Karen Civil met her first naysayer during high school. The New Jersey-bred media maven told her teacher she wanted to create a digital empire. Her instructor then shot her a crazy look and said that’s not possible. A look at Karen’s résumé several years later and the appropriate tune to play would be Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now.”
Looking back, Karen says deciding to pursue your dreams is key. “I didn’t want a regular life. I didn’t want a regular job,” she tells VIBE. “For some people it’s hard to take that first step and I did that. I think that’s a personal win: living the life that I want and chose for myself.”
Here, the boss babe outlines her steps for success, from managing the Internet (she runs her pop culture site KarenCivil.com), the industry and your brand.
How to work on excellence:
The blueprint for me was having an understanding of self because this business will try to make you somebody other than yourself, or make you change with the times. A lot of times, people will want you to do everything for free, work for free, to be down to do this after you paid your dues. So understanding my work, understanding my potential, thinking outside the box and working hard.
How to handle haters:
Being an African American female in a male dominated industry, no one wants to hear what you have to say. People call you the “B word” and everything else, try to knock you down, and may not see your vision early on. They want you to be good and not great, and that’s something that I continuously battle to this day. It’s an everyday thing but I just continue to look at the glass half-full. No one is going to break me, no one is going to stop me, no one is going to remove a vision that I see for myself and the love that’s in my heart.
On saying no to rush jobs:
A lot of times, you see everyone’s highlight reels because of social media. You don’t know the work that went in to getting to that point. This is something that’s going to take time, hard work and you have to be dedicated towards your craft. You can’t start something in three months and think you’re going to be at the top of the charts. It’s having patience, understanding growth and taking your time with it.
On flipping a negative into a positive:
You can never really prepare for it. It depends on the situation. I’ve made social mistakes. We’ve all made our mistakes and tried things we kind of wish we didn’t but we plan around it. Things happen in situations that are unique and different, and no one is perfect. It’s unfortunate that something [bad] can happen in my career, with any of the clients that I work with, but we just always try to find a way to make it work in our favor. I’m like what you call the Olivia Pope of entertainment.
Hardest project I’ve ever done:
I think working at Beats by Dre. I knew how to manage myself with the help of [Chief Marketing Officer] Omar Johnson. He had a team and I was able to work with these people and have dialogue. It was no longer “just Karen.” It was Karen explaining how to help shape a company to be great and not just how to help Karen be great. That was really different for me. It was such a great learning experience being there for four years and working with everyone there. I would say that was one of my challenges because you have to check the ego. We all have it. It no longer becomes I, it becomes we.
Mellody Hobson [Chairwoman of the Board of Directors at Dreamworks Animation], I just love her. Oprah too, but I just think Mellody of all things because she’s poised and just so prestige.
My unlikely inspiration:
I’d say more than anything it’s the acceptance and newfound appreciation for the “black woman” because I just always felt like we were pushed as TV moms. Now, we’re on so many channels and so diverse. We used to be the assistants in roles, and now we’re in the forefront with [shows like] Orange Is The New Black, How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Empire, Black-ish and Being Mary Jane. It’s like we have real worlds and real women you can look up to and relate to on television that [isn’t] us calling each other bitches and throwing drinks. That’s not everyone’s reality. All we had really was OWN. Oprah is powerful, but now Cookie Lyons is powerful. Mary Jane is powerful. It’s just great that I can finally relate to things as a black female. That feels good.
My dating philosophy:
Be happy. I don’t want to even pretend to be a guru or act like I know the answer to it because I just recently found someone. I’m in a relationship that works and I’m happy. It’s not perfect at all, we have our ups and downs, but when it comes to the dating thing, if it feels right and you’re happy, do it.
The definition of a boss: Working towards a goal, having a vision, and working hard to make it happen. It’s not just changing your life, but also changing the lives around you.