As I reflect on my own career story, I feel fortunate.
Fortunate for the mentors I’ve had.
Fortunate for the pushes and pulls I’ve had.
Fortunate for the opportunities it provided to shape the way I view the world today.
As previously mentioned, I did not pursue a college degree. In fact, I didn’t even apply. I got straight to work, getting my first taste of HR as a member service manager at a call center. Without any training, I was suddenly responsible for managing the work of 30+ agents. I hadn’t even left my teenage years before I was deciding who to hire, fire and reward for doing the best job. Unsurprisingly, I did not flourish in this role. In fact, I hated it. I had gone from being a top producing agent to a worn-down manager, feeling demotivated and disengaged.
I scoured the paper for job openings -- yes, this is how it was done before the internet – and found a seasonal HR assistant position at a local ski resort. The job seemed easy and it meant I could snowboard for an entire season, for free. I eagerly accepted the job, unknowingly sealing my fate for a lifelong love affair with the world of HR.
This position introduced me to my first career mentor. He gently challenged me to learn and engage. We built strategic plans for our department. He involved me in developing a manager training program for our year-round staff. He taught me the value of employee-centric design. And, after the ski season ended, he pushed me out of a job and pulled me into a career.
He often encouraged me to join SHRM and told me I would do well to pursue my bachelor’s degree. I trusted his advice, but still wasn’t sure this is what I was going to do. So, I kept putting it off. Eventually, we went our separate ways, staying in touch as we moved through life.
After a life-changing experience with my first pregnancy – delivering twins but only one child surviving – I found healing through work. It helped me work through a deep depression. As I returned to work full time, I recognized I didn’t just want a job anymore; I wanted a career.
This ah-ha moment was the catalyst to my learning journey as an HR professional. I joined SHRM as a national member and quickly found a local chapter to start networking with local colleagues and benefiting from professional development meetings. It wasn’t long after that I researched certifications available to HR professionals and prepared to meet the qualifications necessary to sit for the exam. Simultaneously, I started looking at universities and programs in my area, considering that degree my mentor had so relentlessly urged me to complete.
However, as I prepared to submit my application for college, I realized I already completed my degree. I was days away from taking my HR certification exam. I had self-studied for weeks, catching up on the elements I didn’t have as much experience with. But in reflecting on my job as an HR Director at that point, I quietly built the syllabus of my practical experience and natural talent which had brought me to this point. As I compared my imaginary list to the courses required for my four-year degree (which came with a $35K+ price tag), I made the choice to go at it a different way. I closed the application, and haven’t opened it since.
I took the exam, palms sweating and heart racing. Although I don’t find tests to be debilitating, you never know how it’s going to end. To my delight, I passed the exam and celebrated with a frozen coffee and a walk in the park. The next year, I signed up for the senior-level test, just meeting the qualifications necessary to sit for the exam. I passed that one, too, and again celebrated with a frozen coffee and a walk in the park.
Since then, I’ve been in active pursuit of my growth and development for the methods that work for me. My LinkedIn Learning library is full of bookmarked lessons, I have subscriptions to Audible AND Scribd, I have an annual budget for conferences and events, I’ve pursued additional certifications and micro-credentials, I actively engage with my digital network through LinkedIn with thought-provoking posts and comments and I’ve made the Google search bar my very best friend.
This approach is what I understand to work for me. Should it be applied to everyone? No. But each of these smaller moments of wisdom and learning has lent itself to the dewy decimal system of the honorary life degree I am proud to hold. This degree has given me compassion for my fellow humans. It’s shown me the significance and necessity of standing up and fighting for the human experience in our workplaces. It’s made me a better mother.
Would a master’s degree have provided these same insights? I’m not sure, but being born with an insatiable curiosity will always be the cornerstone of my lifelong journey of learning, regardless the platform I use to find my answers.
Start, or jump back into, your own learning journey and travel it well. Lean on SHRM Education to be your travel buddy.