stepping stone

World English Dictionary
stepping stone
1.  one of a series of stones acting as footrests for crossing streams, marshes, etc
2.  a circumstance that assists progress towards some goal

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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stepping stone

1. a stone in a marsh or shallow water that can be stepped on in crossing 
2. any means of advancement; "the job was just a stepping stone on his way to fame and riches" 
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.
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