Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The hats we wear

The following is a guest post by my wife, Kristen Escovedo, who after 12 years as a dedicated school PR professional is moving on to the next chapter. This post first appeared on The Miss Information blog. (I just love that title, but I'm biased.)
Every Thanksgiving my husband's family descends upon his grandparent's house to enjoy turkey, dressing, and quality time with family. The tiny house is filled with aunts and uncles, grandparents, and cousins, some of whom I'm not sure I've ever met before.

Inevitably between the wishbone and pumpkin pie someone will ask, "Now, Kristen, what is it you do again?"

"I'm in public relations. I wear many hats."

This cliche, while tired, seems to work well in this situation, because generally speaking, it does not lead to many follow up questions, except perhaps, "Can you pass the yams?"

I would hazard to guess that most PR pros have been guilty of using this cliché more than once. I would also guess that not once has a cousin replied with the logical follow up question "What kind of hats? Ten gallon? Fedora? Top? Berets?"

Of course, when we say we wear many hats, we mean it metaphorically. When arsonists are coming out of left field, we sound the alarm, put on our firefighter hat, and start putting out fires. When our organization is under attack, we rally the troops, put on our combat helmet and prepare for battle. When we land that good news story on the front page, be honest ladies (and sometimes men), we put on the tiara and celebrate. And some days you just put on your ratty old ball cap and do the grunt work that nobody else wants to do because it has to get done.

We all have metaphorical hats that we swap off and on depending on the day, the hour, sometimes the minute.

However, in addition to all my metaphorical hats, I also keep one literal hat in my office that serves as my inspiration. The hat, or more accurately the mining helmet, belonged to my grandfather who worked in underground copper mines in Montana from the time he was 17 until he retired almost 50 years later. When my grandmother passed away two years ago I found the helmet in her attic.

It has been in my office ever since.

There are a few things you should know about both my grandfather and the helmet for you to understand why such an obscure object could serve as inspiration. My grandfather had an incredible work ethic. As you can imagine, winters in Montana are harsh and working in underground mines in those conditions is not easy. The shifts were long and the work was tedious. But my grandfather worked in difficult conditions for almost five decades to support his family. He was not one to complain, he was one to do his job.

It is hard to see from the picture, but there is a large crack down one side, which means that the helmet was used for its designed purpose. That means that at least once (and I suspect more than that) something substantial in size fell on my grandfather's head causing the helmet to crack.

Something about this crack intrigues me. He didn't get a new helmet. For whatever reason - sentimental or financial, he went back to work wearing the same helmet that had protected him from that accident. Perhaps it was his stubbornness that drove him back down into the mines wearing that same helmet with the crack down the side.

Perhaps it is that same stubbornness that drives us back into the field when we have taken a hit hard enough to rock us to our core. People often accuse me of being stubborn like it is a bad thing, and sometimes I suppose that it is. But sometimes I think a degree of stubbornness is required in a field that requires us to be firefighters, soldiers, advisers, janitors, counselors, and teachers.

People often ask about the helmet when they come into my office for the first time.

You have just read the long answer.

The short, but honest, answer I give is this; It reminds me that no matter how bad of a day I'm having, my job could always be worse. No one has to send a canary into my office first to see if I'm going to make it out alive today.

[Please note: Her grandfather's mining helmet now rests in a prominent location in my office today. Thank you Kristen, I love you.]