Origin of the term dates back to 1325 as actual stones, but used figuratively (i.e. toward people) around 1653.
A stone (i.e. person) that can be stepped on in crossing something, especially a marsh or creek.
(idiomatic) Something used as a way to progress to something or somewhere else.

Other synonyms
“She treated him as a means to an end.”
“She treated him as a stepping stone.”

Never treat anything you do as a stepping stone. Do it fully, and follow it completely.
Mira Nair

I don’t see my show as a stepping stone to something else like some people, who get a job then have a foot out the door looking for their next job.
Craig Ferguson

Australians are very provincial in many ways. If they feel that you’ve used them as a stepping stone to bigger things, they resent it.
Graham Russell

The Australian film industry has recognised…

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