7 Lessons We Can Learn from The Kardashians on Life and Success (Yes, Indeed)

The Kardashian Family

The entire cast of the reality TV series “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”. From top left, clockwise: Rob Kardashian, Lamar Odom (Khloe’s husband), Bruce Jenner (dad), Kris Jenner (mom), Kendall Jenner, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Scott Disick (Kourtney’s husband), Kylie Jenner

Some of you must be wondering what I’m up to, writing about the Kardashians. The rest of you (probably those outside of America) are probably wondering, “Who/What the heck are/is the ‘Kardashians’??”

Who are the Kardashians?

Well, the Kardashians are a family of eight with their own reality TV series in America, Keeping Up with the Kardashians (KUWTK), which features their personal and professional lives. The series premiered in 2007 and has since catapulted the individual family members to fame; today it’s in its seventh season and has been renewed through the ninth season. The success of KUWTK has led to multiple spin-offs, all of which have done well.

The most prominent members of the family are the three daughters, Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, and Khloe Kardashian Odom, and “mom” Kris Jenner.

Kardashian sistersKardashian sisters: Khloe Kardashian (youngest; 28 as of 2012), Kim Kardashian (middle sister; 31), Kourtney Kardashian (eldest; 33)

The Kardashians have essentially built an entire business empire around the ‘Kardashian’ name. The sisters, in particular, are media magnets, with Kim being the lead figure. They repeatedly hog the headlines of tabloid magazines, appear in fashion magazines, and endorse products. They have launched perfumes and written a book, all of which have sold well. They even have clothing lines with mega brands Sears, QVC, and Bebe (discontinued).

All three sisters are among the top 10 highest paid reality TV stars in 2010, with estimated total earnings of $11 million that year. The family earned $65 million in 2010 — more than the amount Tom Cruise, Sandra Bullock and Angelina Jolie made, combined. [Source]

With their rapidly rising popularity in the past years, the Kardashians are arguably the most powerful family in Hollywood today. And it looks like they are going to stick around for a while.

Why the Write-up on Kardashians

So having given the lowdown on the Kardashians, the question comes to, “Why are you writing about the Kardashians?”

For those of you who don’t know, most people feel that the Kardashians shot to fame due to Kim Kardashian’s sex tape scandal in 2007. Prior to that incident, they were not known to the world. Their rapid rise of popularity, independent of any specific skill or talent of the individual family members (except, perhaps, the management skills of “mom” Kris Jenner), has created a highly polarized audience who either loves them or hates them. Most people would put the Kardashians in the category of “famous for being famous”, along with names such as Paris Hilton.

I heard about the Kardashians when I was in Los Angeles earlier this year, but I didn’t pay them any heed. When I returned to Singapore, I continued to see their names online, to the point where I got curious. A little research revealed their rapidly rising fame over the past years to join the ranks of the richest and most famous people in Hollywood today. In fact, Kim Kardashian’s wedding was such a media extravaganza—it was featured as a four-hour special on E! Network, cost $17.9 million, and was almost entirely sponsored! (Her marriage to Kris Humphries had since ended after only 72 days.)

As someone who likes to reverse engineer success, I was curious see what the fuss about the Kardashians was about. I wanted to understand the drivers of their success.

So I watched their shows, starting with their flagship series, KUTWK, then expanding to their spin-offs. I began to see their draw.

Assuming for a moment that everything on their shows is not plotted or scripted, the way they have openly shared their ups and downs in life has made them very relatable. I was personally drawn to Khloe, who, as the sister with the larger frame and heavier weight, suffers from self-image and weight issues, some of which were documented on Khloe & Lamar (one of the spin-offs). I could also relate to Kim in her singlehood woes (earlier seasons of KUTWK), Kris for her dedication to her work and love for her family, and Bruce, Scott, and Rob for occasional feelings of neglect.

Given the Kardashians’ huge successes, I think there is something we can learn from them. Contrary to what some may think, I actually do not think that the Kardashians (more specifically, the Kardashian sisters) are stupid; I think they are everyday people had who found sudden fame and continue to remain famous because of (a) certain winning traits that appeal to their audiences, and (b) how they have maximized their initial success. (Of course, I also think that Kris Jenner, the mom and manager of the Kardashian and Jenner sisters, has done a lot of great work in managing them.)

While one might get 15 minutes of fame by some oddity or fluke (think William Hung), it takes a lot more for someone to maintain a sustained level of success, much less one that’s on an upward spiral. The Kardashians have definitely, IMO, risen above the infamy of Kim’s sex tape scandal in 2007, and continue to be increasingly successful today.

