Category Archives: The life of a freelancer

Trials & Tribulations of being a freelancer. Advice, tips and experiences

Living in Paradise does have Drawbacks, Honestly

If I had a euro (or even a rupee) for every time somebody told me that I was so lucky to live in paradise, how happy I must be and how that person wished they were me, I would be, one, quite bloody rich and two, probably quite a bit happier.

Many expat/travel blogs will bore you senseless with fantastic adventures made away from home, cool things done outside of a comfort zone, eating weird ingredients, pushing ones boundaries and finding ones inner Zen blah blah. This is not one of them. Yeah I have good times, sometimes even very good, but sometimes I just feel like punching smiley people who pontificate about how wonderful it must be to live in a beautiful tropical island and freelance from home in the face.

What people think

How people think my life is

How my life actually is

How my life actually is

I know, not nice. Still I would like to see those same people say the same thing after experiencing some of the lesser evils of this little bundle of fun in the Indian Ocean 🙂 I have moaned before here and here I will moan again and give you 5 inevitable grievances of living in Sri Lanka.

1) Random shit

Take today for example. I wake up to a beautiful day, do my morning stuff, switch the kettle on to make a cup of coffee… and… no luck, the power is off. I check the sockets, check the fuse box, listen out for the Singhala radio station which usually bursts out of my neighbours house at this time. Nope: “light ne”. Or translated: “power cut”. Ugh. Grab my phone 30 minutes later to call the electricity office and check what’s going on and just as the guy answers (after the third attempt may I add) the kettle springs into life. Fine fine, no harm done you say – only bloody 45 minutes doing things I didn’t have to. Forget working in an office and turning up on time…no chance. Still I’m lucky there so actually no real harm done.

Two hours later I eventually get ready to go out as I have some bank stuff to deal with. Need to see the manager and have been putting it off. Get to the bank. It’s closed. The guard apologises “sorry madam, today is [insert unintelligible name] holiday, bank closed”. Me: “but the wine store is open” (yes I know that is a completely random thing to say but you would understand if you lived here). In fact every single shop is open except for banks. It is a real “bank holiday” in the bloody sense of the word. Only nobody seems to know why.

Just because they can

Just because they can

I go to a wedding in the afternoon, a woman comes up with a tray of glasses of water. I’m not thirsty at all but I’m afraid to appear rude so I accept a glass and just as I am about to drink it it is snatched out of my hand. One person frowns, the snatcher is grinning “no, no you no drink, touch, touch…”. Eh? Another person appears and touches the glass with both hands, or actually barely touching and then holds his hands together as in prayer. “Like so” the snatcher whispers. My partner has stepped outside for a cigarette. I am mortified. Why didn’t anybody tell me about this custom, am I just supposed to guess this stuff? I see it happen to another foreigner a bit later. Maybe they do it as a joke, to make us look stupid, I brush that thought aside only for it to re-surface when somebody laughingly tells me and the other hapless looking foreigner are the guests of honour at this wedding. I barely know the wedding couple.  Random shit. Random annoying shit.

2) Being white (aka suddho or suddhi (male & female))

Every man and his dog thinks it is fine to ask you your name, age, occupation and marital status just because you are white (well… a foreigner). Some are genuinely interested, most are just nosy or practising their English. Annoying. Having to pay 10 times as much for any tourist attraction, including dubious places,  is perhaps acceptable for bona fide tourists from wealthy western countries in a poor third world developing country, but given that those “definitions” are so blurred nowadays (especially in Sri Lanka which is no longer classified as third world by most standards), and that residents on the same local salary still have to pay those rates by virtue of their skin colour is just stupid. It’s racist. And that is just the regulated price discrepancies. “Regulated racism”. Gah.

This would be acceptable if it was a common practice globally. It is not.

Don’t even get me started on the opportunists I come across in my day-to-day wanderings. I once heard a story of some Russians being charged 10,000 rupees (+/- $100 USD) to cross Bentota bridge by tuk tuk in 2008 (this journey takes 5 minutes on foot). The driver had told them he was risking his life crossing the bridge because of the war. Got to give him 10 out of 10 for ingenuity.

You are also often referred to by “suddha” or “suddhi” (which means white, in male and female form). By friends and foe alike, referred to as “the white person”. Yes, literally.

