The Honest Truth: What You Think Will Happen (And What Really Happens) When You Become A Manager

Two years ago, I applied for a management role.

I didn’t get the job.

They hired internally but offered me a role on the team.

Talk about a fire lit under my ass.

I’ve never been one to sit still or keep quiet for too long. In fact, my kindergarten report card told my parents, “Theresa is a wonderful girl, but she talks a lot... and she doesn’t want to stay in one place.”

It turns out that even at 5, I knew I had big plans.

I showed up to my first day on the job with a plan: kick-ass, become the manager, rule the world.

I would not sit still.

Two years, dozens of books, one very persistent mentor, and far too many “what am I doing with my life” meltdowns later, I went from team of me to manager of three.

Here’s what they said: “Congratulations, Theresa. You’ve worked incredibly hard for this. You’re up for this new challenge and we look forward to you growing the content program.”

Here’s what they should have said: “Good luck. Buy a lot of wine. And buckle up.”

Why is it that I read countless books on leadership and management, and not one of them happened to mention, “...oh hey, this is going to be really damn hard”?

For nearly two years, I walked into work every day as the only person on the team in my role. I built the strategy, I executed on it, and I measured it. I asked for a team. I proved we needed a team. I got the team.

So why was I getting home from work at night feeling anxious and exhausted? Why was I working late into the night and feeling incomplete? And why was that little voice inside my head telling me I wasn’t good enough, and that I was failing?

The honest truth: Because I was uncomfortable.

What I thought would happen when I became manager (world domination, crushed goals, champagne celebrations) and what actually happened were two different things.

What I thought would happen… immediate synchronicity.

What really happened… three incredibly different personalities, learning to dance to the same beat.

What I thought would happen… clear, open communication.

What really happened… confusion and questions. What will we do next? How will we do it? Who owns what?

What I thought would happen… continuous progress with the current routines in place.

What really happened… new routines, slow progress, and adoption.

What I thought would happen… fewer tasks on my plate and bigger projects spread among the team.

What really happened… a struggle to find the balance between managing tasks and people.

Being promoted to a leadership role where my function was no longer measured by the number of boxes I checked was the biggest shock for me. In fact, I found myself continuing with many of the tasks I was doing before I had a capable team to take those things on. What’s worse, it was at the cost of doing what I needed to do to help the team grow and meet our goals.

What really happens when you become a manager? One day you wake up thinking you're going to be this kickass manager and that everyone will love you and you and your team will crush it.

Then you snap to reality. One girl quits after 30 days on the job and it’s 2 a.m. and you wake up from a dream (nightmare) about your direct reports.

I had to learn, and fast, that change and un-comfortability meant growth. If I didn’t embrace it, I was going to fail… and not just myself, but the new team I was in charge of.

I had to delegate. I had to prioritize. I had to change the routines. I had to build around the team and not just me.

I had to stop talking so fast and sit still.

But here’s the silver lining: I wouldn’t change a thing. And if you’re in this position now, or ever end up in this position, I hope you remember this: embrace it. Get comfortable being uncomfortable and know that in the end, you’ll grow stronger.

And if your experience is like mine, you’ll talk the talk, walk the walk, and eventually, all the rest will fall into place.