Friday, 18 November 2016

The invigorating effects of stepping outside your comfort zone

As a translator, it is easy to be minimalist: minimal equipment is needed. I rely less on paper dictionaries nowadays as they are increasingly replaced by electronic ones. And I can make out large invoices for translations in files whose sizes are, in actual fact, minimal.

What’s more, I can be minimalist by staying within my comfort zone, for example by accepting only types of work that I am used to. By relying on the regular stream of work from my (relatively minimal) group of main clients. And, although that may seem a bit daft, by turning new clients away – just because I feel uneasy about venturing outside my comfort zone.

One of the articles on Claire Cox’s blog which did strike a chord with me recently was “Above the parapet”, in which she describes how stepping outside your comfort zone from time to time helps you grow both as a person and as a business. I agree with Claire that it is good for us to sometimes do things that we tend to be anxious about: such opportunities make us reassess our abilities and prove that we can do it, if we try!

Stepping outside your comfort zone can feel like a tremendous achievement

One such opportunity for me arose last year when I was asked to give a short presentation on IntelliWebSearch several times to groups of translators at an IT and CAT Tools Day organised by the WRG. I’ve always hated speaking in front of other people, so the mere thought of having to talk all afternoon was enough to strike fear into my heart.

With hindsight, though, I am so glad I said yes and went for it! It felt like a tremendous achievement that I’d addressed that big challenge – successfully, and even with positive feedback from attendees! Check out my blog post on the WRG's IT and CAT Tools Day on 6 June 2015 here.

I’ve also always made a point of emphasizing that I only translate. As a point of principle, I do not interpret. “I DO NOT OFFER INTERPRETING SERVICES” is written in capital letters on my website. I’m not trained as an interpreter, I don’t like talking in general, and I simply won’t do it.

Guess what happened last summer? While on holiday in Northern Italy, I suddenly found myself having to interpret between German and Italian in a police station in Asti: our tour group’s coach had been robbed, and no one else in our group knew any Italian...

I hadn’t actually used my spoken Italian much since I left university more than a decade ago. Also, the temperature outside had just risen to 41 (!) degrees Celsius. Luckily, the air conditioning inside the police station did work (otherwise my brain would probably not have functioned!).

So here I was, totally unprepared, way out of my comfort zone as the impromptu interpreter, in a nerve-wracking situation. And yet: I was okay doing this. What’s more, after a while – and to my great astonishment  –  I realised that I was even enjoying myself! I could actually do it!

Asti in Piedmont in Northern Italy

Pushing yourself to do things that you feel uncomfortable with can only ever be a good thing. We often naturally retreat to our personal comfort zones as a way to minimize stress and risk; yet stepping out of them can be invigorating, while the discomfort that goes with it is often just minimal.

Clinging to the known and staying within my minimalist comfort zone may have seemed like a fair enough thing for me to do as I was going through a deep and prolonged personal crisis recently (I even forgot about Brexit!). However, as I have now forced myself to step out of that crisis, there is genuine reason to look again to the future, strike out on new adventures, and maybe even forge those new client relationships?