Being new sucks.
You are just beginning to learn the rules that everyone else appears to have mastered. The list of things you don’t know seems never-ending. You are taking in as much information as you can, yet your output is subpar. Plus, you don’t get the inside jokes and are not even sure if you fit in.
Being new can be so uncomfortable, embarrassing, and sometimes demoralizing...except if you’re a toddler.
Then being new is liberating!
You get to be bad, really bad, at things, and still be proud of your efforts.
You get to experiment without worrying whether you look presentable doing it.
You get to fail miserably and repeatedly without fear of judgment.
Even when you literally fall on your face, you give yourself the grace to make mistakes and keep trying until you figure it out.
Since you’re not actually a child and, unfortunately, no one is going to think your amateur work or failed attempts are cute, here are some tips for embracing your inner child when you are new to instructional design:
Let yourself be new.
Repeat after me: “I’m new, I don’t know what I am doing, yet, and, for now, that’s okay.”
Being new can be a wonderful thing because, frankly, expectations are low. No one expects you to be good enough. Of course, you aren’t. You just started. Grant yourself the grace that you would give to someone else who was new.
Let yourself be ignorant.
It is okay to admit that you don't know things. Ask questions even if you feel embarrassed about asking because you will probably learn something new.
As an aspiring instructional designer, you likely love learning and might feel like you need to know everything about instructional design right now, but trying to understand it all might work against you by creating confusion & overwhelm.
You don't need to know every instructional design theory, model, or trend to become proficient. Choose the skills you want to build, find the information you need to perform that skill, choose a framework for accomplishing it, and practice. Meanwhile, be content with your ignorance of other information that is non-essential to the task at hand until you are ready to build a new set of skills.
Let yourself be bad.
So what if what you make isn’t good? Every designer has their embarrassing first project story. Ask them to tell you about it.
Since you are brand new to the field, now is the perfect time in your trajectory to go entirely outside of your comfort zone and make mistakes. Constantly make things, even if they are bad at first. You want to get in the habit of creating because that is what instructional design practitioners do. They create!
Push past your fear and approach newness with the courage to fail fast, hard, and often early on in your learning process, so that you can quickly improve. Even top industry practitioner Ant Pugh says so:
Let yourself need help.
Asking for help is the best way to ensure that you are getting quality input and feedback! Nothing is embarrassing about needing help to improve. Seek out a mentor. Join a community of practice. Take a course and remember to network.
You will find that those in the learning and development industry are excited to have you join them and are more than willing to help a new instructional designer along the path.
Let yourself explore.
Try all the things! But don't try to be perfect at all of them. Attempting to go from neophyte to industry unicorn straight away will likely lead to you being a very mediocre jack of all trades. Instead, allow yourself the freedom to try different things and focus on the type of work that you enjoy doing. Do you most enjoy analysis & learner analytics? Do you prefer storyboarding & scripting, or do you only want to do eLearning development? Do you love it all and want to be an end-to-end instructional designer?
Let yourself enjoy the journey.
You do not have to rush to position yourself as an expert or something else that you're not. Developing high-skilled proficiency and expertise takes years. Start where you are, and take your time to discover who you are as an instructional designer.
Embrace your inner child to cast off the shame of the ineptness that comes with being new and welcome the wonder that comes with the process of learning. This outlook will help prepare you for the rejection that you will inevitably face when starting out, but that is also part of the process as you grow into a great instructional designer!
Not sure where to start or if instructional design is a good fit for you?
See Tabatha’s article “Getting Into Instructional Design: Where Do I Start?”
Need to shorten your journey through newbie land because you have bills to pay?
You can accelerate your progress by joining a program like IDOL courses Academy that provides a roadmap to success and guidance along the way, including access to resources, feedback, and community. See how Academy alumna Santana Kennedy completed her portfolio in just 45 days by clicking here.
Want to start but don’t have the budget?
It may take you a while longer to get where you want to be if you choose to wander through the wilderness of being a self-taught instructional designer. Still, the great thing about being an adult learner is that you already have a lot of background knowledge and life experience to work with. Figure out the component parts of instructional design and determine how what you already know can transfer to instructional design. Next, build up your skills in manageable increments.
Here is how Kathy Sierra of Serious Pony recommends leveling up your skills:
Written by: Ashanti Henderson