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I recently realized I leaned back for the first 25 years of my life. I was raised by two loving parents of Mexican descent who were born in the United States. They grew up in poverty and faced discrimination, not allowed to pursue a high school or college education in Texas because of their heritage, but still created a life in mainstream America
to ensure that their children had more opportunity. But their experiences also shaped the messages they gave us, which were loving, yet cautious: “Don’t ask for anything more,” “Be happy with what you’ve got,” and “You are so lucky to have such a good job, don’t risk anything.” Today my parents are in their late 80s — that was the way of their generation.
Frequently the only Hispanic student in my class, my experience fed a sense of being different and wanting to be like everyone else – thin and blonde. I avoided countless opportunities for business advancement because I heeded that guidance from my parents and felt held back by my personal insecurities. But as I matured, I decided to fully embrace my culture, perspective and uniqueness. I also chose a new mantra: “What’s the worst that could happen if I….?” I asked myself this question every time a new professional opportunity presented itself or I saw the chance to create one.
I spent my 30s and 40s getting more comfortable with taking significant professional risks. Most recently, a good friend in DC connected me with a senior executive at Facebook. Within two days, we were meeting for coffee in San Francisco. I recall him saying he didn’t have an open position for someone with my qualifications, but whenever our mutual friend suggested he meet with someone, he was happy to do so. Though I felt incredibly uncomfortable, I proceeded to tell him why it made good business sense to create a Community Engagement position and why I was the best person for the role. I spoke very quickly and referenced examples of success as he absorbed the idea.
After several more meetings, Facebook agreed to try the new position and hired me as a contractor for six months. I was faced with the decision of leaving a solid job in DC or accepting this temporary job in California and potentially becoming unemployed (with a mortgage) after the contract period.
I decided to take that risk. Six months later, I became a full-time employee of Facebook. Since joining, I’ve had the opportunity to create a new and exciting area of the business. It was quite challenging adjusting to a culture vastly different from my last experience. There were times early on when I wasn’t sure whether I would fit. But I kept forging ahead, and a year and half later, I have found my groove again.