I was exposed very early on to finance through my grandmother, who was the first female entrepreneur that I knew. Because I was good in math, she would often let me count the money from her business and by the time I was in 8th grade, I was helping her with her bookkeeping. This experience gave me an early interest in money and finance, and as I got older and eventually became exposed to Wall Street, I was all in!

I was brought up with the mentality that I was supposed to do well, that there was nothing special about getting an A. The A was not excelling, but the norm. I have my parents to thank for that, my grandmother too. She would always tell me, “Whatever you be, be good at it.” She instilled in me this appetite to really go for it. And my mother was a contributor to that because she would always say, “Listen. The world’s not fair. So if you want an A, go for the A+. Be so outstanding that there is no debate.” These are the kinds of women I had around me. They absolutely sparked my appetite for excelling.

That kind of upbringing sets you up for success.

I knew who I was and what I was supposed to do. So I grew up saying, “Okay, well I’m supposed to get A’s. I’m smart.” As I started my career, were there things that didn’t go well, that made me wonder, or give me a crisis of confidence? Absolutely. And I talk about those freely. But again, working through those, builds up your data so the next time you have one of those moments, you go, “Wait a minute. I’ve got data that says, “Been here before. Got through that. So I’ll get through it again.” And that’s really what continues to carry you through as you meet those challenges or you have some of those moments going forward.

I believe you have to honor your ambition. It’s your life, and you’re never going to get a chance to live these days again, so be true to yourself, and your ambition. When you know what you want and you embrace what you want, then it’s easy I think, to sustain it over time. No matter what you do, you commit to yourself that you’re going to get there. Life will happen, but you stay focused on what it is you want to do.

Be intentional. I can’t underscore that word enough. Be intentional about your actions and your choices, so that they all support what it is you really want to do. And if you have that in sight, and connect with people who can inform and affirm your decisions, then you’ll make the right career moves. You will go to the right organizations or launch the right business because it will all be in line with what’s supporting, ultimately, your ambition.

My passion now lies in helping others. When people came to me for advice, I love to provide them with the tools, strategies, and pearls of wisdom honed by my own experience that will help them to achieve their own success. For instance, my work with NWBC as their Chair, allows me to advocate on behalf of women entrepreneurs at policy level. It’s incredibly rewarding to look back at my personal business history and know that I’m able to inspire and lift up others to achieve their dreams.


Author: Carla Harris, Chair, National Women’s Business Council and Vice Chairman of Global Wealth Management, Managing Director, and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley

Ms. Harris was named to Fortune Magazine’s list of “The 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America”, Fortune’s Most Influential List, U. S. Bankers Top 25 Most Powerful Women in Finance (2009, 2010, 2011), Black Enterprise’s Top 75 Most Powerful Women in Business (2017), and “Top 75 African Americans on Wall Street”, and to Essence Magazine’s list of “The 50 Women Who are Shaping the World”, Ebony’s list of the Power 100 and “15 Corporate Women at the Top” and was named “Woman of the Year 2004” by the Harvard Black Men’s Forum and in 2011 by the Yale Black Men’s Forum. You can see her full bio here.