Living on Loans to Living on Paychecks — A Product Manager’s Diary #8

by | Nov 7, 2019 | General Information, Life | 0 comments

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I’ve been playing around with this idea in my head. If I had to categorize the world’s population, this is how I would do it: revolutionaries, creators, enablers, and by-standers. 

Revolutionaries are those who drill a narrow hole to reach the tip of the sphere of human knowledge, and extend it by an inch. These are the scientists, inventors, and explorers who add a pebble into our knowledge cornucopia without whom the world would become stagnant. Creators use existing knowledge to transgress the present situation. They are the founders, doctors, and policy makers of our world, constantly playing jenga with new ideas, hoping to maximize the human potential. Enablers champion creators and revolutionaries. Without enablers, the genius of the other two factions would remain behind closed doors. Enablers are the journalists, promoters, and passionate employees of the world. Most of the world belongs in this category. Finally, we have the by-standers who live their life in a state of procrastination. Neither advancing our collective knowledge nor enabling it. They don’t add value, but don’t take away value either. Undoubtedly, there are more categories. There are the terrorists, murderers, and racists who subtract value, but I’ve chosen not to consider them.

This four step ladder made me question on which rung I stood. I wish to be a creator when I die. But for now, I realized I’m an ardent enabler. I told myself that everything I do needs to push me closer towards that top rung. 

I’m a sucker for fall colors 🙂

Where do you think you are? And where do you wish to be?

Something about life at work

I had to control myself to act professional, and not blurt out words that could cost later on. I was having a difficult meeting with a Customer Support team from whom I needed something. I was trying to explain why they needed to help us help them, but all they fixated on was the extra work that’s landing on their plate. If they didn’t co-operate, they might have a bigger headache, but clearly, I was not getting through to them. One of the perils of working in security is that it is always an afterthought for the product teams. When things are going well, they fail to realize that it is because of the unsung heroes in the back-end, and when things go haywire, when a company gets attacked, they become extremely co-operative in meeting our needs. 

Thankfully, another Product Manager on the call who understood the importance of my request chimed in. Instead of defending our stance, he instead began empathizing with the Support team. He recognized the hard work they do, and mentioned the importance of their team, especially with the holiday season on the horizon. Then, he gave a solution on how their concerns can be addressed, and finally mentioned that my ask is critical and shouldn’t be neglected. It was akin to watching Picasso paint before my eyes.

At the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, during sunset

While my first reaction was to get defensive and keep re-iterating my needs, his first reaction was to address theirs. Let me tell you that it is not easy dealing with people who don’t understand your needs and have drastically varying priorities. You will face this every day as a Product Manager. What separates a good one from a great one is how you transform a win-lose situation into a win-win one. 

A few weeks ago when I was walking around in the airport on a Friday night, waiting for my flight to Denver, I listened to a podcast by NPR on how humans make decisions. The interviewee (who was a Harvard Professor) mentioned that the best gauge for the future is not to get a glimpse of it but rather to talk to someone who’s tread the path before. That is, if you’re debating on watching a movie, don’t watch the trailer, rather read IMDB reviews. This coupled with the experience above made me contemplate the need for more mentors in my life. If you’re in similar shoes, my anecdotal advice would be to have multiple mentors as opposed to one. Instead of having a 1:1 every week, have 3–4 mentors so that you can sync with each of them once a month. This frees up more of their time, reduces the chance of cancellations, and gives you a varied set of perspectives. 

Something about life outside work

We don’t invent our mission; We detect it. 

– Viktor Frankl

What genre should I focus on to be a freelance writer is a question I ask myself a lot. I haven’t reached a consensus yet. I’m still in that state of exploration, finding topics of interest where I can add some value or a decent insight. The only constant for me is to never stop being curious. Most of the articles I’ve written were not a result of waking up in the middle of the night with a concrete idea. They stemmed as a quiet thought as I was reading a book or an article, which turned into a dull murmur as I researched more, that transformed into an idea worth pitching to people, and finally a piece of work written and re-written with stimulating frustration that will outlive me.

The only constant is to never stop reading. 

At the Living Computers Museum in Seattle

A few weeks ago, I posted in the Women in Product Facebook group — a brilliant community that can act as your sounding board — about an idea for a podcast. After a few conversations, I found someone who shared the idea and passion. Soon, we met for dinner and are currently working to see this through to fruition. One of the first things we did was to identify speakers to invite if this takes shape and make the process as efficient as possible. This includes division of labor, setting clear milestones, and writing down the why — sometimes repeatedly

With every such creative project, my aim is to either act as a pipeline to funnel great ideas to a large group of people or promote healthy discussions. If you constantly come up ideas which need a partner in crime, use the communities around you. Use Facebook groups, Meetup events, Reddit communities, ProductHunt Maker Space, and hunt for places where you might find like-minded people. Don’t worry about failing — because you will never start. Most of my side hustles died down. But the ones that do end up taking a life of its own make up for all the effort. 

After all, this article series was one such idea. 

Told you I was a sucker for fall colors

Something about life

The past week I took a training at my company titled ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. I walked in expecting the instructor to help me inculcate good habits in life — something I’m always striving for. But the training was far from my expectation. She instead spoke about how to move from a state of dependence to independence. And then to inter-dependence. We were asked difficult questions in the class. What would you want people to say about you on your 80th birthday? When do you feel your worst? When would you say you succeeded in improving your health? It was mentally exhausting. 

And it was what I needed most. 

The 7 Habits

On my 80th birthday, I wish to be surrounded by my family, best friends, co-workers, and other people I influenced. I want them to call me a loving wife, caring mother, supportive friend, and inspiring human being. I suspect most of you would want the same. This reminded me of a TED video I watched in 2017 where a Harvard professor showed the results of the longest study ever conducted on happiness. Let me summarize the 13 minute clip into two words: good relationships. That is all. I remember writing about it back then in an article. I also remember constantly quoting it to people when we landed upon the existential topic of life’s purpose and happiness. However, my reflection of the past few months showed clear cognitive dissonance. I wasn’t following it. 

I realized with time that I’ve become less vulnerable and open. In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown confesses that the worst form of betrayal is not lying or cheating, rather disengagement. Of not caring. Of letting go of a connection. Of not being willing to devote time and effort to the relationship. What makes this the most dangerous form is that we cannot point to the source of our pain anymore, as there is no obvious event or evidence. Based on her decade of research, we all fall prey to this. 

At my Couchsurfing house/hostel in San Francisco (my picture’s also in there now!)

I cannot change this overnight. Or even in a month. But I vow to make incremental changes every day and in every interaction. Instead of constantly saying if only they initiated and demanding why should I, I want to be the person who does it anyway and does it with grace. We all have a circle of concern populated with things we care about, and a smaller circle of influence which specify the things we can do to maintain that circle of concern. For e.g., if one of your concern is saving the environment, then you can make an influential choice to always take a bag with you when you shop.

My goal is to populate both these circles as much as I can, and I hope you do too!