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The Sweet Spot

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Poetry seems to have priced itself out of a job; sadly, it often handles few materials of significance and addresses a tiny audience. Literary fiction is scarcely published; it’s getting to be like conceptual art — all the unknown writer can do is tell people about his work, and all they can say is, “good idea.” The short story is to some extent going the way of poetry, willfully limiting its subject matter to such narrow surfaces that it cannot address the things that most engage our hearts and minds. So the narrative essay may become the genre of choice for writers devoted to significant literature.

Annie DillardThe Best American Essays 1988 (public library)

I recently had the pleasure of spending three nights in Florence. There’s something about Europe that makes me want to stay in someone’s home and get acquainted with their routines and neighborhoods. The center of Florence is normally crowded with eager tourists that want to experience the greatness of this former republic, but I prefer to slowly walk through and enjoy it, and then walk back the calmness of a non-touristic neighborhood.

I rented a room for the three nights from a woman named Isabella (her name has been changed for this piece) who I met online on one of the many famous lodging and sharing services. I picked her among several of the great options in Florence for several reasons: her profile picture was not only gorgeous but showed a lot of character and personality, her apartment was minimal with lots of white and colorful accents, she had a beautiful cat and she’s a freelance translator. I was sold!

There’s something about looking for those that are similar to us in foreign places, that gives us a sense of peace. Some people look for food, others for language or groups of people from the same region/country, but others (like me!) look for people that share the same vision of the world and live life closely to the way we do. Isabella, my lovely host, is a translator and interpreter of Spanish, French and English, but what caught my attention most were the other languages she speaks and works with: Polish, Russian and Romanian. Her use of Slavic (by the way, Russian is not the same as Slavic!) and her interest in the culture and history of Eastern Europe has made her translation business successful and enjoyable.

Being a freelancer in Europe is not as easy as you might think. They have very high taxes to pay to their governments because of their independent status, there are quarterly fees that are charged no matter what your income is, and it is pretty hard to find other freelancers to hire as contractors because of the high cost of this business structure.

That said, I asked Isabella why she chose to work with those languages. With a special light in her eye, she replied without hesitation, “Because I am in love with the culture of Eastern Europe, and I am interested in getting to know more about their history. I feel a sense of joy when I read Polish or Russian that can’t be compared to other languages I work with. I also do it for my client’s reaction. When they learn that I have no familial relationship with their language, they thank me for loving their culture. That is priceless!”

When I think of those words, I immediately feel a sense of joy. Isabella not only found something she loves and admires, but also found a way to use it to serve other communities and reach a broader audience. Translating became part of her life, not just her job.

Have you found your sweet spot yet?

Some of us have found it already, others are getting there by narrowing their target audiences and others are experimenting with different groups that can benefit greatly from their services. The trick is to make ourselves easily accessible to our audience and to understand them so that we can create the best service we can to help them in the area we have decided to be of their service (tweet this!).

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