Last week, I read a fascinating article by Tim Adams writing for the The Observer of The Guardian — his interview with one of my favorite actors, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Although I’ve now seen him in a number of roles, I first remember Chiwetel in the sci-fi film Serenity. The matter-of-factness that he brings to his character’s villainy is still bone chilling and — I say this as a sci-fi fan — a credit to the genre.
As Tim uncovers in his interview, Chiwetel is currently preparing for a starkly contrasting role — the actor is set to play Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Patrice was a hero of the continent’s anti-colonialism movements, and was assassinated for his efforts in February 1961 just weeks after his election. You would think that such a heavy topic couldn’t provide the right inspiration for this week’s Motivational Monday but it’s the actor’s perspective — on not just Patrice Lumumba and the Congo but on his relationship to his work — which guides my words to you today.
Get Close and Then Closer
Like those of us working in the translation and localization industry, Chiwetel has a sense of how important time, place, and context matter in the transformation (or translation, if you will) of one story into the language of foreign listeners.
In this case, Chiwetel traveled to the Congo to place himself in the sights and sounds of the place and its people, understanding — much like we do in our work — that those who are closer to the ground and rooted in the country are the best conveyors of its messages. Of course, those of us who are not in-country — the translators and middlemen and -women of the industry — must let travel and connection guide our best work.
Take Pride in Your Expertise But Make Room for Discovery
As reported by Tim, Chiwetel is well aware and appreciative of the accolades that he has garnered from an acting job well done. He’s considered a go-to man for certain roles and highly credible — just the kind of performance that we translation and localization professionals aspire to in our work. Nevertheless, Chiwetel says “he is still only feeling like he is getting started”. Don’t we all understand how exciting new jobs, new projects, and new learning opportunities give us a certain buzz, inspiring and unleashing skills we didn’t even know existed?
While we relish our expertise and deliver good work with pride, let’s also place ourselves in the path of mystery’s potential and challenge.
“Let Other Things Breathe.”
Chiwetel is not, admittedly, someone who always balances work and personal responsibilities well. He’s right: it’s not a good rule for life! While the daily pressures of the translation office are great, like him, we have to train ourselves to say no, to push away from our desks, and to place one foot after the other into the world.
When I was talking about this topic with my colleague Libor, he said that this reminded him of the loss of two industry colleagues: Bill Hall in 2012 and Laurel Wagers in 2010. In the memoriams for them both, what their colleagues remembered were those things that rounded them out. The “unfailingly positive” Bill was not only a globalization expert he was also a family man and pilot. When potluck-hating Laurel wasn’t editing MultiLingual she was a church accompanist and a long-term member on the board of a local historic theater, which she helped to save.
It’s the other parts of our lives, away from our desks, that also inspire us and challenge us to grow. Make room. Let it breathe.
Make Peace with Fear and Pain
Chiwetel was 11 years old when he lost his father in a tragic traffic accident, one in which he himself was physically and emotionally scarred. According to Tim’s interview, Chiwetel has refused to allow this one moment to define his entire life and identity. Rather, he counts this among those moments along his life’s journey that have helped to shape him. He has drawn from the role model of his deceased father much like good people draw from the example of the Patrice Lumumbas of the world.
While we cannot undo our most painful work and personal experiences, we can (and should!) use the past as lessons through which we open ourselves to a future we desire — as workers and as simple human beings.
For those of you readers who are located in London, I hope that you take an opportunity to see this fantastic actor on the live stage. He’ll be performing in A Season in the Congo at the Young Vic from 6 Jul–17 August. I’ll be in enviously awaiting your reports.