How many hats do you wear in a week? Not the cap or fedora kind, but the invisible ones that represent you stepping into a different role. I have different metaphorical hats for my work as a therapist, coach, marketeer, entrepreneur, wife, friend, daughter, sibling… the list goes on. I’m not a different person when I wear each of these hats, but I do play a slightly different role as different skills are required to be the best version of me in each. I’ve found it’s not a popular thought that we are different versions of our self around different people as that sounds like we aren’t being authentic, but I think there’s a balance to be struck between being adaptable to the needs of situations, whilst still remaining true to our self and our values.
Most days we unconsciously flow between roles and adapt seamlessly, but when there is significant demand from more than one role at a time it can be difficult to make the switch.
As an example, when I’m being Gemma the therapist and coach, I am part listener and part problem solver. People don’t come to see me to simply off-load, they are looking for tools, strategies and inspiration to make changes in their lives. However, I have in the past forgotten that this is a different hat to when sat with friends who do really just want someone to lend them an ear. There’s nothing more annoying than someone jumping in with their ideas for solutions, when all you want is to be listened to. So I now have to quite consciously rein in the problem solver with friends until they indicate that some ideas would be really welcomed.
You may know that as well as a therapist and coach I’m also Head of Marketing for an international charity. That requires me to wear different hats once again. In that role I need to demonstrate my skills in leadership, strategic thinking, creativity and negotiation. If I don’t give myself the opportunity to switch hats when I get home, I can bring that firmer, serious, practical side of me into my relationship and forget the need to soften and be more playful.
So, when it gets to a point where the draws on us from each area of our life all seem to compete and we find it hard to naturally flow from wearing one hat to another, what can we do on a conscious level to help? Here are a few ideas to try out:
Plan in advance
If you know at the start of the week or month that one area of your life is going to be particularly demanding, it will become difficult when you’re in it to make time for anything else. And yet, we’ve all had one of those weeks where we felt like it would be impossible to fit anything else in and then a last minute work demand or home crisis happened and somehow extra time could be found. So, there’s often more time than we realise. Before the demanding period starts, plan in a little time for your family and friends and be strict on yourself about keeping to those plans. You get energy from being around the people you love, so plan in advance when that hat is going to be worn. Equally, if you know you will really struggle to wear more than one hat in a week, communicate with others in advance so they don’t try to call on your time and so you don’t feel guilty about not being able to change that.
Manage your energy
People often talk about managing your time, but it’s just as much about managing your energy. If you want to create more opportunities to do more than just one role, think about when in the day you might have more energy to give to another area of your life. I am not a morning person, so for me the evening is the best time to fit in a skype call with international family or catch up with a friend. But for others, breakfast before work may be the best time to put on the friend hat. If you actually gave yourself a full lunch break, what could you do with that?
Change your environment
The environment around you acts as an anchor to all the skills and feelings required of that particular role. When you walk into your place of work, you have visual cues all around you of the version of you that you need to be. So if you’re trying to fit in something that requires a different hat, it can be hard to do it in a conflicting environment. I am writing this blog post during my lunch break, but I tried doing it at the same desk I’ve been writing a strategy paper at all morning, and I couldn’t get the creative juices going. So I’m now writing this from the garden where I’m surround by sights, sounds and smells of a different part of me. It’s for this same reason that companies do ‘away days’, because a different environment helps us to access different parts of our self. Wearing different clothes works much the same, so simply changing your top after work before meeting a friend can help you shift your attitude.
Try to wear one hat at a time
It’s a great skill to be able to adapt to the demands of our various roles, and even more so to carry out multiple ones at the same time. I am in awe of people who can seamlessly switch from awesome parent to hilarious friend. But if several areas of your life peak in demand at the same time, it will be worth segmenting them. Switching off your work emails when you’re on a weekend away, turning off Facebook notifications when at work, setting expectations with your friends that you’re focussing on your partner for the night, are all ways of ensuring that you give and get the most out of each situation.
Remember to make time for ‘you’
One hat we’ve not explored yet in this article is the one you wear when you are just focussing on you. It’s probably the one that sits dusty at the back of the wardrobe, but it’s a really important one. When the rest of life is demanding, you may not think you have time to add ‘you time’ to your schedule. But you cannot pour from an empty cup, so it’s not selfish to go for that run, have that extra hour in bed, or drink that coffee in peace, because those activities help to relieve stress, improve your mental clarity and boost your energy levels and immune system – and then you can be more engaged and productive the rest of the time. Someone once told me that to stop you trying to fit anything else into your ‘you time’ you should enter it into your diary as a meeting with someone you’d never consider cancelling on. If you had ‘Meeting with David Attenborough’ in your calendar, would you change plans? That way the time is ring-fenced and you can ensure you make the most of it.
I hope you’ve found a few new ideas in this post. I’d love to know what you do to help you change hats and gain a good balance between your roles. Join the conversation on my Instagram @The_Peer_Coach.