The Nerves of a New PM

Starting any new role comes with increased stress and discomfort.

Starting something new is always frightening. Exciting, but frightening. Jumping into the role of product manager is no exception. Especially when it was never your intention.

My transition into product management came out of the blue and was less the result of a strong desire on my part than a need within the company. It was a weird, nebulous start, and one that I feel I'm still trying to come to terms with.

Flashback to this past summer and I was working with a colleague on a product. It was just me, him, and an engineer trying to scrape something together. We had huge ambitions but very little process. As you can imagine, that resulted in a lot of confusion, multiple missed deadlines, and what ultimately ended in the product being killed before it was even released. We were the victims of a leaderless project—there was no real product owner, no one managing the process and work, and the product suffered (and died) as a result.

It was clear that something needed to change so that related products (like the one I now manage) didn't suffer the same fate. After a few conversations with leadership and people I consider to be mentors, I made the decision to take on the mantle of product manager and focus my efforts on shepherding products onto success.

I remember having a number of conversations with my wife before making the decision to become a PM. I also distinctly recall my nerves being a bit frayed during that time. I enjoyed the work I was doing (despite frustrations around that failed project) and knew becoming a PM would bring big changes to my daily workload.

Up until then, I had reveled in creating content, getting my hands dirty, and simply making things. Product managers necessarily have to think at a higher, more strategic level, and often don't get the opportunity to create things (apart from backlogs, documents, and presentations). We leave that to the people that are better at it. What's more, we're held responsible for what is ultimately created without having a direct hand in creating that thing.

In essence, it would bring me out of the weeds and onto a cliff.

That made me nervous. That made me scared. And it made for a hard decision on whether or not I wanted to make the leap into product management.

What ultimately pushed me over the edge, though, was the realization that either I could become the product manager for what I was working on, or someone else could. If someone else took over the product in a formal role, they would be driving the development of the product. I definitely had a clear vision for what I wanted to see happen to the product, and I wasn't comfortable relinquishing control over that vision to someone else.

It sounds selfish and cynical, but that cynism soon turned into excitement over the switch to product management. I started to see it less as a defensive move, and more as an opportunity to lead and shape a product in a way I never could before.

So I became a product manager.

I thought my nerves would settle down after accepting the position. Boy, was I wrong.

I'm one of four product managers at my company. And I'm definitely the greenest of the bunch. I try not to show it (or even think about it), but I constantly fret over whether or not I'm good enough to be an effective product manager. I compare myself to the other PMs and feel lacking. It's imposter syndrome to the max, and it sucks. I remind myself that my team has faith in me and wouldn't want me in the role if they didn't think I couldn't handle it, but it's still nerve-racking, to be sure.

On the flip side, it also means that there is a lot of room for improvement. My daughter's dance teacher has a saying that she constantly makes the dancers recite:

Thank you for this opportunity to improve myself.

It's a superb life lesson that goes far beyond dance.

Mixed in with all of the nervousness and anxiety over being a new product manager is the strong motivation and desire to improve myself. There is a lot that goes into product management. Between development methodologies, theories on process, communication, soft skills, user research, and business skills, there is more than enough to keep me busy and interested in product management for a long time coming.

I'm learning to take comfort in the fact that there's a lot to learn and no one knows it all on day one. I'm still a bundle of nerves most of the time, but I know I'll get better. There's a lot to learn, and I love learning. I may make mistakes, but I'll learn from those, too, and I'll be a better product manager for it.

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