see a familiar experience from the perspective of a beginner. At the same time, I had been looking for a goal to work toward for my upcoming 40th birthday. Long and expensive story short, I decided to combine my interest in teaching and my passion for telemark (free-heel) skiing and take a season-long ski instructor training course. The course is in progress right now, and I’ve definitely gleaned a few translation-related observations from it.
- All of us should be more patient with beginning translators who don’t know anything about translation or the industry but are eager to learn. Being an enthusiastic beginner is really, really hard. It’s much harder than being an apathetic beginner. An apathetic beginner doesn’t really care about excelling, while an enthusiastic beginner does. During the run-up to my ski course, I had a thousand and one dumb questions: do I bring my own lunch or are we buying? do I need a notebook that fits in my coat pocket? are we skiing right away or is the first day in the classroom? and on and on. Enthusiastic beginners ask lots of questions that seem, dare I say it, stupid to experienced professionals, but we need to be more willing to answer these questions without being condescending.
- I love translation overall, but there are also things about it that don’t thrill me all the time. My intent with this ski instructor idea has never been to quit translating. I love translating too much and I probably couldn’t afford to ski full time even if I wanted to! However, this process has shown me that in some ways, sitting at a computer for every moment of my work day is draining in a way that doing something active and social for 8 hours is not. This has made me think about incorporating more social stimulation and non-computer time into my translation work.
- Being forced into a challenging situation is an outstanding way to grow. After 8 years of translating in my current specializations, I feel pretty confident about my abilities nearly all the time; I can’t say (and this is largely my own fault) that I feel stretched, pushed or out of my comfort zone on a typical work day. But the first time my ski instructor took our group to a really steep tree-covered slope and said “see you at the bottom,” I was terrified and convinced that I would have to be helicoptered out, or that I would be woefully inadequate compared to the rest of the class. This was a great exercise in positive self-talk rather than the negative self-talk that we freelancers engage in so often. I had to consciously tell myself “You can do this. You have practiced these maneuvers lots of times. Just take it slowly and don’t forget to breathe!” And at the bottom (Yes! I didn’t have to be helicoptered out!), I was ecstatic. I was intimidated, but I did OK because I trusted that I had built up a foundation of skills to get down that slope in one piece. That made me realize that I need to deliberately take on some translation work that is more of a stretch and a challenge: not a “get me out of here on a helicopter” challenge, but a “you are ready for this” challenge.
- Even experts have a lot more to learn. This is true of skiing and it’s true of translation. My ski instructor is, to put it mildly, an amazing skier to watch. But when we looked at the video footage of ourselves skiing, he saw just as much room for improvement in his skiing as in the students’. This is part of the thrill of translation too; you can always become a better writer or learn more about your subject areas or read the translations of people who are more skilled than you are, and that’s a very inspirational thing.
This whole experience has let me look at our industry from (more of) a “Beginner’s Mind” perspective. Any other readers taking on some new and terrifying challenges??