Vanessa C. has worked in the field of content design for 15 years and is a design and product lead on the Meta Avatars team in Reality Labs. She also serves on the leadership council for Native@, Meta’s resource group for Indigenous employees. Here, she shares how she’s embraced moments of doubt in her career to create change within it.
I’m a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In my Anishinaabe culture there’s a teaching about the four hills of life — infancy, childhood, adulthood and old age — during which we must overcome the obstacles that hold us back in order to move from hill to hill. We do this by embracing the inevitable changes that come, and letting go of what was so we can find peace and balance in what will be.
Our careers make up a big portion of our lives spanning between the foothills of childhood into old age. It’s not surprising the pandemic and recent world events have caused many of us to reassess what we want in our careers or how we invest our time and energy.
While these moments of introspection are good, they can also bring doubt and uncertainty. For myself, I’ve had several of these moments over the course of my career these past 20 years. I’ve gone from pursuing an acting career to being a journalist to working as a content designer at Meta.
While each of these transitions have had their difficulties, they’ve also given me different perspectives and skill sets for taking agency over my career.
Vanessa loves animals — and her avatar does, too.
Having doubt in our careers
When we hit a moment of doubt in our careers, it’s a signal we’ve reached a turning point and need to take action. Sometimes these turning points are caused by external factors outside our control that force us to adapt, and other times they come from doubt that creeps in when we’re unable to see where the path we’re on is leading.
While these turning points can be a good catalyst to help us re-evaluate what we want for ourselves, they can also take over and make us lose our way if we stop listening to our inner guide.
The most pivotal moments in my career before Meta came from external events outside my control. I was living paycheck-to-paycheck, and while each turning point helped me learn how to adapt to change and develop new skills, they also filled me with anxiety about where my next paycheck was coming from. I allowed circumstance to take the wheel of directing my career versus being in control of it.
Making the decision to apply to Meta was the first self-directed turning point I had in my career in 16 years. I knew I was ready to take on something big and bold that put my media studies degree and decades of user experience design to use.
Even though I had a major case of imposter syndrome when I applied, I listened to my inner guide telling me to go for it, because the worst that could happen was hearing the word no. This was the same inner guide that brought me to New York to pursue my dreams of Broadway, and also to newsrooms from the East Coast to West Coast working as a journalist.
Achieving a goal in our careers isn’t the end of the journey, it’s the beginning of a new one. During my five years at Meta, I’ve had two more turning points in my career. These came as a result of not being sure where to take my career after achieving several career goals, including two promotions. This time, though, I had resources within Meta to help me find my path.
Vanessa is a design and product lead on the Meta Avatars team in Reality Labs.
Taking agency of our careers
Meta invests deeply in developing its employees, ensuring we’re not only building toward impact in our products but also fulfillment in our careers. This is why there are two parallel leadership paths at Meta — one for managers and one for independent contributors (ICs) like myself.
One of the turning points I had at Meta came after getting promoted to the level of a senior IC. The leadership path for senior ICs at Meta is highly personalized to our interests, skill sets and passions. I felt lost in understanding what career growth looked like for me at this new level, or how I could continually uplevel my influence over the products we build. What was clearer for me at the time was the career path of a product manager, and so for about a year I was absolutely convinced I needed to become a product manager because I believed my continued arc for career growth and influence was greater.
My manager and others leaned in to help me find the bandwidth and mentors I needed to explore the product manager career path. And when I was getting to the point of interviewing for a product manager role, I had a lot of doubts setting in about if I really wanted to leave content design behind — a profession that had given me so much and in which I’d spent more than a decade mastering my skills.
I kept asking my mentors, managers and even my partner what I should do. But none of them could give me the answers, because that answer had to come from me. I had to take agency over what I truly wanted for my career, not what I assumed was the only route forward.
I think many times we unconsciously box ourselves into believing there’s a certain way to do things when it comes to advancement in our careers, or that there’s a series of steps that will always lead from point A to point B. Sometimes that’s thinking we need to become a manager, or that we need to switch disciplines, or we need to be working on certain types of projects.
But the truth is that succeeding in our careers doesn’t have any one path. Success comes from understanding our individual strengths, what we find passion in doing, and finding the type of work that can bring out those strengths and passions for the impact they can bring.
When I’m interviewing candidates or talking with new employees — I often refer to the culture of Meta as being like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. If you haven’t read one of these books, they’re written with the reader being the protagonist who chooses where the story goes.
Vanessa and her colleague Maleeke share a smile at Meta’s headquarters in Menlo Park, CA.
To determine where we want to go as the protagonists of our own stories, self-reflection is the most crucial part of the process. It sounds so simple, but it’s something very few of us do on a regular basis.
In order to move from doubt to having agency in our careers, we need to make time to sit with ourselves and pay attention to our needs, wants and desires. It’s like setting a roadmap and north star vision for our careers, just like when we sit down to create these for the products we build. And like our products, if you don’t have enough understanding about the problems you’re trying to solve, you can’t shape a north star direction of where to go.
After taking the time to reflect on what truly strengthens me using the resources and tools provided to me at Meta, I realized the majority of things I found strengthening about being a product manager I could do as a senior designer. I just needed to define what that path was going to look like for me to be able to do that.
Since making the decision to remain a content designer, I’ve worked with various members of my career community at Meta made up of mentors, sponsors and trusted advisors to help me shape my path, set new goals and gain a better understanding of myself. Being able to lean on this community reminded me that no matter where we are in the four hills of life, there are always others who have come before us who can offer guidance when we feel lost.