Helen Kalla is the media relations manager at a DC-based nonprofit focused on civic engagement. She is an adventure seeker -- big or small -- and people person on a mission to make the most out of life. She is our #WCW because of her drive to succeed through any obstacle and her passion for women's empowerment.
1. What's your story? What makes you unique?
I was born in Key West and, for reasons that still boggle my mind, my parents moved us away, to the Atlanta suburbs when I was too young to remember. It turned out to be a blessing because not long after, we moved again to the Athens area and I had the opportunity to take classes at the University of Georgia while still in high school, and I instantly fell in love with what would become my alma mater. After an eight-month detour in Germany, I made the pilgrimage to DC to because I wanted to make our country better. Nearly four years later, I can’t comment on the state of our country but as for me, I still have to pinch myself when I think of all the amazing career opportunities I’ve had since taking that leap.
I think what makes me unique is my dual nature to be both methodical and intuitive. I love to plan things out and think decisions through, but I also have trusted my gut and taken leaps of faith that were not fully calculated, but just felt right. It’s worked for me so far!
2. What motivates you?
I have been a very driven person since I was a child -- I used to think I was an “overachiever” but now I know there is no such thing as achieving too much. I am motivated by the many powerful, successful women who have overcome countless obstacles to accomplish their goals, especially in politics, which is known to be cutthroat and is still dominated by men. Additionally, I am incredibly lucky to have extremely supportive parents who have been my constant cheerleaders my entire life and who continue to motivate me to embrace challenges, changes, and opportunities.
3. Who is a hero of yours?
I have always really admired Sheryl Sandberg. I had the opportunity to meet her when I worked on Capitol Hill and she was equally inspiring and relatable. She was speaking to a group of congresswomen and female staffers and said that when people call girls “bossy,” we should say, “that girl isn’t bossy; she has executive leadership skills.” Everyone in the room chuckled. She then said that she’s said that line in many speeches to many crowds around the world, and everyone always laughs. But when she says, “that boy has executive leadership skills,” no one laughs. “Why,” she asked, “is it funny that a girl has executive leadership skills?” Sheryl has experienced unimaginable tragedy -- and is open and vulnerable about it -- so her life is definitely not picture perfect, but she is one of the most successful American women today and takes the time to lift up other women too, which is so cool and much-needed these days.
4. Give us a road map of your career. How did you get to where you are today?
I never thought I’d be on the career path I’m on now, but I couldn’t love it more. When I graduated from UGA in 2013, I didn’t have a job lined up and I knew I wanted to live abroad at some point, so I took a position as an au pair with a family in Frankfurt, Germany, where I lived for eight months. I loved living in Europe, I made wonderful friends, and learned a new language, but I was secretly jealous of my friends back in the states who’d started jobs and were advancing in their careers. So I came home and began applying for jobs in DC from Georgia, with absolutely no idea of how long I might be stuck back at my parents’ house. Thanks to the encouragement of a few friends, I bought a one-way ticket to DC and arrived with about two weeks’ worth of clothes and cash, and several kind friends with couches for me to crash on. After dragging my suitcase through the snow-covered sidewalks and eating PB&J for every meal, I landed a paid internship in the U.S. Senate doing communications, and I fell in love with a career path I’d never previously considered. I’ve served in both the Senate and the House and worked my way up to being the communications director for a U.S. representative, when the opportunity of a lifetime came along to work on the campaign of the first female presidential nominee of a major party. I cut my teeth on a presidential campaign in South Florida and now I’m back in DC working at a nonprofit that started after the 2016 election to help ordinary Americans hold their members of Congress accountable.
5. What's your future plan? Your goals?
Live your best life. In all seriousness, when I am a very old lady, I want to look back on my life and know that I took every opportunity that came to me, tried as many new things as I could, and lived fully. In terms of my career goals, I will probably work in politics in some way, shape, or form until I retire -- I love how politics affects everything on a micro and macro scale -- from each individual family to our role on the global stage. And, I love to travel. So, if I don’t get a job that enables me to travel a ton, I will find a way to work travel in to my future plans.
6. If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
Slow down to enjoy the small things. Often, we let mundane days pass like we’re on autopilot, just riding it out till the weekend or the next big event (I am very guilty of this). But these days make up the vast majority of our life, so look for small joys in each day.
7. What is something you feel strongly about (a cause, belief, etc.)?
Women’s empowerment. The ability for women to exercise independence over their financial and personal choices has had innumerable benefits for not just women but the national economy and future generations of children. In my career, I have been cognisant of seeking work environments that recognize the barriers women still face to full equality, and who work to knock them down (here are two examples). Sadly, many decision-makers in the United States would like to bring women back to the days before they could make their own personal decisions about their health care and their careers. One of the reasons I work in the political space is to help fight against attempts to set women back.
8. What's one of the coolest things you've ever done?
I was in Helsinki in December and we went to a traditional Finnish sauna, where we sat in the sauna until we were so hot we couldn’t take it anymore, then immediately swam in the Black Sea (which hovers just above freezing that time of year). I was incredibly nervous beforehand but I found myself going back in twice more because it was so exhilarating.
9. Anything we haven't asked that you'd like to talk about.
One personal goal of mine lately has been to become more comfortable with my own company. I’m a textbook extravert and love to be around other people and share experiences with others, and I have been endeavoring to push myself to enjoy doing more things alone. In a few days, I am leaving on my first international solo (YOLO) trip, which is both super scary and super exciting!