I hear, with some regularity, from freelance translators–or aspiring freelancers–who worry that they’re “too old for this.” Depending on the individual, “this” might mean:
- Starting a freelance business in general
- Pursuing higher-level clients
- Pursuing a new specialization or niche (i.e. transitioning from translation to interpreting or vice versa)
- Adding something like a new language to their range of services
Main question: Does your brain still work? This sounds laughable, but I include it here for perspective. If “too old” is on your radar screen, you probably are too old to be lots of things. An Olympic gymnast. A fighter pilot. An organ transplant surgeon. But a translator’s main asset is mental acuity. Bottom line, if your brain still works, I’m reasonably certain you’ll be OK. You’re not too old for this.
Secondary point: the time will pass anyway, so you may as well use it productively.
Tertiary point: working as a freelancer protects you–to a large extent–from real or perceived age discrimination in a salaried job. The “grey ceiling” is a real thing in the salaried world. Essentially, study after study has found zero relationship between age and job performance. But if you’re over 45 (45! Not 70!), you’re less likely to be hired, more likely to be laid off and more likely to take longer than average to find a new job. If you want or need to work past the usual retirement age, that alone could be a good reason to freelance.
Starting on the bottom rung of any profession requires you to hustle.
Older freelancers have to be aware of stereotypes. In our profession, you may encounter the stereotype that older freelancers are not good with technology, for example. I would advise you to be a geek guru. Be the technology expert; be the person clients and colleagues come to for help when they have problems with translation-related software. Beat that stereotype before it even gets out of the gate. Again, learning how to use technology is just learning a new skill; you can do it.
On the plus side, you can capitalize on positive stereotypes of older freelancers. They’re out there, so exploit them. Many clients think of older freelancers as more stable and dependable, more self-aware, more patient, and less dramatic than their younger counterparts. Emphasize to your potential clients how easy it will be to work with you.
Be prepared to be older than a lot of the people you work for.
If you’re panicking about the “too old” question, I recommend that you:
- Try not to panic. Seriously, if your brain still works, you’ll be OK.
- Try not to compulsively make a big deal about your age. People who see you or talk to you will have a vague sense of how old you are. That’s fine; you don’t need to belabor it with a steady stream of, “When I was your age…” and “Back in the typewriter era…” remarks.
- Be aware that as you get older, everyone else looks younger. Those people who look like they’re 12 are actually 27, and are in a position to give you work.
- Become a technology expert if you’re not one already. That will go a long way toward defeating any clients’ concerns about working with you.
- Embrace the fact that you are probably more self-aware, more patient, less sensitive, and more reliable than you were when you were 22. I know that I sure am.
- Bonus tip: When clients think you’ve been freelancing for 30 years because you’re over 50, take it. A friend of mine went back to school in her early 50s for a totally different career. She had mostly thought of the downsides–how many working years would she have left once she finished? But in the end, there was an upside: people automatically assumed she was a seasoned expert since she had grey hair. Again: take it, and make the most of it.
Readers, thoughts on the “too old for this” question?