Mentoring your way into the market: entering a brand-new world

by Spyros Balesias

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”

̶  Phil Collins

Mentoring was an unknown term to me until recently, and I didn’t have the faintest idea what it actually had to do with. Naïve as I was, I would define it as simply the procedure during which a mentor is appointed to a mentee, who then would, in an attempt to quickly, yet inexperienced, start acting in the professional world, proceed to ask questions in a try to solve the great mysteries of today’s job market, especially when freelancing, and make his way to translation market’s hall of fame. Simple as that.

However, everything changed once I was appointed my first mentor, the person who would dedicate time out of his busy schedule to me, to see what troubles me as a young translator freshly entering the market as a freelancer, to help me prioritise what was going on in my life, to set some boundaries and to offer me an alternative to the way I had been dealing with different things until then. It was an experience that made my obscure, hidden self rise to the surface and face the harsh truth: that I had yet much more to learn in my life, both as a person and as a professional.

And this is where the mentor comes in:

  1. An informal, but stable relationship

Getting to work your way around to the problems closely related with everyday translation work matters is just one part of what mentoring is all about. The mentor is that person that is vested in and a party to your success, once you come to think of him as the experienced professional who won’t be helping you out by simply funneling clients to you. This relationship is based on discussion, which should be focusing on the goals you set as a mentee and you would like to be fulfilling by the end of this relationship. However, this comes by creating a basis of mutual understanding that the mentor won’t be a client-generating source or your personal money maker.

  1. Time is money

Like in the case of any other professional, your mentor has limited time to offer you, so make it count. Don’t try too much and don’t try to overcompensate for all the things you could had already done, but clearly you haven’t. Time is of the essence in this case, and you need to be prepared to set questions during each meeting, preferably applying to the goals you set at the beginning of the programme. It is important to stay focused and avoid vague discussions, like ‘what kind of translation should I be specialising in’ or ‘what are the accepted rates in the Greek market’. Well, I know that these are burning issues in our profession, but there is no general rule of thumb that would give straight answers or solutions to such problems, since they vary from translator to translator. Perhaps try a meeting agenda, consisting of the items that should be approached during each meeting.

  1. Be honest; be diligent

Nobody wants to get stuck in a relationship, where neither side is eager enough to share thoughts and key information. When this happens, a breakthrough is impossible, to say the least. ‘Sharing is caring’ and it must come from both sides. Furthermore, it is important to see your mentoring experience as a way to learn and to work tirelessly towards a better you with the assistance of the suggestions and revelations coming from your mentor. After all, this is what mentoring is about: engage, discuss, prioritise, make possible, change. And this is a two-way street, because as you learn, the mentor learns as well, since ‘[i]t takes two to make a thing go right’, as Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock sang in 1988.

Mentors change lives, but students change mentors' lives more.

What can a mentee bring to the table? What’s in it for the mentors?

Mentoring, as I have already pointed out, is the product of a mutual exchange of experiences between the participants. So, this means that the mentee has something to offer to his/her mentor.

Thanks to the magic happening behind the scenes, the match-making made by the team, the mentor usually gets a mentee who has a similar background and relevant goals for the future, like the ones he had at the beginning, as a novice translator; he/she sees a small part of himself/herself in the mentee. This gives the mentor the opportunity to witness a younger version trying to take the first steps towards real world and everyday problem solution.

Moreover, through discussion, the mentor may reach to self-revelations about his own approach to things, to self-fulfillment both as a person helping another person and as a professional sharing his wisdom with a colleague ready to enter the unknown territory of the translation market.

There are so many things I could be adding here, but, if I were you, I’d prefer to see the benefits mentoring has to offer first-hand, by actively participating either as a mentor or as a mentee. I hope this just gives you a glimpse of what mentoring entails; but always keep in mind to create opportunities for yourselves.

Go after what you want to achieve and what you want to succeed in and then everything will come naturally.

Change, after all, comes gradually and through challenging yourself. And this is always better when you have someone by your side to guide you around.

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