Work-life balance

by Colin Rae

Someone once told me that when you’re interviewing for a job, a good way to get around that question “what are your weaknesses?” is to say “I’m a workaholic”. Those days are over.

No company worth working for wants to hear about how enthusiastic you are to work yourself into an early grave. They will of course expect you to be dedicated, thorough and inventive, as well as someone who can withstand the rigours of modern business. But not at any cost – and especially not at theirs. With sustainability now a watchword in every sector, many employers are doing everything they can to help their employees achieve a successful work-life balance. It’ll come as no surprise that many people are willing to switch jobs if it will mean both more flexibility and more money. But given the choice of staying where we are, in a job that’s flexible but doesn’t pay so much, or reducing our flexibility in exchange for a larger salary, more and more of us are choosing to stay put.

Colin Rae

Over the years, I’ve translated and edited a host of articles, press releases, internal communications and reports on this topic. But until my wife and I started a family, the term “work-life balance” meant little more than the ability to prioritise and maintain order. Prior planning prevents poor performance. So what’s changed? I’m still able to prioritise my day – in fact I’m probably better at it now than ever, mainly because the stakes are higher. And as for maintaining order, well if you have children then you’ll know that “order” is a relative term. No, what’s changed is what it all means.

One thing all translators want to avoid is a change in meaning. When I’m editing or translating someone’s copy, I’m sometimes obliged to alter content – either to correct factual inaccuracies or tailor a text to a particular readership. But changing meaning, however slightly, is just not on. I’ll take what you’ve written in your native language and write it again in my native language and no one should be able to tell which is the original. Alternatively, I’ll take what you’ve written in my native language and, though I may rework or correct it, I’ll do so without deviating from your argument or from your voice. The change in meaning that I’m experiencing as I strive to find my own work-life balance, however, is an entirely positive one.

Work-life balance

Achieving a work-life balance is a lot like getting a translation right. In both cases, you have to find a way of getting all the individual elements to work as a whole. You have to take what can sometimes appear as a tangle of seemingly separate parts and string them together in a way that makes sense. You have to know when to speed up, when to slow down and when you’re missing something. You have to know when to switch things around because if you don’t, the whole thing will fall apart.

Now I could get into trouble from both sides for comparing customers to children, but they are similar on some counts. They are both demanding – and rightly so. They both want my attention and my best effort. They both require continuity and commitment. And they both need me to find the right words in every situation. I’ve got to keep my balance so I don’t let either side down.

Keeping your balance

Since starting a family, my life has become very immediate. With the concept of “spare time” having all but evaporated, my way of preventing life from becoming just a never ending to-do list is to make absolutely sure that the things I do make the time for mean something. I love my family and I love my work. I’m determined to be a good father, a good husband and good at my job. You may call me naïve, but I don’t happen to think these things are necessarily mutually exclusive. What I’m finding is that I can take the skills I need for or learn in one area and apply them to the other – that my work life and my home life are informing one another; that instead of being in competition, getting better at one part of my life means I’m better across the board.

The upshot is that becoming a father has made me more confident, and this makes it easier to write well. Having a job that requires me to multi-task helps limit the chaos at home. Wanting to get home as soon as I can has made me more focused and more productive. And regaining somewhat the ability to see things through the eyes of a child has increased my curiosity about how things work – something that belongs in every translator’s toolbox. That’s also how I’d sell the person interviewing me on the value of employing someone with children.

Truth be told, I’m applying for jobs all the time. Every piece of work I do is like a job interview. Your text is asking me questions and I have to come up with the right answers. And if you’re an experienced interviewer, you’ll also be waiting for me to ask my own questions. I question everything that’s put in front of me because I’m just as discerning about what I write as you are.

Another answer to the weaknesses question I mentioned at the beginning was “I’m a perfectionist – I expect nothing but the best”. That time is definitely not over. Why should you have to settle for anything else? I don’t.

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