Career Lessons from Kim Kardashian

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Kim Kardashian and her husband-to-be / baby daddy Kanye West just landed on the cover of Vogue magazine (U.S. edition), which is supposed to the world’s most influential fashion magazine. Back in 2007, I thought her fame would fizzle out after 15 minutes, but it seems that it’s only strengthened over time. Now, the girl who used to arrange attention-hungry socialite Paris Hilton‘s closet has reached the pinnacle of fame.

According to Forbes, Kim Kardashian’s net worth is estimated at $10 million in 2013. From a sketchy sex tape to a business and media empire, you have to admit that Kim Kardashian has had one heck of a career trajectory with plenty of ups and downs.

What are some career lessons we can learn from her rise to a business mogul?

1. Who you know matters 

Kim Kardashian first garnered media attention by hanging out with famous people. As Paris Hilton’s close friend and personal stylist, they were often spotted and photographed together. She also briefly dated former boy band crooner Nick Lachey (when he was still relatively famous) as well as quasi-famous singer Ray J.

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While it’s quite unclear how exactly the Kardashians got their own show, reports suggest Kathy Lee Gifford, who is Kris Jenner’s long-time friend, and / or Ryan Seacrest knew the family and thought they were quirky enough to deserve their own show. Whatever the actual story was, famous people with good connections were involved.

Therefore, your connections and the strength of their connections matter tremendously. Whether you want to be a reality TV show star, a C-suite member, or a billion dollar start-up founder, knowing the right people is one of the most important things you can do to build a successful career.

 

2. Turn lemons into lemonade

This is probably Kim Kardashian’s biggest strength. Having a private home video leaked for the world to see is probably every person’s worst nightmare. Instead of hiding in a hole (which would be my natural reaction), she milked every ounce out of that limelight. She immediately signed up for a reality TV show and a Playboy cover. In fact, she changed the narrative. Instead of having the world focus only on the trashy nature of a sex tape, she opened the doors to her family, showing the world her other dimensions as a sister and a daughter.

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Whenever we may face a bump in our career, it’s important to look at all angles to see how you can turn an impossibly bad situation into a good one. If you’re fired, then will this finally gives you a push to start your own business? If you have an awful manager, then can you learn how to be a good one?

 

3.  Be vulnerable

Humans are social animals. We are hard wired to connect to each other. Being vulnerable, we admit that we are imperfect and that we have weaknesses. We drop our shield and open a door for others to connect. People want to connect with, help, and like others that show their vulnerable sides.

While Kim Kardashian lives the life of the rich and famous, she let’s the world see her vulnerable sides as well. For someone that has a team of hair and make-up experts, she often walks around paparazzi-infested L.A. with no make-up. On her reality show, she openly cries (in a less-than-beautiful way). People like that. People like to see her in good times and bad. It makes people feel like they know her and that she is approachable. Perhaps that’s why she’s a tabloid obsession for so many years.

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At work, it’s important to understand and admit your limitations. I don’t mean list all of your weaknesses to your colleagues. In a situation when you can’t get the information or can’t learn quickly, you need to ask for help. This will not only help you accomplish your task better and faster, but also allow you to learn more effectively. Another bonus is that it forms a stronger connection with someone else, building your network.

 

4. Build a strong personal brand

In addition to a hit TV show, the Kardashians have their own clothing line, make-up collection, boutique clothing stores, fragrances, fitness videos, and more! They have managed to build an empire around the Kardashian name. They’ve done so by becoming masters of media. They are everywhere all the time, keeping their brand relevant and top of mind. Kim Kardashian has over 20 million Twitter followers and 13 million Instagram followers.

They’ve also learned from past lessons. In the beginning, they endorsed almost everything under the sun from alcohol to diet pills, diluting their brand and credibility. Now, they seem to have found their niche and focused their business endeavors on beauty and fashion.

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Self-promotion at work is a necessary evil. People will not consider you for new opportunities or exciting projects unless you promote the good work that you’ve already done. You not only need to be top of mind for managers, but you also should build a reputation for a particular skill / expertise. When a senior manager thinks she really needs somebody to get a particular job done well (e.g., run a marketing campaign or start a new business), then your name should be one of her first thoughts.

