What can be said about Olena that hasn't been said? Gracing her smiles, laughs, aloha spirit and her pin-point accuracy on pronouncing any name. Whether it be Hawaiian, Samoan, Japanese, whatever. I mean if that's not a talent, I don't know what is. And just like that, I went totally off-topic.
I knew Olena from the 6th or 7th grade, I can't really remember, but I can remember Olena always greeting me, saying hello and trying to get me to engage in conversation with her. She was always interested in people even at a young age. She enjoyed making you smile, laugh, talk, etc. She wanted to ensure you felt a part of something, a part of the group, a part of her ohana "family". This stuck with me my entire life, "Olena is Aloha." In high school, she went on to become "most likely to succeed" and I became "most likely to surf their entire life." The yearbook got one thing right, Olena became very successful and a part of everyone's morning. As for me, I now live in Switzerland, no surf here, go figure.
During her career on the morning news, Olena became a champion for many small businesses, musicians, chefs, local celebrities and locals. She always took time out to showcase local talent. So when she left the news, it became the talk of the town. Well at least the talk in my inner circles. WHY? Its been a couple of years now and she has talked about leaving the news before but I wanted to dig a little deeper. And what I uncovered was inspirational, raw and enlightening.
Let’s start from the beginning if possible. After you graduated from Kapa’a, you did what?
I moved to Honolulu, started working as a hostess and did most things 17/18 year-olds did. I registered but didn't really go to school (college), then I started working at Clear Channel Communications, which is one of the largest radio broadcast companies in the world. I interned there and then became the promotions coordinator for one of the hip hop stations. While working in restaurants, as well, I also decided to compete in pageants to pay for my college tuition. In 2004 I won the title of Miss Hawaii 2004, competed at Miss America and traveling the globe. After my year of service, I went back to college and during my last year I interned at a local news station. From that experience I was hired at KHON2 and worked as a general assignment reporter then one year later, I became a news anchor on the morning show. 7 years later, I obtained my MA degree and started my own marketing company.
You became a part of Hawaii’s morning ritual. Cup of coffee, get the kids ready for school, morning news, etc. How did that impact your life personally?
I loved it. I really thought I would be anchoring the news until I was 60 years old. But then a shift happened and the content was changing, the people were changing and the station was sold to new owners. I decided it wasn't making me happy anymore so I quit. Plus, the 3 am wake-up time was a bit challenging. But it was funny to be recognized as "Miss Hawaii" then becoming the "News Lady" while spotted in public.
What would you say surprised you the most being on the news?
At first it was hard for me to be on camera and not smile, I was reporting on a wildfire and my news director told me I was smirking too much. I didn't know it and thought I looked serious. So then i had to try and frown and make my face look stern and less happy. Lucky for me I obtained the morning news anchor position and that let me smile more often.
Who or what was the most inspiration story you told?
The most inspirational story I had the honor of breaking was about a young boy with an inoperable brain tumor who decided to write a bucket list and live his life as best he could before he died soon afterwards. It was a story that touched many lives and people from around the state rallied in support of him and his strength. His father reached out to me when he was first diagnosed and I followed his journey from diagnosis to death. It was very impactful not just because of the boy but because of the community support too.
I always admired your fearlessness. Whether it be Miss Hawaii to American Idol to the Morning News. Who gave you this "take life by the balls mentality?"
Oh, I actually forgot about American Idol, haha. I am an only child raised by a single parent mom. I think from childhood I have always been driven and always set new goals for myself. I think my lack of contentment comes from always wanting to pursue new dreams and higher aspirations.
You made a choice that not many can say they would do or even think about doing. Many journalists dream of being behind the desk and you chose to step away from it. What advice can you give to a person in transition of changing careers?
Don't be afraid to do what you love. I honestly didn't have a backup plan and didn't know what I was going to do, but I knew it wasn't making me happy being where I was. I think if you look back on life you want to remember the good time and the happy moments and I wanted more of those.
How many sleepless nights did you have before you made the final decision to leave the news?
I think I was becoming angry being at the news station and I resented others there too, so I made the decision pretty quick. I talked it over one weekend with my husband and then Monday morning I submitted my resignation. They asked me to give them a month to find a replacement instead of the 2-weeks courtesy.
What was that aha! Oprah moment to change careers?
When I went back to school and got my masters in 2013, I realized there was more out there. I knew that television was short-lived, and I believed that getting my degree was the smarted thing I could do. It made me overqualified for much of the jobs out there but set me up for success, no doubt.
