What’s Your “Why?”

Photo Credit: Austin Schmid via Unsplash

Hat man sein warum? des Lebens, so verträgt man sich fast mit jedem wie?
“He who has a why to live for can endure almost any how.”
–Friedrich Nietzsche

Like many of you, I am a translator. I am also a business owner. In fact, all freelance translators, whether we like it or not, are business owners. This is not something that many of us think about when we embark on our freelance journeys. It is not usually with the goal of opening a business in mind that we decide to live abroad, study translation, or spend years honing our writing skills. Becoming business owners is a byproduct of another ambition, another purpose. So how can translator entrepreneurs keep their business goals straight and aligned with their original passion? One way is for us to determine our “why.”

In this TEDx talk, Simon Sinek makes the following observation:

[…] [V]ery, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by “why” I don’t mean “to make a profit.” That’s a result. It’s always a result. By “why,” I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care?

These are powerful questions for us to ask ourselves, not just as translators and business owners, but as people, too. Why do we do what we do? No two motivations are the same. Let me tell you a bit about mine.

My “why” is quite simple. Essentially, it boils down to the fact that I have wanted to be a translator for nearly as long as I can remember. When I was little, I wanted to be a marine biologist. Then, for a brief stint, I wanted to be an actor. After that, even in my teens, I wanted to be a translator. As a child, I was drawn to languages. Tucked away somewhere in my parents’ house is a folder of scrap paper on which the seven-year-old me recopied then-unknown Chinese characters out of an unknown book, as though I could understand them. Throughout high school, I excelled in English and French. Afterwards, I studied abroad in France with Rotary International and then enrolled in the French translation department at McGill University in Montréal. After that, I moved to China. The rest, as they say, is history.

What motivates me today? Why do I continue doing what I do? Like many translators, I am passionate about communication and facilitating cross-cultural communication and understanding.

There is however a degree of selfishness in what I do: I find such joy in discovering new words, new ways of saying things, and learning new things that what I do does not feel like work. Rare are the days when I don’t learn something new. Much of the joy I derive from translation stems from the learning that takes place while I do it. In fact, I would say that I primarily do translation for myself. The fact that I can do it in a way that benefits others, to the point where they are willing to pay me to do it, is something beyond my wildest dreams.

Simon goes on to say the following:

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Discerning customers can tell who is in it for the money and who is in it for the joy of the work. All translators should keep this in mind when they are tempted to take on a project or client that does not align with why they are translators in the first place. Do not turn your passion into your job; keep your passion something that you do for yourself and for which people are willing to pay you.

Finally, Simon says:

The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.

With this in mind, I do not just want to translate for customers that just need a text in English. I want to translate for customers who fervently believe in the power of their words and want them to be treated with the utmost care and attention. I truly believe that the success of all business owners, especially translators, is predicated on aligning their goals and values with those of their customers.

What’s your why? Why do you do what you do? Leave a comment or tweet me at @Bentranslates.





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