out for you so that you can see it. I had to learn the hard way: by falling in the hole, getting back up, getting blown up, putting myself back together again, and getting back on the right road. Eventually, I did discreetly call on resources outside [of the firm], and that was enormously helpful. Why didn’t I do it sooner? If you’re smart and you’ve been doing well and you’ve never had to reach out for help, frankly, you don’t know how. We’re not comfortable telling people when we have a problem. Growing up, I was just always expected to do well, and I came to expect that of myself. It had been that simple and suddenly, it wasn’t.
But the older I become, the more I realize that it really is that simple, and so much of it is in your head and in your perceptions. Yes, there can be someone that will stand in your way or try to make you feel uncomfortable, but you have the power to be unaffected by it. Your ability to do that depends on where your head is.
Whenever I talk to SEO students, M.B.A. students, or anyone looking to make it, I tell them there is no substitute for knowing your business. Get good at it, and don’t think that you have a year. You have three months. No longer, no substitute. As a person of color, you’ve got to be good.
Also, make sure that you understand the landscape, the spoken and unspoken rules of the place where you’re working. Maybe the thing to do is to have lunch at your desk, and people never go out. Maybe everybody goes out. Whatever the unspoken rules are of a culture, immerse yourself in them.
Finally — and we all need to realize this — perception is the co-pilot to reality. How people perceive you will directly impact how they deal with you. If somebody asks a college classmate of yours, “Did you know so-and-so,” whatever the perception was about you, that is what she is going to say, whether she knew you or not. So think about three key things that you want people to think about you. Whatever those three adjectives are, you must actively act them out everyday.
Mine are tough, smart, and hardworking. Tough was actually not in the original equation. It came because, about five years into my career, someone said to me, “You know, you’re smart, but I don’t know if you’re tough enough for this business.” I remember thinking, “Hah! You ask any
of my friends. They’ll call Carla Harris a lot of things, but ain’t tough is not one of them.” But then I said, wait. Before you dismiss this guy, what if he’s right? What if I’m the only one thinking that I’m tough, and there is a perception out there that I’m not? What if I have done something — or not done something — to create that perception? So for three months I worked on it. Everything that I