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To the Woman Who Wears Many Hats: Does Your Neck Hurt?

Blair Cohen

I have to admit something—I have been getting into fashion hats. It all started with one of my best friends, Abbey. She’s always been the friend that has pushed me to be more daring, speak my mind, or take that crazy chance. This time, it ended with me buying a fashion hat.

As I was unboxing my hat, I noticed a quote on the packaging: “To the women who wear many hats and embrace them all.” It caused me to pause and think—how many hats do I wear? How many does the average women wear? Do they stack on top of each other, or do we switch them based on whatever priority takes precedent at that exact moment?

My different “hats” are all distinct parts of my identity. I’m a writer, a comedian, a daughter, a friend, a wife, a dog mom, the list goes on. And when we start folding various identities into one another, things can get messy—but there are some benefits.

When Personal and Professional Meld

At Relativity, I bring my authentic self to work, for better or worse. Being myself allows me to push the boundaries of my job description. I crack jokes during the Innovation Awards and create horoscopes for our different customer types. I once even hosted a roast of one of our executives (a story for another blog). These opportunities would never have been possible if I didn’t show up each day as me. Putting your true self out there can reap benefits.

A lot of working mothers have trepidation in sharing their needs as they balance two of their different hats—being a mom and a professional. It goes back to women and under-represented groups having to always excel and operate at 110 percent. If they don't, their competency is questioned. If a female professional's “mom hat” peeks out during work, she may worry how others perceive her competence as a professional.

“Being a mother to two young children, my colleagues flood me with support,” a colleague shared with me. “By voicing my needs, I bring my best to both aspects of my life.”

As I have shared previously, I have both major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety. They are two different hats I wear daily. There was a time when whenever my manager pinged me for a quick chat, I thought I was getting fired. Over time, I learned that I needed to share the different hats I wear with my team. It helps my colleagues meet me where I’m at. My managers adjust their management style to help ease my anxiety. Sharing my journey with anxiety and depression has also created a community of like-minded colleagues at work—a community resource group called RelMind.

When we share what makes us unique with our colleagues, we create community. I have lifelong friendships with some of the people I work with, and I wouldn’t have had those relationships if I wasn’t 100 percent me at work. However, there have been times when being my completely authentic self at work hasn’t served me well.

Distinction Isn’t Always Bad

I majored in social work, and a professor shared a story that has resonated with me over the years that speaks to the need to put on different hats at different times. In social work, professionals often make house calls to homes that aren’t the cleanest, leading many social workers to keep a change of clothes in the car. When my teacher got home, she typically changed clothes immediately. Over the years, she started to loosen this boundary a bit, doing a couple of chores before getting into comfy clothes. One day, she was doing chores after work and her then 5-year-old son came to her crying. “Please take off the mean mommy pants! Put the nice mommy pants on!”

My teacher was blending her personal and professional lives together. Her child was able tell when his mom was stacking her professional and personal “hats”—though in this case, it was her pants. This is when it’s important to keep those different identities separate. When we lack the distinction between personal and professional, it becomes difficult to create and maintain boundaries.

Finding a Happy Medium with Boundaries

You can’t completely leave your identity at the door when it comes to work. For me, the task is quite literally impossible. The different hats we wear define who we are and how we navigate the world. Boundaries have been crucial for me as I’ve grown in my career. Before, whenever I got feedback on my work, it felt like a direct hit to me personally. If things weren’t going well at work, they wouldn't go well in my personal life. To avoid burnout and be my happiest self both at work and in my personal life, I implemented some boundaries, including:

Set time limits—and stick to them. With the transition to remote work, a lot of us found ourselves not leaving our home “offices” for hours on end. Set your hours, communicate them with your team, and honor the hours you set for yourself.

Cultivate your life outside of work. Sometimes work can be all-encompassing. When we have a big project running close to a deadline or a big event approaching, it can feel like the rest of the world fades away and work takes priority. Having relationships outside of work gives you perspective. And if something doesn’t go according to plan at work, you can lean on that network to support you. So, you sent an email with a typo in it? Life goes on!

Make room for “me” time. Prioritizing yourself can easily fall to the wayside. When we don’t create time for ourselves, burnout is inevitable—creating impactful work feels impossible, and the smallest tasks feel like mountains. To avoid burnout, take your lunch break, take mental breaks throughout the day, and take time off.

Managing the different hats we wear in life is tricky, especially when we pile them on top of each other. I encourage you to take a couple hats off and hang them up from time to time. And most importantly, always buy that fashion hat you’ve been eyeing.

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Blair Cohen is a brand program manager at Relativity, representing the company with enthusiasm, authenticity, and her flair for humor. When she isn't shining a light on women in tech via Stellar Women or cracking jokes on the main stage at Relativity Fest, you can find her running around Chicago finding the best places to eat with her dog, Goose.