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In this article, I draw several connections among and around the lessons I’ve learned about pivoting into instructional design or ID. I explore how code-switching provides me with the ability to move between eduspeak and corporatize. Lastly, I draw inspiration from the power of wearing Converse sneakers.

The Summer of ’74

When I was a kid, the beginning of summer vacation always started with a trip to Mills Bootery in downtown Mooresville, NC, to purchase my summer sneakers. It was 1974, and I clearly remember wanting a pair of red Chuck Taylors. I was confident that I would be the only one in my crew with a pair of red sneakers. Luckily, Mills Bootery had a pair of red Converse sneakers in my size. Summer vacation was officially open.

To my astonishment, I started seeing everyone wearing red Chuck Taylors. I would see kids in the grocery store, at the movies, even at vacation bible school wearing red sneakers. No, this can’t be happening! I was to be the only kid in town with red Chuck Taylors. These were my shoes and my fashion statement, displaying my uniqueness, my confidence, my independence. Did I imagine this? I was sure that no one, especially the kids in my 4th-grade class, had red Taylors. No! How could this be?

They’re Everywhere

I now know that seeing others that summer wearing my red sneakers wasn’t the universe playing tricks on me. It’s actually a psychological phenomenon called selective attention bias. It’s like when you hear a song for the first time, and then you begin to listen to it playing everywhere. Or, you see someone driving a white Jeep, and then you begin to see them all over town. It happened to me this past weekend. My niece has a brand new white Jeep. It must be the most popular vehicle in Charlotte, NC. They’re everywhere, according to my attention bias.

Lately, there have been lots of postings and articles discussing educators leaving academe and making a career pivot into instructional design. Tim Slade, Founder of the eLearning Designers Academy recently posted a video about making the transition from teaching to instructional design. Many career switchers post their advice, struggles, and successes on Linkedin, Slack, and other community boards. It appears to be a hot topic right now in the ID world. So in the spirit of sharing, and giving in to my selection bias, here are a few observations and lessons I’m learning as I navigate these new waters.

Lessons Learned

Lesson# 1: Find people who can help you make your career pivot a success.

three men sitting at the table
Photo by Helena Lopes on

One of the first things I did early in my career confusion was to get a therapist and a career coach. Yes, I got both because I needed to work through the complaining, blaming, and anger holding me back. Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles Workbook was a great tool that helped me work through my baggage. I highly recommend it. My work with my therapist and career coach led me to a mentor who has been incredibly giving and supportive. Tim Slade has been my guide into the fantastic world of ID. His book, The ELearning Designer’s Handbook, and his online courses at The eLearning Designer’s Academy, along with his one-on-one meetings, have enabled me to make a more substantial transition into ID. There have been others too who have been generous with their time and energies. My point here is don’t be afraid to find people who can help you make a stronger and more confident pivot. Get a coach, join a mastermind group, or find an accountability partner. But don’t try to do this alone. You have to surround yourself with people who can support you.

Lesson # 2: Be laser-focused on exactly what you want.

One of my career coach’s assignments I completed early in our work together was an exercise titled “My Ideal Day.” At first, I didn’t think much about this. I didn’t take it seriously. I put down when I wanted to get up in the morning and what I would do throughout the day. Blah, blah, blah. When we got together to discuss it, he blasted me. He had every right to do so. I had complained and moaned and whined to him and my therapist about my work life, pouring out all the things that I hated and never wanted to do again. So why was I reluctant to do this work? What was I afraid of? I had become too comfortable in my negativity.

My therapist did the same thing. She made me write out my goals, stating explicitly what I wanted to achieve and how I expected to get there. We worked on the negotiable things and made a list of the things that, under no uncertain terms, would I ever do again. She took me to task when I failed to dig deep and pull out what was going on inside me. This thought work was difficult for me, but my efforts paid off because I now have a crystal clear picture of what I want, what I never want to do again, and a roadmap for how to get there. So, do this work and get laser-focused on what you want and are willing to do and the kind of life you want to live. And don’t back down!

Lesson #3: Believe in the power of affirmations.

background balance beach boulder
Photo by Pixabay on

I am now a firm believer in the incredible power of meditation. It helps me let go of the past and be more open to what the future offers. I spend time in the morning meditating about self-compassion, gratitude, and confidence. Sometimes, I see myself at my desk meeting with a satisfied client or happily working on a new project. I use the power of affirmations to strengthen my belief in myself. I visualize myself being fully capable of achieving my career goals and expecting the best. I confidently believe in myself and my abilities. It’s called a practice for a reason.

I continue to struggle with my imposter syndrome. While I appear outwardly confident in my abilities, sometimes I secretly doubt myself. I have to work remarkably hard at networking, building my brand, and put myself out there. It’s tough! By nature, I’m not a self-promoter. The idea of marketing myself and my brand is hugely foreign to me. That said, I use meditation to change my brain from a fear of being seen to one of being known. Remember, neurons that fire together, wire together! Try it. Take a few minutes, close your eyes, and see yourself feeling good about the work you are doing, the connections you are making, the positive ways you’re changing your life. Over time, the negative thoughts will be replaced with new, positive ways of thinking. Make this part of your daily routine, your practice.

