Rand’s Challenge: The Girl in the Red Turtleneck

“Transparency for me is a reaction.”

I stopped reading there. I was browsing the web while getting ready for work, and had stumbled on Rand Fishkin’s newest blog post. I don’t always read Rand’s blog, but when I do, I’m always impressed.

This goes beyond being impressed. I was blown away. It was a rare moment when someone’s words reach you at exactly the right time. 

For those of you not immersed in the SEO world, I’ll explain. If SEO was Game of Thrones, Rand Fishkin would be every single character (except Joffrey). Point is, he’s our Yoda, our Optimus Prime, our Bruce Lee.

“Rand Fishkin, I am.”

You can read the post in its entirety here, but to quickly sum it up, Rand’s talking self-improvement. He’s talking about recognizing your flaws and correcting your behavior. Whether you’re too defensive, too lazy, or too shy, why are you like that— and when did it start?

The first thing I wanted to do was write him an email. I stopped myself. No, I can’t do that.

This is an incredibly intimidating person, who up until now, I didn’t have a lot in common with. Besides being a role model and a resource, all Rand ever was to me was entirely above me, above everything. He’s way too much, all at once, to ever read an email from me.

I didn’t create this meme, but it’s still awesome.

This is a person, who in the few times I’ve met him, I’ve failed to find words. Instead of finding something intelligent to say, I convinced myself before even approaching him that he was “too smart, too successful” to get anything valuable out of a conversation with little old me. Instead of sharing my ideas with him, I showed him my Han Solo phone case and said, “I like Star Wars, too!”

Humiliating, right?

That was obviously before I read this post. At the very end, Rand challenged us:

“If you’re feeling especially transparent and are brave enough to share your discovery in a blog post, please leave it in the comments here, and I’d be thrilled to include it as a link in the post.”

Yikes. Do I dare write a blog post for Rand Fishkin to read? Do I risk allowing him to see my little blog– that actually, has very little to do with SEO? Will he think less of me for being an internet marketer that doesn’t ONLY care about internet marketing?

I don’t know. But I’m going to give it a shot and hope for the best. So here it is, my transparency, my deep dark secret… the girl in the red turtleneck.


Throughout my youth, I was painfully shy. Quiet. I wasn’t confident in High School, I wasn’t popular, and I definitely wasn’t cool.

I remember passing a note, from one desk to another, and seeing one sentence that read:

“Everyone in here is so cool! Except for the girl in the red turtleneck.”

One guess who that was. Awesome. That note haunted me until I graduated.

Then came college. I pushed myself to make friends, to branch out. I tried to redefine myself as someone “cool”, someone “worthy”, someone who other people would want to know.

That’s why until this day, I’m always a little surprised when someone does notice me. Every job interview, every relationship, every opportunity that comes my way, I feel lucky, blessed… and then I get the feeling. The fear of, “what if they find out?”

That I’m not cool, that is. 

Me, pretending to be cool.

Me, pretending to be cool.

What if, instead of the thoughtful girl in Marketing, or the bucket list blogger, they see the girl in the red turtleneck? Instead of seeing a peer, they see that girl who never knew what to do with her hair, wore way too much makeup, and turned bright red whenever a boy even looked at her?

What if they find me out?

It crosses my mind sometimes. No matter how much successful I get, or how much I achieve, I wait for that girl to come back. I wait to pass the note, one person to another, that says- “Melissa is not cool. She sucks, and we should pass notes about her.”

The people who know me the best have never seen her. At least, they’ve never acted like it. I hear things like “you’re wonderful” or “you’re inspiring”, and I smile, thank them, nod yes, yes you’re right, I am… but then, I feel like I’m right back in that classroom.

I wonder how long it will be until the note is passed. 

In some ways, the girl in the red turtleneck is a blessing. She makes me want to be more. She makes me push harder.

But in every way that she’s made me better, she’s also weakened me. She’s made me wary of the same people who’ve admired me. She makes me want to impress them, wow them, blow them away…. but also, terrified that it won’t be enough.

It’s a defense mechanism that’s caused me to put up walls. Personally, in my relationships. Professionally, in feeling safe in my career.

No matter what I do right, even when I’m congratulated, with every pat on the back…. I still feel scared. I try to be brilliant, kind and thoughtful, but still wonder what I can do better— you know, so the red turtleneck doesn’t come out.

When I thought about Rand’s post– about bettering myself– I immediately wondered, what happened to that red turtleneck? Is it at my parents, in storage, with the rest of my N’SYNC t-shirts and old Converse sneakers? Maybe it’s a hand me down, passed down from my younger sister, then to my younger cousins.

It doesn’t matter where it is really, because no matter where it is, I’m still wearing it. I feel it around my neck when I don’t know the right answer to a question. I feel the itchy tag whenever someone says nice things about me.

I‘m scared to try to ditch it, but Rand’s right. It’s a long, painful journey to better yourself. Unless I outgrow the hypothetical turtleneck, I’ll be stuck where I am.

Maybe someday, years from now, when I own a company, I’ll meet Rand again. Instead of talking about Star Wars, I’ll talk about how I’ve grown and what I’ve achieved. And I’ll thank him for his post, his honesty, and finally, for helping me ditch that ugly red turtleneck.








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