 

5. Take chances

The Kardashians have a multi-million dollar empire because they saw opportunities and took them. Some worked out (e.g., her fragrance) and some didn’t (e.g., her song “Jam”).

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The lesson here is the more calculated risk you take, the higher your likelihood is to succeed. You basically won’t know until you try. The next time at work, sign up for a new project, work with someone new, or just think differently. If you try and fail, then try again and do things differently.

Entrepreneurs: Born or Made?

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If you’re asking whether you should become an entrepreneur, then probably shouldn’t become one.

This was the view of a serial entrepreneur I was chatting with recently. For her, entrepreneurs are born. They are born with an innate restlessness to create. Even if they are in a big, corporate job, they may have one or several side gigs. In our brief conversation, I realized she not only ran a for-profit consulting business, but she also started a non-profit organization and was trying to start a restaurant. When does she get time to sleep (and put on make-up)?

She makes a valid case. If you don’t have an incessant internal drive to start and own your own business, an undeterred sense of optimism, and rock solid persistence, then it’s very difficult to succeed. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey filled with countless naysayers and unforeseen obstacles.

In this BBC article, a British entrepreneur and business coach even presents a subjective pie chart of entrepreneurship that it’s “70% born, 10% nurture, and 20% trainable.”

I find that a bit hard to swallow. How does entrepreneurship belong to a chosen group of people with special genes? Working with smallholder farmers and small businesses in emerging markets, entrepreneurship is often the result of circumstance. If a large employer is not present in your town / village, then you create your own jobs. If you’re frustrated with how things operate in your life, then you can create your own solution.

Professor / Entrepreneurship Expert Shane Scott shows that it’s not as clear cut. His team of researchers conducted studies on the entrepreneurial activities of 870 pairs of identical twins and concluded that entrepreneurs are 40% born and 60% made.

What does that even mean? Does that mean if you don’t have all the “entrepreneurship genes”, then you can train yourself on the deficient qualities? Does that mean some people may have a higher propensity to succeed at entrepreneurship, but others can achieve the same results with some hard work and training?

Whatever the magic formula is on whether entrepreneurs are born and made, I do think all successful entrepreneurs share a few qualities, which some you may be born with, some you can learn, and some you should just force yourself to have.

Work on your passionJeff Bezos, CEO of AMAZON, introduces new Kindle Fire HD Family and Kindle Paper white during the AMAZON press conference on September 06, 2012 in Santa Monica, California.  AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR        (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/GettyImages)

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2013 Resolution Reflection: Juggling Work vs. Fitness

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Before making my 2014 New Year’s resolution this year, I took a hard look at my 2013 New Year’s resolutions I set exactly one year ago.  I had five resolutions which were a mix of performing well at work, calling mom, dating my husband, keeping in touch with old friends, and staying healthy (specifically, exercising 4 -5 times a week).

For most of the resolutions, I made a commendable effort with room for improvement. However, I really knocked the staying healthy one out of the park! For almost every single week in 2013, I exercised at least 30 mins 5 times a week. At the beginning of last year, I was a bit nervous about this resolution since I had just started my job, traveled for business about 25-30% of the time, and worked 60+ hours a week.

So for 2014, I’m definitely renewing this resolution and would like to reflect on what worked well to juggle work with working out.

1. Plan Ahead: My goal was simply to exercise 4 – 5 times a week, but it didn’t matter on which days (e.g., Monday or Friday). Given this slight flexibility, I would examine my calendar in the week ahead to identify which days would be difficult to work out and designate 2-3 of them as rest days. For example, if I were traveling to rural Indonesia on Thursday and Friday, then I would designate those days as rest days and workout Monday through Wednesday and the weekend.

2. Convenience Matters ALOT: I am lazy. I hate packing a small suitcase to travel to a faraway gym. The less work I have to do, the more I likely I’ll actually do it. Therefore, I try to make it as easy as possible for me to work out.

