by Holly Mickelson
As a kid, I remember adults were always asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be lots of things: a meteorologist, a famous chef, a marine biologist or a jockey. I remember how annoying it was when adults smirked at my answers, not understanding why they thought my dreams seemed so far-fetched. I thought you just grew up and poof! You would magically become the thing you were destined to be.
Sadly, on my eighteenth birthday, fairies did not gift me with any of my dream careers. And although I have not (yet) become any of the glamourous things I imagined, I’m ok with that.
Perhaps related to that, when people ask me today what I do for a living, I find it hard to answer. It’s difficult to classify all that I do under one simple title. My responsibilities borrow elements from many jobs – writer, translator, editor and proofreader – but also rely heavily on my experience as an American, escaped academic and pop culture fan. As far as I know, no degree program in the world will teach you what I do. Fairies aren’t much help either.
In short, I’d say my eclectic series of work and life experiences have done much to shape how I approach problems and challenges. I’ve learned how to apply information gleaned elsewhere to related tasks. I stay flexible, and I’ve adopted a little trick – I imagine a duty-specific hat for each general task to help keep me focused.
Ode to my thinking cap
Back about the same time adults were asking me what I wanted to be, I met my favorite elementary school teacher, Ms. Secord. Her enthusiasm and unwavering faith in us went a long way in shaping how I later thought about school in general and learning in particular. She also gave me the first invisible hat I consciously wore: we folded and decorated paper hats – “thinking caps” – which we dutifully perched on our heads for various lessons.
While I no longer require a paper thinking cap, I do find it helpful to mentally prepare for whatever task I’m about to tackle by visualizing the breadth of my responsibilities and the process I need to follow to be efficient. I have a whole rack of invisible hats in the office – some are jaunty, such as my copywriting hat, others are business-like. And some are stereotypical, such as my American expert hat – a Stetson, of course.
To keep up with my own job’s requirements, I switch out hats depending on what I have to accomplish that day – writing, translating, meeting with customers. Other hats making a regular appearance at work are my English native-speaker bowler or my cooperative team-player cap. I’ve also got my mom-hat, but that one’s tattooed on.
A hat for the modern world
I don’t think I’m alone in the hat-wearing trend, by the way. Contemporary job descriptions are rarely as straightforward as an eight-year-old might hope. Gone are the days when office workers clocked in and performed one task for eight hours, and then clocked out, only to come back and do it again the next day. The workplace and the nature of work have changed, which means workers in all walks of life have had to change as well. We won’t even go into trying to strike work-life balance here – that deserves its own post.
By necessity, we’ve all become multitaskers. Sure, I go to the office, but I don’t just sit at my desk and stare at my computer screen for eight hours. (Well, usually I don’t.) By default, I am also my own IT specialist. I can make my own coffee. I can research anything and manage my own projects. Personally, I like the variety, and actively seek it out – and the same is true of more and more people joining the workforce in the 21st century.
And, if I feel the need to don a mental hat, well, that’s my business. Until today, my boss probably didn’t know about that.
Admittedly, some days it’s difficult to decide which hat to put on first. Am I proofreading today, or translating? Oops, neither – I’m editing. After that I need to write a blog post. Once again, I need to be fully conscious of which hat I’m wearing at any given moment, and wear it confidently.
Easily said, but how is that working out for me?
When life gives you many hats, become a milliner
Recently I took on a copywriting job for a new client. It’s the kind of work I absolutely love, and I’m good at it – but doing it requires my having unerring faith in my own skills. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever had to throw out new and fresh ideas to the big wide world. Even if your ideas are brilliant, sometimes you still have to work hard to sell them. So you need a big, confident, overblown hat.
In order to write convincing copy, I must fully understand the dynamics of the task: Who is my customer and what image do they wish to portray? Who is my customer’s target audience, and what do they need? In what form will this text appear?
But I have to stay flexible, too. Even if my ideas are earth-shatteringly good, they might not be the best fit for the customer. I have to be able to listen to criticism and then go back and apply it, even if it means starting from scratch.
I suppose in some ways I’m more than just a hat-wearing professional. I’ve become my own milliner too. I can add a feather here, or widen the rim, or change the color to suit. It’s a useful learned skill. Is the same true for you?