Living on Loans to Living on Paychecks — A Product Manager’s Diary #6-7

by | Oct 8, 2019 | General Information, Life | 0 comments

I began one day with reading a newsletter from Erik Kennedy where he explained a few non-obvious tips for better search autocompletion. While at work, I took a break in the morning to read a piece from the latest New Yorker issue: a story by Anna Wiener on her 4 year stint in Silicon Valley.

At lunch I accompanied myself with another exhaustive deep dive into the state of elections in Florida. Of course I couldn’t finish it as quickly as the sandwich. Just before I left the office I happened to come across an email from CB Insights on the acquisition of CTRL-labs by Facebook that got me interested in looking at the top 50 neurotech startups.

In the late evening I was reading ‘Writing for Story’ by Jon Franklin, a brilliant addition to the creative non-fiction bookshelf. Add to this the information consumed in a day at work as a Product Manager, unsolicited emails in personal inbox, and unwarranted ads subjected to throughout the day. Are we capable of this information overload? In trying to stay updated, are we diluting the richness of the data consumed? How soon will I run out of memory? 

The September 30th issue of New Yorker’s cover art says it all

Something about life at work

Working with a scrum team. Check. Working on a product end-to-end. Check. Planning out the… I quickly scanned the list of responsibilities that I needed to undertake to go up to the next level as a Product Manager. Each company has its own arcane steps called ‘grades’ or ‘levels’. At Salesforce, you enter at Grade 5 as a Product Manager out of College and walk up slowly. As I finished looking through the list twice, I became convinced that it was time I broached the topic of promotion to my manager. It’s been over six months since I joined. And so I did. 

Like a teenager asked to evaluate her own term paper, undoubtedly I had a subconscious bias in holding onto the responsibilities that I did do and overlooking those which I didn’t. My manager pointed this out as we patiently went through the list once more. While I had been doing well in most areas, I still didn’t have the domain knowledge and ability to know when to escalate an issue (and how to). I still relied on external stimuli and input. At first I was indignant with the feedback, thinking I was so sure about this. But then a little bit of time and sitting alone with my thoughts helped. I truly did not have the domain knowledge. Looking back over the past six months I realized a majority of the tasks I did were centered around re-organizing a team’s workflow, researching, following up, and bringing together multiple stakeholders. I still had some ways to go before declaring roadmaps. And I am scared about escalating issues. Rather than feeling dejected, it felt like there was a clearing in the proverbial forest. Now I knew how to get out. 

While work ate away slightly more time than before, it also felt more rewarding. One of the projects I took up turned out to be a lot more challenging that what I anticipated. With (much) less than ideal resources, we have to meet a (much) more ambitious deadline. In such projects, there is always someone who begins losing the enthusiasm and it has a domino effect on everyone else. As a PM, you have to be the hand that stops this collapse. This is where being stupidly optimistic helps.  

Something about life outside work 

The past two months, barring the time spent abroad, were very productive from a journalistic and musical standpoint. I realized there was only enough time to focus on two activities outside of work, health, and day-to-day chores. So I put all the time into: researching for topics to write on, talking to more journalists, writing, and learning the guitar (still cannot transition quickly from C to G!). 

The artists who performed at the So Far event where I volunteered

After emailing about a dozen travel magazines asking to publish the articles I pitched based on my trip abroad, one of them got back to me with a positive response. We’re happy to publish two of the articles that you mentioned and will compensate you with a flat amount of… I’m not joking when I tell you that I had tears when I saw this email. It was a good day. But it got me thinking.

Whenever I approach a newsroom or magazine via email, I start it out with a short pitch on an article idea followed with my introduction and a line or two about why this aligns with their content. I always mention in the end that I’m looking to only volunteer and not expecting compensation. Recently, I came across this post on Humans of New York that portrayed an artist who talks about her journey of becoming more authoritative. I’m not sure what I’m worth to them. But I know what I’m worth to myself, she says. This combined with the email above got me thinking whether I need to re-evaluate my strategy as it could in fact be counter-effective. If you’re going through the similar dilemma, then talk to people who’ve tread the path before. Something I plan on doing in all the future calls.

One of the best non-fiction short stories I’ve read in a long time

Everyone has a vision of a better version of themselves; I do too. In that version I picture myself to be more kind, engaging, and focused. To work on the engaging part, I thought I’ll continue my travel adventures inside the U.S. I realized I wanted to travel primarily not for the thrill of befriending strangers or taking part in adventurous ventures (those matter too). It was really to push myself slowly out of a bubble that at least I believe I’m in. So using a combination of a website that displayed cheap tickets from Seattle on specific dates and an app that tracked the volatility of prices, I booked a round-trip to Denver ($<140) and San Francisco (<$110) this month. Getting free accommodation was easier than I thought: Couchsurfing. Now all there is left to do it trust my instincts and peel away the bubble with each experience. 

Courtesy: avax.news

Something about life 

A few months ago, I made a call to a company that Salesforce partners with that gives you a certain number of free therapy sessions. The person on the other side was pleasant and made me feel comfortable right away — and spoke in a matter-of-fact tone that took the awkwardness out of my request. There was nothing fatally wrong with my life — I had a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food on the table everyday. That’s all you need to survive, but not live. One of the things that constantly made me unhappy were negative thoughts. Comparison. Jealousy. Imposter syndrome. Among other things. I thought it was time to see if talking about it to someone else helped. 

During sunset in Bali, Indonesia

People who go to a therapist looking for a cookie-cutter solution will be disappointed. There isn’t one. People who go to a therapist hoping to achieve x amount of happiness by some date will be disappointed as well. You only get as much as you give. If you think about it, at its core, all it helps you do is process your thoughts and feelings. Every time I posed a question to my therapist, the answer was, what do you think? or why do you think that is? And that’s what I did. I answered my own questions. After every session, I walked home instead of taking an Uber so it gave me time to absorb the residual thoughts. It’s a slow process, but it’s a work-in-progress.

I just hope people realize therapy is not reserved for the mentally ill. I write in a journal every few days for the same reason I decided to see a therapist: to process the happenings in life. Too often we get caught up in seemingly busy lives that decorates our virtual online persona as much as it deteriorates our true self-satisfaction. I’m no exception. But the first step is to realize this and act fast before the next notification on your phone grabs you attention. 

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