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!


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: