Failure (Almost)

We tend to spend our time doing the things we know we do well—running because we’re good runners, or painting because we’re talented artists. Tell us about a time when you tried something for which you had no talent. How did it go?

I squinted when the bright light pierced my eyes as I talked to the stony-faced manager of the Siberian airline. I was translating as quickly and accurately as I could, while both parties’ faces became steadily redder and their voices louder. The official rounded on me menacingly as I explained that the Oxford Ecology Professor named Jonathan desperately needed his backpack to join our Altai Mountains research expedition. My brain had never been wired to use both English and Russian simultaneously. As I switched from language to language, there were awkward pauses, I couldn’t remember words, and I forgot about grammar. Both the professor and airline official were frustrated by my translation attempts. The backpack wasn’t returned.

I never knew that the outdoor expedition would involve translating. The responsibility was thrust upon me the moment I got off the train and met Jonathan. He didn’t speak Russian, and yet he was the trip’s ecology specialist. I was the only person in our group who spoke English, so I became the impromptu translator. My translating abilities were severely impaired, even though I was fluent in both languages. I had no natural talent. I stumbled over words and couldn’t find equivalent phrases, so that...

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