So, whether you are a fan of the Kardashians or not (I’m not a fan, but a neutral party who respects their success), here are seven lessons we can learn from the Kardashians about success and life:

1. Keep it real

Perhaps the one thing that has made and continues to make the Kardashian series and its spin-offs so successful is their consistent focus on real people and real issues. This has made them incredibly relatable to everyday Americans (or people for that matter).

For example, there are often episodes that cover the relationship problems between Kourtney (the oldest sister) and Scott, episodes that highlight sisterly issues between the three Kardashian sisters and the two Jenner sisters, and episodes that highlight problems between mom Kris and her kids, among other personal problems. Each episode always ends with some sort of resolution.

I like how the Kardashians have shared their lives to others so openly. They could have kept their family and personal problems under wraps, but instead they made their lives open books to the world. I think it takes an open character to do so. This has enabled many around the world to learn from their struggles, and probably the reason why they have won over the hearts of so many Americans.

What I took away from this is the importance of keeping it real.

  • In business, connect with your customers with your heart. Gone are the days of corporate sheen. People want to connect with real lives and real people today.
  • Again in business, help your customers solve real-life problems. Get to know them as individuals, then help them to tackle their problems. That’s why reality TV series are so popular today; they depict real people with real issues.
  • In relationships, present your true, authentic self, not a glossed-over, fake personality. People want to know you as the real you, including your insecurities and vulnerabilities. Constantly projecting a front merely erects a barrier that makes it impossible for people to connect with the real you. Read: The Secret To Meaningful, Fulfilling Social Relationships and 8 Tips on Attracting Authentic Love Into Your Life
  • In life, stay true to yourself, even after you achieve great success. Keep it real. The successful people whom I truly respect are the ones who keep it real and remain down to earth. (For example, the people I interviewed in Successful Businesses Interview Series.)

2. Make your work an extension of your life

One thing that I really respect the Kardashians for is their ability to make a huge living off just living their lives. For example, they are paid huge sums just for filming their reality TV series, which “require” them to hang out with their family members and do their day “jobs” (photo shoots, interviews, running their clothing store DASH, etc.) Many of these are things they were already doing prior to their series; they are merely doing what they used to do before. How great is that?

Some of you might think that it’s impossible to make your work an extension of your life, and that work has to be something that you have to deliberately work at. I actually don’t think so; I think it’s about identifying what you are passionate about in life, turning that into a living, and then making your career a natural result of living your life.

For example, I used to work at a day job in a MNC, slogging 12-hour days because of the intensity of the work. Four years ago, I decided it was time to quit my job and pursue my passion. Today, my “work” isn’t work; it’s just something I naturally do as part of my everyday life (growing, sharing my reflections on growth, helping others to grow, etc.).

Of course, turning your passion into a career, and subsequently making a living by simply going about your daily routine isn’t an overnight affair. It isn’t something you just go “SNAP!” and make happen, just like that (*snaps fingers*). But it is very much possible though; I’m living proof that it is. It takes an astronomical amount of hard work, especially if your passion is not directly related to your current field of world, but it is definitely achievable.

I’ve written a great deal on how to turn your passion into a career, so check out the articles below:

  1. Passion or Money?
  2. Pursuing Your Passion With No Money
  3. How To Discover Your Ideal Career: Your Message and Your Medium
  4. Overcome Fear Of Loss And Pursue Your Dreams
  5. Passion Paycheck
  6. A Guide To Pursue Your Passion With Success: 14 Essential Steps (bonus article in Personal Excellence Book, Volume 2)
  7. Successful Businesses Interview Series
  8. Million Dollar Tip Series

3. Focus on your core (applies to business, life, and goals)

Most people would write off the Kardashians’ or Kim Kardashian’s immense rise to fame as the result of sheer luck, but I actually see a business strategy behind it.

The strength of the Kardashian brand (read: appeal to the American audience) lies in their reality series, so that is the area which gets their top attention. They have been consistently producing new seasons of KTUWK (at a rate of one season a year), along with their three spin-offs Kourtney and Khloe Take MiamiKourtney and Kim Take New York, and Khloe & Lamar (which have aired for two seasons each, with possibly more to come).

The series (and its spin-offs) then serve as marketing platforms for their upcoming endeavors. For example, Kris Jenner’s memoir, the Kardashian sisters’ autobiography (Kardashian Konfidential), Kardashians’ new DASH stores, and Khloe and Lamar’s perfume, are among the many products that are strategically weaved into the reality series’ plots.

