2019 — My Year in Review

Need to get the dad joke out of the way, I cannot wait for next year’s review: Hindsight is 2020. Thanks, I’ll be here all day!

I have learned so much in 2019 with regards to product management and adjacent disciplines, my values, what is important to me at work, what I don’t want in a workplace, what great collaboration looks like, writing, hobbies, how to deal with rejection and how to contribute to “the” community.

Rejection and loss were a central theme for me in 2019. It hurt a lot but it also allowed me to grow and gave me perspective.

Early this year, January 7th, my work permit application in Canada was rejected. I had to pack up my things and leave a job, an amazing team and many new friends behind and return to Germany. Just like that.

I thought about what would be next and kept trying to apply for jobs that would support my “Young Professional” visa application. Even though I made it through several rounds, I never actually got the job. I thought it was because of the hassle with the visa, now I am not so sure.

A combination of “maybe I’ll find a job in Toronto” and “I don’t know what I want to do and where” had me hesitant to apply to jobs. I wanted to stay in product management and keep doing Design Sprints. The universe (?) helped me out a little and Thorsten Borek and I grabbed a coffee and the rest is history as they say.

I started working as a freelancer in the realm of product strategy, growth, digital transformation, co-creation as well as individual business coaching. Product thinking can be so useful in any other industry, it’s amazing.

Freelancing did three things for me:

  1. It gave me a lot of flexibility and free time to spend with my dad who was very sick.
  2. It gave me the freedom to explore techniques and broaden my tool kit.
  3. It taught me what I didn’t want.

I had a great time, mostly conducting workshops and coaching people, but I missed one thing, a team. I went in for a workshop, helped people, created momentum, facilitated solutions and then I left. I left and I never knew if the ideas had been brought to fruition, if the momentum was kept alive and if I actually changed something.

I have used the 3-hour brand sprint, a very simple branding tool, for myself and other freelancers which I wrote about here. One step of the process is to write down your 3 most important values. Mine are:

  • Be inclusive.
  • Be open toward people and ideas.
  • Have a purpose.

I didn’t quite feel it in my day-to-day, so I decided to move on and find a full-time job again. I was in the comfortable position to only apply to companies I was really interested in working at.

Every time I didn’t get the job, I felt very rejected. The kind of feedback I got left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Here are a few bits of feedback I got from clients and recruiters about which I can’t help but think they are sexist and/or ageist.

“The team really loved you and you’d be a great fit, but you lack experience, come back in a year or two.”

“Your voice sounds too girly when you’re trying to be funny to brighten the mood.”

“Your experience and knowledge are very broad, but you lack depth.”

I have studied and worked part-time to afford to get a university degree, so if you look at my resume you could assume I am quite a bit younger. Which does not change the actual experience I have.

I come across as “girly” — whatever that means, it’s not the first time I hear that. But why on earth is that such a bad thing? Because girls aren’t as smart and witty, they don’t have business acumen and they just aren’t that much into tech? What were you implying?

If you talk to me for an hour and don’t ask specific questions, don’t judge me on that.

These kinds of things get me angry. I wish I could nonchalantly shrug them off, but I cannot because it is 2020 and they still happen. Don’t get me wrong, I am well-aware of all my privilege, there are people at other intersections like women of colour who get a million times more of that. That makes me even angrier.

If you want to be an ally, read Feminist Fight Club or The Little Black Book, for example, to understand what’s happening. The book’s subtitles are “a survival manual” and “a tool kit”, let that sink in for a moment.

I did find a job eventually and moved to the only other big city in Germany, Berlin.

I ended up leaving that job after only 5 months. It wasn’t for me. The culture wasn’t either. On various levels.

I did start something else around the same time which makes me very happy, studying again. I had been learning continuously, reading books, blogs, experimenting and taking online classes. Now, I went back to uni.

I enrolled in an extra-occupational correspondence program for Forensic Engineering. It’s a mixture of computer science and forensics, criminology and law. And it is badass!

Do I want to become a detective? Most likely, no.

Learning criminalistics and technical computer science, programming and criminal law just fills me with joy. It’s a lot of work and I couldn’t put as much effort in as I wanted to when my dad passed away a couple of weeks before the first exams. I still somehow managed to ace them and I know he would have been proud.

Another one of those side-projects I almost cancelled due to the circumstances at the time and I am so glad I didn’t.

I participated in Robert Skrobe’s Global Virtual Design Sprint and had the immense pleasure to be in a team that was super committed and engaged while working on a topic very dear to my heart: Purpose-Driven Employment.

We did all the fun steps of a Design Sprint remotely using Mural and Zoom and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Additionally, Jeroen Frumau added some extra fun in the shape of the “Talent Sprint” which helped even more to connect the team.

I had the truly amazing opportunity to do a live user test in one of Mural’s Backstage Passes webinars:

I even ended up getting a “GVDS Spotlight Award” including the sweetest quote which I am very proud of:

“Her amazing open and always full of humor style of communication lowered barriers to our team forming a bond and developing true cohesion.”

I learned so much about remote sprinting, but also myself and made some awesome new friends! You know who you are 😉

I had set a goal for myself to publish one article every month and I almost made it.

I had two of my articles curated by Medium in the categories Product Management and Freelancing.

There’s No “I” in Product Manager — Why Ego Gets in the Way

You are your brand — How to use the Brand Sprint as a freelancer

The latter also got published in “The Startup”.

And I got to contribute to the Women in Product blog:

Ask Women in Product: What structure or process do you use to understand a new product?

Ask Women in Product: How do you find your wins as a PM when you’re not producing working code?

My own Medium stats: views were just shy of 5k, a little over 2k reads and 103 fans.

My personal highlight was definitely when Barry O'Reilly who is amazing tweeted this:

Even if I didn’t write as much as I had set out to, I am still very happy with what I’ve accomplished.

Even though the overall feeling about 2019 was tainted by having to leave Toronto and losing my dad, I did do a lot of amazing things, learned an incredible amount and met wonderful people and I am very grateful for that.

  • I found a new job I am very excited about that I just started.
  • I started to study Forensic Engineering.
  • I got back into painting and hand lettering.
  • I started to practice self-care.
  • I organized the Women in Product Berlin meetup group.
  • I became a cat mom.

Those things I will take with me into the new year.

I have set intentions for myself for professional and personal growth for the next year and I will create goals and make plans on how to reach them. I go into 2020 with a positive feeling.

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.

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