Kristen Symbula, also known as Kristiana, is an established fashion and runway model formally represented by Wilhelmina and HBM Model Management. Over the course of the past decade, she has combined a passion for dance, body movement, and the humanities to carve out a niche for herself as a fitness and wellness expert, as well.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kristen made it through her early years in school despite some challenges, which she actively worked very hard to overcome. As she grew into her own, Kristen was approached by a famous modeling agency, the John Robert Powers school, and at fourteen years old, she enrolled and set down her first career path.
Becoming a fashion model at such a young age taught Kristen how important it is to believe in herself, develop a thick skin for rejection, as well as a level of clear-eyed determination about life. In fact, one of the most important lessons she learned through modeling was that being undaunted by repeated professional rejection allowed her to make it to the next job opportunity with her head held high and her psyche intact. Over time, Kristen Symbula learned how to adapt to this ever-changing and insecure job environment, and eventually thrived in it.
However, the infirm nature of the modeling industry also made her realize that she ought to take steps to further secure her future. With that thought in mind, she enrolled in religious studies and philosophy at Temple University in Philadelphia, all the while still modelling.
These days, Kristen is transitioning away from modeling, focusing instead on her career in the fitness and wellness industry. She is a stalwart believer in the time-tested proposition that positive thinking—when, and only when, harnessed in conjunction with self-discipline—yields transformational breakthroughs. Additionally, she dances at a professional level, while also working toward completing a master’s degree in anthropology.
In her free time, Kristen Symbula enjoys reading and volunteering at a local animal refuge.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
It honestly wasn’t anything I had even considered before being recruited by a local school for modeling. I was fourteen when I got into the industry. I’ve mostly done runway work. It’s not an easy field to work in, especially at a young age. You have to learn how to handle things a normal kid wouldn’t even think of. It can be a rewarding industry to work in, but there are a lot of challenges, too.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
In the modeling world, the day-to-day demands change so much. One day you may be doing a runway show in one city, another day it will be a runway show in a different city—sometimes in a different country—and then another day you may be scheduled for a photoshoot. Regardless of what was scheduled, my days were full of practice and exercise. Obviously, to stay in the industry, you have to maintain the look that originally drew the professionals to you. You have to eat right and stay fit. Even when I wasn’t working, I was working. It’s not a 9-to-5 career—it’s 24/7.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I like to plan things out. If I come up with something, the first thing I do is bounce the idea off of others around me—my colleagues, friends, and family. If the idea seems like something that will work, then I will develop a way to make it happen. I like to break things down into smaller goals. It’s easier for me to work toward completing a step that’s maybe a few weeks out, and another goal a few months out. As I achieve the smaller goals, it brings me closer to getting the larger idea in place.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I see a lot more body positivity in our world. I love seeing that, especially after having experienced the judgment and strict parameters of beauty dictated by the modeling industry. It can be a tough industry for those not prepared for it. Anyhow, I love that different body shapes and sizes are now considered just as beautiful as what has for so long been considered the ideal. It’s a wonderful turn of events.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I am very determined. When I want to accomplish something, I will work toward it relentlessly. It’s always been a part of my personality not to take ‘no’ for an answer. If there is something that I really want, I make sure it happens.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my young self not to worry about what others thought so much. I spent a lot of years wondering what people thought of me or worrying about what they said about me. I worried that I wasn’t in the right place at the right time. All these things were such a waste of energy. It doesn’t matter what others think of you, as long as you know you are on the right path and doing what is best for you. Looking back, if I had realized this at a younger age, I think I would have had a more satisfying career.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
When people see models and see some of the advantages they have, there is a misconception that our lives are easier. I think people feel that we have some kind of fairytale life, but in reality, it can be a very difficult world to navigate. There is almost no security in this field. Many models live from job to job and never know when they may work again. It can be months between jobs with no income during that time. It looks glamorous because that’s how it is portrayed, but looks can be deceiving.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Learn to be comfortable with yourself, not just when you look in the mirror, but on the inside as well. If you know yourself and really believe in yourself as a person, you really can achieve anything you aim for.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I very quickly learned to be comfortable with rejection. You hear ‘no’ a lot in the modeling industry. My first coach would have me say positive affirmations to help with my confidence. He taught me to fake confidence until I truly became confident. It was really beneficial, especially when I was first starting as a teenager. Another strategy is to network with other models. That’s a great resource to learn about upcoming job possibilities. It’s also just a great resource when you need to speak to someone who understands what you are going through because they are going through the same issues themselves.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I was in a wheelchair for some time and that was a very dark part of my life. I had to give up a lot of who I was. I was afraid I would not walk again. It was very difficult to work through. It was recommended that I have spinal fusion surgery, but I chose not to go through with that. As a consequence, I had to work through physical therapy and alternative methods of recovery over the course of more than two years. I started healing slowly, but I realized that if I stayed determined, I could increase my pain-free moments from two minutes to ten minutes, and so on and so forth, until I was finally out of the wheelchair and back to my pre-injury condition.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think at this point, we need to look at more unconventional ways to earn money. The younger generation probably has a leg up in that respect, at the moment. Really, though, anything that you are passionate about, that you want to share with the world or think will have a positive impact on others, find a way to turn that into income. That is the path to happiness.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently was able to help a friend out by loaning them some money. In the past, they have been there for me many times, and it was wonderful to be able to return the favor—to give a practical token of appreciation to them for all they have done for me over the years. It felt great to be able to help them, even if it was just a little bit.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Google calendar to keep up with my appointments.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recommend sticking with the classics. Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare. These are all the authors I have really learned valuable life lessons from. All of the more recent self-help books tend to pull their underlying information from these writers, so why not go straight to the source?
What is your favorite quote?
Emmanuel Kant, a philosopher and mathematician once said, “If the truth will kill them, let them die.” That is one quote that I really love.
- Determination is key.
- Know and love yourself.
- Help others whenever you are able.
- Setting small goals will help you reach the big ones.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.