My name is Jakub Machata. I always liked writing. The problem was my target group—there was none. To this day, I tend to keep to myself a bit; in my childhood, it was a lifestyle much more than a tendency. When I was 11, I created a newspaper layout in Word and filled it with my thoughts and uneducated opinions about hockey that nobody else have read. To this day, I remember an article about Buffalo falling to the Dallas Stars in triple-overtime in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. Even after all those years, for Sabres fans, the loss still stings—because Hull’s winning goal probably shouldn’t have counted. Nobody consulted the video referee. The hero of many little Czech kids like myself, Dominik Hasek, lost a chance to hoist the cup. For a while, that was the last article I’ve written. After all, the season came to a heartbreaking finish, and there was nothing more to report on.
I could never complain about a lack of talents. I struggled with building skills on top of it, and in the rare cases when I did, I failed to follow through and showcase them. That would be fine, except if I didn’t feel so unfulfilled. At some point, I realized something has to give: either I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and put myself out more, or I need to be okay about all the cool things never leaving my hard drive.
In 2019, I found Jocko Willink’s podcast. And with it, several books about leadership with the most important lesson there’s to learn: the Extreme ownership. That was a game-changer. The episodes with psychologist and philosopher Jordan B. Peterson and war veteran Travis Mills were one of the first I listened to. To his day, especially Mills‘ has a special place in my heart. Mills is a quadruple-amputee with an admirable attitude and excellent comedic timing. He’s also an author of an inspirational book, Tough As They Come. I’ve read many veteran-written books, but none ever came close to Mills’ in the good spirits and humor. Him suffering such horrendous injuries after being hit by IED, it’s actually a pretty dark book. The comedy of it never came in the traditional form of punch lines, but the author’s ability to be entertaining prevailed anyway.
So I was very excited when I saw Mills’ face on a book cover in a local bookshop: his story was clearly captivating enough to warrant a translation. Because I only had a Kindle version of the book and did want this hero to stare at me from my bookshelf, I immediately bought it. I was disappointed almost immediately. I quickly realized that in this Czech translation, all Travis’s personality and magic are gone. Somehow, the translation made him sound simply like a wounded veteran, a hero, indeed, but hardly anything to rave about. Everything that made Mills special, the charisma, the tongue-in-cheek storytelling—gone. Instead of dwelling on it, I grabbed my Kindle and re-read the book in English. But the seed was planted; that book definitely deserved a better translation.
Early in 2021, I was forced to leave my second job as an NFL analyst. I wasn’t terribly excited about it, I loved this work, and I had a position that simply wasn’t there before—I’ve created it by kicking ass. At the same time, my autumns were extremely busy these last few years, to a point where sleeping for more than three hours was a luxury. With my wife and I expecting, with the baby due in April, the company’s selling wasn’t the worst news in the world. I wanted to be around my son much more than I wanted to stare at spreadsheets for 18 hours a day. Now I had room to be a father and to also chase something new and exciting. The „one door closes, another opens“ applies, even with the world economy down the drain.
This second job made me realize something: I enjoyed working hard, something I always had a problem with, and I could focus on one mundane task for an inhuman amount of hours. Now that I suddenly had time to spare, I decided to finish a project I started in 2013. Back then, I started collecting texts for the Czech universe on Typeracer.com—this website was the best place to compete in touch typing. It already had real texts for multiple non-English universes, but Czech only worked because of bad Google translations. I decided to change that. And then I failed to follow through. Again.
Technically, the task was easy—I didn’t have to learn a new language or start to code to make it happen. It was definitely time-consuming, though. It wasn’t just collecting random texts and calling it a day: they had to be the right length, be interesting and meaningful even when taken out of context, and they should come in all shapes and sizes regarding to source and even genre. Plus, each text had to carry information about its author, where the quote comes from, and the ISBN/ASIN code of its source. When I opened the old document to pick up where I left off eight years ago, I was puzzled; there were only about thirty texts. Was that it? Not much of a project. This was a chance to put on display the difference between the current version of myself and the one who left this document to rot. This time, I attacked the task, and within three weeks, I’ve proudly presented 1037 Czech and 702 Slovak texts to the Typeracer admins. Just like that, they became, text-wise, the richest non-English languages on the website.
What I particularly enjoyed about this whole text collection project was translating quotes from my favorite movies. I compared my translations to those from dubbed versions of those movies and to every Czech subtitle ever made. Sometimes my translation seemed better; sometimes I had to admit my way was less elegant. I took notes and learn my lessons. The most memorable moment was about 20 minutes of figuring out a particular quote from the movie The Departed. At the end of the day, did it really matter? Probably not. But I fell in love with the process, the battles for figuring out how to drive the point home, the search for the right words in the right order.
The learning curve was steep. Almost immediately, I realized that when reading a book, I can quickly (typing almost 130 words per minute helps) translate interesting quotes to my non-English speaking friends. And this sudden fondness of language wasn’t limited to translations only: perhaps my own writing is now refined enough, and I’m comfortable to be uncomfortable so that I can finally put myself out there—at least a little bit.
“I’m the guy that tells you there are guys you can hit and there’s guys you can’t. Now, that’s not quite a guy you can’t hit, but it’s almost a guy you can’t hit.”