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Celebrities. We love to hate them. We also love to watch their every move, laugh at their mistakes and scrutinize their decisions. Like them or not, their celebrity status means not only have they achieved career success, they’ve also got a hell of a lot to lose. And sometimes, whatever actions have helped catapult them to fame or rendered them Blist can provide valuable lessons for the careers of regular people like you and me. #1: Madonna → Lesson: Reinvent yourself often. Always stay fresh and relevant. Never one to let things get stale, Madonna has reinvented herself over and over again since she first stepped into the spotlight in the mid 80s. There was the virgin, the “material girl,” the Evita era, and her disco-fabulous look and sound of 2005. She’s had as many new looks as she has albums, and always manages to stay fresh and relevant. Reinvention is so central to her career, she named a tour after it. And 30+ years after her debut, she still manages to be at the forefront of the global music industry. Elaborate personal transformations may not be realistic (or helpful) for mere mortals. But there’s a lesson to be learned from this pop icon. In order to thrive in a rapidly changing economy, it’s important to stay fresh, keep your skills up to date and be adaptable to new directions in your career. #2: Christian Bale → Lesson: Don’t crack under pressure. If you haven’t heard the audio, you’ve been living under a rock. The action movie star famously lost his temper on the set of this year’s Terminator sequel, shouting countless profanities at the film’s director of photography, Shane Hurlbut. His fit of rage was caught on tape, and of course, a YouTube video quickly circulated the internet. His reputation went from sexy, brooding screen legend to world class A-hole (still kind of sexy though). Getting worked up at work is not uncommon or unexpected. But keeping your cool in the face of blood-pressure raising circumstances is essential, not just to your reputation at work, but to your overall health and happiness. Lose your temper like Mr. Bale and you may never live it down. #3: Britney Spears → Lesson: You can make a comeback, but be prepared for a long — and sometimes ugly — road to recovery. The past five years have been tough for this former teen pop starlet. She was in the midst of a custody battle with estranged husband (and total leach) Kevin Federline, had been deemed an unfit mother, battled drug addiction and once famously shaved her head for no apparent reason. She’d hit rock bottom. And thanks to the paparazzi, she did so right before our prying eyes. In 2007, her attempt at a comeback at the MTV Video Music Awards was panned by critics and fans alike; onstage, she appeared detached, disinterested, drugged. Simply showing up for the gig was not enough. But two years later, she’s back. She may not be the mega star she was before her fall from grace, but she’s no longer a media laughing stock. Her latest album is doing respectively well, she’s on tour, has her postmeltdown body back, and looks healthy and happy. With a little bit of hard work, she’s managed to get her career back on track, at least for the time being. #4: Simon Cowell → Lesson: Sometimes, it pays to be a hard ass. The notoriously straight-faced American Idol judge earns a reported $34 million a year (said to be bumped up to a whopping $144 million next year). While Paula Abdul gives endless (and often unintelligible) praise, Randy Jackson looks for the silver lining, and Kara Dioguardi strips to outdo Bikini Girl, Cowell tells it like it is (and sometimes, much worse). Viewers love to hate him, but the fact remains: contestants respect his opinion more than that of the other three. And so does America. More often than not, Cowell’s feedback directly impacts the shows votes and consequently makes or breaks a contestant’s shot at winning. Simon may take brutal honesty a little too far, but he teaches us that sugarcoating your opinions and backing down when challenged won’t earn the respect of your peers, your reports or even your superiors. Stand up for yourself or you might just find yourself in your rightful place as the office doormat.
