Mar 27, 2011

The extra mile

Although I seldom use the project he helped create any more, there is a man I think of often with great fondness. I never had the privilege to meet Emilio Benito, the founder of Atril, in person, but I will never forget his 4 am response to a desperate 3 am e-mail for a project I couldn't export and which was due at 8 am the next day. It turned out that the problem wasn't his company's software, really, but corruption in the file supplied by the customer. He fixed the file, re-did the work and sent me a file to deliver. Extra mile? Quite a few of them, actually. And he did similar things for a lot of people. When companies whose software I use do something outstanding and unexpected, Emilio comes unbidden to my mind, and I hope that when he made his untimely departure from the world in the early part of the last decade that he understood how much he had help me and so many others in our efforts to survive and thrive in a business that so many find difficult.

But there are miles, and there are miles. The ones that take me farthest and inspire me to pave a few paths for others where I can are those that I do not expect, and which have a certain confident goodness about them and simply make me want to share the bounty. It comes from customers, or colleagues, friends, family or total strangers, and I can't really say that any of these have a disproportionate share of this, and its opposite is well distributed as well.

An appreciation of life's serendipitous rewards can cause many a bitter draft to be forgotten quickly or endured with a shrug and a wry grimace. I have long since given up expecting the world to go the way I want or expect it to, except in trivial matters of translation contract negotiation, where I'm a hard-nosed SOB who always gets what he wants, but I have come to understand and enjoy a game in which the cards are always being shuffled, and one can have the pleasure of seeing how a given hand plays in its circumstances.

For me personally, this offers the freedom to do what I want when I want to do it and not give much of a damn what anyone thinks. So I'll go that "extra mile" on a road I choose, not because I really care about the advantages it may bring me, though I can often calculate these with some accuracy if I care to. Life and business do indeed operate according to some basic, recognizable principles in most cases, but these are statistical averages of a sort. Where the individual case will fall in a particular instance is seldom knowable with certainty. There is freedom in that if you can accept it.

So do that special terminology for your customer on a big project, though it was never ordered. Why not? If you're working smart, you're probably building it anyway, and the world won't spin off its axis if you share it. And just for fun, you can point out that this could be used in case they see the need to work with someone else when you aren't available or are beyond their short-sighted budget. That may seem a funny road on which to drive that extra mile, but in some 27 years in the business world I've noticed one thing that is very consistently true for me: the best associations are always among unbound equals, without pretense. In a world with its eyes open, my maid is the equal to any good CEO in her honest work. Even if she does hide parts of my coffee grinder where I can't find them.

In the last week as I was choking under a nutso workload of nearly 40,000 words (not my usual choice, but it was one of those Perfect Storm weeks), I was thinking a lot about how many things have gone right in the past rather awful year, and how many of these fortunate turns were unearned and were in fact extra miles taken by strangers who stopped to offer me a ride. And a number of times in the fields and forest and in my garden, I found myself singing a song about a kind of freedom that I once heard from its author some 35 years ago. And surprise, surprise. YouTube has one of Randy's many interpretations of it in absolutely horrible audio and video quality, but with some beautiful turns of voice. So taking my cue once again from my colleague and fellow blogger (another mad patent translator), Steve Vitek, I offer you this:

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