You have to say I’m funny, Mary!

Done. Kalei is hilarious. Side-splitting, knee-slapping funny. I have found that women with a great sense of humor are usually also very smart, very sensitive and have dealt with a lot in their life.

Kalei Gaines jumping

Done. Kalei is hilarious. Side-splitting, knee-slapping funny. I have found that women with a great sense of humor are also very smart, very sensitive and have dealt with a lot in their life.

Technically, Kalei shouldn’t even be here. She was an abandoned baby in Korea that was saved by her “adopted” mom. The fact that her mom was able to adopt her is also a miracle. Back then, in Korea, you couldn’t be 40 years older than the child that you adopt. Kalei’s mother was 44 years old, which meant she would have gotten a 4 year old.

Instead, her mother got a 6-month old baby. At that time, when foreigners adopted from Korea, they didn’t meet the child until they boarded the plane. So, imagine Kalei’s mother’s surprise when a 6-month old baby shows up to go home with her to Hawaii. That was the first fork in the road.

The second was when Kalei was a 19-year old college student. She got pregnant and felt like she let her parents down after they had given her so much. Her dad was the toughest on her, but eventually, he came around once the baby was born. It was love at first sight.

This was a really scary and difficult time in Kalei’s life, but she was determined to prove herself to her parents and still planned to finish college.

She was attending the University of Texas, Austin, where she earned a B.S. in Advertising. UT was one of the few universities in the country that offered a degree in advertising and she kept up with the curriculum, with baby on the way.

I delivered my daughter on a Tuesday and was back in class the following Monday.

She managed school and motherhood with the help of great college friends by stacking all of her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays so they could help babysit. She maintained this schedule for the first six weeks and paid her friends with groceries. On the seventh week, she was able to get her daughter into daycare at the university.

Kalei’s college life consisted of motherhood, school and part-time work. She graduated on time with a 3.7 GPA.


As you can imagine, after graduating from college, Kalei entertained multiple recruiting opportunities, but ultimately chose Minnesota as her destination. She felt like Minneapolis was a liveable city for a single mom and moved here with only her car and their clothes, nothing else. She and her daughter slept on air mattresses and lived with a roommate. Half of her check went to daycare and the other half went to rent.

Once Kalei was able to save some extra money, the first thing she bought was a bed from IKEA for her daughter. Kalei still slept on an air mattress though.

Kalei was, and still is, very ambitious and moved up in the ranks very quickly. She focused heavily on her career and wouldn’t tell people that she was a single mom because she was afraid that she wouldn’t be given the same professional opportunities. She was a 21-year old single mom, with a 2-year old, and thought she would be overlooked because of it. She wanted to be judged on merit.

Once she was comfortable with her co-workers, she would tell them about LuLu. Then, she brought LuLu with her everywhere she went, including work. Putting in 65-70 hours a week, Kalei would pick up LuLu from daycare and go back to the office and burn the midnight oil with LuLu asleep at her desk.

Kalei’s determination did pay off. She wanted to be a director and earn a certain salary before she was 30. At age 28, she was recruited to a digital agency and negotiated both of those things. She felt like she was nailing it. Until she wasn’t.


While in this role, her daughter turned 10 years old and Kalei felt like she had missed the first 10 years of LuLu’s life. The work she was doing, even though she had that title and salary, weren’t silencing this urge she had to spend more time with LuLu. Kalei spent so much time prioritizing work, that she missed the part where you develop a relationship with your kiddo. It was also during this time, that she met Jared who rounds out her family unit.

She decided to resign from her position, take some time off and travel with her daughter. It was the best decision she made because she realized that chasing her professional goals and achieving them, young, came at the cost of not being emotionally present for her kid. Her next position would have to be a role where she could achieve balance.

This is where our paths cross, at Target, where Kalei is a Lead Strategist and we started around the same time. We clicked right away because, like me, she’s ambitious, moves fast and gets shit done! But unlike me, she’s unapologetic about it and I admire her for it.

Her style is all about dresses and bold prints. She doesn’t like pants as much as she likes dresses, so she doesn’t wear them often. When she dresses for work, she thinks about her role in the room. Will she be a presenter or a participant? If she’s presenting, the heels get really high. She admits that she doesn’t like to spend a lot of money on clothes, so she never pays full price. She’d rather spend her money on vacations. She always hits the clearance racks first and finds her dresses and bold prints at places like J.Crew, Anthropologie, H&M and Target. She’s been shopping more at Target now that she works here.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? My Grandma. I had a lot of fun with her when I was a kid. Then when I was in middle school, I thought I was too cool to be hanging out with my 85-year old grandma. I was at her house being a sarcastic tween and meanly vacuuming when my grandma tripped over the cord and broke her femur. After that fall, her health declined really fast and I blamed myself for it. I would like to have dinner with her so I could tell her that I’m sorry and have more time with her.

Would you like to be famous?
I always think I do, but no, not in reality. Even during the photoshoot for this blog, I was uncomfortable. I don’t want to be overly scrutinized, even though I love being in the center and making people laugh.

Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?
Only if there’s going to be conflict. I want to make sure emotion is stripped out of the conversation and that I stay focused on objectivity.


What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
Sleeping in, for sure. I’m not a morning person. Eating and drinking anything I want. Surrounded by friends & family.

When did you last sing yourself?
I sing to LuLu to prove that I’m still cool and know the hip songs.

If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?
Body. I want to be able to stay active and to physically take part in ALL the activities and adventures that life and my grandkids will bring.

Do you have a secret hunch about how you’ll die?
I hope it’s peaceful and I hope those surrounding me get through it. I don’t want it to be tragic. I hope I’m old, still laughing and die in my sleep.

What do you and Jared have in common?
We both love food, love to laugh and are very generous.

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My kid, for sure. She is by far my biggest accomplishment and the hardest thing I have ever done. And my parents, because they gave me everything possible to live my best life.

If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
I wish my parents would have had the sex talk with me. I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant so early! Kidding! Not kidding.

If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
More love, emotion and empathy for LuLu. My struggle has nothing to do with her, it’s just how it happened. But I hold her to unfair standards sometimes, and need to be better at being a nurturing mom, versus a mom boss.

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