Getting away from martyrdom

Getting away from martyrdom

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Holidays are our choice

One of the first blogs I ever wrote was about holidays (you can read it here). And my views haven’t changed very much since then. But, having returned from my own holiday to find the subject being hotly debated by colleagues online, I thought I’d revisit the issue.

There is an annoying tendency, whenever the subject of holidays is discussed on Facebook or in forums, for memes or comments to be posted to the effect that translators can’t have holidays; that it’s somehow part of our job to be on-call seven days a week, all year round. My view is that it’s about time we put an end to this cult of martyrdom. Whatever the market we’re in, it’s always possible to take some time off if we want it, even if we do have to take a little work with us. If we don’t do it, it’s because we choose not to, either because of client demands or because we simply don’t like holidays. That’s a perfectly respectable position, but it’s no basis for whining or for glorifying self-denial. I have a simple piece of advice for any freelance translator who wants a holiday but feels he or she can’t afford the time or money to take one: put your rates up and look for some new customers. And I have another for those who aren’t in that situation but still perpetuate nonsensical myths: stop it! Now! You can only do harm to our self-esteem and our image by spreading the belief that we’re slaves of some kind.


It may be my age or it may be the fact that I’m now on my second career, but if the world is divided into those who live to work and those who work to live, I’m definitely in the second camp. For me, holidays are sacred and earning enough to be able to afford them is one of the main reasons that I work hard for most of the year. So when I am away with my family I hardly ever do any work at all. For me, there would be little point in going away if I had to be on edge all the time wondering if I was going to have to launch into translation mode.

I’m lucky, I suppose, in that the culture of the country where I work, and where most of my customers are, readily accepts long summer holidays. It’s quite common in Spain to see shops or businesses closed for two, three or even four weeks over the summer. In August, the cities are empty and the beaches are full, and it can be quite difficult to get a haircut or buy a stamp, for example. Personally I think this is quite healthy. There really isn’t very much that can’t wait a week or two and, because everyone understands and accepts the situation, no-one really loses customers over it. In the translation business, the summer exodus also provides opportunities for colleagues who are starting out. If a client does desperately need a job done and their usual translators are not available, they will turn to those who are – translators still to make their name and delighted to be given the chance.

Colleagues who work in the German or Japanese cultures, for example, have it much more difficult. Especially if they work with direct clients, they are expected to be available and they have to find ways of responding if required. For them, a smartphone and a laptop are as essential in their holiday luggage as a swimsuit and a beach towel. I can only admire their dedication and appreciate my good fortune.


In fact, I don’t cut myself off completely from my business while I’m on holiday. Smartphones make this easy to keep an eye on things and I use mine to read and respond to e-mails while I’m away. But I also set up an out-of-office message to ensure that clients don’t expect a quick reply if they write to me while I’m on holiday. That way, when I do reply (and I usually do) they are pleasantly surprised, not frustrated by any delay.

When I’m going to be away more than a day or two I also send a mass message to all my clients informing them of my absence. This is also about managing expectations. I want my clients to expect as little as possible from me while I’m away and it usually works. I have not knowingly lost a customer due to being on holiday and, if I have missed the occasional opportunity, it has never been anything important.

This year, one of my biggest holiday-related problems hasn’t so much been being away, it’s been being at home and working for the second half of August. For various reasons, this year I started my holiday at the end of July and that meant coming back to work at a time when very few clients were around or had any work for me. Fortunately, I had a few long-deadline projects that I could get on with, some of them arranged thanks to the fact that I did keep an eye on my e-mails while I was away. Supplemented by other work that came in from quite unexpected quarters, I’ve had enough to keep me busy, if not working flat out. But then, I do live five minutes from the beach…






  1. Sarah Pybus

    I’m with you – I really don’t see anything wrong with enjoying time away from your work! I’ve just had a week in Scotland and didn’t check my emails once. And despite translating German (mainly for agencies but also for a couple of direct clients), I took a whole month off earlier this year to travel around Japan. I gave my clients plenty of notice, did extra work before I went and in fact they were all extremely supportive – one of them even sent me a book about Japan that they thought I would like!

    • Simon Berrill

      That’s great, Sarah, thanks for your comment. I think a lot depends on the business your clients are in and the relationship you have with them. I quite understand colleagues who have more difficulties. What I really object to is the feeling spread by a few that "translators can’t have holidays".

      • Sarah Pybus

        When I first went freelance I did feel anxious about not checking my emails when on holiday, which probably wasn’t helped by such messages being spread online. Four years later, I’ve learned the importance of downtime and relaxation.

        • Simon Berrill

          Absolutely, Sarah. And there’s nothing wrong with checking e-mails now and then. It can help you set things up for when you get back.


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