Powerful Woman- Helene Cornell
I was given the privilege of meeting Helene less than a year ago and she immediately captivated me with her zest for life. She has literally created a career out of all the things she is passionate about in fields mostly dominated by men. She has left her mark and is proof that girls really do run the world. This interview just begins to scratch the surface with this remarkable lady. A little over 3 weeks prior to sitting down with her, Helene finished her last round of chemotherapy. Yet, that doesn’t even come up in conversation because she truly is so much more than her cancer story and she does not let her adversities dull her sparkle. That is why I had to interview her; she is the definition of a powerful woman.
SS:You're from Canada tell us a little bit about your upbringing?
HC: Yeah I was born in Edmonton, Alberta and it was really, really cold. I grew up loving nature and playing in a giant backyard, and just being super creative from the very, very beginning. My brother and I would build snow forts that were just incredible, and even as adults, we still build them together. He is an engineer and I come from more of a design background, and our snow forts are really amazing. The last one I made had like three branches I turned into a chandelier & hung a solar light. There was a breakfast nook in there too. From a very young age I really liked to play outside and I still do.
Was there ever a time when you almost settled for just the 9 to 5 since it was a safer option than pursuing your passion?
Sure, yeah, I ended up getting a job working in production in the photo department so it was still creative, but it was very structured and I loved it. What started to happen was I started to book more and more freelance work on the weekends, and I started to get curious about what if I could just do that! It was a really, really risky move because I had a 401k and all that other stuff, but I decided that I wanted to just have fun, and I quit my job. I started doing freelance work and doing photography for art department gigs, acting gigs, and I'll be honest, I didn't make as much money at first. But at least I was smart and saved a nest egg, but after 2 years, I was actually making more money. It took some time to get there but it was so worth it because now I have time.
As I’ve told you before, I call you the “Jill of all trades”. You do real estate, photography, DIY renovations, and comedy. What else am I missing? I’m sure there is another hidden talent in there somewhere.
Haha, no I think you covered it!
What project or accomplishment do you consider to be the most significant in your career?
I don’t know if there is really one that is most significant, because even the failures have been something I’m proud of. I really love renovating homes and flipping houses, but I've had some that have flopped. I've lost money and I've made money, so I don't really think there's one that's like particularly significant because it's not really about the money. I just believe that I am a money magnet and it will follow me if I just continue.
That’s actually my next question - what has your biggest failure been and the lessons learned that have contributed to greater success?
That's a tough one to answer because I think it's more of like an emotional response. My failure is in my lack of commitment to confrontation and what the possibilities would have been if I had not been afraid to just ask for what I want. In my twenties, I was kind of a pushover and I found people taking advantage of me financially. I wouldn't say anything because I'm a people pleaser. It's not necessarily a failure, it's more of an introspection, like what if I actually just said no. When you say no there is a crazy possibility of it becoming an even bigger yes but I wasn't aware of that until I got older.
I'm the biggest advocate of saying no. When you start to do things that don't align with what you're passionate about or your goals it just takes away your precious time. It starts to boil up, and you're not bringing your best self to those events or those projects when it's not something that you fully feel passionate about, so I think saying no is the new yes!
I think people, women in particular need to know you don't have to be a people pleaser and you don’t need to please everybody.
What is your advice to women who have a passion they want to pursue but don't know where to get started?
The biggest inspiration to me is having role models, and people don't talk about role models enough. I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn’t surround myself with women who had already done it. Put yourself in a room with the smartest women. I always want to be the dumbest woman in the room and I always want to be the poorest, because if you're the smartest and wealthiest person in the room, and those are the two things that are important to you, then you're in the wrong room.
When I was in my twenties, we didn't have Instagram and Facebook. Even though I hate it at times, there are many benefits social media brings. It’s awesome that you can reach out to someone that's already doing cool shit and ask them how they did it specifically. I didn't have that. I would have to just like cold call people or creep on people, but yeah, I have no problem walking up to a woman who is doing something amazing that I want to do, and saying “tell me how you did it”. I don't have an ego about it, because someone's already done it, so why not just ask them?
