06 Sep The Seventh-Inning Stretch
“In baseball in the United States and Canada, the seventh-inning stretch is a tradition that takes place between the halves of the seventh inning of a game – in the middle of the seventh inning. Fans generally stand up and stretch out their arms and legs and sometimes walk around. It is a popular time to get a late-game snack as well.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh-inning_stretch
This year, my seventh year as a staff interpreter with the court, I’ve undertaken to accomplish some considerable transformations in many aspects of my life. Personal goals such as revamping my nutritional and physical activity habits, along with a variety of professional and workplace goals are changing who I am, inside and out. It seems to be my own personal “seventh-inning stretch”… and it feels wonderful!
From time to time, it is the mark of a professional to stand back and reevaluate our habits, attitudes, and practices. After determining our starting point, we can thoughtfully reflect on who we were and what environment we worked in ‘back in the day’ in order to see where we have grown, identify trends and changes we see happening around us that have affected that growth, and where the future may lead us.
Looking back seven years, the courts were definitely a different place to be. When I became court certified, I had been a hospital interpreter for nearly a decade. It was right about the time that interpreters in California had started getting hired as permanent employees. I remember a colleague of mine asking what I thought about working as a court employee, and I was perplexed. I thought, “Why would he ask that? I am an employee already. That’s a good thing, right?”
Let me tell you that back then, many interpreters felt that working as an employee was definitely not for them, and the small staff we had at my court was bombarded with comments on a daily basis by those fortunate enough to have remained independent. They would say, “I don’t know why you want to work full-time… it’s much better in all ways to be an independent contractor.” Truth be told, it was a bit depressing to think that I was apparently trapped in employee status while others were free to roam the globe in search of great-paying work, minimal hours, huge tax write-offs and the luxury of being home in the early afternoon.
Things changed, however.
Over the course of these seven years, while the economy was being slammed with cutbacks and the courts started seeing red in California, slowly but surely the courts were filling their needs with full-time staff. Fast-forward to today, and you’ll notice in my court, at least, it is a rarity to have an independent contractor hired. We have a full staff of dedicated employees, some of whom still quietly long for the independent life, although perhaps not under current conditions in California. The fact is, we hear it’s pretty tough out there for the independent contractors, and many of us are very thankful that we got into a staff position while the gettin’ was good.
This cultural shift in the court is probably one of the major factors that impacts how staff interpreters experience the world of full-time employment, and has undeniably changed the thinking of many. No longer can we be sure that we have a secure position; in fact, there are people lining up to become employees at our court. Many of us are quite sure we’re not going anywhere, and will behave accordingly so we’re not booted out the door as bad employee of the year.
By defining my environment, it helps to set the context within which I can look at how I am as a professional, as an employee, and as a public servant. It’s helpful to think of this reflection via a series of questions, such as these:
* Am I taking my CIMCE courses seriously, or just getting my hours without really developing?
* Have I become so comfortable in my court that I no longer strive to learn new terminology? After all, our court rarely sees cases such as x, y, or z.
* Is there something I’ve done in the recent past to contribute to my profession? Or, am I just punching a time clock and no longer participating in the organizations I used to believe in?
* How has becoming an employee changed my attitude?
* Have I stopped standing up for my professional ethics and become a non-neutral?
* How do other employees of the court see me and my coworkers? Do we truly still stand apart as the professionals we once purported to be? Are we truly representing our profession in a positive light?
* Have I become so accustomed to my tasks that I am insensitive or acting like what some would negatively characterize as a “government employee”?
* Am I so comfortable with my tasks that I unethically offer tidbits of advice to court users, just so I will be perceived as giving good customer service?
* How does the public perceive me and my coworkers? Are we sensitive to the fact that their visit to court is often the most traumatizing experience they have had?
Thought and reflection about who we are as professionals and employees —hopefully more often than every seven years— is part of our ethics in this industry. In fact, we should be holding our coworkers and colleagues to high standards. As the commercial used to say, “If you don’t look good, we don’t look good,” and I’m quite sure all of us want to be perceived in the positive.
As we answer questions such as those suggested above, we should be able to set performance goals for ourselves. As highly-educated professionals, we hardly need a boss to tell us how we should be growing and developing, so reliance on employee evaluations is out of the question. Striving for professional excellence comes from within ourselves and is often led by good examples set by well-known figures in our industry.
That said, I challenge all my colleagues to be self-critics and find opportunities to polish those rough edges back to the brilliant sheen of years past. Stir it up a bit and remember to never be satisfied with the status quo. In the end, a nice, long stretch will serve us and all those around us. So, stand up, reach for the sky, and get yourself a snack. This game ain’t over yet.