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Dear College Freshman: You don't need to build a brand right now
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Last week, I saw the above tweet on Twitter. The tweet below was urging college students to build a brand in college, and start a business while taking advantage of the access you have to thousands of young people like themselves. 

My Twitter homegirl Nyasha Junior responded that maybe the thing that college students should be focusing on is just...being a college student.

And while I am all for entrepreneurship and building your brand, there is no rush to do so. 

Sure, you've got the Mark Zuckerbergs and Bill Gates of the world who started business while in college that became wildly successful. But the truth is, those are VERY few and far between. It's not  a common occurrence, nor is it the standard.

College is where you learn about who you are and figure out what you want to do as a career - and it's okay not to have all the answers. It's okay not come up with some big idea that will change the world and/or make you a lot of money. 

I have said in previous blog posts that your brand is a combination of both who you are AND what you do - and the average college student doesn't have a handle on either of those. So why pack on the added pressure of building an empire? It's highly unrealistic. 

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So here is my advice, college students: you have your whole adult life to start your own business, if that is what your heart desires. Go to class, study for exams, make friends, and have a good time. Use this time to learn more about who you are - and figure out what you want to do along the way. 

Loryn Wilson Carter
Does rebranding guarantee a culture shift?
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Bozoma Saint John is on my short list of Friends In my Head.  I've been following her career since she was the head of Music and Entertainment Marketing at Pepsi.  She has always stuck out to me as a possibility model as there are few Black women in the executive suite doing the kind of work I'd like to do. When Bozoma left Uber to join Endeavor as their Chief Marketing Officer it was clear to me that she is the living embodiment of the phrase "make your next move, your best move." 

So when Black Enterprise reported today that she had been hired by Papa John's Pizza to help with their re-brand, it definitely made me raise an eyebrow. 

This is a really pivotal moment not just for Papa John’s, but for all corporate businesses and all brands that service a larger group of people,” Saint John told Adweek. “Our culture has become even more sensitive to anything we feel is outside of our moral compass, and as a brand we acknowledge that.

I have a few thoughts about this, many of which are evolving. I am going to try my best to share my take on all this with as little shade thrown as possible. 

First, let me state the obvious. I am all for Black women getting their coins. It is Team #PayBlackWomen over here (word to Leslie Mac). Part of me really ain't mad at Bozoma for taking on this very challenging client, and for doing the work of helping them clean up the mess they made.  I simply can't knock the hustle. By all means, get money sis. 

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Also, not to give credit to Papa John's for doing the bare minimum, but hiring a Black woman to help you do the tough work of reconciling a racist history of wrongdoing is pretty much the best move here. Black women have the tea, the receipts, and the antidote. Hiring a Black woman to teach how to not be a racist company is the least you can do. They did what they were supposed to in this situation.  And I also want to point out that I don't actually believe that all money is good money. Sure, having a fat check clear after you have helped re-brand a company who has a history of racism may feel good...but at what cost? At what point do you say to a company that asks you to help them crawl out of the hole they've dug for themselves,  "I'm good love, enjoy"? 

Before going to Endeavor and before being hired by Papa John's, Bozoma was the Chief Brand Officer at Uber. After numerous reports of bad business practices, skeevy drivers, and bad work conditions on top of sad diversity numbers, the rideshare giant hired her to help them salvage their reputation. I don't claim to know the whole story about what went down, and whether or not Uber has changed is arguable, but what I do know is that Bozoma left after a year. 

And maybe, just maybe, the diagram below could fill in the blanks: 

 

 

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Again, there's no way of knowing for sure. And as far as I am concerned, I'm not fully convinced that Uber's brand is any better than it was before Bozoma joined their executive team. 

And I am also not convinced that's her fault. 

Here's the bottom line for me: It takes more than hiring a competent Black woman to lead a company's re-branding campaign when so much damage has already been done. In the case of Papa John's and Uber, there has to be a complete shift in the company culture for the re-brand to have a lasting impact. And a culture shift won't happen just because you tell them the right words to say or fire all the jerks. No amount of clever ads, thoughtful donations, or well-known third-party validators can make a toxic company culture disappear. 

It'll be very interesting to see what Bozoma can do for Papa John's, but I hope they know that the work doesn't stop with hiring a talented Black woman marketing executive. Progress and growth is a long game. I hope they're ready to play. 

 

 

 

Crying won't ruin your career
 A life goal. 

A life goal. 

My first grown woman job was working as an account manager at a boutique PR firm. I was the youngest, least experienced person on staff with the least amount of influence and connections. Sure, I had proven myself enough as an intern to then be promoted to a full-time job, but I still had to pay my dues™ which I was eager to do.

