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.

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Why it’s awesome to be a 30 year-old professional

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When I entered the workforce right after college, my age was a constant source of insecurity. Especially in management consulting, I probably looked ridiculous. At 23, I would be tasked to advise 50 year-olds on how they should run their billion dollar business while I had just learned what a balance sheet was. During my first week at work, an executive asked me exactly how many years of work experience I have, and I almost fainted. I didn’t want to admit that I was a newborn employee and probably useless at that point, but my company was still charging you hundreds of dollars per hour for my time. 

Today, I’m a 30 year-old professional. While I still don’t have decades of experience under my belt, I do have some battle scars. And sure, being a 30 year-old professional has its own set of issues as well. Ok, if you haven’t already made it on Forbe’s 30 under 30 list at this point, then you’ll probably never make it. Or, sure, by 30, Steve Jobs had already started Apple Computers, which transformed the world.

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Or, by 23, Jennifer Lawrence has already won at an Oscar and has been nominated for two more.

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But before you start drowning yourself in self-pity, it’s okay. There are also several famous and successful people that started finding success at 30, such as Julia Child, Jon Hamm, or Harrison Ford.

So I’d like to dedicate this post to celebrating why it’s wonderful to be a 30 year-old professional.

1. You’ve gotten to know yourself better 

By 30, you have a better understanding of your likes and dislikes. You hate micro-managing bosses. You should leave office happy hours after 2 drinks. You love a job with some international travel. You minimize the dislikes and maximize the likes to have a more enjoyable time at work and in life.

2. You have some street creds

You are no longer a newborn in the workforce. You’ve built a monster financial model; you’ve presented in front of important people; you’ve launched a new project. Whatever it is you’ve been there and done that, and you can speak about it from experience. All these experiences have created and shaped your wisdom. Yes, you are older, and you are just a bit wiser.

3. You can sense and cut through bullsh*t

One of the best perks about being a 30 year-old professional is your ability sniff out BS from a mile away. At 23, when a manager asked me to submit work by the end of the day, my first response was “Yes. Will do” to all requests. And then I would proceed to slave away until deep into the night, even if it was for something quite trivial. Now, if someone asks me for work by the end of the day, my first response is “Is this truly important and urgent?”. If yes, then I’ll put in the work. If not, then you save yourself some unnecessary sleepless nights. Learning when and how to push back has been incredibly valuable.

4. You are not broke

You’re a 30 year-old professional and not a broke college grad. You’ve managed to save some money and upgrade your lifestyle. You no longer wear cheap suits, which have been passed down from your overweight uncle. You can afford clothes that fit and look nice. You don’t need to milk that expense account or binge on free office food. You can afford your own. In fact, you can afford to go to a nice restaurant and recommend some to your co-workers. You seem more polished and cultured at this age.

5. Your network is more powerful

Networks are the lifeblood of business. It’s all about who you know and what they know. When I just graduated from college, most of my friends were broke college grads, trying desperately not to get fired in their first jobs at the bottom of the totem pole. Now, at 30, my network includes people that have launched and scale successful businesses, corporate vice presidents, big shot investors, surgeons, and high-flying lawyers. It’s amazing how a few years can make a huge difference not only in your professional development but also that of your network’s.

6. You still have so much to look forward to! 

You’re 30 and not a dinosaur!  You know enough to not put up with silly things, but you are young enough to learn new things. You can develop new skills, insights, and experiences to accomplish more. You have time to fail and get back up…many times. You have so much more potential to unlock and contribute, and that’s why being a 30-year old professional is nothing short of awesome.

For those of you in your late 20’s, I’d highly encourage you to read actress Olivia Wilde’s advice on turning 30. It’s hilarious and fun. Enjoy!

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How to boost your confidence at work

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This past week, I was invited to join a senior management meeting on behalf of my boss. Normally, this would be a great opportunity to gain exposure to leaders way above my pay grade.

However, I knew this meeting was going to be terribly uncomfortable. I not only had to present bad news, but also my team had made certain business decisions that some meeting members opposed.  

On top of that, only people with 20+ years of work experience were attending the meeting, and then there was me…who is less than 2 years out of business school. I could envision boss’s boss’s bosses throwing darts at me while I stand on top of the meeting room table wearing nothing but a giant diaper. A proud moment indeed…

With an uphill battle to fight, I needed a quick shot of confidence to overcome my nerves and stand by my team’s position.

Here are some ways I tried to zap confidence into myself.

1. Know your stuff: Nobody likes to be caught with their pants down. In the days leading to the meeting, I sharpened my message, anticipated potential questions, and gathered the necessary data / analysis to support my stance. The key is to look prepared and like you know what you’re talking about.

