I saw it the moment she changed her mind.
I was sitting across from a potential client I was pursuing for my design consultancy, and I saw the moment I changed in her eyes—and I got refiled from an equity-focused design consultant to a womens’ empowerment coach.
In that moment, I wished I could just rewind the tape and never get on that conversational fork in the road that lead me to describe the other hat I wear—the one you all know me best for—teaching career advancement programs for ambitious creative women.
But it was so hard not to! My brain naturally wanted to go down that road—I think about women’s career advancement all the time, and absolutely believe it’s connected to designing more equitable places!
But when all is said and done, in that moment, a new contact—one who represented a big client and a potential big contract down the road—saw me differently, and I became someone who could help her think about how to advance her career, rather than a potential hire for their next big project.
We like things that fit in boxes. We like to know where to ‘file people.’ And we only have so much mental space allocated for people who aren’t, you know, us…… So when it’s hard to slap a twitter-length explanation of who someone is and what they do on them, we struggle to know what to do with them.
And there’s a cost to this. Because when we don’t have that ‘shorthand,’ we don’t think of them when opportunities come along that might fit them—when we launch that new project with room for their skills, or need a speaker for the event, or a person to lead the division.
Now this can be a big issue if you wear more than one hat. Because not only is it hard for someone to “file you away as a filmmaker/engineer/circus acrobat, but it’s also hard to sometimes know which hat you should wear in any given situation. And it’s tiring. Sometimes it feels like you have to move from one context to another, again and again.
I don’t think I’ll ever wear just one hat. Even if I were to run just one business, I can’t imagine a world in which I’m not painting, learning ceramics or taking an improv class in my free time. But after that client meeting went off the tracks, I decided I needed to be more intentional about my overlap and my approach. Here are the rules of thumb I developed.
1. Define what you’re looking for with each hat you wear. It’s hard to advocate for yourself if you don’t know what you want. Come up with one or two things you want most in each area—to be in a solo or group show for your painting? To be known for your expertise in a certain area in order to line up a promotion? Introductions to potential writing collaborators?
2. Decide which hat to wear with people beforehand. Before you meet a potential connection, or go to a networking event, decide which hat will be your primary hat for the day. Don’t overthink this. What do you think this person or group can help you with most? Resist the urge to feel like people need to ‘get’ the whole you. You are the whole you.
3. Always keep your other hats subservient to your ‘main dish’ at the time. If any the ‘hats’ you’re not currently wearing come up in conversation, make a game time decision—is this contact or context a better fit to get you closer to your goals for another hat? If so, switch. If not, make the other hat look like a subservient point to your main hat. “My improvisational dance? It’s useful to my writing practice, because it helps me write more convincing scenes from physical and spatial perspectives.” Or something you do on the side. “When I have a little time on the weekends, I love to forage for wild herbs.”
A multipassionate once told me that being one of those people who do only one thing “would be like cutting off an arm.” This isn’t that.
This is recognizing that you are multifaceted—and just like a jewel in a ring—only a few of those facets face us at any given time.
This is about you being intentional about what that facet is going to be, so that you can be present in any given social situation, without that distracting ‘who am I?’ mind chatter, and so you can set yourself up for the opportunities you want.