Maintaining Balance While Retraining in a New Professional Area

It’s common to shift your professional focus multiple times over your career while working in tech. But moving into a new role often causes a lot of stress.

In my recent lightning talk for Mental Health and Awareness Day, I reflected on the lessons I’ve learned to set myself up for success and protect my health when taking on a new professional challenge.

I’ve transitioned between a variety of roles over the course of my working life

Looking back at my working hours, my roles have included working as a: Clown, Craft Store Clerk, Office Temp, Data Specialist, Tech Support, Build Ops Engineer, Database Administrator, Consultant and Small Business Owner, Developer Advocate

Recently I’ve transitioned into a new role: Product Manager

I enjoy new challenges, but the early stages are quite tricky

I am a person who likes to contribute. This means that when I move into a new role with a steep learning curve, it’s generally unclear how I can best contribute and it can take a while to get up to speed.

For me, the steeper the learning curve, the greater my stress and uncertainty.

However, I’ve found that career shifts help me grow quite a bit, and are well worth doing!

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize where I tend to go wrong and to recognize how I can avoid these errors. This is a continual process, but one which I believe is worth the investment.

Recognizing problem patterns and building good habits to compensate

Problem pattern: Focusing on the negative. Change makes it trickier to recognize my own wins. Bad days will happen in any role, but it’s easy to blame myself for them when I’m in a new role.

Getting perspective: I’ve found that having a sounding board at work is invaluable. If I can find a peer or colleague who is available for regular checkins, this can help me gain perspective on how I’m doing. It can also help me avoid catastrophizing bumps in the road.

Problem pattern: Overworking. It also becomes very easy to work very long hours to try to get up to speed quickly. This tends to be one of the greatest traps I fall into. Working long hours feels helpful initially, but over time it tends to decrease my creativity and wear away at my prioritization skills.

Setting boundaries on time: I’ve found that working predictable, defined hours makes me better at my job. Achieving this involves not only stopping work at the right time consistently, but also resisting the urge to look at emails and work channels during off-hours.

Problem pattern: An urge to be irreplaceable. As someone who loves to contribute, it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of finding an area where I can offer unique value– and not taking the time to empower my coworkers to offer this value without me. In my experience, if something is worth doing more than once, it’s generally worth either automating, or empowering others to do it!

Working as a team: Prioritization and identifying the more important areas to contribute to are key to most roles that I’ve had. Practicing prioritization early in a role and validating these choices with my managers and my teammates is the best thing I can do to get started. Good prioritization also helps me make sure that I don’t get stuck in an area of repeating tasks, and can either automate or share the ability to take care of things with my colleagues.

A list I revisit often

I don’t think I’ll ever find taking on new challenges easy. This will always be something that I work at improving. I find it well worth the work, however, and the work is lighter now that I’ve recognized where I tend to go wrong, and the habits that help me do well:

  • Set boundaries on working hours
  • Disable work notifications or remove phone apps
  • Say “no” to work activities you can no longer do
  • Pause on extracurriculars if you need that time to relax
  • Ask a colleague to have regular check-ins
  • Practice recognizing feelings of self-doubt
  • Practice acknowledging your progress
  • Ask for help and delegate

Writing this lightning talk was helpful

One of the great things about public speaking is that it drives both learning and personal growth. These days, I’m careful about taking on too many speaking engagements and conferences in light of what I’ve said above about prioritization. However, this event and this topic came and just the right time as I’m finding my way as a new Product Manager.