Take Off Your Hat – Lessons from Cancer


The Day I Forgot My Hat

I ushered my two children to the car on a cool Sunday morning. With a bag slung over my shoulder and children in tow, I rushed to get into the car. I didn’t notice the crisp air on my head as I buckled my baby son into his carseat. We were running late, as usual. As I opened the driver’s side door, the cold air on my scalp finally registered. I forgot my hat.

I was 12 weeks into chemotherapy. Healthy 36-year-old moms aren’t supposed to get cancer. But there I was. 

Weeks earlier I’d sat my 6-year-old daughter down and explained that I needed medicine that would make my hair fall out. My empathetic daughter decided to cut her own hair short. She never thought I looked weird with a bald head. She was never embarrassed or scared. 

On that chilly Sunday morning, as I opened the car door, I touched my cold head and exclaimed, “I forgot my hat!”

My daughter looked at me assertively and said, “Mom, you don’t need a hat. Just have confidence.”


The Mirror

When my daughter said those words to me, just have confidence, I was instantly the proudest mom in the world. Everything I had taught her about confidence was brought full circle. She held the metaphorical mirror to me.

But she was even wiser than I’d imagined.

She didn’t say be confident. She said have confidence. It’s difficult to tell someone to just be anything. If you’ve ever felt frazzled and someone said just be calm, or felt down and someone said just be happy, you know this advice rarely works. In fact, sometimes it makes us feel even more frazzled or down. 

My daughter’s words to just have confidence have stayed with me seven years later: in my daily life, at work, in pursuit of new endeavors, in front of audiences and in difficult situations. Even when I don’t think I’m confident, a part of me can take off the hat and have confidence


Take Off Your Hat

It can be difficult to just be confident. The fear of judgment holds us back. Throughout my life I have chased self-worth through recognition and achievement. Certifications, degrees, competition, and titles validated my worth. 

Success. Appearance. Perfectionism. Achievement. 

These are all hats.

But I have news for you. When I lost my hair and wore a hat, everyone still knew I was bald. I couldn’t cover it completely. Even with makeup, people could see that my eyebrows and eyelashes were gone.

Even when we wear the hats of achievement, your truest self is still peaking out from underneath these covers. 

What would happen if we removed these cover-ups? Your worth doesn’t disappear. My bald head is a sign that most people associate with cancer and illness. But going out into the world with a bald head was also a way of saying “I’m still here.” It was a sign of perseverance, resilience and strength. I wore a hat to cover-up what made me brave, and I thought fitting in would make me feel more confident. Instead, my daughter saw my bald head as a sign of confidence. 

How often do we look in the mirror and see ourselves as brave and confident as young children see us?

You want to be seen as confident. Take off your hat because you already have confidence.

You want to be seen as brave. Take off your hat because you already have courage. 

You want to be seen as successful. Take off your hat because you already have success. 

You want to be seen as beautiful. Take off your hat because you already have beauty. 

You already have the characteristics inside you that you desire. 

Sometimes we just need to take off the hat.


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