Unconventional Mentor no. 16 - Marjorie Hillis
“You have got to decide what kind of a life you want and then make it for yourself.”
I started this project to turn how we look at mentors on its head. Rather than seeing mentors as people that we needed to meet with and for them to give us their advice, we can in fact seek out people from all places and times and choose what advice we take from them. My Unconventional Mentors are people from all walks of life who, when I learn about their careers and lives, I take advice and inspiration from that I can apply to my own. Most of the advice that I write about is focused on work and careers, but this week I want to feature someone that has inspired how I live my life when I am not working, as who we are when we are not at work can have a huge impact on our careers.
Marjorie Hillis is one of my Unconventional Mentors who speaks to me through time and space. She worked for many years at Vogue in New York and in the 1930s wrote the book ‘Live Alone and Like It’ which was a guide for women “settling down to a solitary existence.” Marjorie makes it clear that the books isn’t particularly for or against living on your own, but that it is likely that you will do it at some point.
“The chances are that at some time in your life, possibly only now and then between husbands, you will find yourself settling down to a solitary existence.”
I have lived on my own for the last seven years, and whilst this is my choice and for the most part, I love my life, there are certain things that I have found hard. Just because we have chosen to do something doesn’t mean that it will always be easy or that we will be happy all of the time. This book has been a great source of guidance and inspiration on how to live well on your own when I have been doubting my choice. I found it at a time when I was very much not liking living alone and there was something about the bracing 1930s tone and sound advice that helped me through my doubt.
The book is full of really good practical advice that, despite the vintage language and references is still really relevant today. There is a whole chapter on saving money and being financially secure as well as decorating your living space and planning your social arrangements. There is advice about making an effort with yourself and your surroundings, even if you are not doing it for someone else, you should be worth doing it for. I hadn’t realised how much I had been taking the view that “it’s only me, so I don’t need to make an effort” approach to so many things, and this in turn was fuelling my low self-esteem and my doubt about living on my own.
“There is a technique about living alone successfully, as there is about doing anything really well.”
The overriding message that Marjorie makes in the book is that you have to make an effort to live alone well. When you live with people there is ready made company and you are often invited to social events with the person you live with. When you live alone, “parties won’t happen unless you plan them, and there won’t be many guests unless you invite them.” The advice from the book includes planning out your weekends, even if that means that you are going to stay home alone, as you will want to make sure you have good food and a good book at hand for company. Each chapter includes examples of lone women who are either living alone very well, or who find themselves rather miserable and act as a warning of what might happen if you don’t follow Marjorie’s advice.
Despite living over 80 years later than when Marjorie was writing her book, it still feels different to be living alone by choice, even though more and more of us are doing it than ever before. There is still the assumption that being paired up and living with someone is best, and there is still a slight unease about socialising with a lone woman. People like you to come as a pair. The book was originally titled ‘Live Alone and Like It - a guide for the extra woman’ and whilst the world we live in today is less formal, couple privilege is very much still a thing. Check out Laura Jane Williams post about it here.
I am not the only one who has been inspired by Marjorie Hillis, Joanna Scutts discovered her book whilst studying at university. She went on to write her dissertation about Marjorie and has now written a book about her and the generation of women who lived alone and liked it. You can find out more about her book here.
Mentor advice: If you want to be good at something you have to work at it
The advice that I take from Marjorie Hillis is that if you want something in life, then you have to work at making it happen. Living alone can be fabulous, but that won’t happen by accident, you have to work at it like you would anything else that you want to be accomplished at.
“The basis of successful living alone is determination to make it successful”
The book is very much focused on living alone, but I think this determined attitude is just as applicable to your work and your career. There has to be that internal drive and determination to succeed at something that makes you put in the hours when you would rather go home and watch TV, that makes you step outside of your comfort zone to take you to the next level. In order to be determined to make something a success you have to have thought about what success looks like and strive for it. This book lives on my bedside table and it has helped me to live alone and love it!