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Toolbox vs. Hats: Celebrate your Whole Self

“I wear many hats.”

I hear this a lot, especially from women: “I wear many hats. I have to play different roles for different people.” But something about this idea has been bothering me lately. It’s not that I don’t get it—oh, I get it. I feel it. I have lived that way for years and years. But something about the way that statement sits doesn’t work for me anymore. That’s because it emphasizes a compartmentalized way of living. And the idea of being compartmentalized doesn’t empower me. It doesn’t help me feel like a whole, dynamic person.

I believe the way we talk about ourselves matters. Our narrative, our mindset, and the lens through which we view ourselves shape our lives. If we say we “play different roles”, and that we regularly “switch hats”, then we’re constantly living as only a part of ourselves.


We were coaching a wonderful powerhouse of a client recently—let’s call her Lillian. She is a woman, a business owner, a boss, a wife, a daughter, a friend, and a mom (in no particular order). She had a huge gig coming up, and we were helping her get her mindset right to rock the show (which she did, by the way). One of the first things she said was, “I wear many hats.” There it was again!

And suddenly I said, “Stop. No more hats. Enough with the hats. You are not Lilian the mom, then Lilian the boss, then Lilian the friend. You are Lilian, full stop. You don’t wear many hats, you just have a super-packed toolbox! Your toolbox has been filled by your various successes and failures, your challenges and experiences. Your journey has filled your toolbox with resources. So in any given situation, you don’t change your hat—you just reach into your toolbox and assess what will work best in that situation. It’s not an identity crisis. It’s not a costume change. You’re a whole complete person who can do many different things, with many different people, in many different situations.”


So no more hats. Embrace your whole self. You don’t have multiple personalities; rather, you are a person with a resource toolbox full of creativity, potential, knowledge, resources, and skills. The language we use communicates messages to our brain and those around us, and it can actually help shape our reality. So be cognizant of how you approach and talk about your roles and characteristics.

So remember: stop the compartmentalization, and celebrate all your complexity. You don’t switch hats—you’re just wise enough to know how to act in different situations. It’s all you. You’re a full and rich person with an ever-growing toolbox.


Gender Caveat:
While this blog post is primarily addressed to “she”, it is in no way gender-specific.

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