by Deborah Wexler
During the 59th ATA Conference in New Orleans, a colleague asked me, “What was the motivation that drove a group of translators to create an audiovisual division in the ATA?”
I sat for a minute, pondering. “Many different factors motivated each of us,” I said.
He then asked, “Well, what do you think was the single most important thing?”
I replied without hesitation, “We want to help the next generation of audiovisual translators succeed.”
And I think the most effective tool to achieve this goal is through mentoring. In this maiden edition of our newsletter,
I wanted to briefly explore the meaning of the term “mentor,” as well as the benefits and responsibilities of being one.
In the epic poem The Odyssey, by Homer, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who stayed in Ithaca in charge of Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Athena appears to Telemachus disguised as Mentor, and acts as his adviser. The common noun meaning “wise adviser” was first recorded in English in 1750, going back through Latin to the Greek character name¹.
The benefits for the mentees are evident: It empowers them with essential information, feedback and support, and helps them build confidence and grow, both personally and professionally.
But are there any benefits for the mentor? Yes. There are benefits beyond “it looks really good in your résumé.” It improves your leadership and communication skills. You gain a renewed sense of pride in your profession. You get to share your experiences with a kindred spirit, somebody hungry to hear them, which is very satisfying. Most gratifying of all is to help a colleague succeed.
It will also teach you a few things. When your mentee says, “We do that differently now,” and shows you a more efficient route to doing the same task, you will be amazed. When you are explaining things to a novice, it makes you stop and take a look at how and why you do things, and helps you see everything through fresh eyes and revitalized interest. You will learn while you teach!
While the mentee has responsibilities― to be open to constructive criticism, to learn and to do homework, to be willing to correct course, etc.― the mentor has greater responsibilities. Our mentee will adopt our way of doing things, both the good and the bad, so we have to be careful when we teach and never lose sight of ethics and values. We must set a higher standard for ourselves, because we will be leading by example. We must remember our mentee looks up to us and our opinions and advice will carry a heavier weight than normal.
For me, as a mentor, the task is not to carry anyone up the mountain. It’s not even to hold their hand during the climb. For me, it’s preparing them for the climb: letting them know what kind of gear they will need, what kind of terrain lies ahead, if they will find inclement weather, what type of obstacles will be waiting for them, and teaching them how to sort them.
You can be a mentor
But who has time nowadays, with the pressures of work, family and daily life in general, you say? We all do. We all have to. In most cases, this commitment will only require a handful of hours a month from the mentor, but it will have a great impact in the mentee’s life.
All of us could spare that kind of time to give back, right?
That’s why mentoring programs are so important. Nevertheless, the need for mentors is great. And the new generation needs you.
Yes, you, the translator who is reading this letter. It so happens that the ATA has a mentoring program! You can look at the guidelines in the ATA website and watch the free webinar, here: https://www.atanet.org/careers/mentoring.php