Monday, 12 December 2016

The minimalist approach to the shoebox appeal

In my community in Emersons Green it is a tradition to pack a shoebox (or two or three) with Christmas gifts and useful items in November every year for the Shoebox Appeal charity. The boxes are wrapped and then sent to underprivileged children worldwide, this year to South Africa and Namibia. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is a scheme run by the Christian relief and development agency Samaritan’s Purse.

When you look up the hashtag #ipackedashoebox on Twitter, you’ll be able to see who has participated in this campaign and how much joy goes into shopping for gifts, goodies and other things. But it also involves bringing all the things back home, filling the shoebox with them, donating £3 per box for the shipping, printing off the label as required, sticking it onto the box and, as a last step, taking it with you to your church or dropping it off at one of the local collection points.

A wonderful project and a very worthwhile cause, no doubt about that! However, this year I reached a stage where I suddenly thought: hold on, do I really want to take part in it? It’s not just that I don’t have the time to go shopping, I also simply do not enjoy going shopping in general. And I especially do not enjoy shopping for toys! So why should I force myself to do it? Taking part just because everyone else was doing it suddenly felt wrong...

This year I went straight to the Operation Christmas Child website instead and donated £18 for a pre-packed shoebox. The whole process took just 6 minutes, including filing the donation receipt away for my tax records. No stress, no hassle. It was basically my minimalist approach to the Shoebox Appeal.

This has set me thinking about the many things that we tend to do just because others do them too or (we think) are expected from us. Very often, we forget that we’re free to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters. They’re decisions that we should feel good about, rather than guilty or apologetic! Not everyone enjoys shopping. We do have a right to be different, handle situations differently, work differently.

Sounds familiar? Here are typical ways of thinking that tend to be imposed on us in connection with running a translation business:

All translators should work with translation memory software (aka CAT tools) to increase their productivity and have their own website to attract more business.
Hold on, should they really? While I can’t imagine life without translation memory software and believe my website is a great tool for presenting my business to the outside world, I know quite a few translators with very healthy businesses who are absolutely fine without CAT tools and/or websites.

We have a right to be different, handle situations differently, work differently!

You should work and be available for clients from 9 to 5, whereas working during evenings and/or weekends is to be avoided as it gives the impression you’re not committed or organised enough.

I have forced myself to stop thinking that way. In fact, I now believe as freelancers we are free to make the most of the “free” in freelancing. What’s wrong, for example, with meeting up with a friend for a coffee in the morning and then catch up on work in the afternoon/evening? Or with making a head start on a work project at the weekend?

Too many translators still charge per 1,000 words, rather than per hour. This must change at all costs; it is unprofessional.
In one of my older blog posts entitled “Bugged by misconceptions on translation?”, I even claimed this practice reflects badly on the actual activity of translation. But does it really? Today, I confess that I live comfortably on an income for which I charge per 1,000 words. And it is an approach I want to hold on to!

You should not build up a business while raising young children.
Now is the time to admit it: it is exactly what I did. Yes, I’d heard this wasn’t advisable, but today, with hindsight, that feat now seems like a tremendous achievement. I managed to do it by delegating tasks, with the help of childminders, and by constantly refining my time management skills in the best way I could.

It is generally better to work for direct clients than for translation companies.
I, for one, am very grateful for the steady flow of work from the translation companies that I work for, whereas direct clients typically do not tend to be a source of regular work. Due to my regular dealings with some translation companies, I sometimes almost even feel like one of their employees – a feeling I admit I quite like!

Remember: we do have a right to be different, handle situations differently, work differently.

The 2016 Shoebox Appeal campaign has ended, but if you fancy taking part in the Shoebox Appeal next year, either by filling a shoebox yourself (if you enjoy shopping!) or by choosing the pre-packed shoebox option, visit the Operation Christmas Child website here for more information.