The Lightness of Not-Being

I recently became a regular Staff Interpreter… as opposed to a Supervisory Interpreter. I changed my profile description in one of those networking pages that is always sending e-mails asking you to “congratulate so-and-so on this-and-that”, so I suddenly had all these messages congratulating me on my new post. I thought, “How nice”, and started thanking everyone individually until I noticed every message said exactly the same thing. I then realized it was a “boilerplate message” and that no one had read what I wrote about my “new position.” Only one person asked, “Did you move to a different district?”

Well, no, I did not move. I have been planning my retirement for the past five years, and I simply decided (for the sake of my own mental and physical health) that I really did not have to wait for my retirement to stop being a supervisor. So I am now a regular staff interpreter and someone else has taken on the responsibilities I relinquished.

Being a supervisory interpreter is not just about contracting freelancers when needed, and making sure every judge has an interpreter in his or her courtroom when one is needed. In fact, that’s probably the easiest part of the job.

The way I see it, being a supervisory interpreter means that you are somewhat of a “linebacker” for those interpreters you supervise, because many of us still work in settings where a lot of people do not really understand what we do and how difficult it is to do it well. Oftentimes there are demands or limitations put on court interpreters that are not reasonable or even realistic. It is up to the supervisory interpreter to handle those before they have a negative impact on the interpreters he or she supervises.

I may not have the perfect football metaphor here, but in my mind a supervisory interpreter is there to defend and protect the professional interests of staff and contract interpreters so they can all do the work they are called upon to do, under the best conditions possible.

Conversely, when management has an issue with any or all the interpreters, the supervisor is there to be their voice and “give face”, find solutions to any problems that may arise, convey all the information everyone needs to have so as to implement those solutions, and develop action plans to prevent such issues from coming up again in the future.

When anything goes wrong, the Supervisory Interpreter is the one who gets blamed and has to bear the brunt of whatever consequences such wrongdoing may have. But when everything goes right, no one is there to give you a pat on the back and say “good job.” The only satisfaction comes from knowing you have done your best each and every day. But the bottom line is that this is (for the most part) a thankless job.

So, yeah, after a number of years (enough, I’d say) of trying to do my best while fielding complaints left and right for things that should never have been a problem (there are some people in every workplace, I am told, who just like to complain about everything); after years of being on call day and night (because contract interpreters do get sick all of a sudden and you have to scramble to find a replacement at eleven o’clock at night for a nine o’clock hearing the next day); after seeing how little things really do change even though as a profession we have come a long way, I realized one day, “I don’t really have to do this any longer!”

I expect to retire this year, so it seemed like the perfect time to let someone else step up to the plate (sorry about my mixed sports metaphors here), while I start to “wind down” and simply enjoy what I really love doing: interpreting in court.

I feel rejuvenated! I even walk with a little spring in my step.

Ah… the lightness of not being (a supervisory interpreter)!

22 Comments
  • Gio Lester
    Posted at 07:07h, 29 January Reply

    Congratulations, Janis! It is so nice to be able to do what we love.

    Also, I had no idea what the Supervisory Interpreter position entailed. Very interesting to learn about it.

    Parabéns!

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:07h, 30 January Reply

      I am so glad to know that, Gio! That was actually the main purpose of my post.

      Obrigada!

  • Bethany Korp
    Posted at 08:19h, 29 January Reply

    Congratulations, Janis! Beautifully written, as always. Good supervisors are with their weight in gold and deserve a quiet rest ( in the busiest court in the country for interpreters!) if they need or want one.

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:16h, 30 January Reply

      Yes! Yes! Yes! Busy, indeed. But I love it. Thank you, Bethany!

  • Judith
    Posted at 11:09h, 29 January Reply

    Good for you! I’m sure you have left the position in great condition for your successor and you can certainly take pride in all that you’ve accomplished, so go for it! “Wind down” and enjoy a well-deserved rest!

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:20h, 30 January Reply

      I sure hope so, Judith. Thank you for those beautiful words!

  • Melissa Wallace
    Posted at 12:34h, 29 January Reply

    Quality of life comes first, Janis. Congratulations on leaving a great legacy and still leading in the profession!

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:21h, 30 January Reply

      Indeed, Melissa. Thank you so much.

  • Pauline
    Posted at 12:47h, 29 January Reply

    Great article Janis and congratulations! Sounds like you have certainly earned your “wind down” moment. Enjoy to the most your last year and “Happy Interpreting”!

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:35h, 30 January Reply

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the piece, Pauline! I certainly intend to enjoy these coming months “just interpreting”! Thank you.

  • Maria L
    Posted at 13:31h, 29 January Reply

    Congratulations on your retirement as supervisor. One only dreams of having a conscientious supervisor as yourself. I remember many of times being sent to assignments by my unreasonable boss to interpreting jobs beyond my limitations. Your staff should consider themselves fortunate to have had such a great example of professionalism. Hope you enjoy your many years of interpreting ahead of you.

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:43h, 30 January Reply

      Well, María, I hope this blog can help in some way to create awareness among those in charge of interpreter assignments so they take better care of you, especially if they themselves are interpreters. If we don’t stand up for each other, who will?

      Thank you for your good wishes!

  • Kevin Mercado
    Posted at 13:35h, 29 January Reply

    Great piece. I went from coordinator to staff interpreter right about 2 years ago, so I can relate. And linebacker is a great description; creating some space so the person with the ball can do some work.

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:45h, 30 January Reply

      Yes, Kevin, that is precisely what I had in mind. I was hoping someone who actually knew about football could validate. Thank you!

  • Glenda Obando
    Posted at 22:28h, 29 January Reply

    Janice congratulations on passing on your supervisory baton and choosing to finish your distinguish staff career doing what you love best: interpreting! Continued success and health to enjoy your well-deserved retirement!

    • Janis
      Posted at 08:46h, 30 January Reply

      Oh, thank you for your kind words and good wishes, Glenda!

  • Jose' Gonzalez
    Posted at 14:03h, 30 January Reply

    Congratulations !!!
    You have worked very hard to be able to lessen the stress of the supervisory position.It was a wise choice to make a change and still be around to share your many years of wisdom.A happy interpreter is an much better than an overworked supervisor.

    • Janis
      Posted at 16:40h, 30 January Reply

      Thank you, José! My sentiment exactly!

  • Rafael Carrillo
    Posted at 14:29h, 30 January Reply

    Janis, Thank you for all your help during the years we have worked together. You were teaching me the ropes even before we had a chance to meet in person. Congratulations for your success as a supervisor and as a leader. Finally, thank you for saying what all of us think but are afraid to say. Un abrazo Amiga!

    • Janis
      Posted at 16:45h, 30 January Reply

      What is that they say about a student surpassing the teacher? Hahaha… I am honored by your words, Rafael. Un abrazo para ti también.

      • Melinda Gonzalez-Hibner
        Posted at 14:56h, 05 February Reply

        Janis thank you for that wonderful piece on the responsibilities of leadership, the duties one has to others, and to oneself. Reading the many warm and supportive replies posted previously confirmed that one often does sow what one reaps : )
        Kudos on your creative solution to reduce stress while continuing to do what you love, it’s a great model to follow. Given your changed circumstances, you may find that you don’t really want to retire this year after all : )

        • Janis
          Posted at 16:45h, 15 February Reply

          Thank you, Melinda! But, yes… I still want to retire, LOL!

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