I ran into one of my favourite high-school professors the other day and when I told him that I was a translator it knocked his jolly mood right out of him. Cuddling his beer, he wistfully reminisced about the high hopes he used to have for me. He went on to inform me that one of his former students was now working for a celebrity fashion designer and another was god-knows-where but filthy rich.
In an atypical moment of mercy, he offered me a chance to redeem myself and asked if at least I was translating movies. In retrospect, I should have said yes. But, having completely misjudged how the world perceived the merits of my chosen career, I didn’t. When I told him that most of my work involved scientific and technical translation, which meant he wasn’t likely to see my name on TV unless I messed up spectacularly, he aimed an accusatory look at my man and demanded to know if he was the one who killed my spark. (Yes, really.) My guy laughed it off while I was silently beating myself up for not having said I was a company manager; it’s technically true because I’m incorporated but it was too late for that now. I tried to regain some value as a human being in my beloved professor’s eyes by mumbling something about how I had great clients and my work was actually interesting and rewarding but he wasn’t buying it.
Then, with a pained expression he recalled how some even smarter girl he used to teach disappointed him even more bitterly. I learned that the poor thing had unwittingly knocked on his door with a copy of The Watchtower in her hand. You need to know that my professor is a vocal atheist – basically he’s a hate preacher but for atheism – and Jehovah’s Witnesses have always been his second-favourite target of ridicule, right after Mormons. So yeah, I’m not the biggest failure he could think of but I came pretty, pretty close. That look of sadness and disappointment in his eyes haunts me to this day. Okay, our awkward encounter took place only this Thursday but still. I’m struggling hard not to wonder if my friends and family are ashamed of me too.
Well, now that I have been informed what an utter waste of space people think I am, I’ve arrived at two resolutions. First, I’ll start charging more for my services because I desperately need to buy myself a large dose of self-respect. Second, the next time someone asks me what I do for a living I’ll tell them I’m a prostitute. In contrast to us translators, these professionals seem to command some respect, probably because they have the sense to charge for what the rest of us do for free. And I refuse to be seen as a loser again! I am deeply passionate about my real work but as it turns out, some passions are best kept secret.