This reminds me of this podcast on NPR, How I Built This, and it was with Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. She was talking about how she wanted to pursue being a freelance makeup artist but there wasn’t a well-known market for that, so she literally had to write snail mail to the only woman she knew in the field, and she showed up in New York to try to hunt her down to say, “Hey, I want to follow you and learn from you so use me in whatever way you want because I just want to learn.” We are fortunate because now we can just send a DM but you have to be willing to put yourself out there.
What woman inspires you and why?
Well, my mom who weighs about 90 pounds has renovated houses her whole life and I'll tell you two quick stories about my mom. She was in her bathroom and she said “I would love to have a view,” and she got a sledgehammer and knocked the wall down, which I don't really advise other people to do, but she knew where the plumbing was and she knew where the electrical was. She just wanted that view and she saw it. I see potential in places because I know it to be true. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really apply to my relationships to men, but in terms of renovating houses, I can see things that most people don't.
Another story about my mom is she got a quote from a carpenter to do a kitchen renovation for her cabinets and the quote came in really high, so she decided to go and take a beginner woodworking class, then she took the intermediate, and then she took the advanced. She’s not physically as strong as she used to be, but what happened is she ended up having that guy back and drew out exactly what she wanted. She said “If you do it this way, it'll save you $8,000”, and he was like, “You're right”. So, there's a way to figure it out, and if a tree falls in front of her driveway, she can't haul the whole thing, but if she gets out a chainsaw and she cuts it up into smaller pieces, she can move it herself. I think she's been an amazing role model. Also, my auntie was in real estate and she was also an artist who would buy really shitty houses; she saw potential in them and I would always say, “One day I want to be like you”. She was the most confident, dynamic, amazing woman, and I think you know, I'm on my way to being like her.
That’s awesome to have such influential women in your family-very inspiring.
Tell me one book you found to be life changing.
The only one that comes to mind because I read it recently is, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, because that's about a lot more than just things. It's this whole culture of collecting, superficiality, logos, name brands and the showing off of them. It really comes down to emotions and your connection to things. My all time favorite book was Jane Eyre she was a baddass.
You've become a powerhouse in many jobs that are primarily dominated by men. How did you not let that affect you?
The whole concept of fake it till you make it is true and I think I'm a pretty good actress. I'll be sitting in these rooms full of men and I'll be the only woman investor, and I just pretend I don't care even though I do. I think that if you fake it till you make it long enough, you actually end up believing it, so I've been thinking it for a long time now.
But they're probably more intimidated by you..
Yeah, I'm sitting at the big boys table now and I'm playing with some heavy hitters. If they knew that I was scared shitless I probably wouldn't be there.
They don’t need to know that and I’m sure they aren’t going to read this article.
Do you have a favorite quote or life mantra?
Yeah I do, and it's personal to me because I am such a people pleaser. In the past, I have put way too much energy and effort into people that don't deserve it, don't want it, and don't reciprocate it. The thing that I have to constantly remind myself of is that once you feel avoided by someone, never disturb them again. This creates energy for people that actually do deserve your time. I want everyone to be happy & I want everyone to have fun all the time, and I'm constantly putting myself out there, but it can lead to getting rejected and feeling avoided, so I just need to keep it moving.
You are a combination of the top 10 people that you hang out with, and that's like, you know, across-the-board wealth, intelligence, and spirituality. You have to really look at who you spend the most time with, so I don't want to spend time with people that aren't at least my level, and I prefer that they're above it. Not just talking about money, we're talking about, like, anything.
How do you relax or find time to get away from it all and recharge?
I like really, really bad TV shows. Content out there right now is really heavy and the trend is like, murders and these long episodics about cults, and so much darkness that when I want to escape, I just want to watch something stupid. I also go see stand-up comedy every week.