When I Grow Up, I Want to be a Product Manager

I’ve also wanted to be a ballerina, rock star, and olympic gymnast 😉. But with this round of growing up, my fascination and curious obsession with product management has stuck. Let’s start with the spark: technology, people, and possibility. 

Experiencing digital journeys

From AOL dialup, Yahoo chat (a/s/l anyone?) and GeoCities to wifi, Slack, video chats and content management systems, the evolution of technology as a way to connect, create and grow is intertwined completely with my personal journey. I’m speaking mostly as an avid end user. When I started working on technology projects and teams, I was blown away by the deeper layer of what it takes to build digital experiences. While a greater appreciation for the innovation, the code/ infrastructure, and the strategy has grown over time, what has persistently intrigued me is how we gather, have conversations, and get creative around and through the technology that has become integral in our lives. 

The relief when something complex is completed with more ease (thank you, TurboTax and Asana!) or the frustration/ friction and eventual triumph of climbing the learning curve of wielding a tool (hey, Adobe Creative Suite and WordPress…😀) are just a few examples of the human journeys we take with familiar and evolving interfaces. Who knew how I would feel, what I wanted to achieve, and designed what I could do? More and more product managers are taking the lead with an invaluable team of engineers, designers, researchers and other stakeholders.

At the pulse of where people meet product

Play-by-play I learned lessons primarily in the strangely marginalized area of user support. It boggles my mind how the conventions of  “company structure” undervalue one of its most powerful assets- literal people committed to the success of its user base. They are experts on the actual product experience in the wild and a resource for real user data, ideas, and insights. Get to know and show them their value. Even more, get to know your teammates: their motivations, passions, and preferences. Get intimately familiar with the work that they do. This work will be an expression of who they are. Respect this as much as you should respect your users (or whichever stakeholder you have to report to 😉).

Make it real

So with this spark, over the last four years I’ve been diving into the craft and community of product management. Feeling inspired and empowered by the works of Marty Cagan (Silicon Valley Product Group), Teresa Torres (Product Talk) and a slew of other product professionals from a variety of disciplines who share their triumphs, failures and lessons learned about creating impactful experiences for people. Working with dynamic teams, sharing product insights, and driving user success was the hands-on experience that reinforced concepts and frameworks for me. The impact this has on you is pretty fantastic too. I remember the first time I was heavily involved in a release and how I felt both accomplished and on edge at the same time. It was hard and at times emotional, but the growth was astronomical. I wanted more of being on the tipping point of forward momentum, and I haven’t stopped growing in that direction since.

Hit Pause

Stepping back is hard. Thoughts of failure, waving a white flag of surrender, and worse, letting other people down wrestle with the intuitive need to take a break.

The body talks

As I emerge from an extended break, I remember the choice was more than intuition. My body was fighting against me. It became exhausting spending hours on end sitting in front of a computer screen. Throwing out my back from a less than epic attempt to retrieve a canvas bag from the front seat of a car was telling. My mind and spirit weren’t too far behind. Family crises, racial and social unrest, and feeling the stagnation during the pandemic were heavy things to carry. It was time to listen. 

Step back to move forward

Sometimes stopping allows one to accelerate where you most need it. As the vaccine was rolling out and visiting the doctors became less daunting, I learned there were a host of health issues brewing internally. A herniated disk and recurring condition that causes chronic anemia were the culprits. It was more than a call for self-care, it was a mandate for a lifestyle change. 

Commitment has limits

Professionally, I was navigating a difficult balance of playing it safe or cultivating growth. I hold strong values when it comes to family, work and engaging with people reliably. I believe in showing up. Period. I also suffer from this unhealthy inclination toward “selflessness” and “peace /harmony” at all costs. Much of my adulthood was spent committing my time and motivations to my family and problem solving some rough patches with and for them. Inevitably, I bring that same self to work and my relationships therein. Although there are merits to what I have been able to accomplish with this motivator, it’s not sustainable and that became apparent during the pandemic. 

Breaks are healthy. Take them. And most importantly: listen to your body and take care of yourself.