Liberal arts grad who loves all subjects discovers at 27 that she's made for product management

My time in high school

Attended high school in the

Overall high school experience
8/10. I've always loved learning and have always loved school. I would say that I liked or loved most of the classes [high school name omitted], though the stress was definitely unhealthy at times, and I would definitely say I was pretty burned out academically by the time I got to college. Socially I had a lot of trouble getting along with most people through elementary and middle school, probably because I didn't really care what people thought of me, and didn't think much of most other people. : P This continued my first few years at [high school], when I only had a few close friends. It wasn't until senior year that I finally felt like I had a friend group that was as strong as what it seemed other people had. While overall I loved the education I got at [high school], I do wish that more speed reading techniques, as well as ways to study efficiently, had been taught. Those would have been super handy in college, and in life! : ) I made it through [high school] through "brute force learning", where I did well because I spent an insane amount of time studying. In college, I was no longer willing to spend that much time studying, and felt like as a result I slipped behind my peers (who seemed to be able to get more out of each hour of studying than I did).

Grades in high school
Mostly A's. I was definitely in the high achieving track at [high school]. I was always in the most rigorous classes with the exception of junior and senior math (where I took AP AB calculus and AP statistics instead of Analysis and AP BC calculus). I remember my sophomore year hearing about the "horror" that was junior year and deciding that I didn't want the "killer" trifecta of AP Bio, AP U.S. History, and Analysis (plus AP Spanish, Honors English etc. etc.) . That's why I jumped to AB calc instead, and have no regrets about that decision!


Favorite subjects
History / Social Studies, Math, Science

Struggled with...
In high school there were never any subjects that were a true "struggle" for me. Academically in high school I was always been pretty well rounded (which was part of why choosing a college major was hard). If I had to pick one subject I would say English, since as I mentioned earlier I've always been a slow reader.

Favorite extracurricular
Cultural / Language

Life since high school

By the time I went to my 5 year reunion, I was much more open-minded and spent much of the night approaching people that I hadn’t really ever talked to in high school. I was astounded at how awesomely everyone seemed to be doing, and also astounded that people that I had considered “mediocre” in high school were doing things I didn’t think you could do if you were only “mediocre” in high school (like getting PhDs, working as accountants etc.)

Attended college / university at
Pomona College

Majored in
I was a double major in Economics and Environmental Analysis.
MCB - Immunology

Post-graduate education or training
I did a part time, 10 week course in Product Management at General Assembly. That's it though!

Places lived in US
California, Colorado

Places lived outside the US
I lived in Florence, Italy for a semester in college (study abroad).

Current occupations / past occupations
- Product Manager at a midsize (~90 person) tech startup.

- Product Manager, Program & Engagement Manager, Client Consultant (e.g. account management + customer success) at a midsize (~50 person) tech startup.
- Wedding planner for our wedding (this occupied most of my non-working time for the year I spent doing it, even though my husband and I split the work 50/50! For us it was one big fun (though exhausting) creative project.)
- Researcher at a firm that provided research and advisory services for electric and gas utility companies (I was mostly doing research on energy efficiency and conservation rebate and incentive programs)
- For my first two years out of college I also did a ton of volunteer work with a local climate change nonprofit.

Industries I've worked in
- Utilities
- Construction
- Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (e.g. Law, Accounting, Interior Design, Graphic Design, R&D, PR, Advertising, etc.)
- Management of Companies and Enterprises

Did your education prepare you for your career or occupation?
Ha ha. Only in the broadest sense, i.e. learning how to think critically, solve problems, work collaboratively, organize my ideas, communicate ideas. There are no "hard skills" that I learned in high school or college that I use on a day-to-day (or even month-to-month) basis.

Has your education or career/occupation trajectory ever changed? How?
Yes! Many times! The big ones were:
1) At the end of my junior year of college I decided to add economics as a second major since I decided that I didn't have a really "skillset" from my Environmental Analysis major since it was so interdisciplinary. I took 100% econ classes my senior year and got the second major with the minimum required classes. Overall I'm glad I did it, but wish I had realized earlier on that I liked economics (and wish that my college had offered more, more-interesting econ classes).

2) My first two years out of college I was essentially a researcher/consultant. After that I switched to a tech start-up. Though the organizations and context for what I was doing were very different, a lot of the work was similar (helping people implement energy efficiency best practices).

