Raw reflections of being a 2 year old working “adult”

Today, 14th of September 2021, marks my 1st year of doing Product management and being a Product manager. (Feels like 3 months, oh boy!) Wait a minute, you might be thinking, “you said 2 year old working adult, what about the other year?”

Prior to doing product management, my first job was an operations role in a tech startup. 2 years ago, I still remember taking a step of faith to not pursue an honours degree in Economics because I felt led and ready to start working. Regrets? Absolutely not, on hindsight, it was one of the better decisions I made, for myself, by myself and it kickstarted my adulting journey.

This product that I’m working on currently is a Security Information and Events Management (SIEM) product. You can think of it like a closed-circuit television (CCTV) in every house, doing monitoring and collecting CCTV logs just in case of any trespass and burglary.

Similarly, this product has logs collecting functionalities from every server and acts like a camera in the server. Thereafter, we store these logs in our big database and perform security monitoring to generate alerts so as to detect malicious activities quickly.

And now, you might be wondering… “Shouldn’t I just find a job related to Economics since there was large amount of money, time and effort invested in this field of study?” In Economics, we love to call it “sunk cost” where the cost has already occurred — fixed costs, past costs.

“I already have come so far, I might as well keep going.” I thought to myself. The truth is, this thought was something I struggled so much with.

But yes, I did the switch and here I am — becoming the person who I am today and overcoming the odds against me. Thank God!

“There will always be rocks in the road ahead of us. They will be stumbling blocks or stepping stones; it all depends on how you use them.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

Here is what the journey has taught me:
5 precious & personal learnings :)

1. Sweet spot of learning

Pardon my amateur diagram :D

3 ingredients to be a great learner — Curiosity, humility, acceptance.

From time to time, I would ask myself: How does a person who is great with learning abilities, look like?

I used to think curiosity enough does the job. But, after the 1st year of working, I added on the humility factor because I realised I was new to the workplace and clearly was new to things like how to collaborate in a team or managing a product. I reasoned that it would be best to be open, ask questions and be less prideful about what I think I know, in order to grow. CS Lewis remarked: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less."

And recently, acceptance made it up the list.

Why acceptance? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by amount of knowledge there is out there. We have to concede defeat (yup, I was defeated before) in trying to be the best in every area yet it takes humility and curiosity to keep us going in learning and studying. “Being open-minded and aware that our beliefs can be incorrect, make knowledge change possible.” (Spiegel, 2012)

Humility, essentially, is a good starting point but I personally think it is not a factor for sustaining the hunger to learn.

It boils down to accepting that it’s okay truly, to not be the “best” but yet we still strive to be excellent at our craft, at whatever our hands get onto. At the end of the day, we all have different callings, destinies, talents. That’s how I reconcile between being “defeated” with knowing I cannot be the best and yet still motivated to better. It takes acceptance.

Perhaps due to the steep learning curve in my 2nd job, it was challenging trying to play catch up with several areas of knowledge — from cybersecurity to product management to marketing to sales to information technology. It hit me to understand that somebody out there will always be better than me in an area of expertise. And accepting that? — Oof, ngl, it was tough to swallow.

2. Learning how to learn and unlearn is key

Learning how to learn was one of the things for me that made me revisit ever since I graduated from school. I forgot how important how “learning” was. The idea of working felt like more “doing” than “learning”. Soon, I could not rely on the methods of memorising text books or readings anymore but learning by doing or learning by understanding. School was definitely a season of learning how to learn for me that I will never forget.

My boss once said that learning how to learn will keep you going in life. He is not afraid about being obsolete and irrelevant as he is always embracing the uncertainty and challenge that comes with learning. If you think technology is moving fast, cybersecurity is moving just as fast. The amount of new vulnerabilities, methods of hacking are pretty much unknown, waiting for it to be discovered all the time. My boss puts aside time to read books and articles to keep himself up to date with happenings in the technology space. I am humbled by his attitude of learning.

“No matter how slow I’m learning, it is still within my power to improve!” kinda of mindset helps to approach learning with curiosity instead of thinking that these hurdles are an indication of my worthiness as a person.

On top of learning, unlearning (like a forgotten child), is as equally important.

Adam Grant once said — “It takes curiosity to learn. It takes courage to unlearn. Learning requires the humility to admit what you don’t know today. Unlearning requires the integrity to admit you were wrong yesterday. Learning is how you evolve. Unlearning is how you keep up as the world evolves.”

Unlearning requires myself to put down my pride and realise, for instance, some of the processes or principles I introduced didn’t work out so well and had to quickly iterate, brainstorm and relook how to make things work (which required learning again). I had to learn about what the team felt and thought and factor into my decision making process. That’s how people, product or process all grow and become better overtime, I believe.

3. Willingness to learn > Ability to learn

Credits this model to Heart of God Church

In church, when I was undergoing Ministry training so as to be a volunteer — they introduced us the 5As pyramid to ensure that we were aligned that our availability is the foundation of how we get to our ability. Our attitude determines our ability too.

“Our attitude determines our altitude.”