#5: Kim Kardashian Lesson: It is who you know. Long before she was known for her “assets,” Kim Kardashian came into the spotlight as the BFF of celebutante and tabloid favorite, Paris Hilton. She now has her own reality show (Keeping Up With the Kardashians), a workout DVD and of course, a sex tape. In addition to being friends with Paris, Kardashian is the daughter of late OJ Simpson lawyer Robert Kardashian and the stepdaughter of Olympian Bruce Jenner. Is it fair that she rakes in millions for no other reason than who she knows? Of course not. But life rarely is. And nepotism is not exclusive to the entertainment industry. Most people get jobs through someone they know. Who you know may not make you millions or snag you your very own TV show, but he or she can help you get a foot in the door and set you on your path to career success. #6: Kate Moss Lesson: Be discreet about your “extracurricular activities.” And please, stick to the legal kind. The English supermodel came onto the scene in the early 90s. Since then she’s become the face of numerous beauty products, launched her own clothing line, and dated just about every scruffy man in Britain. But of all her high profile love interests, none has been more controversial than Libertines front man and known drug addict Pete Doherty. In 2005, photos of her snorting cocaine were all over Britain’s Daily Mirror. Allegedly, one of Doherty’s friends snapped the footage with a cell phone and sold it to the tabloid. Drug use in the modeling industry isn’t exactly breaking news. But stills of Moss ingesting copious amounts of cocaine were rattling – especially after she’d vehemently denied drug use throughout her career. She lost several multi-million dollar modeling contracts and checked into rehab shortly after. She bounced back, but she’ll always be remembered as “Cocaine Kate.” While Kate’s example is a bit extreme, it does remind us that any questionable activity we engage in off the clock — even binge drinking — can come back to bite us. #7: George Lucas Lesson: Don’t be afraid to take risks. The creative genius behind Star Wars and Indiana Jones didn’t get to where he is today by following the rules. Sure, he went to USC Film School, and yeah, he interned at Warner Brothers, but so did countless other filmmaking hopefuls. Lucas was fearless in the face of risk. Combine this fearlessness with a knack for innovation, and you’ve got a recipe for multi-billion dollar success. Early on in his career, while negotiating his director’s fee for Star Wars, he agreed to take a $500,000 pay cut in exchange for all sequel rights and ownership of the film’s merchandising – things the studio thought were pretty much worthless. Silly studio! He made tens of millions of the merchandising and financed the making of the sequels himself. Which, as you can imagine, had a huge return on investment. He also took a break from movie-making to pour his fortune into other projects – namely, his digital effects and innovation studio Industrial Light and Magic. The studio began taking on special effects work for other filmmakers at $25 million a pop. He then went back to produce his Star Wars “prequels,” which went on to break box office records. Taking risks early on in his career made him the success story he is today. #8: Susan Boyle Lesson: It’s never too late to fulfill your dreams. Susan Boyle had a difficult start to life. She was born oxygen deprived, was later diagnosed with learning disabilities, and suffered incessant name calling as a child. She lived in her family’s Council Estate (the UK’s version of social housing) for the bulk of her life and was chronically unemployed. She almost didn’t audition for Britain’s Got Talent, fearing she was “too old and that it was a young person’s game." It’s a good thing she did. Her audition stunned the judges and audiences alike. Although she did not win the competition (she came in second), Ms. Boyle has seen a rapid rise to global fame and is now recording her first album. Sometimes, just when you think you’ve missed the boat, you get a second chance to turn your life — and career — around. Don’t ever let your age or past experiences stop you from trying.
