When you start out in an industry, any industry, you have a lot of things working against you. A lot of roadblocks, or obstacles to overcome, depending on your point of view. One of the most looming and glaring is the lack of contacts. Every piece of advice for job seekers includes the instruction, admonishment, whatever, to networknetworkNETWORK your little butt off because you're never going to get anywhere without knowing people.
And it's true. It's tough to hear, and tough to implement, but true.
When you're just starting out, and don't know anyone, and have to suddenly make lots of contacts, it's scary. Terrifying, for some. Fear puts on the brakes, gets in the way. Fear of rejection, fear of no response, even fear of being a mild annoyance in some Very Important Person's day.
"Why would the thrice-published Senior Executive Vice-President Experienced Person who knows everyone else in the industry be willing to talk to lil' ol' me, even for a twenty-minute informational interview?"
But here's the thing: most of them will. A lot of them are happy to help newbies. Everyone was a newbie once, no matter how unlikely that may seem.
I learned that two ways. The first, from Ramit Sethi, who writes a blog called I Will Teach You to Be Rich. His posts convinced me to go try talking to people I admire. And when I did, I found that every single person I've reached out to to date has responded to me. Most have taken the time to have a conversation with me. At worst, I learn something new, and at best, I have a new business contact who gives me a job.
People are nice.
I'm nice, too. (Hopefully, most of the time.) So when I got an email from a woman older than I was asking how I got started in literary translation, I didn't demur and shy away. I didn't cite my lack of expertise and beg off. Because even though I've only published one book, I have published a book. The "getting started" part of my career is over; I've hit the growth and expansion phase. We exchanged messages and ended up having a lovely conversation.
And then a colleague of mine sent along a woman who was looking to get into French translation. I gave her my small mountain of info. (Maybe it's a large molehill. Not sure on that.)
Then I signed up for the mentoring program through my alma mater's alumni office. Now, I get about one email per month with recent or almost-grads who are curious about translation, literary or not. There's always the caveat that I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I help however I can. And it feels awesome.
It's a source of pride to be able to help guide new translators down a helpful path, one that takes some shortcuts to the most effective methods of finding your footing.
And then, at the same time, there are lots of contacts and mentors who have done the same for me. I still look up to them. I still ask them questions. And I try to check in with all of them every little while, because I am making strides in my career, and they deserve to know that and be thanked. (Christmas cards are a great way to do this.)
This turned sappy. Eventually, it'll all just become a huge circling cycle of paying it forward.
Which, I think, is the way it should be.