3) My transition into my current role as a Product Manager, which I described in an earlier question.

A little introspection...

To me, being successful means...
loving my life and making the world a better place.

My definition of success has changed over time. 

My greatest accomplishment to date and what I’ve learned from it
Man that's a hard question! I would say my greatest accomplishment to date has probably been getting to my current role (product manager at a tech startup). Product management is the PERFECT fit for my interests and skills, but it's also a role for which no real "career path" exists.

There is no degree in product management, and almost all people get into product management by transitioning laterally at their company. My transition involved two years of working at failing start-up so that I could get enough experience under my belt to get hired as a product manager at another company. Those two years were pretty rough. In addition to the general depressingness of being at a failing company (unhappy customers, continual fire fighting, poor morale, low pay etc.), I had to say yes to everything I was asked to do even if it was just the leftovers that no one else wanted to do.

The week I got an offer from my next company (the one I'm at now) was transformative; I felt like a huge heavy cape of uncertainty and self-doubt (my biggest fear had always been that I would never be able to get hired as a product manager at another company) had been lifted off my shoulders. I finally, at age 30, felt like what I was doing was really, truly the "right" fit for me as a person. It was amazing.

I learned lots of things from this experience, including:
- Be persistent and patient
- Things work out 99% of the time.
- Career transitions are hard, but so worth it!! 

My biggest mistake or regret so far and what I’ve learned from it
My biggest mistake was probably not taking charge of my career earlier. I didn't really have any idea of what I wanted to do coming out of college, and my path to my current career was definitely winding. In retrospect I think I should have done LOTS more informational interviews earlier on (like 20 to 30, minimum during college summers!). As I attested to in my earlier response, finding a career that is a really good fit/match for your personality and strengths can be life-changing!

I think that part of why it took me until my late 20s to find my career is that I went to a selective liberal arts college where business wasn't really presented as a career option unless you were going into consulting or finance. Furthermore, the general sentiment among my friend group was that if you had "morals" and really wanted to "make the world a better place", those roles, and really business roles that weren't at super socially and/or environmentally progressive companies were frowned upon. It was working at two companies in the energy and environment space that got me into business coming out of college. Since then I've learned that business can actually be a really powerful force for good if it is regulated appropriately.

An unexpected event that significantly changed my life and how it impacted me
I guess that would probably be meeting and falling in love with the man who is now my husband. Our relationship has made me a happier, more mature, more resilient, and all-around better person.

Anything else you'd like to share?
First, for anyone still in high school, judge your fellow students less and learn from them more. In high school I was a super competitive, high achiever, straight A student who definitely looked down upon most students who weren’t as academically focused or successful as I was. By the time I went to my 5 year reunion, I was much more open-minded and spent much of the night approaching people that I hadn’t really ever talked to in high school. I was astounded at how awesomely everyone seemed to be doing, and also astounded that people that I had considered “mediocre” in high school were doing things I didn’t think you could do if you were only “mediocre” in high school (like getting PhDs, working as accountants etc.). The Gunn community was much, much richer than I realized it was, and I wish I had taken better advantage of that when I was a student there.

Second, if you want to be in a relationship or get married, let go of any expectations you have about who your future partner might be, or qualifications or attributes a person “must” have for you to be willing to date them. My husband and I always joke that we would NEVER had been friends in high school nor most of college (not to mention dated!) if we had known each other then. In high school I was a super high achiever, straight A student etc., and he was a Bs and Cs kind of student who often skipped class to go smoke a joint or play a round of disc golf. He started drinking, smoking weed and smoking cigarettes when he was 14; I wouldn’t touch alcohol or weed with a 10 foot pole until I graduated high school. I went to an elite liberal arts college and graduated in 4 years. After graduating high school, he worked for a semester, then went to community college, then went to a 4 year state school, then transferred to another 4 year state school, taking spent 6 years getting through college all in. And yet, by the time both of us met, we had each become more mature, open people that were quite different from our high school selves. Now, after 8 years together, I coudln’t imagine spending my life with anyone else!

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My favorite spot in or around Palo Alto

Foothills Park, The Stanford Theater (downtown), Palo Verde Elementary School!