Whether this is done as an intentional marketing ploy or merely the natural result of filming their lives, we will never know. You have to admit though, that is a very intricate system of marketing they have going on. Very slick, in fact. They build up their brand with their reality series, which in turn fuels their other ventures.

The biggest lessons I get from this is that we should:

  1. Leverage. Learn to leverage on our existing skills and success to achieve more success. You don’t have to do everything from scratch. Be smart in how you approach your goals.
  2. Focus on the core. By core, I refer to the thing that matters the most; the epicenter of it all. This advice applies to business, life, and goals. In business, . Read this helpful piece at Forbes on “The Secret of Sustained Success” (answer: focus on your core). In life, focus on the thing that drives you and gives you the most joy. With your goals, focus on your top priority goal first, before you foray into other goals. Read:  The Superstar Effect: How to Get Maximum Results When You Have Too Many Ideas
Here’s a Wall Street Journal interview of the Kardashian sisters last month (Jun ’12), where Kim acknowledged have served as phenomenal marketing platforms for their products and goals (scroll to 1:38min):

4. Turn adversities into assets

I like Kim’s constant positive outlook on life. I think what makes her such a draw to audiences isn’t her smarts (though she does have some business smarts), but her simple personality (at the end of the day, she’s really just someone who loves fashion, likes to look good, likes attention, treasures family, and wants to get married and have kids), her sharing attitude (see Point #6), and her positive outlook. She is just genuinely a simple woman who makes the best out of what she has in her life, has ambition and drive,and  is surrounded by talented people who are able to capitalize on her strengths and assets to achieve international stardom.

Something as damaging as the sex tape scandal would have incapacitated most, but Kim made the best out of the dark situation. In her recent interview with Oprah, she shared that the sex tape was how she was introduced to the world; as such, she had to work 10 times harder just to get others to see the real her. She has also openly addressed questions about the sex tape in many interviews, rather than decline to take such questions (which would have been the easy way out).

Her hard work is apparent if you have followed her meteoric rise to fame. In the past years, she has constantly been doing features, photoshoots, endorsement deals, product launches, and other work that comes with the territory. No, nothing earth-shaking here given they are mainly vanity work that does not involve the brain, but it should not negate the fact that she has worked hard for at least part of her success.

She could have hid herself following the scandal and not take the path of fame, but she didn’t, and I think it’s admirable that she did so even in the face of public scrutiny, scorn, and contempt.

Not only that, it can’t be a nice feeling having people constantly write off her success as a result of the sex tape no matter how hard she works, but she seems to have taken it into stride. She sometimes gets mocked during interviews by the talk show hosts themselves (sometimes done very subliminally), but she takes it with in a good way and doesn’t seem to display any diva attitude (unlike some other figures in the industry). So, I think Kim definitely earns a tick in my book for the way she handles adversities.

Perhaps you might be facing some adversities in your life now. My questions to you are: “How can you make the best out of this situation? How can you turn this incident from an adversity into an asset?”

Some useful articles on handling adversities:

5. Build on your success… there is never a “good enough”

I like how the Kardashians continually build their business empire rather than rest on their laurels. Their popularity has basically been growing at an exponential rate since 2007.

Much of it has to do with them continually taking on new ventures and expanding their portfolio. From reality TV spin-offs (Kourtney and Khloe Take MiamiKourtney and Kim Take New York, and Khloe & Lamar), new perfumes, new books, new clothing lines, new endorsements, they are basically doing everything (while still focusing on their core, as I mentioned in Point #3). Their flagship series, KUWTK, has just been renewed for another three seasons as part of a three-year deal with E! Network.

I guess sometimes, people like to adopt the “What I’m doing now is good enough” mentality, rest on their laurels, and simply not want to do anymore work. (I’m using “work” loosely here to refer to any act of creation and contribution.) I don’t think there’s ever a “good enough” though. I think all of us have unlimited power to do whatever we want. I think there are unlimited heights to be achieved and it’s up to us to set those targets and achieve them.

Take for example, Bill Gates. That guy is consistently ranked as one of the world’s wealthiest people and recognized as one of the top entrepreneurs of the world. What does he do though? Does he stop working, kick back, relax, and enjoy his riches? No! Bill Gates proceeded to found Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, which has since become the largest transparently operated charitable foundation in the world.