  • Clothes: My pajamas are workout clothes. That way, I can wake up in the morning and immediately start exercising. It saves time and effort.
  • Workout Activity: Running is my go-to activity. It’s so convenient because you can do it almost anywhere. Wake up, put your running shoes on, and head out the door. Another activity that I’m absolutely addicted to is these Insanity DVD’s. (If you haven’t heard of this program, then you need to drop everything and get them. These are a series of interval training workouts. Think exercises like jumping jacks, squats, and push ups for a minute each at 3-4 minute intervals for a total of 45 to 60 minutes.) They tone you up in no time. You can pop in one of these DVD’s and start jumping around like a mad man. The best part is that you can take these videos with you anywhere, including business trips.

3. Designate time: During week days, I work out only in the mornings. My workday and workload can be quite unpredictable, so evening workouts are hard to keep. I also keep morning workouts during business travel as evenings may be occupied by lengthy business dinners. It’s important to figure out what works for you and your commitments and then designate specific times for exercise.

4. Keep going: On some weeks, hell just breaks loose. Your inbox explodes, all deadlines under the sun converge at one point, and your mother and mother-in-law visit you at the same time. If you’re not able to meet your goal that week, then the inclination is to quit altogether. What really helped me was to have a “keep going” mentality. If I screwed up 1 week, it’s okay because next week is a brand new one!

5. Remember how good you feel: Waking up at 6am to run for 45 mins is excruciating, but I found it super helpful to remind myself of how good it feels after the workout. At work, I find my mind thinks more clearly and a whole lot quicker (even without coffee!). I also feel stronger, energized, and more confident. Therefore, the next time I wake up feeling like a zombie, I just need to think 45 mins of agony in return for a day feeling like superman.

How to find and do work you love

What an inspiring TEDx Talk by Scott Dinsmore! It’s completely worth 18 mins of your time. 

1. Become an expert on yourself: Understand yourself. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, then you’re never going to find it.

2. Do the impossible and push your limits: People don’t do things because they tell themselves they can’t or other people tell them they can’t. Make incremental pushes to prove yourself and others wrong.

3. Surround yourself with inspiring people: “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn. Be with people that inspire possibilities.

Thanks to Everyday Power Blog for directing me to this.

3 conversations to re-energize yourself at work

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I had been getting bogged down at work. It happens almost without you noticing. You attend one too many meetings (with questionable value add). You juggle more office politics than usual because someone’s ego issues (aka. insecurity). You have to work with negative people (with little rainy clouds over their heads). You spend hours on tedious work (also with some questionable value add and that could be outsourced to monkeys). It happens.

However, in the past 1-2 weeks, I engaged in 3 conversations that remarkably renewed my sense of purpose at work.

1. Talk to your customers

This could be the easiest way to lift you out of a work rut (unless you have really terrible customers or your organization provides a really terrible product or service). Since I work in agriculture, speaking to my customers (who are mostly smallholder farmers) reminds me how I am able to help them increase their incomes. With higher incomes, they are able to keep their children in school, provide them with more opportunities, and break the cycle of poverty.  For me, that is incredibly motivating.

For people without customer-facing jobs, this is particularly critical because it puts into context the purpose of your role which may not always be obvious. For example, if your job is packaging in supply chain, then visiting a customer’s warehouse makes you realize that good packaging could really make a difference as your company’s boxes would stand out next to those of competitors, or your products are easier to move because they have handles on the side, or different products are easily identifiable so the customer doesn’t pull the wrong box, etc.

For people with customer-facing roles, it’s meaningful to engage your customers on a more personal level. Shelf the normal business talk (e.g., sales next quarter) to truly listen and learn about the way they use your products / service and what they think about it. Negative feedback can also provide good motivation for you to do something about it.

2. Talk to people that want to work at your organization

Through alumni networks, LinkedIn or other references, I get pinged by people that are interested in working at my company. I find it refreshing to talk to them because it reminds me what it was like when I was in that position — how excited I was to get an interview, how eager I was to get an offer letter, how I visualized myself walking around the office. Most importantly, it reminds me why I wanted this job in the first place.

Therefore, go ahead and chat with those eager beavers that want your job! They can help you take a step back, realize what you take for granted, and re-inject a sense of purpose.

