volatia language network

Overcoming the Valleys, Soaring Toward the Peaks

Perspective Piece


By: Sherry Isidore | Volatia -


Self-esteem is the opinion you have of yourself. Confidence is the faith you have in yourself and your abilities, which can fluctuate from time to time.


Not trusting your ability to perform can affect your personal life as well as your professional career. This started to happen to me in my interpretation jobs. It felt like a loop that I couldn't get out of.


Talking to my friends and fellow interpreters helped me to realize that I am not the only interpreter that struggles with this from time to time. The causes for this crisis of confidence inspired me to develop concrete ways to manage uncertainty and anxiety.


1. Stop dwelling on negative feedback, either from yourself or others.

I am a Spanish language interpreter, but I am not a native Spanish speaker. Nevertheless, I speak it well. On past assignments, my skill as an interpreter was questioned before I spoke because I am not Hispanic.


I felt like I needed to “put everyone at ease” after I introduced myself so that they would know that I could do my job. After a while, that type of pressure became too much. It made me doubt my competence.


I felt so much pressure because I was worried about what others thought of me. There are things that I cannot change about myself, and I accept that. I was looking to other people to accept that too.


For example, I cannot change my birthplace or appearance. Nevertheless, I can change my focus. By focusing on how I can successfully accomplish my interpreting assignments, I do just that.


When I concentrate too much on anything other than my performance, my self-confidence wanes. Obviously, that is easier said than done; however, it is worth the effort to keep in mind.


2. “Comparison is the Death of Joy”- Mark Twain

Not all comparisons are negative. Sometimes looking at the successes of others can give me a positive sense of where I am versus where I want to be. It can also motivate me to improve since I can see what success looks like and what it takes to get there.


All too often it is negativity that benefits no one. Negative comparisons almost always make you feel devalued. How does this look? Just when I feel like I am skilled at my job, I compare my skills with others.


Admittedly, if they are doing a great job, it makes me reflect on whether I know enough vocabulary, or if I’m fast enough. I question whether I’m listening intently enough and if my skills are as sharp as they should be. I judge if they are better and I am less than.


On the other hand, if I overhear someone doing what I believe is a not-so-great job, I feel better about myself. Well, that kind of confidence is only temporary. Unfortunately, that's because what I’m looking for are their weak points.


This doesn’t motivate me or anyone to do better; it cultivates a spirit of competition and jealousy where there should be none. Plus, that comparison doesn’t help my fellow interpreter, the clients, or the LEP.


A recent conversation with one of my closest friends confirmed that even the most competent person in the world has moments of doubt. There are moments where the words don’t come out the way they would like, or they have no idea what the word is!


Just because the rock star in front of me doesn’t seem to have a weakness, doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. Besides, when I have a negative opinion of myself in comparison to others, I compare my failures to their successes.


That’s not fair at all. I wouldn’t do that to my friends, so why do that to myself? Now, I try only to compare myself to myself. I look at where I am now in comparison to where I was at the beginning of my career and I think about what I can do to keep improving.


3. Grow everyday

Another reason my confidence tanked is that I didn't know everything. Of course, writing that and saying it out loud seems illogical. But, sometimes interpreting forces interpreters into situations where they just will not know every term, even in our native tongue.


While an interpreter could be very comfortable interpreting in a medical setting, an assignment in social services may throw them for a loop. There are words and phrases that I do not use in everyday life. When was the last time you said congenital hydronephrosis in a conversation with friends and family?


I take note of these unfamiliar terms and add them to my vocabulary. I also have trusted websites that I use to help me while I am on the phone or on a video assignment that I can use on the spot. I watch tv shows and news broadcasts in my target language.


Foreign language television is a helpful tool for learning new terms, sharpening my listening skills, and practicing note-taking. If I know that I will be confronted with the same unfamiliar words while interpreting in a particular field, I research and familiarize myself with the vocabulary words or phrases that are specific to that field. There are tons of resources for that type of research.


Sometimes the help comes from a fellow interpreter, a professional in the field where I need polishing or the Internet. The fact is, with resources at my disposal, I know I can meet challenges and keep moving.


There are many other ways to build confidence. These are three methods that I now use as a maintenance checklist. When I feel like my confidence has slumped in a valley rather than soaring to a peak, I use my tools to examine what I am doing and explore how I can get myself back on course to provide excellent service to my clients.