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.

Having a public platform has proven to be a humbling, yet inevitable, fate for me. From the days of my youth as a toddler mimicking my mother’s chanting the words to Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical” during her morning workout routine to the host of frequent invitations received to share my expertise among my peers, I’ve always known that I was made for the stage. What has become recently apparent to me is the weight of my words, as I have the capacity to influence many. I realize with this level of influence comes great responsibility, so I’ve chosen, not just as a career but also as a mandate, to invest in people with a passion for learning and continued personal and professional development.

As I reflect upon my career – where I’ve been, where I am and where I’m going – I’m privileged to have witnessed and weathered various forms of personal and professional storms that stemmed from planned or unplanned change, biased leaders, or a lack of innovation. This innate ability began long before my first boardroom experience or the first time I stood before an audience to share best practices or facilitate a workshop. My experiences as a teenage mother and high school dropout forced me to choose, and I chose to survive. Living in survival mode for the first 10 years of my adult life taught me that there would be times that my voice had to ring loud and clear to my audience. It taught me that if I were going to reverse the stereotypical notions around a black woman’s position in her home, her community and her career, I needed the intellectual, emotional, adaptable and culture quotient to do so. I had to align myself with leaders who weren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, who were confident in their abilities and who weren’t threatened by grooming other leaders.

I was 21 when I returned to school to earn my high school diploma, but my quest for personal and professional transformation didn’t cease there. My pursuit of higher education and a sustainable career path challenged me to become a forward-thinker who added value to every relationship I developed and every business opportunity presented to me. My gender and the color of my skin made this especially challenging in some instances – particularly those instances where legacy-culture thinkers plagued the organization’s opportunity to compete in a changing market. In fact, I’m not ignorant of the fact that my doctoral degree has gotten me through doors that my gender and skin color were prohibited from entering.

What I’ve learned and value most about these experiences is the diverse makeup of people and their individual needs. I vowed that I would be willing to teach others what I learned by way of trial and error. I made a personal commitment that I would be honest about my story so that others could understand the glory that comes with me and the value I bring to our partnership. I found the more transparent I am in how I’ve transitioned from point A to point B, the more others are willing to be their most vulnerable, true selves in my presence. What more can you asked of a leader of leaders?

If I could share words of wisdom with my former self, the conversation might go something like this:

Wise Kristal: Hey Queen! You are absolutely amazing! Everything about you is wonderful, and everything you touch will turn to gold if you learn how to be comfortable in your own skin.

Young Kristal: How do I become comfortable in my own skin when I’m faced with so much opposition?

Wise Kristal: You were created for a purpose. Your purpose will often come naturally to you but might amaze the heck out of others, because they don’t have the capacity or the skill to do what you do. They will look for and pay you to do this, because they see clearly the benefit it offers them and others. You may struggle a bit until you overcome fear of the unknown, but eventually, you’ll learn to enjoy your purpose, as you notice it fits the very essence of who you are.

Young Kristal: But what if others are just as good at the thing I identify as my purpose? How do I compete?

Wise Kristal: You don’t compete. You have to be comfortable with “slaying in your lane.” Think about the last time you walked down the bread aisle of a grocery store. There were a variety of brands that ranged from affordable to expensive; the customers make a purchase based on their preferences, so don’t allow that to detour you from operating at and producing your best work.

Young Kristal: Thanks for the advice, Dr. Walker. I’ll cherish your words.

Wise Kristal: You got it! Now go conquer!

Although it’s a bit humorous, I wouldn’t change a word of this dialogue. Having sound wisdom from someone who has walked in your shoes and who can offer fresh, experienced perspective is key to aligning your career goals with your passion. For this reason, I choose to be that person for others.

For people entering the training space for the first time, I challenge you to learn as much as you can about the learning and development industry, but focus on one skill set that you’d like to perfect. There are so many avenues to explore, so whether you choose to focus on facilitating training, designing training or measuring the impact of training, look for an opportunity to add to the existing body of knowledge. Partner with someone who has been operating in this space and who has some credibility based on the work they’ve done. As you expand your career, and if your heart truly desires to change the world one learner at a time, become a thought leader who is celebrated and imitated for adding value to the world of learning and development.

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

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