Lesson #4: Ask for what you need until you get it.

I am amazed at how persistent children are about getting what they want. Children will ask you 100 times for something until they wear you down, and you give in and give them what they want. Most adults don’t do this. It perplexes me that we lost this ability to ask insistently for what we want. Successful people ask and ask again until they get what they want. About a year ago, Matt Bodnar, on his podcast The Science of Success, interviewed an entrepreneur who said that there are three kinds of people trying to achieve success. There are those individuals who are on the VIP list. They do not have to stand in the line and wait for the bouncer to let them into the club. They have all the right connections, know the right people, or attended the right schools. They don’t have to do much, if anything at all, to get in the club. The second group stands in the line hoping that at some point, the bouncer will let them in, giving them a chance to succeed. The last group, he says, according to his research, is the most successful. They will never be on the VIP list, nor are they willing to stand in the line. What they do is go to the back of the club, knock on the stage door, and ask to be let in. They do this every night over and over again until someone gives in and lets them in. That’s what you have to do. Ask for what you want, a thousand times if necessary, until the universe gives you what you need.

Don’t be afraid to start over again. This time you’re not starting from scratch; you’re starting from experience.


Lesson #5: Learn to speak, act, and think in new ways

I am learning to speak a new language, act on a different stage, and think about the world in new and beautiful ways. Everything I’ve read about career switching speaks to the power of transferable skills. You have to take your skills and knowledge, and experiences in one setting and transfer them to a new environment. I’m learning to code-switch between the education register and the corporate register. It’s much like learning a new language. You have to navigate between two worlds seamlessly; otherwise, you can’t communicate clearly how your experience is transferable to the new career you want to obtain. For me, it’s more than a matter of word choice. It’s finding just the right language that resonates with that person, language that says, “Hey, this guy knows what he’s talking about.”

One of the things I’ve been doing lately is combing through the ID job postings and carefully studying the language the corporate world uses to describe the requirements of an instructional designer. Here are a few of my favorite examples.

Education LanguageCorporate HR/ L&D Language
Knowledge of learning theories such as behaviorism, constructivism, cognitivism, human development, Vygotsky, Bloom’s (revised of course), and multisensory learning.Knowledge of learning sciences research.
Review student records.Analyzes business learning needs and recommends learning solutions and strategies to address knowledge and/or performance gaps.
Write unit and lesson plans.Write effective design documents and course materials such as storyboards and instructor-led training guides using creative solutions for effective learning such as interactions, scenarios, or simulations.
Collaborate with curriculum coaches and central office staff to write lesson plans.Works with SMEs and key stakeholders to gather content and feedback to create materials that support the curriculum goals and objectives.
Participate in team/ grade level meetings and PLCs.Promote collaboration among the participants in a design project.
Serve on the school improvement plan steering committee to develop an annual evaluation.Contribute to company-wide strategic projects while performing needs analysis when a training request is submitted.
Review assessments, test data, parent satisfaction surveys, and other school-wide data to inform the school improvement plan.Previous experience collecting, compiling, analyzing and synthesizing learner/customer feedback, test data, and program evaluations to determine workforce performance needs, curriculum design/development and learning solutions.
Experience with the state reporting system, all reading and math software, science materials, DOE reporting portals, Microsoft Office, and other software that the district will invest a million dollars in and only use for six months.Experience working with Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, and eLearning development software such as Articulate 360, Adobe Captivate, and Camtasia.

I’m sure you’ll be able to come up with better examples. My point here is that I’m learning how to code-switch and move more confidently between these two registers, taking up the mantle of expertise and embodying this new role on a different stage with great abandon. So my advice to you is to learn how to code-switch, take up a new mantle and shapeshift into a new career.

Let’s put on our Chuck Taylors

pair of red low top sneakers in bokeh photography
Photo by Mstudio on

I am buying a pair of red Chucks to honor the adventurous boy inside of me this summer. These shoes represent so much of what I’m going through right now – gaining confidence and independence, maybe revealing a bit of my dangerous side, being more open and vulnerable. Converse sneakers are authentic, genuine, and down-to-earth. There’s nothing pretentious about you when you’re in a pair of Taylors. People who wear Converse shoes challenge the status quo and can sometimes be a bit rebellious. Vice President Kamala Harris sported her Chuck Taylors on the 2020 campaign trail and Vogue Magazine cover. She is a take-action leader who is blazing a new way for women and women of color. I’m confident that Vice President Harris would affirm the lessons I’m taking in and this journey we are all on. And while I’m seeing a lot of us making the shift into instructional design, I’m not going to worry about the selective attention bias I perceive at this moment. I believe in the law of abundance, and I am happy to be in such great company. I’m going to proceed with confidence wearing my red Converse sneakers.

So, think about the lessons I’m learning and see if that matches what you are experiencing. And go out and get a pair of Converse sneakers for this summer. The color you pick will say a lot about your personality and how you are blazing ahead into your new career.

Jim McKinley Brown

I'm a learning experience designer (LXD) and eLearning consultant with over 30 years of experience creating meaningful and engaging learning experiences for people of all ages.

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