Are You Defined by the Hats You Wear?
It’s an old expression that we often have to wear ‘different hats’ to deal with different situations or phases in our lives, but the big question is ‘Are you defined by the hats you wear?’
Let’s explore the different hats we wear and how they can impact on how we see ourselves, or how we feel about our various roles.
Are You Defined by What You Do for a Living?
What is the first thing we tend to ask people when we first meet them, so that we can try to understand more about them. Apart from chat up situations, like ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ or as it used to be back in my younger days ‘Would you like to dance, love?’ (and yes, I only said that to young ladies!), you’d probably ask this ‘pigeon-holing’ question, ‘So, what do you do?’ (meaning for a living, to earn a crust etc.)
When I reflect on my career to date, I can say that I’ve worn an insane amount of hats (metaphorically at least). I’ve done things as diverse as potato planting, to running a backpackers hostel, to being an author, film producer and coach. I actually came up with a list of about 50 different roles but my wife said I’d just bore everyone to death with it, and this is isn’t all about me! The least appealing was probably being an aircraft cleaner, part of which involved replacing the ‘dunny bucket’ with one that had fresh chemicals in it. Some observers might have said that I had a ‘shitty job’ but I loved it. I was working on the airport apron, driving around in unusual vehicles, wearing red overalls and watching all these tourists arriving from everywhere. As a people-watcher, I loved it all – the smell of the aviation fuel, the camaraderie of the aircraft mechanics and their banter, and of course the pocket money I was earning as a 17 year-old, doing a Summer holiday job. No wonder I later gained a Pilot’s Licence at 19.
You can see that I’ve had a very varied and interesting life and that some of these hats are so different, that it would suggest that although I might define myself as adaptable and resourceful, there are many more nuances to the possible choice of conclusions.
Q. What different jobs have you had and how did you feel about them, and/or yourself when you told people what you did for a living?
In some respects, I have probably just been slightly ahead of the changing times in workplace protocols, i.e., that the days of having a one-job career are gone. You don’t often hear of people being presented with the ‘gold watch’ for long service anymore. Even your geographical upbringing no longer limits you as it did for example with miners who worked at the local pit, whose dad had been a miner, as had his dad before him. It’s now sometimes regarded as a negative if you’ve been at the same place in the same job for too long.
If you’re especially good at your job and you enjoy great achievements, it may be what people remember you for, but did those successes ‘define’ you? No, I’d say they were just achievements, but they only scratched the surface of who you are.
Consider Sir Alex Ferguson, legendary Manager of Manchester United Football Club for over 26 years, who won more trophies in his sparkling career than any other Manager. Yes, that is what many will remember him for, but there are equally many stories of human emotions – the people to whom he reached out to influence, inspire or uplift them at difficult times in their lives, and where significantly, he had nothing personally to gain from the exchange, other than knowing that he had passed on some of his wisdom to someone who needed it.
Conversely, Harvey Weinstein was revered as a top-class film producer for years, but stories then finally leaked about his alleged acts as a sexual predator, culminating in the establishment of the famous ‘Me too’ movement that spread around the world.
So, if a job is just something you do, then…
Are You Defined by Your Relationships?
In my life so far, I’ve worn the relationship hats and titles of Son; Grandson; Nephew; Brother; Fiancé; Husband; Parent; Ex; Uncle and Grandparent, plus of course Acquaintance and Friend.
These certainly have an impact on you and on your contributions, obligations and duties, but do any of them singularly define you? I’d say no, because just like occupations, they too can and do change as generations are born and pass away. We are therefore constantly changing and evolving as we pass through life’s stages.
We have all heard I’m sure that ‘birds of a feather flock together’, and that you should choose carefully the people with whom you associate. I’d certainly agree that if you aspire to be better, to learn more, then it makes absolute sense to choose relationships with people who can uplift, teach, encourage and inspire you, not those who will aim to drag you down to their level so they can feel better about their own shortcomings.
You might have friends, mentors and even acquaintances who contribute to elements of who you are, but relationships, like jobs, are like chapters of a book, or scenes in a movie. They contribute to the story; they speed things up or slow things down; they add or subtract aspects of what makes up your character, but they don’t necessarily ‘define’ you.
So, in itself, acting a role doesn’t define you, but if you choose the role of a ‘better you’, evidence suggests strongly that you will start to become the better version of you that you aspire to be. If you lack courage, then acting the role of someone courageous will start to impact on your belief system. If you aspire to become a millionaire, start to be the way they are, start to think like one, start to do the things they do.
People like Gandhi, Mandela, Dr Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa would have chosen to be around people who held the beliefs and attitudes to which they aspired, and we know how those stories turned out.
So, if your ‘job hat’ doesn’t define who you are, and your relationships don’t fully define you either, then…
Have You Worn Other Hats to Parties etc. and Did They Define You?
Absolutely! I’ve dressed up as a Pirate; a Cowboy and an Indian; I’ve worn a tin foil hat (no idea what that’s called!); I won a fancy dress prize wearing Adam Ant’s Tricorn; I’ve donned King Arthur’s Crown; a Policeman (not the sort who lap dances – get your minds out of that gutter!); I’ve been a Burlesque singer; I’ve worn Sherlock Holmes’ Deer stalker; I’ve been the guy from CSI; a Harlem Pimp; a Tramp; an Arab Sheikh; I’ve worn Pilot’s headphones and I’ve been a dancing teddy bear.
