Kick-ass women

when i met noemi blumberg during a particularly fun student job assignment, i learned she was studying law and was impressed by her smarts. but it was her personality that left an even bigger impact – as kind, loving and emphathetic as they come. she was also this beautiful, stylish and elegant ballet dancer with a group of friends that loved her so much. though i don’t think i ever told her in as many words, she already was a true inspiration to me then.

so imagine how much i love her now for being part of this brilliant group of ladies who set out to support, inspire and coach other women under the umbrella of their MIZBIZ organisation. i signed up for membership as soon as i learned about it, confident that whatever noemi puts her mind to, has to be worth investigating. i soon found out that she is surrounded by four equally gorgeous, driven, ambitious and kind women, and together they make mizbiz a place and a group of people you can count on.

i learned that in a fun way, when we worked together to organize their second-ever event at roomin antwerp, and it was such an inspiring and motivating evening that left me feeling energized and reassured that i was not the only one facing the same struggles balancing work and life. the second time i reached out was when i felt like the world was starting to crumble underneath my feet, and everything i had worked so hard for was at jeopardy. in unison they did what they could to comfort me, help me and reassure me that everything was going to be ok in the end – and if it wasn’t ok, then it wasn’t the end.

i’ve had the pleasure of meeting these five talented ladies a few times now, but as we are always so busy running from one meeting to another event whenever we do, i took this blog post – also a throwback to their one-year-anniversary event at fosbury & sons a few weeks ago – as an opportunity to try and get inside of their minds for a minute. they each answered a few questions from my kick-ass women interview series – and i love how different their answers are, and yet how they all approach life from the same deep-rooted values. i hope their interview is as inspiring to you as meeting these women has been to me!

what has been a challenge you didn’t think you could overcome, but conquered anyway?

jennifer: stepping away from my well-paid job to venture out into the unknown and pursue my passion. after 7 years at my first employer i quit my job and moved to kenya with my husband, who was offered an expat-job. the idea of having no challenge, being financially dependent and bringing my career to a halt was terrifying. but it was the best decision in my life. i had the time to think about what i love and am good at. i read inspiring books like sheryl sandberg’s lean in. i found my creative flow again. in 6 months time my husband and i completely redesigned our life together, making living as big a priority as learning. i started my consulting company and mizbiz. but most importantly i have learned to let go of my fear of failure.
jess: i have had a few of these… the most recent was being able to get a job in a completely different country, culture, language and environment. as a lawyer from a developing country, i have faced a certain degree of professional stigma. it was really hard for me to get a job in europe, and on many occasions i’ve felt like i needed to work much harder than anyone else to prove i deserved my place. after some years i managed to not only get a job, but to prove my value in several different functions. i have been lucky enough to have sponsors that believe in my abilities and that have given me amazing professional opportunities where i could truly prove my worth and bring real value.
sophie: quitting my job and taking the time to figure out what i really wanted to do next. in the past year i went from being a lawyer to being an intern in an advertising agency to finally being a senior legal consultant. quitting my job and figuring out my next move has been a challenging, eye-opening and emotional process with amazing highs and tough lows. giving up a well-paid and respected job to try and infiltrate a world where you feel like an outsider was an idea that scared me. i dove into the deep and was hired as a strategist-intern at a creative ad agency. it was pretty scary at first, i had no specific advertising or creative professional skills to show for. i found out how inventive, solution-driven and out-of-the-box i can be. even though the conclusion at the end of the ride was that it wasn’t for me, i am so happy that i have faced this challenge and experienced that even though things are scary and things don’t work out the way you had anticipated, it’s ok! you bounce back, you are more resilient than you think. every step brings you closer to where you have to be.
laura: moving to a foreign country completely alone. not knowing the language, culture or having any family or friends there. stepping out of my comfort zone.

what is the most important thing you’ve learned in your life so far?

