Guest post: Keeping our well-being as freelancers

Dearest readers, here we are again with yet another lovely guest who has kindly taken the time to write something interesting and really useful to us, freelancers. It is not all about productivity, feedback, quality and stuff, but also about quality of life.

Welcome, Laura!

Meditation-2

Zen and the art of translator’s maintenance

Being a professional is hard in this day and age. Being a sane, well-rounded professional (and human being!) is even harder.

As independent workers we often face high levels of stress, having to deal with deadlines, customers’ demands – and the occasional slump, when work suddendly slows down and we are left worrying and wondering about the “if” and “when” of the next assignment.

As people often working from home (and thus mostly alone) we are indeed free to set our own hours, arrange our work environment as we please, and even decide to go working someplace else (a café, a park, a co-working space), if we feel like it. The possible downsides are a sense of solitude and isolation; the long hours spent sitting; a certain laziness which tends to creep on us and leave us unfit, tired, with a (long) list of aches and pains, from the back to the wrists to the neck.

All these things take a huge toll. Especially when you happen to be a professional translator in your late thirties (very late: I will be 40 in a few months!), who is been doing this job for about 15 years.

I love being a translator, and I don’t think I could do anything else. But a few years ago I came to realize that, if I wanted to keep doing this as long as possible, and conserve my sanity, and the use of my limbs, in the process!, I would have had to do something, and fast.

Obviously I am not an expert. What follows is simply a recount of my experience, which I think could be beneficial to our colleagues – and to anyone who is an independent professional and is forced to work long hours in front of the computer.

What seemed particularly apparent, and thus urgent to counteract, were the effects of the job on my body. First of all, I was getting fat and unfit. There were periods of time when I indeed went to the gym, to do weights, or some classes (which I didn’t particularly like); but those twice or thrice a week outbursts didn’t seem to do any spectacular difference. The simple truth I didn’t actually grasp at the time was that they simply couldn’t: I was too un-active, much more so than the average person, who at the very least has to leave home everyday, take a walk to get to the office, to get some lunch, to reach a bus stop. Things I didn’t do, for obvious reasons.

So, going to the gym a couple or even three times a week had costed me (in terms of time, effort, willpower, and also money), without making any perceivable difference. Understandably, I would get discouraged, and stop. And then, after a while, I’d feel lazy, heavy, guilty, aching, and start again. In a sense, the very definition of madness 😉

How did I break the circle? Three years ago, I started running, almost by chance, following a very well-known interval plan for absolute beginners, called C25K.

I loved it from the start: it was easy, it gave me structure (which I very much need), and I saw progress right away.

Initially the intensity wasn’t high enough to give me results in terms of weight loss, or real physical fitness: but it didn’t matter, because for the first time I loved what I was doing. I would go running three days a week, sometimes even more often, just for the sake of it: not because I had to, or to obtain some kind of result (which was way too soon to get anyway), but because I wanted to. And this made the real difference.

Fast forward to a couple of months later: I easily ran 5k without any walking break, I started to tackle longer distances. It was pure bliss. Running regularly I finally got to counteract those long hours in front of the computer. I wasn’t un-active anymore: I was a runner!

After a while, I started to see the difference in terms of my body changing. But I also realized running had become my go-to method to sort problems out, work-related or otherwise: I went out the door all stressed out, my brain swirling with things to do, decisions to make, upset with a customer, or with the feeling I couldn’t manage a particular issue. And I came home perfectly calm, my mind finally at rest, and more often than not with a clear solution for that “insolvable” issue.

After a while, I decided to combine running with Pilates: something low-intensity (or so I believed…), which gave me the opportunity to train the whole body, and get more flexible. For a couple of years, I trained five or six days a week, happily alternating the two disciplines.

About a year ago, my love story with running, sadly, came to a halt, due to a pretty serious injury. For a while I tried to ignore it, but obviously that was not the way to go. I was devastated (and I don’t use the term lightly): I was addicted to running, I missed it badly – and I had to rethink my whole training plan.

The upside: I realized I couldn’t stop doing physical activity regularly. Not only because I didn’t particularly fancy the idea of becoming fat and lazy again (!), but also because it was now part of my life. In a way, running was my gateway drug!

I tried a few things, made some experiments, mixed and matched different activities. Now Pilates is a big part of my routine, including a one-hour-a-week-one-to-one workout with my instructor and the aide of a few torture instruments – like the reformer (!); together with a few shorter, high-intensity cardio workouts. Oh, and I also go out for a run once in a while: luckily, endorphines don’t know the difference between 20 kilometres and 2 😉

Bottom line: I am happier, more productive, less stressed out, more able to deal with all the daily challenges of our profession, physically and mentally. Added bonus: I now have a standing desk, so… no more sitting for me!

