Why my boss telling me I couldn’t do something was the best thing that ever happened to me


“You just don’t have the skills to do this. Some people work for years to do this, and I just don’t think you have what it takes.”

Not exactly what you want to hear from your boss.

I was early in my pursuit of a career in product management. Looking back, I really didn’t have much of a clue what I was doing. But I wasn’t being equipped and enabled – instead I was told I wasn’t enough.

I walked out of that 1:1 furious.

That experience could have been crushing except for the reframe I decided to take.

I decided to ask myself, “What can I learn from this?”

I vowed to never limit someone’s potential in my mind. I would take seriously the responsibility of managing others. I also committed to double down on building pm skills so that I could accomplish my future goals.

Reframing can change a miserable experience into something desirable. My friend, Rob Callan, shared his thoughts on LinkedIn about reframing.

How we frame situations matters, especially when we’re doing hard things.

If you’re on a team and you feel enthusiasm stalling for a new project, try focusing instead on what people can learn, achieve, and become – that’s a lot more compelling than focusing exclusively on the tasks themselves.

Many years later I am grateful I took the attitude I did. I’ve been a successful product manager at multiple hyper-growth companies. I run a weekly newsletter about being a great product leader. And now I enjoy teaching product management as part of what we do with clients at Sprintwell.

The biggest piece of advice I give to recent college graduates is to optimize your career for learning. Choose a job where you will learn the most.

For a tough situation at work or in personal relationships, my invitation is to ask, “What can I learn from this?”


Ryan Seamons writes about more human approaches to modern management.

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