jennifer: that life doesn’t end at 30 (haha). in my twenties i was so worried about the choices i made. it was as if i was racing against that age-barrier to have achieved certain targets i defined for myself. i was very fearful of making the wrong decisions and taking risks. i have learned that life is all about trying, failing and learning. when i stopped working for 6 months it was the most liberating experience and it showed me life is full of opportunities if you open yourself up to them. i am still hard on myself, but less stoical. today i’d rather challenge myself on taking too few risks than too many.
noemi: you can overcome anything. losing a parent was one of my biggest nightmares and during my father’s illness it seemed impossible to live a happy life ever again. although my father assured me that i would bounce back, and my mother taught me that you are not given anything you can’t handle, it seemed impossible at the time to live on happily after having lost someone you love so very dearly. and yet, i noticed that i was capable of building so much resilience that i learned that everything always gets better. you can feel as if the world is coming to an end one day, but if a little bit of time passes, you can smile again and eventually feel again. this lesson is one that i try to apply in everyday life, to the big ones but also the little things.
jess: that after a number of academic degrees and some professional and life experience, i still know nothing. that we continue to grow and evolve as people, no matter how set in our ways we think we are, and that that’s a good thing.
sophie: putting things in perspective and being positive are attitudes that shape your life. to see the bigger picture and the upside to everything makes you achieve more and fear less. definitely a lesson i have learned and something i have experienced personally during the past year.


what are you trying to teach yourself right now?

jennifer: that there is no idea without a plan. i am good at the first and want to become great at the last. oh, and that taking care of my body deserves as much focus as my career does, in order to feel fulfilled.
noemi: it is okay to not have a plan. since elementary school i have always had a plan. i knew what high school i wanted to attend, uni of antwerp next, then nyu and then i had my career track planned out until the point where i am now. after being promoted to managing associate, which is sort of a mid-lever acknowledgment in many law firms, i did not have a new plan. where do i want to go now? do i want to be a partner in a law firm some day? do i want to set up my own business in a totally different field? do i want to remain a lawyer with a different lifestyle? after overthinking these questions for quite a while, i left for a 3 week holiday with my husband and i realised that “it is okay”. i have a big interest in so many things and i have developed skills that are useful in so many fields. i am fine where i am right now and it is okay not to know what the future will bring. i feel in my heart that it will also be okay wherever i am going, even if it’s unknown and i don’t have a detailed plan ready. this may seem as stating the obvious to many, but for me it is a complete liberation. just to relax and go with the flow. now i have to implement it by also letting go of things more.
jess: that it’s ok not to be on top of everything. i still have a hard time not holding myself to impossible standards. i am trying to learn how to deal with the fact that you cannot be 100% in control of everything in your life and that it’s ok.
laura: to be honest with myself, and go for whatever i want even if at some point i don’t make everybody happy.
sophie: that it is ok to make mistakes, because they always bring along something: a lesson, a good story, an opportunity to grow.

if you could only give one piece of advice to anyone, what would it be?

jennifer: take the time to think about what makes you happy in life, then design your career around that. i truly believe those who have a career with a purpose and passion will be the most successful at it.
jess: try and make yourself happy and forget about what others think. whatever that means for you: whether it means breaking away from certain personal relationships, going against the people you care most about, even if it means losing everything that’s stable in your life. life is too short to spend it being unhappy. that and… it’s ok to ask for help. do what you need to do, to feel better about yourself and your life.
laura: listen more to yourself. take the time to make a decision, but when you have made it, go for it! it’s ok if you fail – it’s human – but always remember to learn from your mistakes.
sophie: a career is very important but being true to yourself should always be a priority. be brave enough to challenge what you do and to question what added value it brings to your life. if it doesn’t make you happy, act on it and move on.

to join the MIZBIZ family check out their website • all photos from the one year MIZBIZ anniversary event at FOSBURY&SONS, taken by jietse de smul

i’ve only known kim daenen for a few years, but we often joke it feels like a lifetime. we met at a travel industry conference, where she represented her employer brussels airlines as its press representative. we hit it off professionally, and soon started collaborating on a number of cool projects. i saw her rise through the ranks and become spokeswoman for my favorite airline company, and meanwhile our coffee dates led to dinner dates, led to trips to geneva and kim attending our wedding… in short – i made a very good friend.

