On Wearing (and Choosing) Different Hats

500 hatsI recently changed the name of my blog from “Sound Learning” to “Music and Multipreneurship.” I put a lot of thought into this change because I wanted a name that reflected my current professional trajectory. Multipreneurship is by no means a perfect term, but I wanted to convey the fact that I was engaged in several professional endeavors, each with specific business plans for specific audiences. Admittedly, the term doesn’t convey about my professional interests in microbusiness, freelancing, and developing an individualized skill set. But ultimately, multipreneurship is the closest representation of what I want to do (and help others to do). As far as I can tell, this term has only recently come into vogue. However, I’ve been aware of another, equally applicable term for about 15 years: “wearing different hats.”

I’ve heard the metaphor of wearing different hats get used occasionally by working musicians. It refers to individuals who function in several distinct capacities, with clearly defined roles or “hats.” Most of the musicians I know could be described as wearing different hats – whether working in different performance contexts, on multiple instruments, or in conjunction with related lines of work such as teaching, instrument repair, and transcription. Admittedly, most people wear different hats as part of their job description. To me, however, what differentiates multipreneurship from other forms of work is the fact that multipreneurs choose their own hats and take responsibility for learning and maintaining the skills/knowledge/attitudes that will allow them to successfully wear said hats. I have several thoughts about hats and multipreneurship:

Hats are not crowns. Using my “versatility, not virtuosity” model, I suggest that versatility is about identifying one’s hats and cultivating the requisite amount of competence in each of these areas; virtuosity is about earning a crown or crowns – meaning rising to the top ranks of prestige and power, usually at great cost and at high risk of failure. There is nothing wrong with pursuing crowning achievements – it’s just not what I’m concerned with. There are many avenues for pursuing crowns in contemporary society, but there are far less opportunities for people to choose their hats and develop their competency in various areas.

It’s ok to try on a bunch of different hats. One of the things that I appreciated most about my childhood experiences with unschooling was being able to explore and experiment with a bunch of different things. It always amazes me just how little my interests have changed in the past 20+ years. That said, I’ve really had to get back to trying on hats over the past 2 years – mainly because I spent my 20s chasing various crowns and not acknowledging my diverse interests. This website is testament to this experimentation and all-over-the-place approach, and that’s after me deleting the more tangential material…

It’s really scary to try on different hats as an adult. While schooling doesn’t exactly encourage children to try on multiple hats, most adults who are not horrible human beings will encourage children to explore and experiment with different activities. This usually doesn’t carry into adulthood. In my experience, an 8-year-old beginner musician will be applauded no matter how many “mistakes” she makes; a 40-year-old beginner musician will receive much different treatment from audiences. The latter musician may receive polite applause, but she certainly will not be encouraged in the same way as the child musician. We live in a society that delights in the humiliation of others – particularly of those who had the audacity to pursue an ambitious or unconventional goal. While I know that not everyone is eagerly awaiting me to fail, I still feel very self-conscious in exploring new possibilities and cultivating experience.

There are a lot of hats that are “close, but no cigar”…and that’s ok. I don’t ever regret pursuing my particular educational path. That said, it would havve made my experiences in higher education much more enjoyable if I had only admitted that many of the prescribed career paths in these settings were “close, but no cigar” for me. I don’t want to be a world-renowned jazz musician with dozens of recordings as a bandleader to my name; I want to be a versatile, successful freelance musician working in jazz and related styles. I don’t want to teach specialized seminars to graduate students in my discipline; I want to teach lessons and give lectures to musical learners of various backgrounds – particularly ones who would otherwise be denied access to musical study. I don’t want to crank out academic publications for a narrow audience; I want to write engaging non-fiction based on various forms of music and/or non-traditional careers. This is not to say that those who pursue more conventional routes are wrong to do so – in many ways they have it a lot easier than I do. What I’m trying to say is that it’s also ok to deviate slightly (or not-so-slightly) from conventional paths.

Once you choose your hats, that’s only the beginning. It can take a long, long, long time to truly figure out the things that you enjoy and are willing to get good at. However, once you do, there’s still a long way to go. First, even if you’re not shooting for virtuoso status, you still have to achieve a certain level of competence and expertise for people to be willing to pay you and/or work with you. Second, you may realize that you current employment situation has you wearing a lot of “close, but no cigar” hats (or hats that you’re qualified to wear but miserable wearing). Finally, it takes a while to integrate these hats (and corresponding skill sets) into one’s work life – whether employed, self-employed, or both. To further complicate matters, one’s hats are often chosen, developed, and integrated in a completely non-linear fashion.

One of my goals as a researcher and writer is to learn more about how people discover and utilize various hats – both in and outside of music. This is a difficult topic to address because every single person is different. I firmly believe that no two people share the same set of hats. However, by identifying common themes in terms of what works and what doesn’t work for people, I hope to make multipreneurship and its corresponding principles accessible and applicable to many kinds of audiences.

Author: Leah Pogwizd

Bassist and Instructor

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