Today, Bill Gates (and his wife, Melinda Gates) basically dedicate themselves to the foundation’s work. I follow Bill Gates on Twitter and  he writes about world issues and health and education reforms in almost every single tweet. His dedication to philanthropy is simply astounding. As of 207, Bill and Melinda Gates were the second-most generous philanthropists in America (if not the world), having given over $28 billion to charity. They plan to eventually give 95% of their wealth to charity. Bill Gates doesn’t just stop with philanthropy at the individual level; he also uses his influence and power to urge other big names in the industry to give back to the society too.

I think the true indicator of one’s long-term success is what the person does after the person achieves initial success. Does the person kick back, relax, and do nothing in life? Or does the person strive to work harder, better, and supersede his/her past results? There’s no right or wrong answer here. The person’s actions (or lack of) will simply determine how he/she does in the long haul.

6. Learn to give and share

Despite Kim being the most well-known member of the family (this was the case right from the start), she has never held back on sharing her success with those around her. She has readily shared her success with her family; in fact, it’s all thanks to her that her family members are even as successful as they are today. If it wasn’t for KUTWK, their lives would probably be very different.

Besides her family, she also readily includes her good friends, Jonathan Cheban and Simon Huck, on the shows as well, hence letting them into the fame.

I think it’s great that she has such a sharing and giving attitude; this is probably why she has become so famous too. If Kim was to do KUWTK by herself in the beginning; if she had not looped her family members into the world of fame, I don’t think she would have become so popular. People catch the show because they are intrigued by their family, sister, couple, and interpersonal relationship dynamics. It is the collective power of her family that has propped her to where it is today. The success of all the Kardashian family members is clearly built off one another.

Do you have a giving attitude, or do you like to withhold success for yourself? I used to be the latter person; today I’m working on being more giving to others around me. Looking back, my desire to withhold success from others is because I felt deprived and insecure of my success. I have learned that such an attitude such not help me to grow; it also comes from a scarcity mentality.

Read:

7. Embrace yourself

The last lesson that I feel we can take away from the Kardashians is the way they openly embrace themselves, be it their Armenian culture, themselves as people, or their own beauty.

For example:

  1. They openly embrace their Armenian heritage (not to alienate non-Armenians, but simply as part of embracing their heritage) and mention it quite often on the show. They are among the most famous Armenians today and have driven greater awareness for the culture. Several years ago, people might have seen fair-skin Caucasians as the ideal standard of beauty; the Kardashians have helped to introduce different images and ethnicities as beauty standards too.
  2. Before Kim became insanely famous, huge boobs and hips were not part of media’s ideal image of beauty; being a size-zero, stick skinny figure was. There were (still are) frequent comments lambasting her for being fat and having a fat ass. She did not starve herself to become stick skinny though, but instead embraced her curves. Today, the media projects her voluptuous figure as one of the sexiest bodies in the world.
  3. Khloe is frequently touted as a great example for plus-size women today. Despite being under intense public scrutiny about her weight and despite wanting to lose weight herself, she does not turn to self-harming methods to do so. In her 2009 interview with Life & Style magazine, she mentioned that she was anorexic when she was 15; it is good that she has since addressed her anorexic tendencies (though it seems that she still has emotional eating issues).

There have been exceptions where they make decisions based on insecurity and fear (such as Kris and her constant interest in plastic surgery to “fix” her looks, and the big question as to whether Kim Kardashian has gone under the knife before), but I do think the Kardashians largely promote the message of self-acceptance and learning to love yourself.

Read more about what I have to say about self-image and self-acceptance:

Final Words

I don’t agree with some of the things that the Kardashians do, such as how Kim wears fur, Kim’s and Kris’ over-materialistic tendencies, the somewhat disrespectful way Khloe talks to her mom sometimes, and Kris’ tendency to turn to plastic surgery to address her self-image problems. However, I think there are important things we can learn from the family, as I have presented in the seven lessons above.

Even if you do not like the Kardashians, the fact is that they are incredibly successful and accomplished today. I think it is more important to learn from others rather than become a detractor simply because you do not agree or like them. I hope you can take away something from this article today and for ages to come.

(I personally don’t watch the Kardashian series anymore; the reason why I watched their shows and followed them closely was because I was curious about their draw. Having since identified them (as I’ve shared in the article), I stopped following their shows since their lives are quite different from the kind of lifestyle I aspire. I do, however, keep in touch with their updates as I do with other accomplished people in the world.)

Anything you would like to share about the Kardashians or the article? Feel free to do so in the comments section.

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Images: Kardashian family, Kardashian sisters