Muttiah Muralitharan laughing with (or at) David Cameron in 2013

Muttiah Muralitharan laughing with (or more likely at) David Cameron in 2013

3) Loopy shit

My neighbour has been having pujas at night to exorcise bad spirits – it is a Hindu religious ritual. Now I am wary of religions full stop so anything that is in the slightest bit strange I dismiss as utter madness (I do not mean this in any way derogatory – I am a non-believing, non-practising Catholic and fully believe Catholics are the craziest people on the planet). So, imagine when I am confronted with not only chanting, incense burning, coconut throwing, bell ringing, head oiling and bindi annointing activities, but also high-pitched wailing and something I can only describe as body jerking  when the deity being revered in the puja to exorcise the bad spirits has taken possession of a human being – a kind of spirit possession I guess (don’t quote me on that, my sources are the village gossips!!). From wiki (just to give you an idea): “The Coast Veddas, a social group within the minority group of Sri Lankan Tamil people in Eastern Province, Sri Lanka, enter trances during religious festivals in which they are regarded as being possessed by a spirit. Although they speak a dialect of Tamil, during trances they will sometimes use a mixed language that contains words from the Vedda language. This is big loopy shit. This is my neighbour. I am proper freaked out.

They also have extreme horror films on the bottom shelf in the DVD shop – completely unrelated but just saying. Chilled out tropical island lifestyle? Think again.

4) Gecko shit

Precisely that. Many geckos live in my house. They shit everywhere. A nuisance. Sometimes they have diarrhoea… need I go on? Gecko shit.

Gecko culprit

Gecko culprit

Let me finish with probably the most controversial of all:

5) Karma. Yes, that notion which the majority of you will perceive as that fundamental doctrine in Buddhism, that law of moral causation; “what comes around goes around”. Yes that one. You know the one where you think oh dear that will come back to haunt them when somebody does something bad and you read about it in the newspaper, or when an ex-lover gets ceremoniously dumped by their current beau and you think “YES karma matey!”. You would think that living in a place dominated by this very notion of karma would be pretty damn fantastic right? Well you’re wrong.

Picture this: It’s 9am in the morning, you have a full day planned. The power goes off (see number one). You don’t panic yet…no need. Only then you receive a call from your other half to inform you this power cut will last until 5pm. Your mouth goes dry – you have a deadline due at 4pm and your laptop battery will not last the distance to complete the work anyway. You panic. You demand some answers from the electricity board – no luck. You moan to your other half: “what to do?” he exclaims, meaning there is nothing we can do because it is all caused by a higher force which we have no control of. I am here driving myself crazy but the locals have accepted their fate, even if it inconveniences them greatly: there is nothing we can do so we will not be bothered in the slightest. I have a headache and high blood pressure, not to mention an increasing urge to commit murder, yet they are having a cup of tea gossiping with their friend across the road. Sri Lankans embrace karma. This is fantastic if it prevents you having high blood pressure, surely?

Yet, karma has a dark seedy side. This very thing which should make living our lives so much more simple also makes our lives so much more unbearable. This very notion of moral causation has evolved into quite a disturbing phenomenon – the absence of motivation. Accepted apathy. More worryingly, the absence of good and bad. The absence of any feeling of guilt. Much has been written about ethics and morality since the early Greeks. How the hell do we, as mere humans, know whether something is good or bad? Well to avoid getting into too deep waters here I will make a probably insane assumption that most of us do actually know the difference. Yes we do. Increasingly though I notice that this notion of karma is being used as an excuse for laziness – “I can’t really do anything about it so I won’t”, “my actions won’t change the outcome much so I won’t bother”. Also as an excuse for bad behaviour – “it wasn’t really my fault… it just happened that way”, “nothing we can do about it now, it’s already happened”, “it’s not my fault, he brought it on himself”, “if he didn’t do that to my sister five years ago then I wouldn’t have felt the need to steal his car”, “if she didn’t kiss that guy last night, she would not have a skull fracture today”. I have heard these kinds of things and have occasionally been shocked. People here often hide behind their religion and particularly the notion of karma to avoid the repercussions of their actions. Thankfully, this is something that is changing with better education and it will continue to change just like it did for Catholicism years ago. For me it can’t change quick enough. Religion doesn’t do a whole lot of good in my book.

