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Top 5 Tips to Succeed at a Self-Taught Career Path Dream careers start with excitement about your craft and taking on challenges with gusto

By Amber Aultman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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My career path has been more of a winding road than straight highway. I started out with a psychology degree, heading toward medical school, only to end up at art school studying fiber design. Even after two amazing, frenetic years at Savannah College of Art and Design, I realized I still hadn't found the right career.

I started exploring on my own rather than spending more money on school. I completely failed at self-learning in the beginning.

It hasn't been without its pitfalls. But, I got it right along the way, and I'm now an entirely self-taught user experience (UX) designer working at a great company with some of the most talented people in the industry. Looking back at my successes and failures, I've formulated a list of processes and mental frameworks that foster success. I hope by sharing them, it may empower someone else to explore new career options without feeling like going back to school is the only option.

Here are five tips to succeed at your self-taught career path.

Related: 8 Reasons a Powerful Personal Brand Will Make You Successful

Find your why

You've set a goal to learn something new. Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  1. Why do I want to achieve this goal?
  2. How will I feel after I do?
  3. How will achieving it change my career or personal life?

Read your answers and decide if this goal is worth pursuing. If you're serious about it, you'll have to give up some Netflix time and happy hours. Are you willing to make sacrifices? If so:

Post your answers somewhere visible in your home. Daily visualizing where you want to end up drives inspiration. Find people in your new field kicking ass. Follow their social media and blog -- even put their picture somewhere -- anything to remind yourself that they were once where you are and pulled through it. Don't fear reaching out to your heroes on social media. They're happy to advise people just starting out in their field.

Own your priorities

Once clear on your why, prioritize it. Work, family and other commitments always take time. Some of these things precede your learning goal, but others -- like Facebook browsing -- are things you can cut. Even if you work 50 hours a week and sleep eight hours a night, you still have 62 hours each week -- almost nine hours a day.

Keep a time journal for two weeks. Set a timer to go off every 15-30 minutes and record how you spent your time. This will help you determine how to make space for your new goal.

Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People

Seek out mentors

Mentors can be invaluable. They can offer guidance, accountability and help in finding work once you've gained competency. To get the most out of it:

  1. Listen to their advice. You've chosen your mentor because they have succeeded in your desired field. Don't argue with them or be stubborn. But, if you don't understand something, ask. Take notes. Every nugget is valuable.
  2. Put their recommendations into action. If your mentor gives you homework, do it; over the weekend if needed. Your mentor will see you're taking their time seriously. It also shows your work ethic, which positions you for future job recommendations.
  3. Always ask for feedback. Getting others' perspectives helps with thinking critically and identifying patterns. Stay open and you'll quickly improve.

If you don't have a formal mentor, join a professional group in your new field. Being around those people helps with staying motivated, getting answers to questions and sourcing jobs. Online communities -- like Dribbble, for designers -- are also great tools.

When meeting people in the field, absorb as much as possible. Observe how people talk about the industry and listen for clues into their success. What industry books are they reading? Who do they find inspiring or look up to? This can help you on your journey.

Show enthusiasm and practice every day

As I first learned UX, I was enthusiastic about everything. If my mentor suggested a project, I'd readily do it, even if I was nervous about my capability. This made my mentor want to give me additional work and guidance, essentially giving me more from the mentorship. It showed I was serious and respected his time.

Practicing every day fast tracks learning. Refreshing the concepts in your mind daily not only makes neural connections permanent, but it also makes learning sessions shorter, keeping your brain happier.

So, be excited about your new craft and face challenges with gusto. People notice subtle cues. Use that to your advantage.

Related: He Went From Dead Broke to Millionaire Because He Just Wouldn't Stop Trying

Embrace the awkwardness

Most don't fail to learn new skills because of laziness; it's because learning something new is hard and we're bad at whatever it is for a while. Rather than tackling discomfort, we use procrastination for "safety."

When learning to code, I sat down several times , burned through tons of content and got so exhausted and overwhelmed that I procrastinated for weeks before trying again. The result? I forgot most of what I'd learned and had to start over. Once I accepted the process, I had a breakthrough in my understanding.

Learning pushes you out of your comfort zone. Try to embrace this feeling and, remember, it's temporary. The more consistent and dedicated you are to training, the faster this awkward phase will pass.

I hope these tips are helpful in your learning endeavor! I'd love to hear what's worked for you and what hasn't. Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Amber Aultman

UX Designer at Tuft & Needle

Amber Aultman is a user experience designer and strategist who loves solving problems. She's also the president of AIGA Jacksonville and part of the design team at Tuft & Needle.

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