2. Dress to impress: We are all superficial creatures. We tend to make snap judgments of others based on the way they look. He, with the untucked shirt and disheveled hair, looks like he just woke up. She, with the short and tight skirt, looks like she’s fond of a certain kind of attention. At work, the key is to look sharp. Whether your workplace dress code is business formal, business casual, or just casual, make sure you look impeccable…much like Miranda Kerr and James Bond below.

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3. Give yourself a pep talk: Talking to yourself can seem a bit loony, but giving yourself a pep talk can be quite effective. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. Use these reminders to justify why you deserve a seat at the meeting room table (or a job position or even a date with someone).

4. Power pose: In her popular TedTalk, Harvard Business School professor, Amy Cuddy discusses how our body language not only influence how others see us but also how we see ourselves. By simply changing our pose for 2 minutes, we can feel significantly more confident. Check out the pose spectrum…

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5. Smile! When we are nervous, the last thing we want to do is smile. More often, we put on a frown and furrow our brows while trying to curl ourselves into a fetal position. However, studies indicate that we can actually become happier by smiling (rather just smile because we are happy). Next time you find yourself filled with nerves, just smile and you will feel happier and more relaxed.

Getting things done: Do more, talk less

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My last two days were spent in a workshop, where we were tasked to generate new ideas to keep our business ahead of the competition. The participants were super excited and energetic, exclaiming “Oh! We should do this! And that! And this as well!” With ideas plastered all over the conference room, it finally came to creating action plans to ensure these project ideas come to fruition. All of a sudden, the energy faded. Nobody wanted to step up to lead and execute. There were some soft murmurs and offers to support, advise, or consult, but no one wanted to DO.

In my experience, we spend way too much time talking about what we want to do, why we want to do it, how we want to do it, and what could go wrong if we do it. After hours, days, months, or even years of talking, nothing is done. As the Texan saying goes, it’s all hat and no cattle. Or, as Thomas Edison, who invented the electric light bulb and held over 1,000 U.S. patents, eloquently stated:

Vision without execution is hallucination.

When you’re working in the business world, you simply can’t afford to have endless meetings and consultants talking about what should be done. If you don’t do anything, then your competitors will. And eventually you talk yourself out of a business.

The business school education system exacerbates this problem. As this Harvard Business Review article astutely points out, business schools focus too much on creating and publishing scientific research rather than equipping business practitioners with practical skills. When I was in business school, there were no classes on sales, which is the oldest and most useful skill you need in business. However, there were a ton of classes that studied philosophies regarding investment techniques or strategy development. Professors tend to get tenured because their research is widely published rather than because they built successful companies. Students are encouraged to write several iterations of their business plan before actually starting a business. On top of that, most MBA grads go into jobs in consulting or investing, which involve talking about what a company should do or about which company they should invest in. More business school grads should actually run businesses, whether they are the CEO / co-founder in a start-up or a product manager in a giant tech company.

On a daily basis at work, how can we focus on getting things done? How can we talk less and do more?

1. Eliminate useless meetings: For me, this is the biggest time suck. If someone schedules a meeting without clear objectives and agenda, press the decline button. If someone schedules a meeting with too many people for an effective discussion and decision-making, press the decline button.

2. Reduce consultants: This includes internal and external consultants. I was on a project last year where there were 6 consultants and only 2 doers. That is ridiculous and a complete waste of time for the doers. Move the consultants, so that they either become doers or they are simply informed. You have to earn your right to be involved.

3. Ask for forgiveness rather than permission: People spend alot of time talking because they are afraid to make mistakes. They need to make sure all of the relevant stakeholders are aligned and agreed with the decisions, and then they start to execute. The problem is that often it’s too difficult and time-consuming to align ALL stakeholders. The longer it takes, the less competitive you become. Therefore, once you have the few key stakeholders on board, just go for it. If some people are peeved, then so be it. You did what you thought would be the best for the business and your customers.

4. Just do it: Ok. I recognize that even writing this blog post I am talking about doing something. Therefore, whatever it is you want to accomplish, as the famous Nike slogan goes, just do it.

What happens when your career is stuck?

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Recently, a friend of mine quit her job. She had been in the same position for 4 years without any prospect of moving into a new role. She had tapped her manager and her internal network for years, but nothing came. In her mid-thirties, she knew she needed to take action before she became truly stuck.

Unfortunately, my friend’s case is not unique. Especially in the 30’s / post-grad school level, I’m seeing quite a few talented, young business professionals getting stuck. They are stuck because 40 and 50 year-old’s in the next level are also stuck, creating what is being coined “the grey ceiling” and backing up the talent pipeline along the way. They are stuck because the company doesn’t get rid of under-performers but simply “repositions” them.

