I Hate Labels.

Jill Metcalfe
3 min readFeb 8, 2021
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

In their bios on blogging platforms like Medium or Quora, people tend to put things like Writer, Mother, Business Owner. Technically, I am all of those things, but I don’t feel comfortable sticking those labels on myself.

The only label I’ve ever felt happy to acknowledge is Translator. When I became entitled to that badge in 1993, I’d spent the previous two years telling the people who asked me what I did, “Well, at the moment I’m working in a shop,” or “Well, at the moment I’m on the dole,” or “Well, at the moment I’m doing some data entry”.

I was living in Oxford, and the people asking were mostly postgraduate students. I watched their eyes glaze over as their expectations of having an interesting conversation evaporated. I understood their disappointment because I felt it myself. They were smug arseholes and snobs, and I was too.

Anyway, the day came when I had my diploma and I was able to say “I’m a translator!” with a slightly surprised, slightly self-satisfied upward tilt at the end of the sentence. Not only was I a member of a profession, I was earning money doing it, and everyone would know I was clever and had cool skills.

The label I liked was one I felt I had earned, and one I was proud to claim because it said good things about me.

A couple of decades, a machine learning revolution and a pandemic later, I still tell people I’m a translator. But I’m not earning a living at it any more. I’ve been deskilled, automated out of my livelihood. Machine translation engines like Google Translate and DeepL do a pretty good job these days — good enough that my financially squeezed clients are prepared to take the quality hit if it will enable them to stay in business.

I am still far better than Google at converting sentences written in French into understandable English that flows well and is a pleasure to read. But in the current climate, many of my clients have decided I’m a luxury they can’t afford, or can afford only occasionally. In the long run I think that will prove to be a mistake, but honestly who knows anything any more.

So back to the labels I don’t want to own: writer, mother, business owner. They may all be things to be proud of, but either they’re not things I’m particularly proud of, or I don’t feel I’ve fully earned them.

Jill Metcalfe

Notion maximalist and note-taker. Overthinking and under-executing since 1991.