Kim Kardashian’s Business Advice to Women Ignores An Essential Factor — Luck

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIn March 2022, Elizabeth Wagmeister of Variety sat down with the Kardashians for an interview (“Money Alway Matters: The Kardashians Tell All About Their New Reality TV Reign”) to discuss their ubiquitous presence on television and social media and their forthcoming series on Hulu. The Kardashians became a cultural phenomenon when their show, pretentiously titled Keeping Up With the Kardashians, premiered on E! in 2007, which coincidentally, was the same year that her famous (or infamous) sex tape leaked. Over 15 years, the mother and her five daughters adroitly leveraged that fame into individual lucrative business empires worth in excess of $5 billion combined.

In the interview, Wagmeister touches a raw nerve when she brings up a criticism that has nagged Kim (41) for over a decade — being famous for being famous; the journalist writes: “The Kardashians have been the subjects of harsh criticism over the years, but they’ve never been accused of not hustling. Kim bristles at the characterization that’s followed her for years — that she’s just famous for being famous. ‘Who gives a fuck,’ she says. ‘We focus on the positive. We work our asses off. If that’s what you think, then sorry. We just don’t have the energy for that. We don’t have to sing or dance or act; we get to live our lives — and hey, we made it. I don’t know what to tell you.’ But it is Kim’s unsolicited advice — given in a very condescending tone — to women that has generated the most controversy recently. Kim stated: “I have the best advice for women in business: get your fucking ass up and work! It seems like nobody wants to work these days. You have to surround yourself with people that want to work — no toxic work environments and show up and do the work.”

Within minutes her tone-deaf and insulting comments unleashed a tsunami of outrage and harsh criticism across social media. How dare she! Journalist Soledad O’Brien was prompted to tweet: “Also: be born rich. Really helps.” Many other tweets followed: “[To] ignore the pre-career privilege — a famous, uber rich father & vast LA network that included Paris Hilton at her peak of fame — is tone deaf at best, offensive at worst.”    “It’s easy to work hard when you work for pleasure rather than survival, when you’re free to take a vacation… whenever you like, without the worry of losing your home, or going hungry, or using your children because you can’t provide for them.”    “Kim K is one of the hardest working people out there but hard work is not a very good predictor of success in business. For every success story there are 100 other people working 2 jobs and living paycheck to paycheck.”   “I don’t doubt that Kim Kardashian works hard, but let’s not diminish the struggles of many women in the world. Her success and the struggles of others are not solely related to work ethic and more successful individuals need to acknowledge that.”

Some experts believe that not only are Kim Kardashian’s comments are not only outrageous, they are actually harmful, creating a sense of “toxic positivity” — the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, a person should always maintain a positive mindset; it is toxic because it rejects the full range of human emotions (eg sadness, worry, pain, grieving) and replaces it with a cheerful, falsely positive facade. In an interview with CNBC, Emma Harrison, a senior lecturer in careers at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK) explained, “[Influencers like Kim Kardashian have] demonstrated ignorance of lived experience of the 99% and their messages pose real danger to their followers, especially those who are younger and more easily influenced. This idea that a person’s mindset can change everything or is the only thing holding them back is toxic and unhelpful in the same way that Kim Kardashian, Molly-Mae [Hague] and countless other influencer messages are.”

Not one to miss the opportunity to shove Kim Kardashian off her high horse, Trevor Noah used his platform on the Daily Show to add his perspective to the controversy:

“I know a lot of people are pissed off at Kim. I know. But if I’m perfectly honest, I can see this thing from both sides. I honestly can. Like, I can see it from Kim’s side… She’s like “You guys think I just take a few pictures and I go to a few events, and then suddenly I’m rich and famous, and you think it’s easy — but it’s not easy.” I understand that. Kim does a lot of work… But part of this idea that people have of Kim is Kim’s fault. I mean — think about it — for decades, the thing that she’s sold is “not work.” Yeah, in fact, she works really hard to look like she’s not working hard. Every photo on Instragram, she’s either on a beach or in a pool or in a hot tub — basically, any relaxing body of water, she’s there, you know? So I get why people have the idea that she doesn’t work, because you [just] don’t see it. Maybe Kim should put that stuff on Instragram, you know? Put up photos of late-night meetings, constant calls on product design. I mean, you can still do it in a bikini if you want, but the point is, you know, people should see more of the work. They’d understand…

But here’s the thing that maybe Kim Kardashian doesn’t understand: it can come off as extremely condescending to tell women that the reason they’re not successful is because they’re ‘too lazy to get off their asses and actually work’ because, yes, Kim Kardashian works hard, but you know who else works hard? Most women. But what their asses don’t have is Kim’s luck to be born into a rich family with a famous lawyer parent, and an even more famous Olympian step-parent, and all the access and the connections that that brings you. Think about it — if you’re lucky to have that, then yeah there’s a good chance that your hard work is gonna make you successful. But don’t forget how much luck has got to do with that success. Anyone who says “just work hard and thing will work out,” those people are forgetting a major component, known as luck. A lot of people work hard, and they’re still broke. In fact, a lot of the time, the broker you are, the harder you probably work.”

Noah’s response underscores the notion that you cannot succeed without luck and shatters the myth that hard work alone leads to success. If you read enough biographies of successful people you will find that most every single one benefited from some luck — the family they were born to, where they grew up, the schools they attended, the jobs they had, the mentors they had, and so forth. Most are familiar with the famous remark attributed to General Douglas MacArthur: “The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself” or its variants like “I don’t believe in luck. I make my own luck.” Although these quotes are masquerading as inspirational words, they actually do harm, perpetuating the myth of the Protestant Ethic — that hard work leads to success. Moreover, these quotes completely miscontrue the fundamental concept of luck: the defintion of luck is chance — the possibility of something happening. You cannot make luck — it is something that happens (or doesn’t happen) in your life; you have no control over it. (The English language even has a word for beneficial luck: serendipity — the occurrence of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.) As Noah alluded to his remarks, a person cannot choose their parents and moreover, their parents’ professions, level of wealth, and their social and business connections. If we could make our own luck, we would all be buying winning lotto tickets, investing in the most valuable stocks, finding dream jobs early in our careers, and attending the most prestigious schools. But life doesn’t work that way — you need luck to succeed. Noah is absolutely correct: luck is often a major component of success and it should be openly recognized; it should not be considered taboo in the discussion of success or careers.

Acting, for example, is one of those professions where luck is absolutely critical for success. Many comedians quip that Los Angeles restaurants have the most over-qualified staffs — everyone is an actor, screenwriter, or producer, etc. But there are two notable actors who recognize the role of luck in their successful careers. The first is Bryan Cranston. In an interview with Brett Martin (“The Last Stand of Walter White, GQ Magazine, July 2013, Cranston explained, “It doesn’t matter if you’re good. If you’re just good you won’t succeed. If you have patience and persistence and talent and that’s it — you will not have a successful career as an actor. The elusive thing you need is luck.” The second is Harrison Ford who was interviewed by Glenn Plaskin (“The Real Harrison Ford,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 1990) and said, “Hard work and a proper frame of mind prepare you for the lucky breaks that come along — or don’t.” Ford’s comment is right on: you have to put in the work to be prepared to recognize and capitalize on the lucky breaks (the opportunities) that come your way.

Let us end this discussion about luck with Clint Eastwood’s famous line from Dirty Harry (1971): “You have to ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?”

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