Psychology concept. Compass needle pointing the word control with blue and beige tones.

Emotional Self-Discipline: A Key Ingredient for Success as a Freelance Translator

If we listen to our inner voices all the time and haven’t learnt how to distinguish between useful objective information and fear, then those voices will soon start to take over your business.

We’ve all heard and experienced how important self-discipline is for freelancers, particularly those working from home. Some freelancers may naturally gravitate toward working all the time while others might have trouble motivating themselves to do any work. Without the routine of going to the office every day for a fixed number of hours and being answerable to somebody higher up, and without a set start and finish time, freelancing really does bring with it as many challenges as it does luxuries. A key ingredient for success as a freelancer—and one that people are much less aware—is emotional self-discipline.

What Is Emotional SELF-DISCIPLINE?

I’m going to start by letting you in on a little secret: I hear voices in my head. In fact, I can hear one right now (“You’re not seriously going to write that are you?”). Perhaps you hear voices too. If not, try listening a little more closely because we all have them buzzing in our heads. It’s just mind chatter and completely normal (or at least I hope so). This chatter is simply the mind’s way of making sense of what we’re doing and protecting us on the basis of past experience. The mind’s main objective is to keep us safely in our comfort zones and keep everything as it is.

Now, there are certainly advantages to this. For example, if your mind remembers that you once did something that caused something terrible to happen, then you’re unlikely to want to go and do it again. However, what about all the opinions those voices have and the judgments they are constantly making on things you haven’t tried yet, such as raising your rates, contacting new clients, or choosing a new area of specialization? If we listen to our inner voices all the time and haven’t learnt how to distinguish between useful, objective information and fear, then those voices will soon start to take over your business. Are they already running yours?

The only way to grow, both personally and as a freelancer, is to take steps out of your comfort zone and be prepared to try something new, even where the outcome is uncertain.

The Illusion of Control Being Necessary

Not being in control isn’t something that the human mind can handle very well. For that reason, it does all it can to try to stay in control of every situation. This is one of the reasons that the voice telling you not to take new action is so loud. The only way to stay in control is to take the same action you’ve always taken. Then there’s no (or little) risk. But remember that saying “no risk, no gain”? It’s 100% true. If you want change, if you want to get out of the vicious circle you feel you’re stuck in, then it’s time for you to take action and then let go and be open to what happens next.

Listen Carefully

When you start listening carefully to the voices in your head you may find that there are several. Some want to support you, some want to hold you back, some are encouraging you to move forward, and others are doing everything possible to stand in your way. Which of those voices is the loudest? If it’s not the one encouraging you, then it might be useful to ask why you are listening to the ones that are trying to hold you back. Is it just because they are louder? Is it simply a habit? Is it easier for you that way?

I hear from so many translators who feel like they’re stuck in a vicious circle. They read books about marketing and try to take new action, but they rarely get very far. Even if they have the best of intentions—and some are the most conscientious translators I know and are excellent at their craft—they lack emotional self-discipline. This leaves them unable to break out of this vicious circle.

A Process, Not Instant Results

Like anything, learning to practice emotional self-discipline is a process. If you expect immediate results, you’re going to be in for a disappointment. Just like starting out with any new client or personal relationship, you need to take some time to pay attention to what is going on inside your mind. Differentiating between those voices and weighing which ones you’re going to choose to listen to takes time. But once you start to do this, you will feel more empowered. Why? Because even if you still find yourself listening to the obstructive voices for a while, you will at least be aware of what you’re doing. As I tell my mentees again and again, awareness is the first step on the path to change and the first step on the ladder to success.

Action Steps

  • Pay attention to those inner voices. What are they saying? Is there more than one? Listen carefully to what the quiet ones are saying.
  • Write down everything those voices are telling you on a piece of paper. This is important as it allows you to detach. When they are all in your head shouting for attention, it’s easy to lose track or to only hear the loudest ones or the ones you are most used to listening to.
  • Now that you have everything down on paper, try to dis-identify with the situation. Perhaps try imagining that you’re advising a good friend rather than yourself.
  • Go through the statements provided by your inner voices one by one and look for objective, useful information and write it down.
  • Identify the statements that are purely fear-based. Identify what the fear is in each case.
  • Determine whether the fear is valid or whether your mind has simply been making up stories about one of the potential outcomes and is perhaps focusing on what it considers to be the worst-case scenario. Ask whether the negative outcome you are expecting is a certainty or whether there are other possibilities.
  • Take the new action. If necessary, coach yourself through the next step. Talk back to those voices and explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and that you have considered the situation carefully and that this is the best objective course of action.
  • Let go, trust, and embrace any changes.

Remember that until you take new action, you can’t know exactly how things will change. Life is never as black and white as our minds want us to believe it is.

Karen Rückert
is a German>English legal translator specializing in commercial law. She has 14 years of experience in the translation industry, initially working in-house for a large commercial law firm in Germany before embarking on her freelance career in 2007. She has an MA in legal translation and is a publicly appointed and sworn translator for the English language for Baden-Württemberg, Germany. Since 2012, she has served as a mentor in the mentoring program for the Bundesverband der Dolmetscher und Übersetzer. She writes the Translator Mentoring Blog. Contact:

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