Meet our Braavheart #2. Her name is Helen Verhelst. This foodie is a lawyer by day, blogger by night. Quite a challenging combination. Helen struggled to find a healthy work-life balance but eventually found her way. Now she effortlessly juggles between her 16k followers-blog and her career. On top, this power woman is happy to share her insights with us.
First of all, can you introduce yourself and what you do in a few sentences?
My name is Helen Verhelst, I am 25 years old and since September I work and live in Antwerp. Though during my years as a student I lived in Leuven, yet studied in Brussels. After my graduation, I started working as a lawyer here in Antwerp.
In my spare time I am mainly occupied with two great loves of mine: cooking and travelling (oh, and my boyfriend too ;-)). Cooking is mainly expressed in a food blog and through my IG-page, where I post nice and easy recipes every week. I also love to travel, from short city trips to long adventures abroad! When travelling it is always my responsibility to discover the best local food spots.
Do you have a quote/slogan where you live / how you stand in life?
"You don't just wake up and become the butterfly, growth is a process."
I've taught myself that some things in life - or life in general - are not self-evident. Making mistakes is not a failure. It cannot keep raining forever. And finally, that falling, getting up and growing is only human.
How do you manage to maintain a healthy work/life balance?
This has always been a difficult one for me. During my student life, I was able to combine HelenKookt perfectly with going to class every now and then or writing my thesis. Very soon after my boyfriend and I moved to Antwerp and I started my job as a lawyer, I struggled to find this balance. I noticed myself falling back into the exhausting pattern of: "getting up - work - cooking - work - sleeping", without taking any time for myself. On top of that, I always wanted to be available for everyone, and I constantly said "yes" to everything.
Last winter this led to a small mental breakdown, in which I completely lost all peace and quiet and was about to break down (read: crying, crying, crying). We then went to Israel for a week, the timing couldn't be better. There I learned to relax for a while, and above all to enjoy the little things in life, no matter how cliché that may sound. Before that, I was being lived, rather than actively living myself, and that had to stop. Shortly after, the lockdown during Covid-19 followed, which wasn't so bad for me yet.
I learned to say "no" to certain things, and most importantly, I learned to give myself rest and not be available 24/7. I started to realize that “hey, it’s okay to take a day off sometimes”. As a result, I now dare to stop working on time, dare to plan some “us-time” on the weekends for me and my boyfriend. Even more so, I don't have to take on every assignment and don't have to be everywhere. Life is often difficult enough, so I don't have to make it harder for myself.
Luckily my boss is very comprehensive and also respects my hobby of HelenKookt. He knows that some days I'm absent for a couple of hours to go shooting or for certain cooperation. That flexibility makes it pleasant to work here. Last but not least, my boyfriend is 100% there for me when I need something and when I don't get anything planned or bought just when things get more difficult. Without nagging or sighing I know I can fall back on him when things get too much, and that makes it all a bit easier.
What is the ultimate relaxation for you? What brings you peace after a busy/hectic day?
This depends on my mood; some days a sweaty work-out session in the gym is my salvation after a long day. I can lose all my energy in an hour of exercise, while listening to real classics like Destiny's Child, J-Lo and Sean Paul.
Other days, I can enjoy an evening on the couch with my boyfriend and our cat. The radio softly turned on in the background, a good glass of wine, some lecture or a series. When we notice a beautiful sunset approaching, we rush to the quay to catch the last glimpse of it. Pure enjoyment!
What are your professional objectives for the future?
At the moment the legal profession is my core profession, which is what I love to do most. The first three years, however, I go through life as a trainee lawyer, which means that in my first year I still have to follow professional training and provide legal assistance for the underprivileged or so-called assimilated categories (second-line assistance, also called pro bono). Only after this phase can I really grow further in the job, in which I hope to be able to contribute more and more to new and challenging cases in family property law. Certain parts of this branch of the law are still unknown to me (such as inheritance planning for example), so I hope to be able to study these further over the years.
With HelenKookt I know that I haven't reached my full potential yet and that I'm leaving a lot of possibilities unexploited. First of all, I'm working on the website to make it more user-friendly, faster and above all more professional. In addition, I'm also trying to establish more lasting relationships with brands, and not just settle for a quick collaboration or some superficial posts. When I promote a brand, it's because I fully support it. In the long run, I hope to be able to capture my experiences from student to work and from a rookie in the kitchen and in food photography to something more experienced cook and photographer in a book. Still, I have to make up my mind again whether I want to fully commit myself to this project, or whether I want to keep my focus on the legal profession. As long as I have to make that decision, I will never be able to grow 100% in one or the other.
If you could give a 1 (ultimate) tip to other ambitious women, what would it be?
Female entrepreneurs with different skin colours often have a harder time on their way to success. Not only do they struggle a lot to get loans or loans with lower interest rates, but in combination with racism and gender prejudices, this often leads to even more challenges. Nevertheless, remember this: know your value, trust your instincts and remain authentic to your vision. When I started my business, I wish I had never felt ashamed or guilty for asking a certain amount of money or making certain demands... So don't let others minimize your value!
Which book do you think is an absolute must-read for our Braavheart community?
For me a real classic which I recommend to everyone (entrepreneur or not): Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.
The question of happiness, which continues to play such an important role today, plays a crucial role in this: 'Are we happier than the hunter-gatherers, say? What makes us happy?' He criticizes society and our way of life, but also nuances each time, leaving the door open to his own interpretation and, above all, encourages thinking.
Who do you think should be in our #Braavhearts section?
Irmy Coeckelbergs, from JesuisIrmy! A woman with balls, and one who experienced a lot of trial and error before becoming as successful as she is now.