As you can tell I am little obsessed with you leaving the news because I am in a similar situation in which I left a good IT paying job and I even left the country. I’m looking at a new life here in Switzerland and a new career. Did you experience push back from other peers? Did you encounter road blocks in your journey, and how did you get through them?
I think my coworkers resented me a little bit, or they felt rejected by me. I also thought it was weird that as I was quitting so many young aspiring journalists reached out to me to get tips on how to get into the business. When I was interning I noticed much of the staff seemed unhappy and I didn't know why. Now I know people think being on TV is great and that you will love it, but once the notoriety wears off, you realize it's only superficial.
Roadblocks on my journey included not making any money for 3 months, then when I did make some cash -- it was just a few hundred bucks. So, you have to realize you are not going to make money and it's not going to come easily. You do have to work at it.
Are you getting everything you expected from your new career? Did your goals change during the process?
As an entrepreneur, things are up and down. I notice that people will waste your time and lead you on and you have to roll with the punches and not everyone is professional. I am super busy right now and so very grateful, but I know in a few months it may slow down again and thus I have to be prepared for when things are headed down and then have faith they will go back up again
What I always loved about your career on the morning news is that you constantly highlighted local artists, cooks, entrepreneurs, businesses, etc. You were a key factor in both my passion projects. From slinging my family chili water, Da Secret Sauce, to my documentary of the homeless in Hawaii, Dear Thalia. The more I spoke with other people, the more I heard and realized how many different people you helped. I would hear things like, “Whenever we have a new album/new business/new event, Olena is our go-to-person. Welcoming us with open arms.” Here I am thinking, I was so special. But that’s exactly how you made us all feel, special. Our story was important to you and Hawaii. So, Thank You for that! What can you say about helping/collaborating/showcasing others?
I love helping other, especially since so many people have helped me on my journey. I love sharing stories and making small impacts on other people's lives. My role on the news or as a writer is to share those stories and to be a voice and I am happy to help.
What was the best advice you got and from whom?
My mom always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. That is so true, you can be what you want and do what you want if you put your mind to it and you work hard.
What would be the best advice you can give?
Always think positive. Don't waste your time, energy or spirit on negative feelings or negative messaging. If you always think positive the universe will create it and return those positive vibes.
What’s the best advice for a person seeking a career in Social Media Management/Marketing you can give? I see a lot of millennials having a go at this career considering they lived their entire life on it.
Ha, yes, this is the new dream career and many millennials and stay at home moms are taking this route. Currently it has become competitive and contracting out someone to do this work is a risk. I have lost clients to other agencies, and I have lost clients because they wanted to save money. Ultimately, you do the best you can, stay ahead of the game and try to work with your clients like you work there. Be a part of the team.
If someone gave you an unlimited budget to tell whatever story. What story would you tell and why?
I would let Anthony Bourdain tell my story through food and travel. I would want to tell the whole story from growing up in the plantation town on Kauai and moving to Honolulu with no money and just a suit case. A lot of people don't know my history, my upbringing and my adversity because you only see the good and wonderful highlights.
What does Olena do on her free time?
I love the outdoors and especially the ocean. I need to be in the water and really enjoy snorkeling. You will likely find me in a waterfall, on a hike, in the ocean or in a tide pool.
If you had to describe yourself in one word or twitter post, what would it be or say?
In one word I would hope to be considered a "Go-Getter"- Twitter has now increased the 140 letter count but if it was still short and sweet like that I would say: "I am an entrepreneur, marketer, optimist, world-traveler and friend who loves furry animals."
What’s coming up? Big Events? Big Trips?
I am headed to New Zealand tomorrow, I am going for vacation and as most of my vacations go I write about them on my blog MyPointofHeu.com I love traveling and want to do more with my YouTube Channel. I also have an idea for a new social media/media marketing avenue - I want to launch it in the summer and want it to include subscription, sharing stories, engaging with people and curating content from mainly Hawaii but also from around the globe. I can't talk about it yet, but it's coming and building.
Big shout out to Lori Silva at KHON2 for giving me a chance back in 2007, Melissa Chang for being a wonderful friend and mentor and my loving husband Daniel was always supporting me through every tragedy and triumph in my always moving world.
Bonus: Olena's last day on Wake Up 2day. At the time I thought wearing a Ironman mask was a good call.... Now looking bad, I'm not too sure... Wait, what the heck was I thinking?! Fun Fact: Allegedly there were shots of sake taken during each commercial break. Again, allegedly ;)