#9: Joe Biden Lesson: Think before you speak. He once called “jobs” a three-letter word. He urged wheelchair bound Missouri State Senator Chuck Graham to “stand up.” He’s even referred to John McCain both as “George” and “McLain” on two separate occasions. Vice President Joe Biden has made his fair share of embarrassing speech blunders, earning him a reputation for being gaffe-prone. At times, his carelessness has driven the normally even-tempered President Barack Obama to appear visibly annoyed. Our VP might be lovable, but he’s still a liability. Everybody makes mistakes here and there, but you don’t want to be careless about your remarks or make jokes at the most inappropriate times. Especially when they’re not funny. Think before you speak and avoid being known as the “Joe Biden” of your workplace. #10: Oprah Winfrey Lesson: Build a strong personal brand. The talk show host and entrepreneur built a muli-billion dollar empire, thanks largely to her strong personal brand. In addition to an award-winning talk show, she has channeled her fame and fortune into a highly successful magazine and a television network set to launch this year. She ranks #165 on Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. Oprah transformed the talk show genre by bringing it into to a more personal, confessional realm. She interviews mega celebrities, experts and average Americans with a story to tell. But she doesn’t do so objectively. She shares own personal issues, struggles and adventures with her audience. American women have grown to trust her on anything from kitchen appliances to spirituality. Not bad for a girl who was born into poverty, was allegedly raped at 9 and was pregnant (but miscarried) at 14. Building a personal brand sets you apart from the competition. And thanks to the internet, cultivating and promoting your brand #11: Barack Obama Lesson: Inexperience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach for the top. Regardless of your politics, there’s no question that Barack Obama had less experience than his two challengers—Hillary Clinton in the primary and John McCain in the general election. In fact, Obama’s decision to run for president is something that people in any profession should keep in mind. If you want to get to the top, you can follow the traditional route. Build your experience and gradually work your way up the ladder. You have to content yourself, though, to reaching the highest rung pretty late in life. Some people have what it takes to rise to the top sooner rather than later. There are three keys to making that move a success. First, think above your pay grade. Even if you are better than anyone else in your current position, you need to think outside of it. Think about the larger organization and ways it could be better. Try to think of big ideas that could change the rules of the game. Next, carpe diem. If you’re going to leap frog over pay grades, you have to seize the moment when the opportunity presents itself. Finally, be confident and don’t underestimate yourself. #11: Angelina Jolie Lesson: Personal generosity can be more important than professional accomplishment. Angelina Jolie is arguably the most famous actress in the world right now. Why? She’s been in so many of the best films of the decade like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Alexander, and…oh wait… For someone who normally stars in some of Hollywood’s worst movies, how is Jolie such a megastar? She is the quintessential master of personal PR. Jolie’s movies are incedental, they are mere backdrop to the brand that is Angelina. Celebrity cum International Relations wonk. Beauty and the Adopter-of-Disadvantaged-Children. If you can turn your personal brand into such gold, any professional foibles matter a lot less.
#13: Sarah Palin Lesson: Do your homework. Repbulican? Democrat? Independent? Whichever, you have to admit that Sarah Palin was something unique in American politics. When she was announced as John McCain’s running mate she and his campaign quickly regained the momentum they had lost over the week of the Democratic National Convention and pulled even or ahead in most polls. Then came Palin’s immolation in a series of interviews with the major news networks. When Charles Gibson asked her what she thought about the “Bush Doctrine,” it was evident she did not know what it was. When Katie Couric asked her for an example of how John McCain had pushed for more regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in his 26 years in the Senate, she said she’d have to go look them up and bring them back to her. After their loss, McCain’s advisors took to the press to claim that Palin didn’t do her homework. #14: Maureen Dowd Lesson: Find your schtick. Ride it to the top. Maureen Dowd, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times, reached journalism’s peak in 1999 when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. How did she become a professional juggernaut? Take the average political knowledge of a Washington D.C. resident, throw in some cutesy nicknames, blend with obvious jokes, send to a personal trainer and you’ve got a Maureen Dowd column. Dowd captures the mood of a certain class of people and makes them chuckle at just how right they are. This clearly hasn’t served her poorly. Her columns are regularly the most-e-mailed articles on the Times website and she has commanded an op-ed column at the country’s most prestigious paper for 15 years. #15: Martha Stewart Lesson: A conviction isn’t a career killer. Martha Stewart is easily one of the most recognizable names in America. And with good reason. After graduating from Columbia University, she began her professional career as a successful stock broker in the 1960s. Later, following her move to Westport, Connecticut she started a catering business, restored a farm house, and ran a gourmet food store in 1976. From there, she built her business juggernaut, Martha Stewart Omnimedia and by 2001 was considered one of the most powerful (and richest) women in America. Then in 2004 things hit the skids. Following a questionable sale of stock in one of her business ventures, she was convicted of lying to investigators and sent to prison for five months. While that could have been the end for her celebrity-based lifestyle business, Stewart re-emerged and recovered quickly. By 2006, her company had returned to profitability and she is one of the most ubiquitious food and lifestyle personalities on television today. #16: Dick Cheney Lesson: You don’t have to be popular. Dick Cheney left the Vice Presidency with one of the lowest favorable ratings in American history. Throughout the Bush presidency, though, Cheney never cared about and often scoffed at his low approval ratings. He wasn’t interested in making friends. Cheney wanted to reshape the role of the executive branch in American government and in many ways, he was extremely successful, consolidating more and more power in the White House. Many people didn’t like him or his methods, but he stuck single-mindedly to his goals. Even after he lost some of his influence in the later years of his term, the changes he had effected remained in place.