… And the translator lived happily (and fit) ever after?

Not exactly.

As I was saying, all this activity had a pretty good influence on my mood and my state of mind, but in a way that was quite ephemeral. Maybe as a consequence of getting old(er), I felt the need to take care of my mind in a more deliberate way, and I found it in meditation: more specifically, in an app (if you’re curious, it’ s called Headspace).

Yep, as you can very well imagine there’s an app for that. This could sound counterintuitive, and I know it’s perfectly possible to take on meditation without anything of the sort (without anything, really!): but as I said I am the kind of person that needs structure, a plan, and some guidance, to form a habit – and Headspace gave me just that.

Again, I am really new at this. I have been meditating steadily for just a month now, starting with 10 minutes a day and progressing to 15 and now 20. I was skeptical, to be honest. I am really NOT the kind of person you think about when you picture someone who practices meditation; quite the opposite! And maybe that’s exactly why I should not have waited so long to try it…

The first 10 to 14 days, I got a few odd reactions. Strange, localized aches and pains which came and went in half a day or so. One morning I woke up with a swollen eyelid, without any soreness or pain; the swelling was gone the same evening.

I was a bit baffled to say the least. I can’t be sure, of course, that was indeed my body releasing tensions and stress; but it was definitely strange (and it’s completely gone now).

I also won’t say that I am a different person – that I am calm, enlightened, mindfull all the time. Far from it.

But I do feel a difference. I feel that this practice is indeed beneficial for me, that I am making progress (even if it’s not quite the right term to use in association with meditating!). I catch myself being lost in thoughts during the day, and trying to be more mindful; when working, when talking to a client, replying to a particularly upsetting e-mail, reacting to a problematic situation with an assignment – and the same applies to personal relationships.

I have the distinct feeling that I am indeed “training my mind”. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint exactly which are these benefits, how specifically meditation is beneficial for me, when in particularly I have seen my new, “trained” mind put to the test.

I am very much glad to have started it though, and I am looking forward to continue practicing in the future. Also, it’s not a training I will have to stop anytime soon due to an injury, or so I hope! 🙂

Looking back, I am starting to see I have been following a kind of path. It certainly would have been better if I had started taking care of myself sooner, but all in all I am pretty happy. And I hope I’ll be able to keep on translating (and standing up!) for many many years to come.

What’s your way to take care of yourself, body and mind? Do let us know in the comments!

“Time and health are two precious assets that we don’t recognize and appreciate until they have been depleted” – Denis Waitley

Thank you, Laura, for accepting my invitation and kindly taking the time to write about what worked out for you to our readers! Working as a freelancer can be really dangerous, because we can simply get used to staying at home, sitting in front of the computer all day (and night) long, eating like a pig… However, sitting for that long can be really damaging to our health, and we have to do something before it’s too late. I’m also addicted to running and going to the gym, and I have learned to take good care of what I eat as well. 🙂

We would love to read what your healthy daily routing is: what sport do you enjoy practicing? What healthy activities/practices have you adopted to mitigate potential health issues? Do you follow a healthy diet?

About the author
elle_NYLaura Dossena has been working as a professional translator into Italian since 2000; she is madly in love with translation, and also has a passion for technology, writing, and minimalism (and running, and Pilates). She’s always on the lookout for new ways and new tools to increase the quality of her work and the level of satisfaction of her customers. You can find her on Twitter and on Facebook. Her web site (and blog) can be found here: http://www.elleditraduzioni.it.

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16 thoughts on “Guest post: Keeping our well-being as freelancers

  1. It looks like you wrote this for me. I’m also a translator, I’ll be 40 in about a month, and I spent the last year doing medical exams for all kinds of weird aches and pains that are probably just the result of years of inactivity, bad posture, and stress. My ‘problem’ with physical activity is that I’m absolutely unable to gain weight, so I have no obvious reason to force myself to exercise in a serious way. I also need to declutter my mind and stop being such a control-freak. Unfortunately the wonderful activity I started three years ago – learning to play the piano – is also sedentary and conducive to mental fatigue and obsessiveness, exactly like my job. Gardening is my only medicine right now, but I plan to add hiking and running to it. And of course some kind of meditation. As soon as the summer is over, as I always say. Let’s see if I can keep my promise this year!

