This is graduation season, that time of year when commencement speakers share wisdom and advice to all those who are about leave the relative safety of school to go forth on new life adventures. The speeches are typically based on the premise that a commencement speaker, usually someone of prominence and achievement, will share insights earned through experience to inspire the wave of new graduates to persist toward his or her Next Big Thing:

  • In order to strive for a remarkable life you need to decide that you want one.” (Debbie Millman, design industry leader.)

  • “Make courageous choices, take bigger risks.” (Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter.)

  • “Don’t believe them when they tell you how bad you are and how terrible your ideas are.” (Michael Uslan, a producer of the Batman movies.)

(All quotes are from Way More Than Luck: Commencement Speeches on Living with Bravery, Empathy, and Other Existential Skills, Chronicle Books, 2015.)

From superlative to cheesy, sometimes moving, every so often a gift, these speeches and their sound bites of wisdom can be great catalysts for thinking differently about chasing opportunities and facing challenges. Even non-graduates benefit.

For those of us who DON’T have graduation parties in our immediate future, it raises the question of where we might turn to get inspired to take on the “next big thing.” Where do you go for advice? What are some of the things that you wish someone had told you before you started off on a new career or life adventure?

For eLearning professionals, the question comes up more often than just during “graduation season.” eLearning professionals share a common passion for using emerging technologies and new media to push the boundaries of creative expression, to produce learning experiences that have never been experienced before.

In the midst of the passionate pursuit of our practice, one faces doubts. Fears. Questions. Where do we turn for advice? I say this with love, and great affection for our community: eLearning people are rare and special. We care deeply about learning—our learning, other people’s learning, workplace eLearning, immersive learning, mobile learning, to name just a few of its many flavors. We BELIEVE in technologies. We believe that technologies allow us to engage and inspire learners in transformative ways. We believe it is up to us—as individuals, as members of our communities of interest and practice—to change the world, to make a difference. We see the world differently.

It’s exhausting.

Where do we turn for advice and inspiration? Where do we turn when we need someone to help us figure out a new path? We could always try to Google the answer; we can seek information and share our feelings on social media, tweets, blog, vines, and video. Community events are a great place to gather with like-minded professionals to learn more about new directions and professional possibilities. We certainly pay attention to our colleagues. If we are lucky and have planned ahead, we may have a mentor available to ask pointed questions. And of course we lean heavily on our friends, especially those who also work as eLearning professionals.

And so I asked some of my eLearning friends this very pointed question: “What is the one thing that you wish someone had told you before you started off on a new life adventure?” Here are a few of the answers I received in return:

  • Tracy Hamilton Parish: The more you put in, the more you get back.
  • Steven Howard: How rewarding it would be.
  • Jane Bozarth: Make your own fun. Create the job you want and, yes, you can do that and still work for the man.
  • Trina Rimmer: You’re in charge of your professional development. Not your manager, or your department or your company. Just you.
  • David Holcombe: For every person who says that’s a good idea, you can do it, there will be 10 saying it can’t be done. Believe in yourself and just do it.
  • Becky Smith: Find a mentor.
  • Joe Ganci: Always be ready to help others. Smile—it costs you nothing. Love yourself—but not too much. Never be afraid to make mistakes; it’s how we learn. Listen more than you speak. Everyone has something to teach you, whether it’s something to do or not to do. The more you keep quiet but attentive, the more people think you’re smart.
  • Kelly Smith: It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
  • Nina Pasini Diebler: Be willing to “pay your dues.” Never think any task or project is beneath you—those are usually the ones where you learn the most.
  • Darcy Walsh Hardy: Always stand up for what you believe, never sell out your integrity—but when the bad guys get so deep into your business, don’t poke at the sleeping bear, just get even by doing excellent work.
  • David Kelly: Find the opportunity in every challenge.
  • Neil Lasher: How really great it was going to be.
  • Suresh Susarla: Welcome the change with open arms and embrace it completely. Sooner you do it, the better.

I have had a number of very different careers at the intersection of learning and technology, in a variety of market segments. One might think that the issues keeping one up at night in the various sectors would be very different. It’s true that context does make a bit of difference. Some of the advice might play out very differently in the sectors where eLearning is a common mode for course and content delivery. But once I started to reflect on what I really wish someone had told me before I got started in any one of the jobs I’ve held, I realized that the things I wish I’d known were more about ways of being than about things to do, or things to know:

  • The only way to get really good at something is to learn the basics, practice, do the work, learn more, practice, do the work.
  • The more prepared you are, the luckier you will be.
  • Never quit doing. Never stop trying. Never stop practicing.
  • A big idea is necessary but not sufficient for changing the world. Just because you had it doesn’t mean you are done. Your idea matters most when it turns into something tangible and real that solves real problems.
  • Metrics and measurement matter. Don’t fear numbers, focus on getting good at putting them to work.
  • Keep friends close, and competitors just as close.
  • Cultivate your network. Give it your considered time and attention. It comes back 100x, plus.
  • Strive to be the one that people want on their team. Always remember the people who chose to be on yours.
  • Always stretch. Get out of your comfort zone or you will never get the new insights you need to keep growing. You will fall down. If you don’t fall down you are not trying hard enough. I know that sounds cheesy but it’s true.
  • Your time is short. Don’t waste it.

And one final bonus thing I wish I’d known…

  • Always try to be the person that your dog thinks you are.

From the Editor

One of the things that many instructional designers wish someone had told them about is how to create learning interactions for eLearning. The Guild Academy has you covered with a live mini-course in our virtual classroom: Sketching & Prototyping Design for Instructional Designers. Ethan Edwards, chief instructional strategist for Allen Interactions, will lead this two-session course, June 15 and 19.

Read about and register for the course here, but don’t delay—the class size is intentionally small, so space is limited.