Reflection on a new life - and what 2023 stands for
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
This is the first time I'm writing a New Year's reflection. I've decided to do it this year because I believe there are learning to share with others who might be considering a similar change in their lives: Becoming a solopreneur.
This reflection spans the last 2.5 years, and is a chronological and systemic approach at the same time to sort my thoughts, hoping that there's also a learning, inspiration, or motivation for you as well.
Here we go...
Setting my North Star
My all-time followers know what I'm doing every year:
I'm setting a headline, a theme... a North Star.
I figured New Year's resolutions don't work for me (do they work for anyone???), neither do goals or todo lists. But a single North Star for the year does. I weigh every decision I have to make against this North Star and see if it fits or not. They reflect what I want to do, what I want to be, where I want to be when the year is over.
I started setting North Stars in 2019. Looking back, all of my North Stars have brought me to the point I am at the moment, personally and professionally.
2019 - Courage
I was working at Doodle and had the courage to take on projects that would move me forward in light-speed, personally and professionally.
2020 - Fearless
I left my well paid and very enjoyable full time job to chase a startup idea. I stopped that one and decided to stay self-employed, and engaged in projects as a consultant, coach, freelancer and educator.
2021 - New Horizons
The year was full with "first-times". I became a mother. I founded my own company. I started to work on some side-projects. I learned no-coding. It was super exciting! But also very very very tiring. Both physically and mentally.
2022 - Joy
That's why I dedicated 2022 to Joy. I wanted to say Yes to all things that sounded like fun, and No to all things that would drain energy. And that's what I did.
I played around, tested what I like doing and what not, what drains energy vs. what gives me energy, what is easy for me to do, what I miss doing, and what I'm fed up with. Both personally and professionally. All of this while working only 3 days/week.
Reflecting on the last years, I diverged a lot, to put it in the words of design thinking. This is great for exploration but exhausting in itself. At one point, you need to stop diverging and start to converge to keep sanity and find your path that you can double down on.
And that's exactly what I need to do now. I need to focus.
2023 - Focus
BUT WHAT THE HELL SHOULD I FOCUS ON?!?!?!
I had to go deep to find my focus. It took me 3 months of reflection, lots of conversations, therapy, coaching, mentoring, disconnection from negative feelings like fear, jealousy, fear of missing out, panic. And bonding with my intuition again, and calming down the angry little baby that sits in my belly and throws little bombs into a small volcano whenever I face a topic that makes me feel fear, jealousy, or frustration.
Reflection of the past 1.5 years
Number of panic attacks: 3 Mio.
Number of smiling faces and thank yous with a big AHA: 10 Mio.
Number of times I went back and forth with my decision what I want to do: 100 Mio.
Number of times I had FOMO: 50 Mio.
Number of WTFs: 30 Mio.
Number of times a good coffee or matcha and cake calmed me down: 30 Mio.
Number of times I got kicked in my ass by my husband, friends, and accountability group: countless
Solopreneurship isn't for everyone
I say I've been self-employed for gross 2.5 years, net 1.5 years. I didn't really work in 2021 because I took care of my baby and had to recover from a difficult pregnancy.
Those 1.5 years were a great hell of a ride - in a positive way.
I took on interim product management projects, interim product leadership projects, product leadership coaching requests, product management coaching requests, workshop and training requests.
I teamed up with Henry Latham from ProdMBA, and now we successfully run our Product Analytics Bootcamp together.
I started teaching Product Management at the University of Applied Sciences of the Grisons (FHGR) and am doing it for the 3rd time this year.
I ran my first CSPO training with the XP and Scrum legend Joseph Pelrine.
I spoke at conferences and meetups like Product Management Festival, Product Leaders Summit, ProductTanks, Product People, Agile Tour Zurich, and more.
I was guest at podcasts like One Knight in Product, Visual Makers, Product in the Enterprise, and more.
So many "First Times". A lot of fun.
I learned three crucial things about solopreneurship in this time.
SOLOpreneurship has a big emphasis on "solo". It's both personally and professionally tough to be alone on your self-employment-journey. Nobody to bounce your thoughts back and forth. Nobody to learn from. Nobody to share duties with. No team to work together with and complement each other's weaknesses. It's all on your shoulders. You have to learn what you don't know to run your business. And imposter syndrome eats you up because you think you're so bad at all these things. What I did and will do even more of in the future to reduce the negative impact of being solo in your journey:
I got a business coach and consultant who helps me structure my thoughts, gives me input on my ideas, shows me how to do the one or the other thing, and kicks my ass.
