Unconventional Mentors - The Halfway Point

Who would your ideal mentor be?

Who would your ideal mentor be?

Unconventional Mentors – The half way point

When I started this project last year, I decided that I would do it for 12 months, and this week marks the half way point. I thought it would be a good chance to take stock of the people that I have mentioned so far and have a look at the advice I have been taking from my Unconventional Mentors.

The project is quite simple, each week I pick a person that has influenced my life, an Unconventional Mentor, and I talk about how they have inspired me and the advice that I have chosen to take from them.

These are the 26 people I have written about so far

Lee Miller

Hedy Lamarr

Kate Bolick

Hannah Gadsby

Nicole Antoinette

Millicent Fawcett

Ava DuVernay

Brene Brown

Marie Colvin

Emily Warren Roebling

Marin Alsop

Amelia Earhart

Sylvia Plath

Ninette de Valois

Marjorie Hillis

Candice Braithwaite

Beth Chatto

Ella Fitzgerald

Daphne Du Maurier

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Dorothy Parker

404 Ink

Judy Garland

Moira Stuart

Edith Head

As well as writing about these people who have inspired and motivated me in my work, I have also sought out quotes from people who have something in common with my main Unconventional Mentor, which means that I have featured a further 130 people. This is possibly my favourite part of this project as I have discovered lots of new and interesting people that I had never heard of before, but who have achieved incredible things and, in many cases, not had their work widely shared.

What do my Unconventional Mentors have in common? They are all women, they have often been pioneering in the work that they do or challenging the norms of what was expected for them. They are definitely not afraid to be different and they all held a passionate belief that the work they were doing was important and that their voice needed to be heard. They have all approached their challenges in different ways and I have taken all sorts of different advice and inspiration from them.

It’s hard to have favourites, as each of these women have inspired me in different ways at different times in my life, but I have selected my Top 5 Unconventional Mentors that I have posted so far and reflected on the advice that I have taken from them.

“Other people tend to value you the way you value yourself” - Lee Miller

Lee Miller was the first person that I featured, and she is someone who I keep returning back to. I’m planning a couple of visits to her house, Farley’s Farm House, later this year and I’m continuing to be inspired by her as I forge a new career and work identity for myself. The way that she reinvented herself from model, to photographer, to mother, to society hostess, to chef made me realise that I can change my career as many times as I like and it doesn’t make me a failure.

The advice I take from Lee Miller is that you can change your mind about who you want to be. The quote I chose for her post “other people tend to value you the way you value yourself” is at the heart of the advice that I take from Lee Miller, and also this project. It is so easy to get hung up about what other people think about you, or what the right thing to do is, that you can forget that you need to do what is right for you. No-one else is going to put you first if you don’t even put yourself first. If you know your own self-worth, if you value yourself then the choices you make in life will always be right for you.  

“Bravery is not being afraid to be afraid.” - Marie Colvin

Since writing about Marie Colvin back in November of last year I have watched the incredibly moving documentary about her, Under the Wire, by Paul Conroy who was with her in Syria when she was killed. The film brought me to tears at how horrific the situation in Baba Amr was and just how determined Marie Colvin was to tell these people’s stories. It gave me a whole new level of appreciation for the work that she did and that many journalists continue to do today reporting on conflicts around the world.

The advice that I take from Marie Colvin is that you need to take risks for the things you believe in. It is hard not to be inspired by Marie and want to put yourself out into the world a bit more when you look at how she lived her life. It makes you realise that it is no good staying at home and hoping that things will change, you have to get out into the world and risk things not working out. The risks I take in my career are nothing like the risk of going into a war zone, they might just make me a bit uncomfortable. The risk of saying aloud something I want to achieve and failing to be successful. The risk of asking someone to get involved in project and them saying no. The risk of putting my work out into the world and it being critiqued, disliked or just ignored. None of these things are pleasant and they are a possibility, but they are not the end of the world and the successes I might achieve from taking a risk could be huge. The next time I am worried about taking a risk I will think of Marie and just go for it.

