Name: Kaela Te...
From: Honolulu, Hawaii
School: University of Hawaii at Manoa
Surviving Difficult Situations
Being a woman in the male-dominated business world is not an easy feat. Being an outspoken and driven woman aspiring for management can be even more trying. As I began my journey in the insurance industry, I had no idea exactly how many obstacles lay before me. However, it didn’t take long before I discovered all the challenges, double-standards and deceit that made up this competitive direct sales environment. Despite all the struggles of entering a new industry, I was determined to persevere. Little did I know that I was about to be put in a situation that would change my life forever. As I reflect back to that time, I’m reminded that I learned meaningful lessons from my experience that have shaped who I have become as a person and the kind of businesswoman I strive to be.
I started my career in life insurance on a whim. I’ll be the first to admit that even though I passed the state exams, I had no clue what I was doing. I had never been in a sales position before. I had only ever worked as a server or gone to school, but a friend had convinced me that if I can up-sell a customer into adding avocado on his burger, I could excel at selling life insurance policies. So, I did what I do best, I studied. I was up for the challenge. I walked into that office the first day knowing the company’s products and my sales script verbatim. However, I quickly realized that just knowing the script wasn’t going to sell policies. I needed more if I was going to get my name on the recognition board for top sales each week and I was eager to be the best. It’s likely that the competitive vibe in the office rubbed off on me a bit. I noticed there was one name that was plastered all over the office: Keith. He was the top salesman in the company and, as luck would have it, he had just moved back to Hawaii. I knew I had to learn from him if I wanted to succeed.
I gathered all my courage and got myself invited to a managers’ party to welcome Keith back on island. When I got to the party, I wanted to show initiative so I introduced myself to Keith and after some small talk asked if I could ride in the field with him to learn. He said that he usually only trains managers, not newbies like I was, but he could tell I was determined, and he eventually gave in. I was elated. After spending the day in the field with Keith, he offered to teach me some more. After some late nights and long days, my sales were surpassing everyone in the office. I was on the fast track to management. I attributed all my success to Keith. He had seen my potential and wanted to help me succeed. Sadly, the reality was that he had his own hidden agenda behind spending time with me and I was too naïve to see it. Later that year, I became another statistic in the #MeToo movement.
It took some time for me to wrap my mind around the reality of what had happened to me. In all honesty, I’ve never felt so broken. Eventually, I made the decision to speak up and I went through the proper channels to report him in the company. I’m not sure what I was expecting would happen, but their response wasn’t it. I was told that if I wanted him to be held responsible for his “supposed” actions, I would have to file suit against him. I struggled with that choice, but in the end, I decided I didn’t want to put myself through years of court and testifying. I just wanted to be able to go back to work and move on with my life. Yet, the company decided not to do anything to prevent me from having to see him in the office. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that I did NOT want to go back into that office with his awards hung all over the walls and see his smug face. I had to make a tough decision, so I weighed all my options and ultimately, I decided to leave the company.
I spent months in therapy after this, but I found little solace in my therapist’s words. I had studied psychology in my undergraduate studies. I knew all of these things she was saying to me during our sessions. Logically, I understood my situation. I understood, on a logical level, that what happened to me was not my fault. Nonetheless, emotionally and wholeheartedly, I could not fully accept that truth. I couldn’t stop running through the situation in my head repeatedly. What could I have done differently to have stopped him? Should I have dressed differently? Had I come across too desperate to succeed in the industry? Was I actually giving the wrong signals? I’ve always been prideful of not allowing myself to think with a victim mentality. Although I knew I could seek another professional who might have better insight than my current therapist, the idea of telling my story to another stranger felt agonizing. This was part of the reason I decided not to pursue charges against Keith. I also knew that he had the financial resources to drag out the lawsuit indefinitely, which sounded excruciatingly unnecessary. Unfortunately, I took the self-medication route to try to run from my new reality. I was living on as island, far away from any family or life-long friends, and I could feel the distance almost palatably. I alienated my friends that I had made here in Hawaii because I felt like there was no way anyone could understand, or worse, they would blame me or say that I allowed this to happen. It took quite a lot of time of self-reflection, hours-long conversations with my biggest supporter (my mom), lots of journaling, and a final epiphany that enabled me to understand that I don’t have to be a victim to accept what happened.
I’m aware that this all sounds like a terrible experience and an unfortunate outcome, but truthfully, I learned a lot from this– about myself, people, and life. I learned that I am stronger than I ever thought I was. I am capable of picking myself up by the bootstraps and continuing on. I learned that sometimes it’s important to just know when enough is enough and it is time to move on. I realized that I don’t want to stay in the insurance industry and fight to fix a company that I’m not sincerely passionate about. What I truly want is to build my own company that is structured to empower women, in contrast to those that excuse men’s transgressions. Society may not always be “fair” for women, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. I am ready to do my part to help change society. There are many things in this life that are out of my control. Trauma happens, injustice happens, and bad people exist. I now understand that an experience or situation doesn’t define me, but how I choose to respond to it is what reveals my true character.