A controversial piece. Feel free to argue and criticise in the comments. I’ll only delete it if it is outright slander :). And for all you lovely people of Sri Lanka please don’t think I am having a go at you and your homeland. I’m not at all, far from it. These are my opinions of my life here. I love the country and its people most of the time. We all have our grievances – I just took the initiative to air them. I would do the same anywhere else, even in my own country – probably ten times worse. Freedom of speech and all that – been a long time coming here 🙂

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Filed under Sri Lankan life, The life of a freelancer, Travel

Freelancing Burnout: Causes, Symptoms, and Ways to Avoid it

I’ve been so busy over the last 2 weeks with work. Now this is a good thing (especially considering my finances at the best of times), but when you are on your laptop to the exclusion of everything else for pretty much all of your waking time – this can soon turn into something not so good.

Fried brains anyone?

Fried brains anyone?

This is what I actually did on my busiest day:

  • Woke up (can’t remember time – too busy to check clock)
  • Turned the laptop on
  • Checked mails
  • Replied to two very important ones
  • Rushed to the bathroom to brush teeth and freshen up
  • Got dressed into clothes I wore the day before (didn’t brush hair, just tied it in a knot and didn’t bother to look in a mirror)
  • Back on laptop
  • Other half brings me a cup of tea – 20 mins later its still there – full. However it is accompanied with two cigarette butts in the ashtray next to cup.
  • In oblivion on laptop until stomach starts to object at around 1pm. Send other half for some sausage buns. Eat one – give the rest to dog.
  • In oblivion on laptop until 5pm (I did have bottle of water next me and the omni-present cigarettes OBVIOUSLY). Go for very short walk. Only make it as far as the wine stores and cigarette shop (kade). Buy 3 small Lion lager cans and cigs
  • Return to laptop – promise to myself that I will at least leave the room and watch the sunset over Bentota River at 6pm.
  • 7pm – broke my promise to watch sunset but having a beer.
  • In oblivion on laptop until 11pm when other half forces me to eat some egg hoppers. Eat them. Look at laptop and go a bit cross-eyed and nauseous. Give up and crash out before my head hits the pillow.

This is scary shit actually – any of you that work for yourselves should read this informative article from linguagreca.com .

Note: the following is not written by me but by Catherine Christaki (@LinguaGreca) AND René Seidel

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Studies have shown that freelancers are more likely to be affected by burnout than permanent employees. The reasons for this are manifold. What is particularly conducive to the development of this condition is a lack of work-life balance, which is one of the main reasons for the permanent state of exhaustion. Combined with fear (the fear of losing customers or contracts for example), negative emotions and a lack of opportunities to unwind, it means that freelancers are highly exposed to burnout.

While burnout is generally described as a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion, there are various symptoms to look out for and a comprehensive list of possible symptoms will be presented later on. The causes are usually excessive and prolonged stress, but here again the list of causes is rather extensive. This article will point out possible causes, symptoms and, ultimately, point out how to prevent burnout if you notice any of these signs on you.

Causes:

As pointed out above, the general cause of burnout is a high-level stress over a long period of time. People start to feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands of their work life. The motivation and interest that lead them to take on a certain role will diminish over time as the stress continues. If the gap in this conflict of roles between their ideal and their actual life becomes too big the emotional disappointment rises considerably.

This exact discrepancy is the basis for burnout. In general, the root of burnout can be found in your personal life, your social life and they can be of organisational-psychological nature, meaning they concern your work life. As this article is intended for freelancers, I am going to focus on the work-related reasons and will only touch briefly on the other causes.