“I hate writing, I love having written.” - Dorothy Parker

This quote from Dorothy Parker really resonated with me. There are many parts of the work that I do that I am slow to get started on because I just don’t like doing them, but I love having done them. It was really reassuring to read that a great writer like Dorothy Parker didn’t always enjoy the process too.

The advice I take from Dorothy Parker is to focus on the outcome of your work, not the act of doing it. Sitting down to write, or to do anything that will take your career and business forward isn’t always going to feel good. In fact, a lot of the time it will feel like a struggle, hard work, difficult, scary or even just boring. This quote “I hate writing, I love having written.” really captures the feeling that I have about so many things I work on. I don’t always like doing them in the moment, but I love the feeling of having done them. If we only ever did work that we really enjoyed, then we would likely not achieve very much at all. I also find this quote helpful as we are often encouraged to do work that we love and to find something we are passionate about. This implies that we should always enjoy what we do and love every part of it. That is an unrealistic expectation to have, but knowing that it won’t always feel great, and you might even hate it, can be the encouragement you need to push through to do the work and be able to look back and love having done it.

“It helps to have those that look like you occupying all spaces and doing all things to genuinely galvanise you into believing that you too can do something.” - Candice Brathwaite

Candice Brathwaite continues to be one of my favourite Instagram accounts to follow. The year has only just begun and already Candice has achieved some incredible things this year, speaking on panels, doing paid promotions with brands and all the while being honest with her followers about what feels good and what is challenging.

The advice that I take from Candice Brathwaite is that you have to believe in yourself, even when things seem to be going against you. Candice talks about her big goals and dreams, even when things don’t work out quite how she had hoped. Two of her recent posts really sum this up. The first is a post on Instagram about her being turned down for a blue tick, being told she wasn’t important enough. Instead of seeing this as a failure, Candice took it as a call to work harder. The second post was from her blog where Candice reflected on her two Tea Time live events that took place a year apart. One was in the basement of a venue in Crystal Palace, the other, held a year later, at Mortimer House, a very swanky venue in central London. Candice took the energy from the success of her first event, knew that she could make it bigger and better and worked towards doing it. She was gracious about the things that she hadn’t done well or could have done differently, and she used these to make a plan. Believing in her vision and putting the work in to make that second event a huge success. I love this approach Candice has towards to her work and I hope to channel a little bit of it for myself in 2019.

"There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself" - Hannah Gadsby

One of my favourite Unconventional Mentors is Hannah Gadsby, who I featured right back at the beginning of this project in September last year. Her show Nanette was one of the most powerful things I have watched, and it makes me cry every time I rewatch it. Excitingly, she has written a new show called Douglas, “Who is Douglas? Well, apparently, Gadsby thinks he is the only one who can help her follow up on the trail blazed by her last show: Nanette.” I’ve signed up to be notified when the UK dates are announced and I’m so excited to see what she does next.

The advice that I take from Hannah Gadsby is that your story has value and should be told. The whole premise of Nanette (without spoiling it for you) is that for a long time Hannah’s comedy has been rooted in being self-deprecating, but this really isn’t a healthy thing to do. The big reveal of the show is that Hannah has been telling the stories of her life as jokes, but only sharing half of the story and this has come to define her. Rather than dealing with the trauma she has faced, she turned it into a joke, and she is now realising that this is not serving her. Towards the end of the show she shares the true outcomes of the jokes she had shared at the start and it reduced me to tears. I don’t cry much at films or TV programmes, but her story hit me so hard I just burst into tears. Hannah has realised that her story has value, that it deserves to be heard. She tells us that all of our stories deserve to be heard, particularly as there may be someone out there who relates to our story and upon hearing it, seeing how we live our lives, they might just feel less alone.

Those are my top 5 Unconventional Mentors so far. I have another 26 people to write about and to share with you the advice that I take from. I’d love to hear who your Unconventional Mentors are, who the people that you take advice and inspiration from that might not seem like an obvious person to be influenced by?

Laura Cloke