I am an instructional designer, responsible for designing, building, and often writing course content, from online self-study courses, to instructor-led virtual classes and live instruction delivered in brick-and-mortar classrooms.
Typical tasks of the day vary greatly depending on the point in time in the course production cycle. On any given day, I may be interviewing subject matter experts (typically also freelancers) to identify crucial content for inclusion in the course; designing course templates, layouts, and games for online interaction and media (regardless of subject); writing actual content or assessments; and various other ad-hoc tasks, such as drafting specs documentation, reviewing existing materials for potential updates or course/media refreshes, editing, and basic image creation.
I invoice monthly and am in complete control of my hours, working often from just the guideline of a project delivery deadline. It is up to me to work backwards from that date, create a delivery proposal and course specs, and manage and edit my own schedule as time progresses. That may mean I have a week where I only work a couple hours a day, or I might be working 10-14 hour days in the final crunch time. In either scenario, it is because of my own choosing and the ability to juggle work and life tasks as needed.
This choice is a crucial and deliberate one for me. For the first 16 years of my career, I was a full-time salaried employee working on-site. While I loved the work, the cause (K-12 education) and my team, it was a true pressure cooker environment where I went from delivering just a couple courses a year to well over 10. There was no overtime compensation for extra hours worked, the turnover of employees was high, morale was low, there was reluctance by management to divide up my upper-middle-management role (even upon my request), and the number of courses to be published increased every year. Instead of being given a raise in recognition for my work, I often was promoted instead. Normally that would be a good thing because it did come with a slight raise, but this also meant taking on even more responsibility and stress. Add into the mix an aging mother who lived with me due to physical disabilities and was starting to show signs of the onset of dementia made me realize I couldn’t keep the status quo going much longer.
I waited until my latest cycle of courses was delivered and I tendered my resignation. I did not have another job prospect lined up. I won’t lie. The transition was a bit rough, but I soon found enough freelance work to pay for my bills and get a taste of a better life.
I found that I could perform a mere 20 hours of freelance work a week and make the equivalent of what I had before. That’s 20 hours a week compared to the 60 I had worked but wasn’t being compensated overtime for. No migraines, no cracked molars from grinding my teeth, no guilt on leaving my mother unattended for too long. I now work an average of about 20-30 hours a week and have an income of well over $100K.
This move has changed everything. I can take my mom to specialists and doctor appointments. I can take time in the middle of a traditional work day to sit and talk with her and cook her favorite meal. I was able to provide the best end-of-life care I could for a high-needs senior dog that lost his ability to walk in his final month. When he passed, my mother, sister, and I we were able to visit the animal shelter a month later and adopt a gray-muzzled dog who was deemed “high-needs” enough to have his adoption fee waived due to stress at being at the animal shelter for 2 months. I knew what that type of stress felt like and felt a kinship to him. It’s only one month later and he has since settled into such a sweet and loving soul here with us at home, and he’s enjoying his new role as my full-time sidekick.
I am able to contribute more of both my money and time to charitable causes. I am able to carve out time for the holidays and take my family on vacation rental getaways, just so we can leave my apartment at times and enjoy a home with a bigger kitchen, view, or a pool. The rationale — to carve out protected time to sit back, slow down, and enjoy the time leading up to the holidays together. Wrap presents, prepare old family recipes, bake cookies, and walk the dog down the road searching for squirrels. The irony of this all is, if I didn’t make that change, I wouldn’t be able to physically care for my mother (my office was in Philly), nor would I have been able to afford her care at a memory care facility. Now that is not so much an issue, but I am blessed to be able to have the life flexibility needed to keep her as long by my side here at our home as possible. She deserves that. Don’t we all?
What worries me about S4204: This bill carries truly life-changing ramifications. My client couldn’t take me on as her employee (too much money overall for the ups and downs of cyclical work, as well as special treatment for one of a handful of her contractors). To be honest, I live only 12 miles from the state border, so it would be a very easy decision to move before I give up this lifestyle. The tradeoff there would be that my 84-year-old mother’s network of doctors, specialists, and hospitals would likely need to change. I’ve kept some of her specialists for decades and they are experts in her patient history. It’s still worth it in the end, though, if the move allows us to keep this lifestyle further. And again, the odd part is that the portion of state taxes NJ has seen from my business is higher now in the new regime than the old.
What legislators need to know: I believe their intentions were good with this bill, and there are some whom it will help. But it will be to a detriment of a great many others as well. It’s tempting to “dig in” because so much time has already been spent in debate and revision. Believe me, I know what that’s like: I’ve had courses go back to the drawing board several times, for varying reasons. But sometimes you need to take a fresh look and realize that the target audience isn’t always being served by the design.