Unconventional Mentors no. 3 - Kate Bolick

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Spinster by Kate Bolick

Spinster by Kate Bolick

Kate Bolick is an American journalist who is a contributing editor for The Atlantic, and also writes for The New York Times, Vogue, Slate and other publications. She teaches writing at New York University and since the publication of her book Spinster in 2015 she has become a role model for single women everywhere, reclaiming a once derogatory term into an empowering statement of independence.

Kate Bolick’s book Spinster, is a book that changed how I see my life and also one of the inspirations for me starting this project. The book is part memoir, part commentary on the history of the spinster and part biography of five amazing and interesting women who lived mostly single lives. Kate’s Awakeners, as she calls the five women writers that she features in her book, have been her go to place for guidance and advice about the choices she is making in her life. The book tells the story of Kate’s journey from always being in relationships to forging a life on her own, reclaiming the word Spinster along the way. What I loved about it was the way her work and her life intertwined, one informing the other and together it forms part of her identity. Unconventional Mentors is very much about a project about finding advice and inspiration for your career, but it isn’t always straightforward to compartmentalise your time into work and the rest of your life, everything is intertwined. I also loved the ideas of her Awakeners. I’ve always looked to the stories and lives of women for reassurance in my own choices and for inspiration on how to live a fuller life, so to see it written about so eloquently really spoke to me.

“Those of us who’ve bypassed the exits for marriage and children tend to motor through our thirties like unlicensed drivers, unauthorized grownups.” 

As a woman who hasn’t married and hasn’t had children I often feel that the stories I see in the world around me, on television, in film, in writing, don’t speak to me. To have a whole book about women not doing the two things that society expects us to do is rare and very much needed. I am so happy about my choices and feel that I am living a life that is true to me, but at times, when my choices are not the norm, it can feel like I am the odd one out, so books like this are so important. To ensure the stories of women who have made different choices are told.

Mentor advice: Build the life that you want for yourself

The advice that I take from Kate Bolick is, in your career, in your life, make the choices and build a life that you want for yourself. Kate talks about the choices that she felt that she should make and the realisation that this wasn’t what she wanted and nothing was going to change unless she changed it. Another quote from Spinster is that “few realizations are as demoralizing as knowing that the only thing standing between you and what you want is yourself.” This idea is both scary and empowering at the same time. Kate listened to what was true for her, made a bold choice to leave behind what was expected of her, what she expected of herself and started to live a life true to herself. What could be more rewarding?

You can find out more about Kate Bolick and her book Spinster here and look out on my Instagram account this week for quotes from Kate’s five Awakeners.

Unconventional Mentor no. 2 - Hedy Lamarr

"The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think" - Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr quote promoting the film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Hedy Lamarr quote promoting the film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story

Growing up I always thought that you could be pretty, or you could be clever but you couldn’t be both. And as I didn’t have looks on my side I opted to try to be clever, to throw myself at books and music and culture and studying rather than my appearance. I got rather a rude awakening when I discovered that you could be both, meeting some very pretty and very clever women at university, I was left feeling lacking all round.  But I had never considered what it would be like to not be taken seriously for your brains because of your beauty. This was a challenge that faced Hedy Lemarr.

Called the “the most beautiful woman in the world” in her day, she was a beautiful and successful film actress who had so much more to offer the world. Her brain whizzed at 100 miles per hour and she was continuously problem solving and inventing. She was signed to MGM in 1937 and made films throughout the 1940s and 50s. During the second world war she wanted to help out with the war effort. She was encouraged to utilise her looks to sell war bonds to thousands of adoring fans but her real passion was in the development of secure radio communication. Along with her friend, the composer and pianist George Antheil, she developed a frequency hopping radio system that they patented in 1942. Her idea was used by the US military during the second world war, but Hedy wasn’t credited for it or paid. 

Bombshell screening.JPG

I was lucky enough to go to a screening of the film Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story early this year, which documents the struggle Hedy faced to be taken seriously for her intelligence and the struggle to get the recognition for her work too. There is an excellent interview with the director Alexandra Dean, where she talks about the challenges making the film and ensuring that Hedy’s voice comes through (see link below). It is an excellent documentary and you get to hear Hedy Lamarr’s own words about her life from an interview she did for Forbes magazine in 1990. 

Hedy was a very sad figure later in life, estranged from her children and secluded from the world. She had undergone a lot of cosmetic surgery to maintain her looks that she was so highly praised for at the height of her career. I can’t help but think that if she had received the recognition for her intellect and her inventions that her looks wouldn’t have been so important and she could have had a much happier later life. 

Mentor advice: Make sure you see the whole person

The advice I take from Hedy Lamar is to not let your judgments and preconceptions about the world get in the way of seeing the potential in others (and yourself). Hedy embraced curiosity, and this led her to discover a technology that exists today in the form of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. So many people just saw her as a beautiful woman with nothing else to offer, but she was incredibly clever and has played a part in the technology you are using today to read this article. If she had listened to her critics and just utilised her looks to sell war bonds the world might be a very different place. As I meet new people at work and in life, it is very easy to make judgements about them based on the superficial things we know about them, but dig a little deeper and people usually have a lot more to offer that might surprise you. 

You can get Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story on itunes and you can find out more about Alexandra Dean here  and read the article here.