When stress hits the product mgr

career courage Sep 01, 2021

I talk to product managers every single day who are managing anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.  Before you can focus on getting unstuck at work and moving-up the career ladder, we need to help manage the stress and anxiety. 

Let’s walk through some tools to bring down the stress in the world of product management so you can make better decisions.

First, let's talk about the reality of being in product management. It is a career with a huge amount responsibility where there are also many emotions. Sales can get emotional when a feature is not available, the C-suite starts to micromanage when there is a board meeting, and engineering gets frustrated when the roadmap shifts.

If you add on top of this that you are unhappy at work or are dealing with a toxic culture, the stress and anxiety intensifies. 

We start to think to ourselves:

…I am going to lose my job.  I need to work 60 hours this week to prove myself.

…Just deal with the stress because at least you have a job.

…I am a failure

…I cannot do this job

The 'stress gremlin' is what I call that voice of doubt in our mind's back. It tends to creep up when we are confronted with a stressful situation at work, have a significant challenge, or a critical decision to make. 

The anxiety and stress can hold us back from stepping into our brilliant self. It keeps us stuck in a job where we are both unhappy and dealing with a toxic situation.  It also impacts our health and relationships.  How many of you are dealing with health or relationship issues due to the stress of the world of product management?  

For me, I am convinced the reason I ended up with Stage 3 cancer was from working in toxic cultures (more on that in a future blog).

Let's talk about solutions for how to get out of the stress gremlin mode.  First, I want you to do something that gets your energy up while also quieting the mind.  

Some options include:

1.         Listen to some music 

2.         Go outside for a fast-paced walk

3.         Move your body…do something (I like to jam to 80s rock).

I want you to get the positive energy flowing.

Then, I want you to say to yourself, in a loud voice…"  I've got this." And yes, repeat it.

Now that you are out of this gremlin mode, you still have to deal with the situation in front of you. But you are in a much better mindset to go into problem-solving mode. 

Here are the questions I want you to ask yourself before you dive into the decision or deal with the challenge.

The first question comes from Cy Wakeman. "what does great look like?" With this question, you are stepping onto your brilliant product leader self.  Also, think about an inspired leader you had in the past.  What would great look like if he/she was dealing with this issue?

The second question is, "what are the facts, and what is the story I am making up?" This is such a powerful tool that will help you get rid of assumptions and those ridiculous thoughts we all have.

For example, if a leader is micromanaging you.  The story you could be telling yourself may be:

…You are about to get fired

…Your leader does not trust you

…I must not be doing anything correctly

The reality is the only fact is that your leader is micromanaging one of your projects.  There could be 100 reasons why.  For example, there is a board meeting tomorrow. There is pressure from sales that the product may need to get delivered early.  The most likely situation is their boss is micro-managing them, so they are being forced to get into the details.

Questions are such a critical part of getting out of the anxiety and stress mode.  Once you start to ask questions, the gremlin will settle down, and you can figure out how to tackle the issue in front of you. 

If you are tired of being anxious and stressed as a product manager, let’s have a conversion so you can start loving work again.

We will begin to build a strategy to help you reclaim your life and career.

My mission is to help product managers move into leadership and love what they do.  I want you to be fired up and happy when you go to work.


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