there’s another joke we often make, or at least – that i make – and that is some kind of comment on how kim is the most critical and exigent person in the world. yet instead of this quality making her insufferable, she balances it with equal parts compassion, kindness and empathy. kim is that person whose opinion i value on every subject, be it food (she’s the ultimate foodie, always knowledgeable about every new restaurant in town), travel (she’s seen much more of the world than i have, and has the most amazing stories to share about her travels) or interior design (she has a great eye, knows about every instagram trend before it even registered on my radar and – most importantly – she has designed a beautiful, lovely home).

the only weird thing about making kim my next (long-awaited) guest of my kick-ass women series, is the fact that it hasn’t happened sooner. so without further ado, i’d love to introduce this talented, whip smart lady who you’ll definitely hear of again. if you’re as in love with her decorating style as i am, you can furthermore hop over to ROOMIN.BE where i’ve shared the home tour she gave me, including all the tips and tricks that make her apartment such a warm and inviting place. and don’t forget to follow her on INSTAGRAM, to take a peek into her inspiring daily life. and now i’ll let you scroll down to read what little nuggets of life wisdom kim has to share!

name a challenge that you didn’t think you could overcome, but conquered anyway.

my first tv interview for brussels airlines was something that i was pretty nervous about. i sort of got thrown into the lion’s den without much preparation – obviously my boss believed in me, otherwise she would have never let me do it – but it was pretty scary, although apparently it didn’t show to the journalist. looking back at it now and thinking how confident i feel in my job today, really makes me smile. i still haven’t watched that first interview, though.

what is your biggest regret?

i don’t really have any regrets,i have always chosen my own path and i’ve learned to be critical of myself and others along the way, while respecting other people’s opinions. the only thing i feel i haven’t acted on yet, is doing something professionally with my love for interior design. but it is not so much as a regret, as i think i will someday turn this passion into something more, one way or another. it has always been a constant in my life that makes me very happy. be it storytelling, communication or interior, creativity has to be part of my life on a daily basis.

what is the most important thing you’ve learned in your life so far?

the most important thing i’ve learned is that you have to let go of perfection. there is always more to see, more to discover, more parts of the world to travel, and some people seem to do it all in one day in their instagram life and that can create false expectations for yourself. once you let go of all that wanting and you start enjoying the little moments that are happening now, that’s when real happiness sets in. i’m very happy that i’ve come to realize this.

what are you trying to teach yourself right now?

i’m trying to teach myself to be more structured. i have always been a messy type, trying to hide behind the creative mess excuse, but i’ve come to realize that structure gives me peace of mind. and as i get older, this becomes more important to me. the days when i could just keep going are over and i appreciate more rest now. i guess that’s the price i have to pay for spending the first 30 years of my life as a very hurried person.

what is your favorite memory? what does it say about you?

my favorite memory is actually the entire past 15 months of my life. after many years of hesitation i broke out of my comfort zone – and you can take that quite literally – and at the same time i also decided to move to antwerp, far from my best friends. there i met the man of my dreams and exactly one month ago he asked me to marry him, in the most romantic way. he never fails to surprise me, and with his proposal the surprise was in the simplicity. no big show in some romantic city, but in our home, where we love to be, during a scrumptious breakfast that he had prepared. what it says about me is, well, that i am now going bananas over wedding inspiration. my life has been turned upside down, but i could not be any happier with how it has turned out. this brings me to a very important life lesson, which is that life does really does start at the end of your comfort zone, that is, if that comfort zone does not make you happy. it has taught me to always follow my dreams.

what would you like to be remembered for?

i hope that my friends, colleagues and family would remember me for being a passionate and smiling person who always sees things positively. like everyone, i have many flaws, but my stronghold is that i always try to find a solution for problems that pop up along the way. i don’t give up easily, and this has helped me in my career as well as in my private life. i like to think that this is what my dearest friends love about me.

photos by STEPHANIE DUVAL // kim daenen on INSTAGRAM

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my name is stephanie duval, and i am a storyteller. this blog is where i share my favorite stories about design, travel, fashion and the nice things in life.

 

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