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.

My career pathway in L&D was not planned. I got here by accident!

I was a college student working in the federal government as a part-time employee until, in my last semester, I realized that it was time for a full-time job. I had no idea what I really wanted to be when I grew up. Thankfully, the training coordinator planned her retirement at the perfect time, two months before my graduation. I was so excited for a full-time position but had no idea what a training coordinator did nor how to do it!

I had a super-steep learning curve, because the retiring training coordinator had already retired on the job. She had no interest in helping me get up to speed, so I had to figure out my new job by observing others, asking a lot of questions, and being a fast learner. I learned so much and performed so well that I became an “expert” in the organization. The human resources office would send people to me so that I could help them set up their processes and procedures and do their jobs more effectively.

This was just the beginning of my amazing over-20-year L&D career journey that has taken me from training coordinator to instructional designer, evaluator, performance consultant, program manager and more. Today, I am an example of an accidental trainer who became a coach for other workplace learning professionals.

Based on my career journey, here’s some advice I’d tell my former self: Take every lesson that your career gives you, good and bad, and learn something from it. Although I was always an eager and passionate learner, in my earlier years, I spent a tremendous number of hours dwelling on the events that didn’t go as well. I looked at them as failures instead of opportunities to learn and grow.

I have learned so much about leadership from not-so-great managers as well as the times when I didn’t do as well as I’d hope. Although I don’t regret the rich experiences I’ve gained over the years, I wish I had developed learning agility earlier in my career. Now, I’m able to channel negative experiences into a learning opportunity and do better the next time.

And, here’s some advice for newer training professionals:

  • Be a sponge. Soak up every learning nugget you can from reading, talking to others with more experience and applying what you learn. This advice is not only for less experienced training professionals but for those of us who are more seasoned. We should be open to learning new concepts and methodologies and, in fact, model what we teach others. This is the only way to grow. Find someone who can coach you in the areas where you’re not as strong, and teach someone when you have expertise in a particular area. Believe it not, you learn a lot when you teach others.
  • Build your learning tribe. Seek to be around people who are smarter than you. Social learning is one of the best ways to stay on top of your game. Take advantage of every interaction with other workplace learning professionals. A lot of learning can come from just having a conversation and brainstorming with others who do what you do.
  • Take charge of your own development. Don’t give away your power to develop yourself. Your development is always up to you. There are tons of ways to develop that don’t require money or someone else’s approval. All barriers to learning can be overcome; you just have to be creative and tap into your network.
  • Learn something new every day! This one speaks for itself. Set this as your goal, and you’re destined to be extraordinary!

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