As a result, the following scenarios usually play out when young professionals are stuck:

1. You work longer and harder. To vie for that one promotion (because someone finally retired!), you compete with at least 10 smart, capable, driven co-workers for that golden spot. As a result, you try to get an edge by gluing yourself to the office. If you do end up getting the promotion, then the question is will you have to go through this all over again?

2. You keep moving laterally. You squeak long and often enough to your manager, your manager’s manager, and anyone who’s willing to listen. As a result, the powers-that-may-be answered your prayers for a new position, but it turns out that it’s not up but sideways. The good thing is that at least you get a holistic perspective trying out different job roles. The bad thing is that years later you still find yourself moving in a crab-like fashion.

3. You’re bored. This is the worst scenario because you’re young, good looking, and ready to do something meaningful. At this point, you’ve invested a boatload of money and time into your education, so the worst thing that can happen is that you waste all that potential by sitting idle at your desk, pretending to work while surfing Facebook / Instagram / Twitter. 20 years later, you find yourself still sitting idling but at a desk in the basement with the same job title (and stapler).

4. You’re bored but enterprising. This is basically Scenario #3 but instead of surfing social media sites, you end up using that idle time and potential to start your own gig. Another friend of mine has been doing this for months. He wakes up early every morning, goes to work to fulfill the minimum requirements, and focuses his energy on his start-up. He’s about to quit his corporate job and launch his start-up full-time. Good for my friend, but not so good for his company.

5. You quit. Sometimes, you gotta get out to go up. As much as you may like your company, if there’s limited upward mobility, then sometimes the best thing you can do for your career is to look elsewhere. Another friend of mine did just that. He went from years of being individual contributor to a job at another company that was willing to give him people and a budget to manage. The company and your manager may have the best intentions to help you progress, but sometimes you have to be very keen about what is possible and what is probable.

 

Managing work during stressful times

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For the last couple of months, work has been killer. My former boss moved onto a new position and took a long leave before the new boss arrived. During these transitional times, I not only inherited work from my old boss, but also continued with my primary responsibilities while on-boarding my new boss.

All of a sudden, more emails, deadlines, and meetings all started charging my way. People from all sides needed decisions / recommendations / input while I was still trying to figure out what was the issue at hand. Meanwhile, a large, hot spotlight was on my back as I had to continue running our group before my new boss was fully onboard.

My first reaction was to bang my head against the desk…repeatedly. After discovering that head-banging did not resolve any issues, I then proceeded to take deep breaths…until my desk neighbor thought I was becoming asthmatic. Finally, I took some more sensible steps to manage (and attempt to reduce) my stress.

  • Prioritize: I turned to my tried and true method for dealing with “ALOT of stuff.” I listed all of my work tasks and prioritized each item based on urgency and importance. What do I need to do NOW? What can I push back on? What can I delegate? What can I ignore? I think this is critical from transforming a large blob of work to manageable tasks. 
  • Focus: My inbox has been overflowing with emails. While sometimes I find it irresistible to check every single email that comes through, the key to getting things done is to focus on what you are doing. I started scheduling specific times to check email. I’d tell myself, “OK. You will work on this for 45 mins and check your email for 15 mins.”
  • Negotiate: I find many times what people request in emails can be very different than what they actually want. Investing in a 5 to 10 minute phone conversation to figure out what they really need can be such a time saver. A request can go from “I need every competitor product sales for the last 5 years” to “I just need these 3 product sales for the last 5 years”.
  • Decide: Indecision can generate more workload. A decision may be held up because more information, analysis, and stakeholder buy-in are needed. However, the longer a decision is stalled, the greater the ripple effect on other people’s work. When time runs out, the indecision manifests itself into a series of painful fire drills. Therefore, I find that action generally trumps inaction when running a business. Sound and efficient decision-making can save yourself and others a tremendous amount of work later on.
  • Step Out: Sometimes, you find out that the sky is falling and then more bad news follow, pushing you to the brink of a heart attack. When this happened to me recently, I shoved my computer away and went for a walk (without my phone). It turned out to be a great move. The walk allowed me to not only calm down but also helped me put the situation into perspective.
  • Celebrate small wins: I relish the feeling I get when crossing out an item on my to-do list. I can actually feel a small rock removed from my shoulders. Crossing out items also signifies that you’ve made progress. You set out to do something and you did it. I think it’s important to celebrate these small wins to encourage yourself to keep moving and progressing.
  • Stay Healthy: The automatic reaction to stress tends to be sleep less, consume more caffeine and carbs, and cut out exercise. However, I find myself utterly useless when I’m sleep, nutrition, and exercise-deprived. Forcing yourself to sleep, exercise, and eat vegetables are actually better for your productivity.

Completely cutting stress out of your life is near impossible. Instead, I think the key is how to manage stress and perhaps even turn it into a positive trigger.

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.