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    • Diana, if I may… don’t wait until the summer is over! Start now, tomorrow – with something small, anything which is appealing to you and maybe (if you’re not particularly fit yet) not really high-intensity. Walking/hiking may be perfect, for example. Start small – the secret is to create the habit, after a while you’ll be hooked and everything will be much easier.
      I can definitely relate to being a control freak and a little obsessive however – and physical fatigue is an extraordinary way to cope with that.
      Good luck! 🙂

      Like

      • I agree with Laura, Diana!
        If you keep postponing, you’ll never start it. Start with something small and improve with time, at your own pace.
        Choose something you like. Tennis, volleyball, basketball, running, walking, handball, Pilates, Yoga… whatever. Or try something new you think you may like. You’ll get hooked, as Laura said, in no time, and will want to do more. A day without any exercise at all will actually become a burden, not the opposite. 😉

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  2. Yoga and meditation really work for me! So restorative for the body and mind! You can try a yoga practice called Yoga Nidra – there is this app called Yoga Nidra – Deep Relaxation (like a meditation, done in the lying down position, where you seem asleep but are actually alert and resting at a deeper level).
    Contributing to Carol’s reply to Diana above – yes, choose something you like. I love dancing, so a couple of years ago I used to take salsa lessons and go out to dance twice a week. It really helped clear my mind and get fit!
    Excellent guest post! x

    Like

  3. Hi Laura and Carol, this article is great as I found the description on my life in there!! I do both pilates (alternatively yoga) and running and it has really changed my life. I cannot immagine living it without doing it anymore, especially the running part. Regular exercise is a must for every translator and everyone who sits all day in front of the computer!

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  4. Thank you for this guest post, Laura and Sara. I feel not much is often talked about the bad habits which we may simply adopt as freelancers, or at least, not as seriously and in a “success-story”-like way as Sara just did from the freelancer’s perspective. I’ve been noticing a couple of changes in my body too, and I’ve only been freelancing for two years now. I used to be extremely active, now I could say I am average-active. =( What gets me out of the PC is my attending classes related with my current studies in a field other than Translation, though pretty much connected (Language and Literature), going to the gym (I’m on Sara’s former path, 3 times a week or so, which is not enough, I know), and riding my bike wherever I have to go (this I’ve been doing since I was a kid and couldn’t drop it, not for the world).

    Still, I feel my body needs to more to counterbalance my weekly sitting hours. I am currently starting to worry about blood circulation issues, and not feeling my feet after a couple of hours sitting in front of the computer. So I started introducing short yet effective breaks to stretch while listening to calm.com guided meditations, or simply stretching with some music in the background. I will try Sara’s recommendation on Headspace, too.

    Since I used to be a runner, I’d like to know what kind of injury Sara had that prevented her from continuing with this sport. I’d like to take up running again, but earlier this year I gave up on Irish Dancing precisely because of a sprained ankle, and wouldn’t like to go through all that again if I start running at moderate speed. Grazie!

    Like

    • Hi, Delfina!
      Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment! 🙂
      I think you may have confused people. Laura is the one who wrote the post, but who is Sara?
      Sitting can be very dangerous for our health if we are not careful. Exercising frequently is not enough. You should take constant pauses throughout the day to stretch and walk around a bit. I usually do it every two hours, since I have to get up to get something to eat, fill up my water bottle and go to the toilet.
      As to running, I personally suggest you start slow. Walk and run or run at a slow speed and see how you feel. Should you feel any pain at all, make an appointment with the doctor. Even if we all have knee pain, our problems may be different from each other and require specific treatment and care.
      Anyway, not feeling your feet is something you should be concerned about and maybe see a doctor.
      I hope you find your balance. 🙂

      Like

    • Hi Delfina!
      I didn’t want to bother the readers with details, but my injury (or better my condition – something called Morton’s Neuroma) has more to do with the consequences of a previous accident, in which I break my ankle pretty badly, than with running in itself. I am with Carol on this: start slow, alternating walking and running, and listen to your body. If something hurts or feels wrong, give it a rest and/or get yourself checked. You can’t go wrong!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, Carol and Laura. Thank you both for your comprehensive replies, they certainly help! Sorry about the confusion with names, my mistake. Carol, the issue about my not feeling my feet sounds dramatic, I know, and I may have overrated it. I meant the feeling you get after not standing for a couple of hours, and then suddenly wanting your whole body to respond to an urgent need to leave the PC, well, it kind of makes you feeling you are about to set up a heavy-duty load in motion, when it’s just your own, usual body, and my feet is where I feel that the most.

    But, like I said, I am introducing short pauses every hour now or so, rotating ankles and flexing toes, using calm.com, or just relaxing music crooning in the background, and of course, I’m resuming my gym routine thrice a week, which is something, though not much, plus cycling, which I don’t take it as exercise because it’s part of my routine to university or other activities outside my place, but I guess it still helps. I promise I’ll follow your advice when I resume running, and take it easy, in dribs and drabs as you suggest. =) I asked about Laura’s injury because I feared it was closely linked with running, and dreaded that if I started now again, after almost a year or so since I last went jogging, I might be making room for a similar injury to happen.

    Thanks again for all the support and for bringing up issues which all freelancers, not just translators, can actually relate to. =) Cheers to you both!

    Liked by 1 person

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