Causes for burnout in personal life:

  • Abnormal ambitions (meaning abnormal addiction to success in particular with people whose self-esteem is mainly based on their professional performances)
  • Perfectionism (setting goals to high and having trouble making compromises)

Causes for burnout in social life:

  • Problems with family or friends
  • Loneliness or a weak social environment
  • Collapse of familial and social bonds, causing growing anonymity and impersonality
  • Unclear life planning (caused by unsecure market situation) making people uncertain about their life
  • The growing complexity of processes in modern life leads to stress and a loss of autonomy, because we are dependent on machines and specialists which may not always be available
  • Being pressed into particular roles causing you to only be able to manage and define certain sections of your life, which is often overstraining

Organisational-psychological causes and causes in work life:

  • High workload / chaotic, high-pressure environment
  • Conflictual role (not being able to pick your clients, dealing with difficult clients)
  • Work seen as a source of satisfaction and therefore ever higher expectations are put on it
  • Feeling like you have little or no control over your work
  • Lack of recognition or reward for good work
  • Monotonous or unchallenging work
  • No clearly defined goals or success criteria
  • Experiencing indifference when talking to colleagues (or receiving no advice/support)
  • Having to do time-consuming administrative work
  • Being unable to handle clients satisfactorily because of a lack of time or organisational causes

Symptoms:

Characteristic features of burnout generally include physical and emotional exhaustion. Also, prolonged physical and mental performance and lack of motivation are among burnout symptoms. Al less known symptom is not being able to relax and missing the ability to recover from work. Symptoms can be divided into different phases and differ between the early stage of this condition and the actual burnout. When burnout is established, the symptoms can be further divided into physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms.

Early stage:

  • increased commitment for certain goals
  • non-stop working towards relaxation or recovery periods
  • work becomes main purpose in life
  • feeling indispensible and perfect, thus reducing the value of colleagues and making yourself unpopular
  • hyperactivity
  • not paying attention to one’s own needs
  • suppressing failures
  • restricting social contacts in certain areas, e.g. clients
  • neglecting partner and friends
  • chronic tiredness and exhaustion
  • sleep disorder
  • states of anxiety
  • lack of concentration
  • seeking distraction and comfort in addictive drugs

Actual burnout:

Physical symptoms:

  • changes in appetite and/or sleeping habits (sleep disorder)
  • frequent headaches
  • back pain and muscle aches
  • loss of appetite
  • weakened immune system
  • feeling sick a lot
  • feeling tired and drained most of the time

Emotional symptoms:

  • lethargy
  • unpunctuality
  • fear of rejection and conflicts
  • (erratic) mood swings
  • decreased sense of satisfaction and accomplishment
  • cynical and negative outlook on life
  • loss of motivation
  • sense of failure and self-doubt
  • feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • loss of motivation
  • detachment – feeling alone in the world

Behavioural symptoms:

  • addiction to the internet, e-mails, or telephone, etc.
  • food, alcohol or drug abuse to cope
  • taking out frustration on others
  • procrastinating, taking more time to get things done
  • isolation from others
  • skipping work, coming in late and leaving early
  • withdrawing from responsibilities

Individual prevention:

There are certain steps you can take when you start notice early signs of burnout in your everyday life. Most importantly you have to give yourself enough time to regenerate and relax. Look for compensation methods that help you relax, such as sport, music, or other hobbies you might have.  If you are religious, prayer or meditation might be suitable to help you relax. The main point is to redirect your attention away from the stress areas through mental or physical activity. Direct your attention instead on your mental, emotional, and physical needs.

It is very important to identify sources of stress at your workplace and defuse them. As the causes for burnout are to be found mostly in your work life, a key point is to maintain or develop the necessary distance between your work and private life. You should try and consider your work life from new perspectives and get rid of unrealistic or inappropriate ideas. You also have to try and correct ill-suited processes to give yourself more room – develop a more realistic time and work management that will lead to a better working experience for you. If none of the aforementioned methods are successful, even changing the workplace can be considered, if necessary.

In the end, the causes for burnout very much depend on the individual and are very diverse. The way out of burnout and prevention methods are equally diverse and differ a lot. The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to prevent or find a way out of burnout is to create some space for your own needs and pay attention to your emotions and body and take them seriously.

Summary:

As freelancers we are constantly worried about getting enough jobs to earn money and not losing important clients; furthermore, we also have very limited means of sharing experiences with colleagues. This, combined with the constant pressure of time and results, makes us particularly prone to burnout. Moreover, having to perform tasks that are difficult to manage or meaningless and no receiving any appreciation from co-workers may fuel burnout.