3. Talk to a stranger about your job

2 weeks ago, I attended a networking event, where people inevitably trade name cards and ask about what you do. At first, I felt like a broken tape recorder saying, “My name is…. and I work at ….. as a …….”. However, I ran into a few people that were somehow genuinely curious about my work. I started explaining in more detail about the purpose of my company and my job as well as industry trends. Before long, I was really getting into it. I almost felt bad for taking up so much air time.

Talking to a stranger about your job forces you to strip out the monotonous work involving pointless reports or pre-pre-pre-meetings and forces you to focus on the important parts of your work.

Next time, when you find yourself in a deep dark rut, where you’re about to stab yourself in the eye. Go out and talk to people. They will help you re-focus and strip out the noise. If you’re still grumpy after these conversations, then perhaps it’s time for a new job. As Mother Teresa astutely once said:

Work without love is slavery.

Powerful life lessons from the movie Gravity

SPOILER ALERT: If you have yet to see Gravityplease drop whatever you are doing and go watch it now. Otherwise, please feel free to proceed reading.

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Unexpectedly, this movie blew me away. I went in so skeptical as I couldn’t separate Sandra Bullock’s voice from something disastrously funny like the movie title: Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. While the visual and 3D effects were arresting, my heart bleeds for this movie because of how it inspires and challenges me. Here, I would like to share with you the lessons I learned from Gravity applied to life and work.

1. Bad Things Happen: Bad things happen often and often for no reason. In the movie, the story is set into motion when a series of large debris hits Dr. Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) space shuttle and sends her tumbling through space. After this catastrophe, a series of unfortunate events continue to challenge our protagonist as she struggles to survive in the most inhospitable environment for humans.

Accept what you cannot control

While we’re not all astronauts spiraling through space, we’re all familiar with days or weeks or months when the little black rainy cloud keeps pouring on our heads. You get a bad performance review; the coffee machine breaks down; you get rejected from your dream grad school; you have to fire someone; the love of your life doesn’t love you. So much of this movie reminds me that we must recognize and accept that there are certain things we cannot control.

Put bad things in perspective

This movie also helps me put things in perspective. The next time I get a Monday morning deadline on a Friday evening, I should think: “Hey! At least, I am not tumbling uncontrollably into the deep dark space utterly alone. It could be worse…”

2. Mindset Shift is Powerful: My favorite scene was the pivot point, when Stone transforms from the victim to a fighter. One minute, she is in the darkest place in the movie where she has given up all hope and begins committing suicide. But she reaches deep within and garners the last bits of strength, giving her the motivation to survive and return to earth.

On the surface it seems that nothing changed. Stone is still Stone with the same body, environment, and equipment. However, everything had changed.

We’ve all been in situation when there’s nothing but you and despair. During the recent recession, many of my friends and colleagues were mercilessly laid off. While some were very depressed, others saw it as an opportunity to work on a start-up or travel the world.

I think this pivotal scene beautifully illustrates how we can pull ourselves out of dark situations with nothing but the power of our minds.

3. Rebuilding is painful: Whether it’s a death of a close one, career set back, or relationship break-up, rebuilding is hard. In the movie, we learn that prior to her space mission, Stone suffered the most painful experience a parent could have — the untimely death of her young daughter. Somehow, she never rebuilt her life on earth and spent years doing nothing but working and mourning. When she decided to fight for her survival in space, she had to go through hell and more to return to earth. (The fireball space shuttle seemed pretty hellish.)

Stone’s extremely challenging journey back reminds me that it’s so much easier to fall into a dark place than to climb out of it. It also reminds me how strong we are as humans. Someone once told me that his grandmother, who survived the holocaust, had lost her eye sight because she lived underground in complete darkness for 7+ years. Since I heard that story, I’ve wondered what her first experiences were like when she stepped outside: Did the sunlight hurt her eyes? Did the open air irritate her skin?

Setbacks are inevitable in life, so we just need to remind ourselves that we need to fight so much harder to come back up.

I hope this beautiful and powerful movie can remind you how to approach challenges in work and life as much as it has reminded me.