With this model, I thought a lot about how many times, my heart was unwilling and dreadful to receive knowledge and nuggets of wisdom. I forced myself many times to acquire an ability. Through those painful moments, I remembered that our mind and heart are very interconnected. If our heart is not willing, our mind will be affected significantly and henceforth our actions. What I understood from the training session was that being available requires willingness, be it — to learn, serve, volunteer, teach or even love. This starts from the heart. Being available is often least discussed about yet so vital.

I also always thought that ability determines everything. Then again, when I dig deeper, to be honest, anyone can learn anything they want. There are no boundaries to what we want to learn and what we CAN learn. Knowledge seems like the lowest barrier. What do I mean by that is: if I give anyone a piece of reading, everyone can also read and understand but not everyone may be willing and available (to allocate a given capacity to it) to take it to the next level.

3. Quality rest =/= hours of sleeping

A lot of people misunderstand that if one sleep a lot means that they are having quality rest. Conversely, I observe that those who sleep excessively consequently feel more bodily tired and do not seem that well rested.

I have seen people working from 9–6pm but feeling burnt out. I have also seen people who work occasionally overtime (OT) and yet still has radiance on their face with bright eyes, looking gleeful and joyous.

Having more quality rest does not mean we allocate more time to sleep but to me, it is about being intentional in finding peace/rest and purpose in every thing we set our heart and mind on.

I am writing this at 11PM, plugged in some songs and feel so rested as I reflect (hoho). Another thing I learnt that is that I can still feel rested while being stressed out. Rest to me is somewhat close to being at peace. Good stress, again =/= bad stress. In the sweet spot of challenge, it is possible to find joy, peace and restfulness :) Then again, I am not asking anyone to sleep 2 hours a day, but the normal 6–8 hours at least a day.

Recently, I have been studying for a IT certification. Some days when I am not careful, I study 2 hours and feel extremely brain dead. Other days where I am mindful and intentional about being restful, I end up studying longer hours, am productive and feel alive and energetic despite a long day of studying. It’s interesting, isn’t it?

4. Making others successful comes from the heart

In my new job and team, one of the things I saw was the heart behind teaching, nurturing and sharing of knowledge willingly — out of pure love and care. It was rare to find and experience this for myself. While the world is harsh and cold, experiencing this warmth, camaraderie and friendship (like a family) makes my struggles and self doubts pale in comparison. They truly have a heart of giving, that makes me encouraged to give my knowledge, patience and time to others generously as well.

Making others successful comes from the heart of nurturing the next generation, selflessness and realising we all need to pass our knowledge and wisdom to the younger people. Be it — giving guidance, be a listener, pour words of wisdom for them to build their career, family and even the society.

It is also less of a self absorbed mentality where we care less about climbing our own career ladder.

Sometimes, the higher you climb, the lonelier you might be even.

I, too, hope to be somebody that makes others successful or even make them more successful than myself.

5. Feedback is indeed a valuable gift

In Julie Zhuo’s The Making of a Manager book, she wrote: “At Facebook, we have a saying immortalised in posters all over campus: “Feedback is a gift”. It costs time and effort to share, but when we have it, we’re better off. So let’s give generously.”

At my 1st job, every performance review would get me feeling nerv-y and anxious because I cared about what my boss and peers think and write of me. I did not see the value of feedback, I simply thought of such a process to be a mandatory and unnecessary. Back then, my boss gave me feedback about how I needed to be more confident as I seem to have low confidence towards myself and work. I still remember during our 1–1 chat, that my voice was shaky and tears were sitting at the brink of my eyelids. “I want to get out of here asap” I thought to myself.

Little did I know that her feedback for me, really got me going — till today. A year later and I still hold that feedback she had for me, close to my heart. Particularly because she shared from her heart and out of love as a manager and a friend. Feedback is indeed a gift. It shifted my perspective of feedback and how I choose to give feedback to others in my 2nd job. I am still learning how to receive feedback — not to say I don’t feel nervous anymore but I remind myself consciously that good feedback out of being radically candid (caring personally and challenging directly) truly makes a difference to my growth in my personal life, career, value and principles.

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

“The only hurdle you need to overcome is yourself — can you remember to ask frequently enough? Can you be humble and self-aware enough to hear it openly and then respond with real change?” — Julie Zhuo

Closing

At this point of writing this, that’s 5 personal learnings I thought that was insightful for me to sharpen my character. I had a lot of delight writing, reflecting and eventually sharing it here vulnerably with many. I hope something resonated with you. Disagree with me if you may, but first, coffee on me :D

Thank God for His sustenance and guidance. I also, would not have made it if not for the people, friends I’ve met throughout the years that offer support (be it over long periods or brief exchanges) as well as speak truth into my life.

I constantly am in a state of thankfulness as I know that I’ve received a lot of undeserving help, grace and patience. I am excited and challenged to live my life fulfilled and with purpose. To more learnings 🎉

Love,
Jelly
Work-in-progress

*I chose to share these 5 things that can be applicable to more than just work. It is more towards life learnings than career learnings because I see my career as just one of the many channels to live out my learnings, purpose and principles.

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