I got a personal coach who helps me overcome my fears and connect with my strengths and intuition again.
I got invited to an accountability group where we not only hold each other accountable but also give feedback on our work, celebrate wins, rant around, and show each other our vulnerability.
I joined forces with other great product leaders like Henry Latham, and will do more of this. Some things are already in the making. Stay tuned ;)
I will work from outside my study more often. Because it's really more energizing when you work in a vibrant place where everybody is focused, and it really feels like isolation at home.
I frequently meet other great people for a real or virtual coffee to exchange and geek out.
I exchange a lot of my thoughts with my husband who might be not from the field but as a Data Scientist and former Scientist he has lots of great ideas how to create new things from old things. And a lot of patience.
Working ON your company is different from working IN your company Your time is limited. You work on things that make money but you also have to make yourself some space to work on things that DO NOT make money. These things can be bureaucratic and accounting stuff, they can also be marketing, sales, networking, and they can also be vision & strategy related work for your own path. You need to plan this time in while making money. It's a tough balance, especially when you work only 3 days/week like me. Of course you can also go full free and focus only on brand building. But that's a method you can only do if you don't HAVE to make money. Bootstrapping is about making money and paving the way simultaneously. Not about being funded and doing all the cool free stuff. You can do that if you have another income stream that gives you this freedom.
The grass always looks greener on the other side Jealousy and FOMO are big topics that I'm still trying to deal with. When I see others taking on their next step in the classic Product Management career path, become VP Product, CPO, or get a job at Google, I find myself getting jealous and thinking that maybe I started my own business too soon. Maybe I should have gone all the way up to a CPO position before jumping in. Or maybe I should have applied at Google and learned how big successful FAANG really works. On the other hand, seeing that other solopreneurs launch their next whatever and being so successful with what they do makes me want to jump on the wagon, too. I really have to hold myself back from doing this. We all have our own story that we carry around. I am not the same person, I don't live and work under the same conditions, I have to play my own game.
Motherhood changes your entire life - and isn't for everyone
I've always been a "workaholic". I don't care what others say I just love working. What I love even more is working on things that make me feel excited.
When I took on my first project after giving birth, my little one was 8 months old and didn't go to daycare yet. She had started with daycare in the 2. months of the project so that I'd become more flexible. I explained it to everyone, and everyone was ok with that.
Except me, turns out.
I apologized for every single bit of chaos. It was like the "my dog ate my homework" excuse.
I have always been the working machine. Effective, focused, high-performing. Accepting that I'm not anymore was very hard. VERY hard. And I still struggle with this. I want to work full-time but can't. I want to have hobbies next to my work but I can't. Before the baby, my husband and I promised we'd find our own way to make it all happen. Turns out - at least in Switzerland - being a working mom is difficult, especially if you don't have family support around. It's a bit like a trap: The money you earn pays the very extremely super high daycare prices. To earn more, you need more time. To have more time, you need more days at the daycare. Catch22. This can get so expensive that you partly pay more than a second rent. And when you are bootstrapping while still trying to give as much value to the community for free as possible, this can become very, very tricky. That's why the system simply doesn't allow you too much to find your own way.
This situation bothers me a lot. But I try to accept it. This is something that I still need to work on. Accepting it and making the best of it.
I also realized that I had postnatal depression. Someone on LinkedIn mentioned it and I responded "Oh thankfully I don't have that". But after her comment I realized that I do have it. I had to take therapy to overcome this. Now I live the greatest love for my daughter and am thankful for the therapist's help every day.
What's your passion?
And then I had to find this overlap of what I like doing and what I'm good at, and what makes some decent money of course. I'm a product manager. I build products for customer AND business value.
And here it was a mix of therapy, business coaching, and personal coaching that enlightened me:
I love the Aha-moment in the faces of product leaders and managers when something suddenly gets so clear in their minds. Or when they learn something new. Or when they were able to connect the dots. With my help. With me cutting through the bullshit and fluff that goes around out there. With me making Product Management and Leadership simple for them and taking the pressure off their shoulders. With me helping them to be pragmatic and getting back to first principles thinking. This feels just dope!
And then 2 things happened.