While most regular workers can start to relax and leave work behind them as soon as they head home, freelancers mostly already work from home and the end of their work day is often just going into the next room. Irregular breaks, unnecessary long working hours and a lack of separation between your private and work life are further causes for burnout. All this can quickly add up, without the person actually noticing, and lead to burnout.

Try to notice the early signs of burnout in yourself and take measures against them. Look for a healthy balance between your work and private life. Taking regular breaks, sticking to fixed office hours and learning to say no are probably the best pieces of advice to avoid burnout.

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I’m taking a couple of days off this weekend. Meet some friends, go down South, write some postcards to family (which have been on my desk for 4+ weeks), get sunburnt (weather permitting), try and finish my book, do very little, have a beer or twenty and chill. I’ve told some of my clients this and they praised me for my commitment and honesty. We’re only human after all.

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Filed under Just stuff, The life of a freelancer

Freelancers’ Guide to Balancing Work and Life

Just found this great article so thought I would share it with you 🙂

http://www.instantshift.com/2012/04/20/freelancers-guide-to-balancing-work-and-life/

It’s straight-forward simple stuff, yet how much of is often ignored by us when we have deadlines looming?

Let me know your stories!

Freelancers’ Guide to Balancing Work and Life

Freelancers’ Guide to Balancing Work and Life

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Filed under The life of a freelancer, Translation titbits

How I fell into freelance translation

On this grey overcast morning in Sri Lanka I have been thinking about what to post as my first translation-related blog. Being fairly new to full-time freelance translation I still have a lot to learn and I have learnt some of this through reading other translators’ blogs so  I hope that what I will post in the coming months and years will be of benefit to new linguists joining the freelance translation  and/or localisation profession and other freelancers (work-from-homers) in general.

Freelance translation

Freelance translation

So, whilst thinking about what to write…the pro’s and con’s of Google translation or something about establishing yourself on social media, how to find new clients maybe, it suddenly dawned on me that most translators I know were educated in or trained to do something else and I always find it really interesting to read how they became translators.

Here is my story:

After leaving London (and a very well-paid job) in 2004 to travel, my first stop was Sri Lanka. I had a job in a hotel bar and all was going great until Boxing day, 2004 – the Indian Ocean tsunami. Luckily I wasn’t hurt and I didn’t lose any friends. The tourists all left though so there was no more job. I stayed on and did some voluntary work but soon discovered that my resources weren’t endless and I needed to find some paying work. I went to Holland in 2005 and worked in a restaurant for 3 months but decided I wanted to go back to Sri Lanka and this is when my foray into freelancing started.

Google was my freelancing friend in those early days. I searched endless websites for freelancing work (initially many were scams or pyramid schemes but I soon learned to avoid those). In 2006 many new freelancing websites were beginning to surface or get media attention; elance.com, freelancer.com, oDesk.com to name a few. So I joined them ALL and started building my profile and looking for writing work. Now anybody can call themselves a writer and join these sites so I struggled at first. After dropping my rates to ridiculously low levels I was becoming discouraged and I realised I needed a more marketable skill than just “writing”.

So, armed with my Economics and Philosophy degree I started searching for more specific writing jobs; financial writing, banking articles etc. I joined some essay writing sites such as Essay writers. These paid a lot better but god was the work boring and tedious. Basically students are outsourcing their essays, theses etc. to professional writers because either they can’t be bothered to do their own work or their English is dreadful.

During quiet times I went back to my other freelancing sites and I stumbled across some Dutch to English translation work quite by accident. I really enjoyed the work and started searching for jobs using my Dutch! I am Dutch and speak the language fluently but only then did I realise that because I am truly bilingual – this is an enormous marketable skill!! I was 33 years old and had only just realised this. This was six years ago and I haven’t looked back.

Tips:

  • Start by joining as many agencies as you can initially (online) and you can then stick with those that have the most work or offer the best rates per word etc.
  • Google your specific language combinations – agencies which specialise in your languages will be more likely to hire you.
  • Familiarise yourself with translation associations and societies.  Even if you don’t join them straight away – they have great resources such as free downloads and useful links on their sites. Here is a comprehensive list of ALL organisations & associations.
  • ProZ.com is a great place to start learning everything about translation and looking for jobs too. I will post more good links soon.

I have been a full-time Dutch => English => Dutch freelance translator and localisation professional for 2 years now and I love it!

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