Welcome back to the blog, and thank you for indulging me while I took some much-needed time off over the holidays.
Part of my time off was spent reflecting on the last year and goal-setting for the next year. So, for my first post of 2022, I’d like to share some resolutions for instructional design freelancers. These are focused on professional growth rather than learning design theory.
While this list is targeted toward freelance IDs, I think most of the advice here applies to all instructional designers and learning experience designers. In fact, almost all of it could apply to other career fields as well.
Resolution 1: Don't compare yourself to others.
As Tim Slade pointed out in a recent LinkedIn post, people share a lot of success stories on social media, but what they don’t share are their failures. So, from the outside, it can appear that some instructional designers, LXDs, and influencers have it all. But we’re not seeing the full picture. We’re not seeing how many times they failed before they had that success we see on their LinkedIn profile.
There’s been a lot of talk on social media lately about starting salaries for IDs, particularly in the U.S. It would be easy for me to feel envious when someone lands their first ID job making $90–100K, because I started out at $40K (granted, that last many years ago). But instead, I choose to feel happy for anyone who can make that happen, and I remind myself that I don’t know the whole story. That person might have spent years learning on their own (or taking courses), developing examples for their portfolio, and gaining volunteer experience before they landed that “first” high-paying job.
Whether it’s in our careers or our personal lives, we shouldn’t compare ourselves to anyone except ourselves. I want to look back and know that I’ve grown from who I was last year, or even last month. It doesn’t matter to me that I’m not where someone else is. They’re on their journey, and I’m on mine. I’m not here to compete with anyone except myself.
Resolution #2: Embrace your expertise.
When you stop comparing yourself to others, you can get a better sense of your own strengths and skill sets. Even though there are a lot of advertisements out there for unicorn IDs—the ones who are graphic designers, programmers, LMS administrators, and facilitators on top of instructional designers—the simple truth is that most of us can’t do it all. And that’s okay!
(By the way, those unicorn job postings are usually the ones that pay $15 an hour too!)
Think about the answer to, “Why should clients hire me?” If you can’t answer it convincingly, keep practicing until you can. Then embrace that answer. Feel it in your bones. Repeat it as an affirmation. Be confident about what you bring to the table.
The language we use has a big impact on how confident we feel—and how confident we appear to others. Practice using positive and assertive language like Nicole Papaioannou Lugara advises in her recent post called 7 Phrases for IDs to Stop Saying in 2022.
Resolution #3: Set goals and celebrate your accomplishments.
I usually work through the holidays, generally taking two days off for Thanksgiving and two days off for Christmas. This year, I allowed myself some more time off—partly for rest and relaxation, and partly for reflection. For the first time in my career, I set aside time to review what went well throughout the year and what I’d like to work on. By doing so, I realized something that isn’t earth-shattering at all. In fact, all of you already know it:
It’s hard to measure success if you don’t write down your goals.
I know, I know. I’m a learning professional; this should have been a no-brainer. But I’ll admit it: I didn’t start 2021 with any written goals for my business. I had some vague ideas in mind about what I wanted to achieve, but without having some measurable goals written down, I can’t really determine how successful the year was. But I can, at least, look back on what we’ve done over the year.
I recently stumbled upon a LinkedIn post from a teacher who, while revising her resume for other types of positions to add measurable data, found that her students’ reading scores improved last year by nearly triple that of the average improvement for the same grade level. That’s amazing! And she would not have realized how successful she was if she had not looked into the data. (Also, putting some measurable stats on your resume is a great tip for anyone looking to find a new job!)
Have you looked back on what you’ve accomplished this year? You might be surprised!
Scissortail's Accomplishments in 2021
Even without a measurable goal to compare my progress with, I was able to look at my company’s accomplishments and feel proud of what we’ve been able to produce this year. We completed 15 projects for clients—and some of them were pretty heavy lifts.
- 28 hours of virtual and in-person instructor-led training
- 6 hours of eLearning
- Document preparation support:
- A 200+ page interactive eBook and exam
- A 30-page report to summarize a research project
- Proposal and grant writing support for other organizations
- 2 learning needs analyses:
- An organizational needs analysis for 13 offices and 5000+ employees, including a survey, 13 interviews, and 10 focus groups
- An analysis-to-design effort for 10 mandatory compliance training topic areas, including content analysis, a survey, and 10 SME interviews
Remember resolution #1—no comparisons allowed! My 15 projects were completed with the help of a pretty great team.
Resolution #4: Do more of what makes your heart happy.
This is not just a cute sign on Pinterest. It’s a way of life.
It’s important to know what you’re good at and what you love doing. Then find more of that kind of work. This is especially important for freelancers.
One thing I learned in the eLearning Freelancers Bootcamp is that when you’re developing your portfolio, you should highlight the kinds of projects you want more of. Think quality rather than quantity. (In fact, I still need to do some work on my own portfolio in this regard.)
Make a list of the kind of work you enjoy most. Then refine your portfolio to only include those types of projects. (If you don’t have experience with projects like that, get some using the advice in this post.) Then start looking for the kinds of projects you want to do and clients you want to work with.
This advice doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t expand your skillset. Stretch assignments are important too. I’m constantly learning and growing. But there are certain types of projects and work I’d rather do, so that’s where I focus most of my energy.
Reflecting on my list of projects from 2021 helps me see what kinds of projects I want to do more of, and which ones I’m not that excited about.
Resolution #5: Use your power for good.
As Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As instructional designers, we might not feel like we have a lot of power—especially when we’re working as freelancers and are external to an organization’s culture. But the learning experiences we create have the power to change people’s behavior—or at least, they should.
As Diane Elkins shared during TLDC’s Accessible & Inclusive Design Conference last year, we need to ask ourselves, “Who deserves access to professional development opportunities?” The answer, of course, is everyone.
Along those same lines, let’s consider this one: “Who deserves to see themselves represented in the scenarios and learning experiences we create?” Again, it’s everyone.
L&D has a critical role in inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility. So, while we’re teaching people how to be safe around electricity or how to have difficult conversations—or whatever subject we’re training—why not also model diversity and inclusion? Why not also make sure everyone has access? Read this recap of TLDC’s IDEAL21 conference for more about that.
Here’s a recap of my five resolutions for instructional design freelancers. What would you add to this list? Let me know in the comments!