Aunt Eva Redux: Burnt Out?

by Doreen Simmons

Benevolent Aunt Eva, who recently had the pleasure of seeing off her severest critic when he was transferred to a place more suited to his talents, finds it a little difficult to relate to a problem that seems to come from the inside, but has to get back into the saddle somehow.

Dear Aunt Eva,

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a burned out freelance in a rut, tired of the same silly clients making the same silly errors, tired of translating and rewriting the same old superficial topics year after year. And, worst of all, if I even dare to suggest I’m considering raising my rates, my clients immediately ask if I can recommend someone cheaper. Am I doing something wrong? Should I be thinking of changing careers? Advice please.

Ivor Nottacleugh

Aunt Eva answers:

No matter how you feel, Ivor, this is your livelihood we’re talking about, so it’s important not to make a hasty decision. If you see no new clients coming up, don’t break up with existing ones, however annoying they may be. Although more adventurous souls may see it differently, Aunt Eva herself has never quit a job without having a firm offer of a new one; nor has she ever knowingly got herself into an awkward situation without having a contingency plan for getting out of it. If you feel you have to decline further orders from a bad client, it is the sign of a gracious personality to plead pressure of newer and better-paying work rather than telling him to stuff it. It is even more a sign of grace if you are telling the truth.

But first, try to get to the roots of your frustration. A few basic questions may clear the air: has this happened before, or is this the first time? how long have you felt like this—that is, are you in a real rut, or just going through a temporary case of the blahs? Has the feeling of dissatisfaction and malaise gone on through more than one of Japan’s famous ‘distinct’ seasons, or is it associated with, say, the tailend of winter, or the down-in-the-dumps rainy season? More important, perhaps: (a) how long have you been freelancing? (b) were you really happy with the life at first, and if so, how long did this happiness last? (c) how long have you been dissatisfied?

If your satisfaction was long-lasting and your dissatisfaction is of recent origin, all sorts of minor things may break the spell. Go on a course, or go to a conference—preferably on a subject that is peripheral to your present working life. Give yourself a chance to meet new people—people who have a different perspective, and different experiences to exchange. Who knows—not only may you want to listen to them, but they may want to listen to you, too. Deliberately set out to expand your interests. If you like music, go to a concert that’s a bit outside your usual scope.

But suppose that none of these things have any effect at all. Do you feel, not so much frustrated, but helpless to change your lot? like a limp piece of seaweed lying on the beach, unable to move except when the tide comes and moves you? This is likely to be clinical depression, and you need to see the sort of doctor who understands about it and will prescribe a tranquilizer. Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, and it often fades away within a few weeks whether you take medication or not. But Aunt Eva recalls a story from the early days of tranks, of a young woman who reported back to her doctor that the pills were completely useless; she had taken them faithfully for two weeks but they had had no effect at all. Fortunately, she added, everybody had been so much more considerate in the past two weeks that she hadn’t needed tranquilizers anyway.

Some don’ts: Don’t console yourself with food or booze. Don’t buy yourself new clothes until you’ve found out if you really need a new persona. These things in excess produce far more problems than they solve. If you really are depressive, you don’t want to be fat, drunk and overdressed as well, do you? Get help.

Now, the finale: if none of the above seems to be your problem, then it may be that you really do need a change of work. But again, Aunt Eva counsels caution. Find out first what options are open. Look for new clients. Read advertisements. Read a range of magazines and articles, looking for new ideas. Do you need to develop a new specialty? or would it make a nice change to have some regular employment? Many SWETers have part-time jobs and freelance the rest of the time. A regular income isn’t the only advantage of being employed: you get out and meet people, maybe are pushed into trying new kinds of work; it may be this that will give you the fresh impetus you need to branch out.

Then, when you are ready to branch out, make a number of changes. Cut your hair if it is long; grow it if it is short. Do something you’ve never tried before. Tell your nastiest client (ever so graciously) to stuff his rotten translation. And—good luck, Ivor, whatever your problem proves to be.

Eva Hartupp

From Newsletter Number 86 (March 1999)