The Mental Cost of Being a Product Manager

Lilly M. Dobreva
The Startup

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I’ve been approached a lot recently by people who want advice on how to enter Product Management. And while you can read my enthusiastic take on ‘Why You Should Consider a Career in Product Management’, all of these conversations made me want to be more transparent about being a Product Manager so people really know what they are getting into. If you are considering becoming one or are still new to the Product world, keep reading. The following few points illustrate how taxing the role can be when it comes to mental health and will hopefully help you acknowledge and move past them.

The uncertainty is overwhelming

The reality is that as a product manager you deal with a lot of uncertainty. This is certain. But you can’t know for certain what competition is up to or where the market will be in a year; if the innovative feature you’re betting on will be adopted by users as envisioned. Yet, you’re expected to have all the answers, fast. You are expected to make well-informed decisions, even when relevant data might be missing. Given the enormous responsibility that you have to make the product successful, the pressure to not mess it up is huge. It might be tempting to wait and avoid making the necessary decisions but the pressure will still be there from all sides to provide clarity and way forward. The way to deal with it is to acknowledge you can’t always be right and that’s alright. Rely on data as much as possible, listen to and trust your team’s expertise, talk to users often and if all else fails, be grateful for this learning opportunity. Next time you’ll do it better.

Photo by "My Life Through A Lens" on Unsplash

Imposter syndrome is thriving

Congratulations, you are a generalist in a pack full of specialists. The designers, the engineers, the marketeers… they all have their specific domain skills. We are supposed to be a jack of all trades but some days we feel like we have no trade at all. The role itself still causes confusion among many colleagues and people often don’t have a clue what we do all day. Imposter syndrome is alive and thriving among Product Managers but the good news is, it does get better with time. As you pick up more and more experience, it becomes easier to see the value you bring to the table. And with that, the feeling that we’re imposters goes away. On most days.

Context switching is a killer

If you read enough about Product Managers you’ll soon realize one of the common ways to describe them is as multiple hat wearers (Hi, John Cutler 👋). It’s a fitting analogy. Juggling between different departments and their needs, and the versatility of our own role, we need to switch between contexts and embody multiple roles within a single day sometimes. That can be exhausting at best and schizophrenic at its worst. In the end, it’s part of what makes Product people so valuable in a team and can be mitigated to some extent by making sure you are laser-focused on the top priority and saying ‘No’ to all the other distractions. Which leads me to my next point.

From DepartmentOfProduct.com

It’s isolating

People won’t like it when you tell them ‘No’. The reality is that in order to build a successful product, you’ll need to say it a lot. Other departments might not always understand your reasoning and that won’t bring you many new friends I am afraid. Not to forget the abusive feedback you sometimes receive from some of your users. For all the empathy requirements our there, it’s really difficult to ignore the fact that sometimes you’ll need to do something users might not like (think $$$). And when they tell you so, the feeling of betrayal is real. Overall, being a Product Manager could be lonely so make some friends in your team and remember there are users who do enjoy your product after all. Just take a look at all those five-star reviews! ❤

Overall, Product Management could be stressful but it’s also incredibly rewarding. If you take good care of yourself and your mind, the stress is managed. Send me a message if you need someone to chat with.

Let’s be friends! Follow me on Medium for more articles on product management and startups.

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Lilly M. Dobreva
The Startup

A curious product person. In love with reading and new experiences | CPO @ Litentry