It's all about trade-offs
Each opportunity beckons a question
Last week, an unexpected opportunity landed in my inbox. A recruiter from a media localisation company I’d never heard of emailed to ask if I was interested in becoming one of their English-Thai freelance subtitles translators, and if so to send them my CV.
I’ve been translating subtitles for six years, and I can count the number of times this has happened on one hand. I was thrilled to be approached, but applying was out of the question. I already have a full-time job plus a long-standing collaboration with a different localisation company. My hands are full.
But I noticed that the company was headquartered in the US, which meant their freelancers would get paid in US dollars. I was curious, so I replied:
Hi [recruiter’s name],
Thanks for reaching out. I'm currently employed elsewhere as a subtitles translator so am not looking for other opportunities. For future reference, should I choose to switch companies, it would be helpful to know a bit more about your company. Could you share what type of content providers you localise for (I understand if client names cannot be divulged) and what rates you offer your freelancers?
Given employers’ general reticence when it comes to pay, I was surprised by the recruiter’s transparency:
The standard rate we offer for English to Thai (with English template) is $2.00 USD per minute of video runtime. Please note that the rate is negotiable.
$2 per programme minute is far from the highest rate one can command in the field,1 but it’s still more than double what my current company is paying me for my meticulous, time-consuming work.
An easy decision
Subtitling for two companies would distract me from my full-time job, which I’d very much like to keep and excel at. So the question became: Do I ditch my current company so I can double my subtitling income?
The carrot dangling before my eyes was enticing. Earn twice the money for the same amount of work? It sounded like a no-brainer.
After the briefest moment of hesitation, I typed a reply to the recruiter and pressed ‘send’: “Thank you very much for the information. I will certainly keep your company in mind when I look for opportunities in the future.”
Then I messaged my subtitles coordinator at the company that’s been underpaying me for six years: “Hey, what have you got for me this month?”
It’s all about trade-offs
In life, we’re sometimes presented with opportunities that seem too good to pass up, carrots that make our mouths water. In these moments, we’re overwhelmed with the urge to say ‘yes,’ and grab what’s being offered with both hands.
Several years back, that’s what I would have done. Had I stumbled across an opportunity to double my income, I would have applied in a flash and joyfully hopped abroad if they’d have me. But not anymore.
These days, I see everything in terms of trade-offs. There is no opportunity too good to pass up. Everything has hidden costs under the gleaming surface. Even the dream job always comes with a catch.
In that brief moment of hesitation before declining the subtitling opportunity, I was asking myself the question:
What would I be giving up if I go for this new, better-paying job?
The answer came easily: My position as one of the top-tier, most trusted translators at my current company, established over six long years, which meant:
The security of having at least one subtitling project every month
The freedom to decline projects without being penalised
The flexibility to propose deadlines that suit
I might earn double at the new company, but I wouldn’t enjoy these privileges I’ve become accustomed to. And to me, they are worth far more than an additional $1 a minute.
What do you think?
So, the next time you’re deciding whether to reach out and grab an opportunity with both hands, ask yourself:
What would I be giving up?
What’s the trade-off? What are the hidden costs of your decision? Send a reply, leave a comment, share this with someone you think should say ‘no’ more often.
Until next Friday… Stay thoughtful,
I’ve been paid as much as $5.3 per programme minute. Alas, this was the exception rather than the rule, or my daily exercise would be doing lengths in an Olympic-sized pool of gold coins, Scrooge McDuck-style.