The Facebook website used to have a phrase at the bottom of each page. The first was “I’ll find something to put here,” later joined by “Too close for missiles, switching to guns” and “I don’t even know what a quail looks like.” We replicated this design quirk on our business cards and each employee could choose a phrase. Mine was initially “I used to sell knives.” But the slogan I am most fond of came from my friend Jon Warman: “What was sufficient to get to this point is insufficient to get further.”
There are a few discontinuous transitions in our lives. When we leave school and join the workforce all the skills that made us effective as students were no longer the primary skills we needed day to day. And then as we navigate the workplace, shifting from being an individual contributor to a manager is one of those transitions. To this point in your career, all the things that have correlated with success and confidence have been very concrete. At the end of each day you can look back and point to the work you accomplished. As a manager, though, you spend the day talking and have nothing tangible to hang your hat on.
As an engineer I think of this as moving to a higher level of abstraction. In the beginning we write software directly but as we scale we start to use functions and eventually entire APIs without an exact understanding of how they work. Instead we are equipped with a rough mental model and an ability to recognize and debug when they do something different than we expected. At some point the level of abstraction moves from APIs to people and then to teams. Debugging moves from a software process to a conversational process.
While this struggle is common and expected it is still a leap of faith. My advice is to pick up a creative hobby where you still create things directly. So much of my anxiety around my transition to management went away when I started writing and taking photos in my spare time. Having these creative outlets brings a lot of balance to my life and I continue to nurture them today.