I took an afternoon assignment with an agency in my area weeks ago. It was my only job of the day. The cable guy cancelled this morning and I didn’t even think to look at my planner when my sister asked me for lunch while we were waiting for him. This agency doesn’t send out reminder emails and I’m always really good about setting them in my Google Calendar. I remember booking this job, I had gotten a phone call right after getting confirmed and told myself to make a note of it but the call went on forever and I never did. So… I missed the gig. WHAT DO I DO?!?!?!?!

You woke up and the clock reads an hour into the job you’re not in. Did you feel a sudden rush of panic? SAME.

The most horrifying feeling is when you’ve realized you’ve missed a job, or will be too late to make it make sense and you feel like the worst disappointment your client, your colleague and the requestor will ever meet in their life. It’s the reason so many interpreters can laugh at shooting awake at 4am in a panic before going back to sleep praying to the gods it never happens to us. 

It happens. I once had an agency director tell me that everyone gets one a year. To me, that was extremely generous. I know plenty of interpreters who have never in 10+ years missed a job. Let me be very clear, I am not them. I have missed my fair share of jobs over the years due to sleeping in, power outages, car accidents, double booking, food poisoning etc… We’re humans in that chair and we’re humans out of it too. We have real lives that rarely if ever go according to plan. While the goal is 0% loss of income, disappointing the client and wrecking your name to the agency… when things happen, it’s good that you know what to do.

First, stop panicking.

As humans, we’re not great at making decisions based on emotions. I once moved across the country after a breakup with an ex. I moved back three weeks later and we were dating again within six months. Huge mistake on all three counts. Have you ever made a decision out of worry or fear that you can look back on now with a nice warm feeling of shame? Yeah, they’re great. 

Anxiety is defined by the American Psychological Association as an “emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”. I cannot think of a worse time to send an email than when my body chemistry is being altered by an emotion. Pure terror. 

Take some deep breaths, tell yourself that everything is going to be fine… because it is. Get a glass of water and find your center. Then, draft up the email or a short script for the phone call.

Informing the client/requestor/agency is first.

Connect with them to inform them you’ve missed it or that you will be extraordinarily late for it and you can leave the house ASAP. Sure, it might not be worth anything but they’ll respect the intention (or at least they should.) Not informing them looks worse. Like, time for a pixie cut and maybe witness protection worse.

Explain the situation briefly. 

You don’t need to launch into the specifics of how your cat chewed through the wires of your alarm clock because she’s precocious and comes from a long line of circus performers. It’s absolutely not within the scope of the problem solving we’re doing today.

Be concise, explain what happened and leave the details out. If the job is still ongoing, stay on standby with your phone at the ready while you get dressed and prepared for the day as if you were going to make it to the gig in the first place. This way, if the meeting has been pushed or the client would like you to come at a later time, you’re fully prepared. I’ve experienced times where the meeting was pushed without my influence and we were able to still work it out while the client was none-the-wiser. 

Have a solution.

Nobody loves to hear someone pile excuses and more problems on top of problems that aren’t even theirs. Commit to doing something different that will prevent this exact same situation from happening again.

Be sure to outline a plan to ensure this doesn’t happen but offer some closure for the client as well. If it’s an agency you’re dealing with, offer to write an email of apology. That email should be concise and to the point lacking all detail of what happened. Send it via the agency. Directly can come off negative in more ways than one and considering the PR spin they may be placing on your absence, it’s best to live and let go on this one. In my experience, you’ll be lucky if they CC. 

This is an actual email I wrote to an agency in 2016 after missing a job I was scheduled for at 9am.

“I am so sorry to have missed yesterday’s morning appointment. Due to unforeseen circumstances I wasn’t able to attend and I deeply regret that. I am very sorry to have left you short handed in a situation that required so much work to coordinate. It was not respectful of your time, or the work you put into setting up the meeting. Yesterday I was a poor reflection of the interpreting community in [REDACTED LOCATION] and of [REDACTED AGENCY NAME] and I am very sorry. I can assure you, I am taking every measure to ensure it never happens again. 

I do hope you’ll understand that by no means was it intentional to miss yesterday’s appointment without notice. I hope to have the chance to work with you again in the future.”

Yikes right? So cringeworthy to read. I would absolutely never send this again.

It’s unfortunate to find yourself in this position. If you’re anything like me, the punishment you dole out on yourself will be far worse than anything you might get from someone else. While it is absolutely a horrible feeling, it’s a good time to check in on your self care. Are you doing alright? The only times I’ve missed jobs were because I was overstressed, overworked, going a bit too hard on the play time and not paying attention to what I needed to live a happy and healthy balance. If it’s just a season you’re in, make sure you’re taking care of yourself and scheduling yourself in a way that allows you to do what you need to do right now.

While it’s great to be in communication with the agency, don’t let it become the dark cloud over your head. You can’t fix the past but you can make a solid intention to improve the future and your relationship with them. Now might not be the time to inform them of an increase though. Let’s maybe pump the brakes on that one and do a little redemption first.

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