Q. What characters have you dressed up as, and did wearing a different hat redefine you in some way?
Did any of those on my list above define me? My friends might amusingly argue the case, but I think they were just temporary roles. It was argued that for example, Heath Ledger was psychologically negatively impacted by his role of the Joker in the Batman movie, but did that redefine him sufficiently to cause his premature demise? It may have been a factor, but there were many other heartaches and troubles that coincided in his life at the time.
So, if party hats and dress up roles are simply temporary, then…
Do Your Social or Community Roles Define You?
As with the previous paragraphs, people will remember you for your contributions, for the selfless pursuits, for the aid you gave others, but did those actions define you?
I’d argue that they have all contributed to the definition of ‘You’, but in isolation, they don’t define you. People often have their own agendas for taking on social or community roles and some of the people who may be thought to be benefactors and good guys, could be using it as a front to divert attention from other aspects of their personalities or business dealings.
Q. Which community service hats have you worn and did you feel that any of them defined you?
In truth, most people are primarily motivated by good old WIIFM (What’s in it for Me), then they justify it with how they’re helping others. Is there anything wrong with that? That’s a topic for a lengthy debate, because even an act of selflessness could include an element of selfishness. For instance, when we give a Christmas present and see the joy in the receiver, we’re also being rewarded with the good feelings of being appreciated, or loved, or even significant! That’s not being cynical, it’s simply observing that there is always an exchange of energy.
So, if none of the afore-mentioned ‘hats’ sum you up, then…
Are You Defined by Your Achievements or Your Setbacks?
In both cases, I have way too many to list for you here!
These experiences, and especially the traumatic events or conversely, so-called ‘Kodak moments’ certainly impact on your psyche, but do they define you as a person?
My contention is that they absolutely contribute elements of who you are, but, and this is a significant but, they only ‘define you’ if you choose to allow them to.
This might seem contentious, but I’ll cite the example of one of my family members who was raped as a young woman on holiday in Greece. Her comments as relayed to me, will forever inspire me. She said ‘I’m not going to allow that traumatic act to define who I am as a person. I’m not going to spend my life being ‘the victim’. If I do that, then he’s won and I lose.’ She chose instead to forgive the perpetrator. She went on to a career in social services, helping people in need.
Our traumas and our achievements are all snapshots of a moment in time. They are things we experience, but we are the ones who label them as ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Their memories may linger for the rest of our lives, but the meaning we attach to them is entirely our prerogative.
Q. Which achievements are you most proud of and how did they empower you? Which setbacks have really impacted on you and were they able to positively redefine you in some way?
Even though the hats of different experiences can help shape our character, when taken separately or in the fullness of time, they may not truly define you. So, here are…
A Few of My Further Thoughts on the Question of ‘Are You Defined by the Hats You Wear?
My number one thought is that ‘You define You’. You do so through the meaning you attach to the events of your life; through the billions of small choices that you make throughout your life; through the daily actions that you choose, such as whether to disempower others or empower them, to take or to give.
Others may try to define you, particularly in a dominant and abusive way, though not always to put you down, but often to try to overcome their own accumulated pain, whether from their own life experiences or from generational pain – yes you inherit the pain of your ancestors. That’s a deeper topic for a different blog.
The other key point to remember is that yesterday is gone, tomorrow is promised to none of us, and all we have is the present.
Your past only defines you if you let it. You can’t change it, though you can learn from it. You can plan for the future and yes, you can visualise it. I recommend that you do visualise the future that you want, because that’s what drives your actions in the present, but don’t be too attached to that ideal vision because the Universe may throw you some curve balls for the journey, and that’s ok too. Trust the Universe – it has your back.
Nelson Mandela spent 26 years in prison because he visualised an Apartheid-free South Africa, but he chose ‘the long walk to freedom’. Dr King inspired not only people of colour, but all who were persecuted, to seek equal opportunity and justice. He gave his life for that cause. Lincoln suffered personal tragedies galore and defeat after defeat as he moulded himself into one of the greatest statesmen in history. Do you think these people had doubts along the way? Do you think they had dark moments of introspection? My bet is that they did, because they were all human.
Be aware of the distinction between other people’s ‘opinion’ of you and the real you. They don’t really know you – they’re basing their opinion on glimpses of you, or on gossip or hearsay, and it’s coloured by their own beliefs and agendas.
Equally, and this is really important, be aware of the distinction between your ‘inner critic’s’ definition of you and the real you. Our inner critic has the good and important role of keeping us safe from danger, from criticism, from risking failing and so on. In doing so, however, it will also remind us of our past failures, or our lack of skills, or the risks of embracing change. It is not you. It is the voice within you that tells you not to risk failing; not to put yourself out there; and to play it safe, because that’s familiar and comfortable. It wants you to be defined by what it knows, or holds to be true,and that is based on historical evidence. It also takes way too much notice of other people’s opinions and incorrect assumptions!
If we had listened to that voice too submissively, we would never have walked, because it’s easier to sit than to fall over; we’d never have ridden a bike for the same reason; we’d never have taken a job or made a speech. In fact, we wouldn’t have become the person we are today.
The hat you choose to wear right now, in this moment, is yours to choose. The fears don’t cease to exist, at least until you act despite them and prove them wrong. Your past does not have to equal your future.
So, my advice today, is to find somewhere quiet where you can sit and reflect. I recommend somewhere in nature because that will help ground you. Grab a journal, if you’re that way inclined and write down your thoughts and feelings. Decide on how you will choose to define yourself, in all aspects of your life, then go and earn that reality through your daily actions.
Oh, and one more thing. There WILL be tests and setbacks and curve balls. That’s a given, but they don’t define you, not even your creator does – only you do. So, embrace change, choose the hats you want and how you will wear them and most importantly, why you choose to wear them.