#17: Donald Trump Lesson: Even if you’re a failure, you can still be a success. Donald Trump is one of the best known business moguls in the world, but his “empire” seems to be a house of cards built on sand. Trump’s business ventures have filed for bankrupty not once, not twice, but three times, most recently in February of this year. So how does Trump continue to maintain his mystique as a formidable tycoon, telling contestants on The Apprentice , “You’re fired!” because they can’t cut it? He has several tricks up his sleeves. 1. If you’re going to take on debt, don’t take on a little, take on a lot. A whole lot. When the “Trump Debt Crisis” first appeared in 1990, Newsweek reported that “the banks are owed so much by Trump…that they have no choice but to try to keep him going.” 2. While his name may be gaudily splashed across most of his ventures, it doesn’t actually appear on the companies’ paperwork. The companies he starts file for bankruptcy, not the Donald himself. 3. Fight, fight, fight for your place on Forbes. It has been reported that Trump and his associated badger the people who rank personal wealth so that he appears to have more money than he actually does. #18: Mark Sanford Lesson: If you’re caught lying, apologize without qualification. Not long ago, Mark Sanford’s name was thrown around as a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Then he went missing on a hiking trip to the Appalachians which actually turned out to be a visit to a long-time mistress in Argentina. The lying and philandering alone shouldn’t have necessarily sunk his chances. After all, Bill Clinton did both while he was president and emerged fine politically. Sanford’s problem? Rather than unequivocally admitting to a mistake, promising never to do it again, being contrite and recommitting himself to his wife, he held a series of philosophically and emotionally meandering press conferences where he didn’t offer clarity but confusion. A short apology might not have been able to save him, but it would have offered him at least a fighting chance. #19: Ellen Degeneres Lesson: Be yourself. Ellen DeGeneres rose to fame as a standup comedian and eventually secured her own sitcom in 1994. While the show did well, DeGeneres was not content. In a speech to the graduating class of Tulane university in 2006, DeGeneres described how hard it was to have to hide her sexual orientation from the public. Finally, in 1997, she came out on Orpah Winfrey’s show and her character on her show followed suit. The coming-out episode garnered the shows highest ratings ever, but then the quickly tailed off and the show went off the air in 1998. Did being honest with herself and her audience ruin her career? Not in the least. DeGeneres returned to television on a daily basis in 2003 with The Ellen DeGeneres Show, a day-time talk show that consistently gained in the ratings and won 25 Emmy Awards in its first three seasons. Now she has both a successful television show and personal happiness. #20: J.K. Rowling Lesson: Don’t ever count yourself out. In 1993, J.K. Rowling was diagnosed as clinically depressed and thought about suicide. She battled the depression but in 1995 was living on welfare as she worked to complete a teaching certificate and finish her first novel. That novel, as most people now know, would be Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Rowling summoned her creativity to become one of the richest women in Britain. A mere five years after being on welfare, she was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
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