Unhappy as Product Manager. Now what?

I've spent the past 2-3 years as Product Manager at 2 separate high-growth startups. I feel like I use *some* of my skills (technical background as a web developer, fluency in Agile/Jira/project management, strong written communicator, good at organization and documentation). But most of my day is doing things I strongly dislike: leading meetings, serving as the go-between for Engineering and Executives, etc. This is draining for me - I dread all of the meetings, the tight executive oversight, the expectation to constantly push to get others to get things done. I'm an introvert acting as an extrovert all day and I have become depressed, exhausted, and burnt out.This leads me to think I would do better in more of an IC (individual contributor) role, rather than managerial role. My dream is to be given work to do, then the space and time to go do it, and do it well.What are some positions in tech that I may be able to pivot to? I am not strong enough at coding to become a software engineer, although with 3-6 months intense practice I could probably skill up. But are there any other types of roles in a typical startup/tech co that would fit my skill set? I was thinking possibly Technical Writer or something of that nature.Thank you all for your guidance.
Hi Anonymous, sending you a massive hug! I am an extrovert (and absolutely love the things you've described) and I have really come to appreciate the struggle it may be for introverts to do things like those. Let me ask you: is it the actual nature of the work that you hate? Or is it the people who are say not making you comfortable? And the expectations you mention, are you maybe self-imposing them? For instance, do you think it's quite possible that your desire for high-performance is making you set those seemingly crazy high standards for yourself (not a bad thing at all by the way, but if it is affecting you then it is good to scale down a bit)What are some the things you absolutely love doing: could you make a list of these?The truth is for as long as you work with people you will need to do a fair amount of people management and you need to evaluate how much of it you can handle.
thank you for this iynna. You have given me a lot to think about. I can tell by your response that you are probably a great leader :)
Of course! Please keep us posted and feel free to reach out privately if you ever need :)
I don't have any advice on positions you could pivot into, but I was thinking more about this line "most of my day is doing things I strongly dislike: leading meetings, serving as the go-between for Engineering and Executives, etc.". I'm wondering if that's a function of your particular role as a PM at your current startup, or because of the manager vs IC track. To me ICs (myself include) still lead meetings and serve as the in-between.Anyway, I think one thing to evaluate here is whether or not it's the actual function of product management that you're unhappy with, or if that in itself is heavily influenced by how the company runs the role and therefore it's a change in company that would really make you happy. In any case, I hope you find what you're looking for. No job warrants depression or burn out and you deserve to do the work in whichever way you think you'd thrive best! ♥️
Thanks for your response!Yeah, I think PMs at my company have uniquely higher expectations to deliverthan I've seen at other places, but not the best environment to do those well (still a lot of executive oversight and buyin requirements). I'll be looking into other companies and have started to apply to PM positions elsewhere.
I understand exactly what you are going through! Even though I’m your typical “extrovert,” I need space and time to allow my brain to work hard and work well. For me (a former consultant), even the thought of being in a managerial role or in a position expected to provide regular status updates really stresses me out. I always joke that I’d love to be ‘that random genius in the corner who they only pull out when there’s a direct question pertaining to their work...’This may also stem from me being more of a ‘creative’ (aka going against the grain - big time) in the way that I frame and solve business problems. By feeling boxed into these short update sessions, it’s tough to manage the different motives of cross-functional teams (meaning the majority of my day has to go into framing words rather than doing work!). Following this thread - if you have any ideas/suggestions, am interested to hear!
Would you rather be an engineer who is one level removed from the executives? Tbh, I have always questioned the role of PM. I think it is a manifestation of pigeonholing and harmful stereotypes about technical people (as unable to empathize with customers and needing "translation" from human to tech spec). I guess it's a necessary evil in big organisations, but in startups under 50 people I think it's better to focus on hiring engineers that care about the product and be one of those engineers.
Super interesting perspective! To answer your question, yeah, I view a PM here as a protective layer in some ways between engineering and exec. I don't always love playing that role.
Hi, I feel your pain. As a pm myself, I can relate to your description. I think that great pm’s are leaders, and as such are very much extroverted. May I suggest a shift to ux/ui designer? You will be an individual contributor, and you can use all your gained experience so far. Good luck!
Ahhh I relate so much to this, anon. Somehow the discrepancy between formally having the decision power while actually not having it at all was so hard for me. But it was also partly because I kept landing on not-quite-product teams. Marty Cagan describes three types of teams, feature, product and delivery. You org sounds like a delivery type, where executives are deeply embedded in the decision making process. This all being said, I completely understand your wish to pivot. I guess the possible paths would really depend on your own preferences and where you would like to be in a few years. For myself, I was thinking about Project management and Illustration (because I have skills in latter).
You hit the nail on the head with having to be in a position to make decisions and give directives without official 'authority.' It's tough and takes a lot of social finesse - sometimes I manage it and sometimes I don't.Going to look into those 3 team types - I would agree executives want to be involved at every step and require a lot of updates throughout the week.Thanks for your input here.
Hi Anonymous,I understand very much what you're going through. I have worked in a company that teaches Product Management for over three years, and what you're describing is not uncommon. However, even though PM is a mostly "extrovert personality job", you can be a full introvert and work incredible (as I'm sure you've been doing). The best thing about being an introvert is that nobody needs to hold your hand to make sure things get done, as you're more than used to working by yourself and know how to get things done. You probably have a routine that you stick to rigorously, making you more organized and up-to-date. I'm also sure that you're brilliant at finding solutions to problems, as you've done it for yourself for years, and you might find that others seek out your guidance.All of these things are great traits for PMs! So I would say you're perfect for the job. But feeling exhausted and depressed are things that you should take care of immediately. And If a qualified professional tells you that your job might be a significant cause, then, by all means, follow their advice! I just don't want you to get another job and find out that it's not working for you either. Because what you'll probably realize is that most jobs will still require a lot of those "extrovert" personality traits you are talking about.I'd consider maybe thinking hard about the company you're working at. Perhaps the problem doesn't lie so much in the role, but the way your company works and leads. You might want to check out this article over here that talks about Why PMs quit I hope you find the answer you're looking for soon! Best, Eva
Hello there! Thank you for sharing this. This sounds like a hard situation to be in and I'm sorry to hear you're going through this:( It seems like there's a lot of executive involvement in the regular day to day delivery and hence a lot of back and forth between engg and executives for you. I'm wondering if this is a function of how the work flows in your company? You mentioned you're fluent in Jira so you likely already use Scrum or some Agile framework - perhaps you can consider making the work even more visible? Like a board with sprint review recordings, impediments, velocity delivered, release burn down, prioritized product backlog and so on? This way just knowing everything is in 1 place and work is flowing in a cadence may reduce the questions you're getting from executives? Just a thought.
Hi Lupe,I'm curious if you had made a move out of PM or what changes you've made. I'd love to hear it :)
Thank you for sharing your story! For those in a similar position to @Lupe223 : Hi! I'm Rachel Serwetz, an ICF-certified career coach. My background is at Goldman Sachs & Bridgewater Associates, before moving into the career space to systematize my novel career exploration and job search methods and tools.My mission in life is to ensure people feel supported in making these critical, impactful career decisions. These decisions can feel stressful and tough, but with the right support (which you deserve), you can feel relieved, excited and confident in your next steps. I have been coaching hundreds of professionals for over 8 years and have developed unique processes and frameworks so that you can confidently clarify your ideal career direction and efficiently job search to land a role you feel fulfilled by. Happy to chat directly and see how I can help! Best,