As my children grew into high school, then college, and then professional lives, I always pictured parenting as the gradual release of something you once held tight and still wish you could. My image was of a closed fist that slowly opens, spreading the fingers wide, perhaps providing some upward impetus for the small creature that waits on the palm to fly.
As a parent, I opened my hand, but in my early days as an independent subcontracting translator, I held my fist tightly closed around my entire business. I did the marketing, worked with the insurance agent, negotiated rates, and chased overdue payments. Most important, every syllable that my clients received, I produced. I was responsible for the most vital aspect of any business: quality control. And I was (and still am) a perfectionist.
But one day my fist had to begin to open, just a little: I took on a project in a language I couldn’t translate and hired a subcontractor. It was like opening the door to the swirling autumn breeze. “Can you also provide Russian for us? Do you do desktop publishing? We need an interpreter.” I scrambled, I delivered, I grew.
Today Tembua serves clients from Vienna to New Zealand in more than 100 languages. As my fist opened, that autumn breeze blew people in, one by one. First came the bookkeeper, allowing me to spend my time on my core job—managing the translation teams while participating with them less and less in the work I still love. Gradually, business development help and then a technology specialist joined the company. A senior project manager now runs all the teams, and account representatives bring in more business. My assistant keeps my calendar, travel, and correspondence in order.
The scariest part? I am still ultimately responsible for every syllable delivered to our clients. There is no possible way one person can check everything, but sometimes I long to not be dependent on the output of others. To carefully craft each sentence for the perfect transfer of meaning from the source to the target language. To know for sure that no steps were skipped, that the spell-checker was used, that the correct translation memory was applied—the way I used to when I did it all myself.
The people who work for me are talented individuals, chosen carefully and trained thoroughly. They use procedures I originally drafted and quality control steps we’ve developed together. I trust each of them and have full confidence in their abilities. If I didn’t, they shouldn’t work here.
But sometimes, my fully open hand develops the entrepreneur’s itch: Let me do it. I can make it better! I can do it all! Neither is true. Many of the linguists who work for us are better than I ever was, and Tembua is long, long past the day when one person (or two or three or four) could handle everything.
My fist is open; my bird flies. I scratch my occasionally itchy palm and am pleased.