2018 was quite the year for movement — professionally and personally. I changed jobs, moved apartments, explored new roots in the city and reconciled with a lot of change in personal dynamics and relationships. A few highlights from the year:
January presented the opportunity to add some new states to my list of states traveled — I finally got a chance to add Alabama to my list with a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute on MLK Day in January along with a complementary trip to Atlanta. This trip involved finally seeing the World of Coca-Cola, CNN, MLK Jr’s childhood home and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights — one of the most profound experiences I had earlier this year was visiting an exhibit at the Center for Civil Rights where one could wear headphones and experience the violent taunts heard by African Americans at lunch counters across the country. A harrowing and emotionally thought-provoking experience.
In 2016, I made a bold bucket list goal to visit every Presidential Library in the United States by 2020. My hope was that 2017 and 2018 would yield more progress towards this goal — with a visit to Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Library in Atlanta, I have two down along with JFK in Boston. 2019 will have to catch up quick!
Professionally, I left a job I held for almost four years at IBM to jump deeper into the world of product management. While I had enjoyed building products for our client at the Army, my goal was to explore a world of product management in the world of SaaS and non-profits — where a variety of user needs, software trends, market forces would continue to push the edges of my creativity.
This journey led me to NGP VAN, a software company that builds CRM and digital engagement software for political campaigns and non-profits. I learned more about the company while volunteering for a political campaign in Montgomery County (My friend Ashwani Jain came in the Top 10 out of more than 30 candidates for Montgomery County Council!) and was a big fan of their VoteBuilder phone banking tools. The first few months as a new Product Manager gave me some of the most challenging moments of my career — as a market-facing Product Manager, you field opinions galore with little decisions you make on instinct and a need to lead through influence, sometimes with little data to support your hypotheses until a product is out in the wild. I once saw an answer on Quora about the challenges of Product Management that summed it up perfectly:
“While in every other job I had I could satisfy everyone if I worked harder and scoped down the problem, as a Product Manager I will always disappoint colleagues and customers I care a lot about.”
On top of the emotional challenges involved, I found I had to lean a lot on my directors and engineers for gaps on the technical frameworks and historical product decisions. While I can’t say that I’m close to perfect, getting to the marker of even competence has been a gift in itself.
I also learned a lot about new skills that I’d love to explore more in 2019 — For the first time, I was able to contribute to go-to market strategies, sales enablement, and product marketing for some of the features my team built. This opened my mind to how I could position myself as a better marketer in 2019 and I’m excited to reveal more on that later.
To complement career moves, I was grateful to continue my involvement with the DC Tech Community — in addition to attending DC Tech and Product meetups, I helped organize a Social Impact themed Startup Weekend with Techstars in April, an event where participants build teams and create products in 54 hours. I also got to help drive the content marketing for Rasa Grill, a new Indian restaurant in the Navy Yard, from January to August. I continued building towards future professional development in other ways as well, finally getting Agile certified and taking both the GRE/GMAT in preparation for potential graduate studies down the road.
Moving jobs and traveling less finally afforded me the opportunity to explore being a resident in the city I have called “home” for more than four years. Back in DC, I got back into Improv after almost 7 years from my last improv performance in high school, taking classes with the Washington Improv Theater, performing in two showcases, and even getting blind casted in an Improv festival where we required to perform scenes while chewing on sour warheads.
I was convinced by a friend from one of my improv classes to join a competitive karaoke team (Thanks Jess!) with District Karaoke, a league in DC where weekly karaoke is judged by audience voting. On top of meeting a bundle of new people, I even won by audience vote on two of my solos (John Legend’s “All of Me” and a rendition of “Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely” by the Backstreet Boys, sung dressed as the Phantom of the Opera) — On top of all that, I finally got the chance to move into a new neighborhood in DC, Columbia Height, which I absolutely love.
While I didn’t get the chance to attend as many conferences in 2018, two of my most formative experiences in growing as a leader came with the Thriving in a Noisy World retreat that I attended in July and serving as a mentor for StartingBloc ’18. Both helped me dig deeper into how I show up in the world, how I can create space to understand and sit with questions instead of always rushing to find answers, and the value of silence, stillness, and gratitude.
I finally hit one of my bucket list goals to drive across the Pacific Coast Highway, taking a three day trip between May 1st and May 3rd from Los Angeles to San Franciso. Among the highlights: coffee at Sambo’s, Hearst Castle, a stay in a Lighthouse Hostel, many beaches, fresh jam at Swanton Berry Farm and a Taco Bell on Pacifica State Beach. I also got to see Alcatraz Island the first time, a tour made even more harrowing with a headphone option to hear voices from the prison. The best highlight of the tour? After a two year journey, I finally got to see the Taco Bell headquarters in Irvine, CA! The anticlimactic part? It was actually a normal office and not a page out of Roald Dahl’s imagination. But, if you know me, you know how much I love Taco Bell. Even the banality of it all made my heart burst with joy.
My love for arts continued into 2018 — seeing many more shows on Broadway, the Public Theater, and the Kennedy Center as well as attending concerts at the new Anthem in DC and the Firefly Music Festival. 2018 was also my first venture into poetry, starting with the Moonlit events in DC and starting to write down some miscellaneous thoughts that came into my mind via Tumblr. One of my goals in 2019 is to discover some new contemporary poets to learn what good poetry looks like and continue to elevate my understanding of the medium.
More good news came in the form of some of my favorite sports teams — the Boston Red Sox won the 2018 World Series, I got a chance to see a jersey retirement for Paul Pierce, one of my childhood favorites, the Boston Celtics got to within a game of the NBA Finals without their star, and the New England Patriots made it to the Superbowl once again. Another privileged year to be a Boston sports fan :)
2018 did have its shortcomings —transitions, studying and focusing in on my career led me to neglect my diet and health for weeks at a time. It led to a neglect of certain relationships and social commitments. It led to an endless circle of self-doubt and existential confusion. Writing on Linkedin and Medium came to a complete hiatus after March. It occasionally led to sleepless nights wondering if some of the decisions were durable ones. While I think I’ll look back in a few years and chalk it all up to an extended quarter-life crisis, there were many parts of the year that I would not take back at all. Rude awakenings sting. But time is the best antidote.
Thank you if your presence has been a welcome one in my life. Grateful for you and excited for what 2019 brings!