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Are you a career switcher or a side-stepper? Have you pivoted into a new line of work? Or, are you still thinking about making the shift? In this essay, I discuss the beginnings of my career pivot to becoming an instructional designer and how silence has helped me move across the threshold into new spaces and a new career path. I also offer gratitude to the experts who have helped me through my silence.

Embrace the Journey

I decided in August of 2020 to take a huge leap of faith and leave a place I’d worked at for 20 years and become a career changer. Well, more like a career side-stepper. For about two and a half years before leaving, I’d spent countless hours with counselors and career coaches wrestling with the fear and uncertainty of building my own freelance business. I listened to podcasts like Marc Miller’s Repurpose Your Career, Matt Bodnar’s The Science of Success, and Dr. Dawn Graham’s Dr. Dawn on Careers. I read Pivot by Adam Markel and Think Again! by Adam Grant. Yes, I bought a fresh copy of What Color is Your Parachute. I just knew if I listened more and read a lot, my eureka moment would happen not simply through osmosis but by sheer revelation. The clouds would part, the heavens would open, the sun would beam down on me, and enlightenment, the full comprehension of my situation, would be revealed.

I want to say that it dramatically happened that way, but it didn’t. What did happen was this. The pandemic hit, and the option to leave my previous employer presented itself, and I took it. I’ve never regretted that decision. I knew I wanted to have a new career that allowed more flexibility, greater use of my creative energies and talents, work with new people, time to learn new skills and abilities, and ways to gain new knowledge.

The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.

Steve Jobs

It’s happening. I’m doing what I should have done 20 years ago—the field of instructional design taps into all of my talents and abilities. I tell people all the time; I’ve been preparing for this career my entire life. It’s true. I see so many of my past selves coming together finally into an integrated cohesive career.

This transition over the past eight months has been slow for me. Fortunately, I’ve had the time and resources to make this happen, and I’m very grateful for that. I’ve been very intentional about thoroughly immersing myself in this new field. I’m learning to use new software applications, new processes, and new discourses. I’m building upon my extensive knowledge of learning theory, instructional design, curriculum theory, research, and assessment design. As the adage goes, slow and steady wins the race.

The Importance of Silence

For much of this time, I’ve been in my “Silent Period.” In second language acquisition theory, the silent period is a natural part of learning a new language. It’s the first part of several phases one goes through when learning a new discourse or language. It’s an important time in the learning process. It’s been an important time for me. Listening. Observing. Learning.

man with hand on temple looking at laptop
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

It’s not that I was unwilling or unable to speak about the field. I understand much of what is going on around me. I just haven’t been comfortable speaking in this new language. I haven’t felt like I had any authority to do so. I’ve taken advantage of this precious time to listen to others and study their works.

Instructional design is a complex, technical and artistic field that is interdisciplinary, multidimensional, and far-reaching. So, I needed this time to learn this new discourse. Words like prototype, storyboard, trigger, variable, and scenario take on new definitions and purposes. This field’s language has its share of technical acronyms, like UI-UX, xAPI, SME, and PPP. This sort of discourse is expected for a field grounded in digital technology, the arts, education, and business. The basic meaning, syntax, and even its context of these terms are easy to learn. It’s applying their meaning that requires skill, knowledge, and expertise.

I am forever on my way.

Maxine Greene, Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, The Arts, and Social Change

Words of Gratitude

Luckily, I’ve had help learning my new language. I am grateful for people like Tim Slade, author of The Elearning Designer’s Handbook, who has taken his valuable time to meet with me and mentor me through my career pivot. He’s given me valuable resources, support, and guidance. Tim truly believes in giving back to his ID community. Because of Tim, I am further along in my journey than I would have been otherwise.

I am also grateful for Devlin Peck, an excellent teacher, resource, and generous member of his ID community. His mission, to support new instructional designers entering the field, appears to be rooted in his passion for his career and the future of the field of ID. I am also grateful for Christy Tucker and Patti Bryant, who invited me to join the Online Network of Learning Professionals. The group meets every other Thursday for an hour. Listening to their ideas, questions, wonderings, and frustrations has really helped me through my silent period.

Next Steps

Am I completely out of my silent period? Not entirely. I have a great deal to learn from all these amazing scholars and experts. I have a long way to go, and I know that there will be moments of silence when I need to listen, observe, and reflect. Every day, I take small steps, even imperfect ones, down this new path. I’m ready to share my story, expertise, and thoughts, knowing that I will always be on this journey to becoming an instructional designer.

So what’s your career pivot journey been like? Did you go through a silent period? What advice would you give to someone like me who’s embarking on a new career? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear what you have to say and get to know folks in this community.

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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