I don’t want to give too many revealing details here, but here is what I can say: this job was the hardest place I have ever worked. My officemate, who was a few years older than me, criticized me harshly at every turn, claiming she was “looking out for me.” It was a cycle of sisterly advice one day and veiled insults the next. I accepted this as the norm, since this was what paying my dues was about...right? It was to be expected, especially this early in my career.

Anyway, she suggested that I read Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois Frankel. According to my officemate, I was making too many rookie mistakes and it would negatively impact my ability to advance and to be taken seriously if I “kept behaving this way.”

So I bought the book the next day, hoping that perhaps it would fix me. Maybe if I avoided all 101 “unconscious mistakes,” I could cement my reputation as a rockstar...and maybe my coworker wouldn’t be so critical. Maybe I would be...excellent. Worthy of respect.

I rolled my eyes at some parts (I shouldn’t decorate my office? Oh.) and nodded my head at others. Halfway through the book I got frustrated and decided I would glance at what the very last mistake was that I should avoid: 

Crying.

Damn. There it was in bold lettering. Crying was the final mistake that would keep me from getting what I wanted professionally...and maybe socially, too. Why would I want to be That Girl who cried after the meeting? Or That Girl who cried when her debit card was declined at dinner because her student loan payment posted an hour before? (True Story. I regret nothing.)

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Crying gives people the impression that you’re not in control, not competent, and weak.

Horrified, I thought about the times I had cried in front of my officemate, upset over something she said to me. Holy crap. I’m doing this all wrong. No wonder she is on my case. She thinks I am weak and incompetent because of my silly emotions. And I am afraid that she may be right.

I am naturally a sensitive person who cries easily. I cried at the end of Black Panther. I cry at sentimental moments on TV. And, I cry when I am angry, sad, or hurt, because it is a human reaction. But that day, in my tiny apartment in Columbia Heights while I sipped a glass of cheap wine, I was now learning that crying is the last thing you should ever do if you are a woman who wants to get ahead or be taken seriously.

From that moment on, I decided there was no way I was going to cry in front of my coworkers or colleagues ever again. Even if I think I can trust them. Even if my feelings are valid. I can’t be out here crying and making people think I’m bad at my job because of it.

On my really bad days, I’d run to the bathroom, lock myself in a stall, and sob quietly. Or, I’d walk around the block and let the tears fall. I could only allow myself to cry in front of significant others and vetted friends and family.

Fast forward to today. 12 years into my career, I have better control of my emotions thanks to a good therapist and practicing self-care every day. I also have better tools to process negative emotions.

But still, at 34, I apologize for crying. Even to those closest to me. Even to people I should feel safe around.

It happened again last week.  I sat down to catch up with a friend of mine and to discussed a collaborative project she told me about. She asked me how I was doing, and as I was talking about the challenges and frustrations I had faced since leaving my job last year, I started to cry.

I was immediately embarrassed. This was someone who was a new friend but also one of the most talented communicators in the business. And here I am, doing the very last thing good ol’ Dr. Frankel told me not to do, lest I be seen as weak and incompetent. Damnit. I still haven’t learned my lesson.

Before I could stop myself, I started in with the apology to my friend. “I’m sorry, I really tried to hold it in,” I stammered. The weight of chasing invoices, not having a full-time gig with benefits, and the obstacles that come with adulthood got to me. I couldn’t keep a brave face anymore.

“Don’t worry about it,” my colleague said, squeezing my hand. She got up, grabbed some tissue, and handed it to me.

That simple gesture made me feel less guilty about starting to cry. 11 years ago, I would have thought that crying in front of a colleague would have meant a sure death. I wish I could go back and tell 23-year-old me that it was quite the opposite.

Crying won’t ruin your career. You can learn how to control and process your emotions so that you don’t cry as often, of course. But if you are sad because you didn’t get that job you wanted, or frustrated because a client hasn’t paid you and you are behind on the bills, and those tears well up….let them fall. It is still infuriating to me that women are told to what not to do and what not to be at any given moment. We are told that if we just avoid doing This One Thing, we can be a Boss™. But we are humans first and foremost. So if you are in pain, allow yourself the humanity of expressing that pain.

I used to think my sensitivity was my biggest possible weakness. Who wants someone who is touchy feely on their team? Who wants someone who cries watching The Lion King as an adult? What good are emotions in a professional setting? You can’t pay bills with those.

Then I realized that sensitivity was actually a strength. It allows me to approach my work with compassion and authenticity. It allows me to be in tune with the rest of my team, making sure that they have what they need to do the job well, both professionally and emotionally.

Being comfortable expressing my emotions and comfortable with allowing others to express there is a part of gaining emotional intelligence. And in a world that treats employees like workhorses with no regards to their needs as human beings, that skill set is criminally underrated.

Emotional intelligence is the gateway to compassionate leadership. We might as well feel the damn feelings and learn how to process them. Take care of yourself. Then, take care of the work.





 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loryn Wilson Carter