"Vetted by Marty Cagan" I got accepted to the Coaching the Coaches session, held by SVPG in London. From all those wonderful coaches across Europe who applied for a seat, I was one of the 50 coaches who got accepted. I'm proudly wearing this "badge" now. The sad part about it: I couldn't go to the session because we got COVID.... DAMN!!!! I'm still happy to be in a very valuable closed network with all those coaches and exchange with them.
Learning how to coach, deeper than the craft alone I took a live cohort-based course on coaching based on the co-active coaching model. I learned some very helpful coaching techniques to go deeper into the personality, strengths, inner saboteurs, and to look at the coachee's life systemically. What became even more important to me: I received the feedback from the trainer that my intuition is strong to really help those people that I'm coaching. I felt like newborn and realized that this is something that I definitely want to continue doing.
I learned that this feeling that I helped someone or even a bunch of people as a team to make progress is what excites me and makes me feel true joy.
And that I'm damn good at this! Coaching, teaching, mentoring, consulting.
But in which setup should I do this?
From here to there
Where I was
I started as someone who wanted to be free. Free from employment to own her calendar, free to say "no" to things she doesn't want to do, free from political BS and instead getting things done.
But without finding my passion, vision, and a more specific goal I was floating free.
This year, I haven't made a shit ton of money. I rather explored and learned. To find exactly this: my passion, my vision, and my more specific goal of what I wanted to achieve with my self-employment.
Where I want to be
All of the reflections, all the conversations that I've had, all the assessment of what I like doing, and what not, showed me what I really want to do, and what not.
I do NOT want to do Interim Product Management.
I definitely do NOT want to support any PM or PO role that is meant to sort backlogs and be a new kind of project manager.
But further I do NOT want to discuss Agile/Scrum vs. Product Management anymore.
I do NOT want to lead entire organizational change management and big transformation projects. Support a product management team to work in a more product-led way yes. Support someone else to coach the product management and product development teams while they are leading big transformation projects that are supposed to change the whole organization yes, but leading them myself no.
What do I want then?
This is my calling:
I create confident product managers and leaders, and strong product teams.
I help product managers and leaders to learn modern product management practices and grow in their careers, find clarity and focus in their thoughts and decisions, and eventually become confident in their product management craft.
As for product management teams, I help product leaders to get them set up as empowered, strong product teams that know how to built products that create real impact for customers and business and are confident in the techniques they use as a team.
As always without bullshit and fluff.
My focus in 2023
Growing product managers into confident seniors and leaders.
Helping new product leaders find clarity and focus to rock their jobs.
Having a lot of conversations to find the most pressing topics among product managers, leaders, and teams.
Making our Product Analytics Bootcamp the best course ever to learn about metrics and analytics.
Creating more learning material (myself as well as teaming up with other product leaders for this) for product managers and more Product Management coaching to help them grow into senior and leadership levels
Continuing with Product Leadership coaching.
Continuing with in-house and open trainings/workshops to grow strong product teams through training them in their craft.
And I'll start a new part-time job that reflects my vision of the Individual Contributor's path: There's more in the world after Senior Product Management than the classic path through line management.
My roadmap is ready. My hypotheses are set. Let's see how it'll go.
Wherever you want to go, getting there alone is difficult. You need a net of people that helps you get there, where you and them are aware of it or not.
I am very thankful to have had lots of powerful conversations that helped me structure my thoughts, connect with my intuition, and paint a picture of my future and how to get there.
In no specific order...
Joseph & Bettina Pelrine, Agnes Szeberenyi, Lucyna Milanowska, Arjanna van der Plas, Tobias Ziegler, Tanja Lau, Leah Tharin, Petra Wille, John Cutler, Henry Latham, Vanessa Meister, Frederik Vosberg, Josua Waghubinger, Anthony Murphy, Cliff des Ligneris, Manuel Hartmann, Inês Liberato, Tobias Freudenreich
for our conversations. Each of them has sparked another light, gave me another idea, and revealed an "Aha" in my mind that helped me figure out what my calling is and how to get there. Thank you for the inspiration.
And a big thank you to my husband Sinan Teske who can handle my ups and downs in this rollercoaster so well. Who always helps me think more broadly, flexible, and find new ways of doing old things. And who supports me on my journey with all the resources he has: Time, patience, money, wisdom, muscles & legs, energy, and calmness. Thank you ❤️
Let's make 2023 a powerful, happy, fun, and exciting year.
Supportive of each other and all together.