Editor’s note: Each blog post in this “Career Pathways in L&D” series shares a learning leader’s story and ends with his or her tips and advice for training professionals.

If you are like me, you love to learn. But as a kid, did you ever answer “learning and development professional” when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I certainly did not.

While I don’t consider myself to be grown up just yet (or ever), I have found my passion for L&D on a someone circuitous path that taught me a lot along the way.

My Career Path to L&D

Growing up, I loved science and valued helping others. Naturally, I wanted to be doctor. I later realized that blood made me queasy, and a career in medicine was not for me. I went on to study nutrition, earning my master of science, and, later, public health epidemiology, earning my master in public health. For these degrees, you must love data (check), and there is no close proximity to blood required (phew).

As I studied epidemiology, I worked in academic administration, first supporting master’s students and eventually overseeing the administrative staff of the department. Upon completing my degree, I left academia and moved across the country, where I took a deep dive into what I wanted to be when I grow up. I found myself undeniably drawn toward learning and development.

L&D had been a component of my work from the beginning, and I wanted to lean in fully to that function. But first, I needed to articulate how my prior experience prepared me for such a role.

Lessons Learned

Looking inward, I found I had many of the skills required of an L&D professional – strategic thinking, analytical skills, being a lifelong learner myself – and  I was well prepared to progress in that field.

I also had the opportunity to take stock of what I’d learned in my early career to inform the next steps on my professional journey. I drew a few eye-opening conclusions:

  • The importance of self-discovery: I was continuously working to understand myself and what I wanted to do long-term while developing skills in line with my strengths and values.
  • The power of continuous learning: I was constantly developing competencies relevant for L&D professionals without realizing it, through formal education and training and informally in my daily work.
  • I’m not alone: I was lucky to have a mentor and boss who guided me, pushed me and supported me.

Advice to New Training Professionals

I was fortunate that many of these lessons fell in my lap, but if I were to go back in time and give my former self advice, I’d call out a few specifics to accelerate and enhance my understanding of these lessons:

Look inward, and think broadly.

Take time on a regular cadence to better understand yourself. Think about your values, aspirations and strengths, and articulate them. If you have a journaling practice, write them down, or tell them to a friend, colleague, mentor or family member.

Be specific about your plans for the future, but think broadly about how what you are doing now gives you an opportunity to develop skills for your dream job. Consider how you want your next role or project to help you develop skills you’ll need down the road.

Set and track goals.

Once you understand where you are going and what skills you’ll need, set goals to help you get there. You can do so annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly and even daily. Follow a goal-setting methodology that works for you (there are many out there), and be diligent about tracking toward those benchmarks.

After you articulate your goals, it’s equally important to check in on them and assess if they’re still what you want. It’s OK for them to change; while I don’t use my epidemiology training today, I’d still do it again if I could go back! The important thing is to make space for those opportunities and to course-correct toward new goals as they arise.

Lean on others.

Tell others about your goals. Find an accountability partner to help you track them, whether it’s a mentor, family member, friend or colleague. This process can be as formal or informal as feels right for you, but writing down and articulating your goals is a great first step to achieving them.

I highly recommend seeking a career mentor, if possible. This person does not need to hold the title of your dream job, but do find someone you feel is trustworthy, supportive and willing to ask you tough questions to help you help yourself.

Lastly, keep in mind that it’s called a career path, not a career destination. We are always growing and changing, and it’s powerful to understand that we are in control of the direction we take today to set ourselves up for success tomorrow.

Download the free e-book “Career Pathways in Learning and Development: Perspectives and Strategies for Your Training Career”: