Motivation as a translator

How to Stay Motivated as a Freelance Translator

Freelance translation is a profession that requires a ton of motivation.

If you want to succeed, you have to put in the work. I’ve said it time and time again, but this little nugget is worth repeating:

Becoming a successful translator takes more than just having the ability to translate well.

In fact, I would say that maintaining your motivation and continuing to take action are more important than your actual translation ability. (as long as they are decent).

I know what you’re thinking: How can that be? That doesn’t make any sense. Well, give me a chance to explain what I mean.

Action = Success

Most (I’ll admit that not all) freelance translators, or those interested in becoming translators, have decent language abilities. Yes there are different levels of ability and top- notch translators are definitely worth their weight in gold, but most freelance translators that earn any money in the profession are fairly good at what they do.

They have to be in order to keep getting repeat clients, which is where they find the most money in translating.

But success for most professional translators is not based only on how well they translate. If it were, even awesome translators would starve to death.

Rather, their success is based on two things:

  1. How motivated they are
  2. Whether or not they’re committed enough to turn that motivation into real action

Motivation as Success

Being motivated is absolutely crucial for a freelance translator, and I’d suggest that decent translators who are highly motivated in their business will be more successful business-wise than excellent translators with mediocre motivation to get out there and make their passion their business.

If you are motivated, you will more likely do the things necessary to reach your goals. When starting out as a freelance translator, you will soon discover that making a great living can be a challenge.

If you aren’t motivated, you will fold when you’re challenged.

Simple as that.

And nobody ever reached their dreams from folding at the first sign of a challenge.

So what does motivation need in order to grow? It needs genuine passion. Passion will drive your motivation. But while I can tell you that, I can’t give you a passion for language or translation.

That is only something that you can do.

If you don’t have a passion for translation, it’s going to be awfully difficult to make it as a translator. Everybody gets their passion from somewhere different, but it is something that burns deep inside you and drives you.

I first realized I had a passion for language during my freshman year of college. I didn’t have any money so I would spend all my breaks between class in the campus bookstore perusing the books, especially those about language and writing.

Anytime I had an extra $10 floating around in my pocket, I’d spend it on language books: dictionaries, writing books, grammar books, etc. Forget eating, I needed to read these books!

In fact, I still have the first book I ever bought at college (Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy). Any time I’m down or feeling a loss of motivation, I look at it on my shelf and feel that passion for language and writing stir within me that I first had as a college freshman.

Another thing I learned in college during my translation classes was that one of the best ways to be motivated is to have a passion for your work. Nobody likes the idea that they have to work, but as translators we have to believe in what we’re doing and that has to be a big part of our motivation.

If we are motivated with that passion, then it won’t even be work!

The more passion a translator has, the more success he/she will have.

Whether you’re a long-time freelance translator or one just starting out in your career, remember the motivation, and remember that the best kind of motivation is to have a deep passion for what you do. Your clients will be able to feel it and, more importantly, you will be able to see it impact your career.

Passion Needs Action

But passion and motivation alone isn’t going to get you where you want to be professionally as a translator.

In fact, if you have passion for something, but never take the time or expend the effort to turn that passion into your reality, it will quickly become a point of depression for you.

I call these people the…





They never fire.

They don’t put that passion into action.

The most successful translators are those that take action in line with their passion. They know that in order to be professional translators, they are going to have to do all those things that most people hate doing, such as…

…contacting potential clients…

…marketing their services…

…calling people on the phone.

Just because you’re a good translator does not mean that potential clients are going to be knocking on your door begging you to work on their projects.

Rather, it’s those persistent translators that aren’t afraid of rejection and realize the importance of action that will become successful.

Most translators don’t like doing those other things. Most people in general don’t have a passion for cold-calling clients or speaking to strangers on the phone. However, as a translator you’re going to have to do those things. And your motivation and passion to become the best translator you can be will drive you to do those things that you find less desirable.

The awesome thing about that is that being willing to take action is not something we’re born with. It’s something that any one of us can learn. So take that step and turn your passion into action, and I promise you will begin to see the benefits.

When I was in high school, I had a shirt that said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” This applies to us as translators. We will not become successful if we don’t get in the game and take shots.

So get out there and take some shots. The worst thing that could happen is that we miss some shots and have to try again.

Two Steps for Taking Action

So what if you’re the type of person that is afraid to take action? Well, there are two steps you need to take. That’s it.

Acknowledge Your Fear

The first thing is to really acknowledge that you’re afraid. Lots of people are afraid to admit their fear and instead convince themselves that they have “valid” excuses that are unique to them.

Sorry, that’s not going to fly.

As long as you keep making excuses for your fear, you will never overcome it and instead will always be a slave to it.

So step one. Acknowledge your fear.

Overcome That Fear

Once you acknowledge your fears,  you are then ready to work on overcoming them. It’s not easy. I know that.

There are all sorts of fears out there, but most of them stem from being afraid to fail.

However, it’s important to know that more times than not, failure is a necessary step to becoming successful. Most people don’t succeed the first time they try something. It takes time and effort (often failed effort) to reach your goals. But if you never even try because you are too afraid to fail, then you will for sure never succeed.

One of the ways that I’ve found successful in dealing with my own fears has been to take small steps towards my goal and set myself up to have little successes along the way leading to more significant success.

For example, if I want to find more translation clients, but I know I might be afraid of reaching out to a list full of strangers to ask for work, I will make a goal to reach out to at least one person on that day.

Usually, once I’ve reached out to one person, my initial fears have gone away and I feel a lot more comfortable to do even more.

So, face your fears. Then take small steps to overcome those fears and you will then be able to use your passion for translation to motivate you into action in order to become a successful translator. Countless translators have done it before you, and you can do it, too.


Motivation is a big part of success.

The more you can remember why you’re pursuing success as a freelance translator, the more you’ll be willing to keep going when challenges come and your mettle is tested.

However, if you do that, you’ll be able to make it out the other side of those challenges with a better understanding of who you are and what it takes for you personally to succeed.

That, in and of itself, makes it worth it.

P.S. For more information on how to become a successful freelance translator, read my book.

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