What Happens When We Refuse to Be Defined by Others

What Happens When We Refuse to Be Defined by Others

Why do we allow ourselves to be defined by others? Why do we try to reshape ourselves? We try to become the ‘perfect’ daughter, the ideal date, the employee everyone wants to love…

I got turned down for a writing gig this week. They weren’t looking for an essayist or someone writing about sex and I had to stifle the urge to write back and say, “But, but… I can write on this…. or this.” First of all, that would look pretty desperate. And, secondly I don’t really want to write about entertainment news or talk about the 2016 elections.

I started thinking about this urge I’ve had to ‘be accepted’ and how it has driven much of my life. There have been many times in my past when I’ve tried to be who someone else wanted me to be. 

We do this to ourselves and we allow others to push us into the mold they find desirable. It starts with gender. Sugar and spice and everything nice. Girl babies wear pink; boy babies wear blue.

The internet is awash in messages for women—Lean In, Ban Bossy, The Perfect Mom. We’re not thin enough or have too many wrinkles. Children should be raised by a 2-parent, preferably male and female, household; women should work. And, talk about aging! Oh my. We’re made to feel inadequate at every turn. Sixty is the new forty. What does that even mean? 

Why do we let other people define and shape us?  Women seem particularly vulnerable to this. I don’t have any answers, but I understand that I no longer have to listen or play that game. You would think I’d have gotten that message long before now. 

 I’m entering into my sixtieth year. Holy Cow!   

I’m thankful to the writing gig rejection for pushing me into a place of clarity.  Timing is good. I just put my dating profile on line again after a long break. And I recall, all too clearly, the disastrous results from thinking that I could ‘be’ the woman this or that man wanted in a partner. It’s tempting to see an appealing profile and convince yourself he/she could be the perfect match even though you hate hiking and he lives for the 20 mile day hikes. To convince yourself you can handle cigar smoke if you only take enough allergy medication, etc. 

This awareness is helpful as I continue to define who I get to be in this new career and this new decade. 

Clarity. It requires us to think about what we want and what we don’t want. To pay attention to how we feel in a given situation and whether that is where we want to be. Are we following our own rules or trying to be what others want and expect of us? Are we being heard in relationships? Is there mutual respect? 

At the end of the day what matters is how we feel about what we do, how we spend our time, and the interactions we have with others. It’s knowing when to say yes and when to walk away. When to push harder, when to seek collaboration and cooperation, or realize that the relationship isn’t meeting your needs. 

We aren’t a culture that embraces letting go. We’re all about adding on, loading up and bragging about the many things we can do. Wonder Woman personified. 

To let go of something can be empowering when we act from clarity and intention. It’s not an admission of failure or defeat but rather an acknowledgement. Using the above mentioned writing job as an example—I realized that the website isn’t a good fit for my interests or skills. Rather than try to reshape myself into the writer they want, I can look for a place where “I” want to be.  

There are lots of things we let go of in life—often they’re not of our choosing and we struggle to embrace the loss. The act of consciously letting go can be empowering, even if it means we let go of something dear to us. As women (and men to a lesser degree) we’re buffeted by all the voices telling us what to do, how to be, and how to look. We often assume that the speaker, if powerful or successful, knows what’s best for us. 

The only person who can really tell you want to do is you. You get to decide what to go after in life–at this age and every age to come. Let go of that which doesn’t serve you. I’m doing that this year and the experience is very freeing. As for the writing job? By not pushing or trying to contort my interests to suit someone else I’m leaving space for a more suitable opportunity to appear.  

Have you felt pushed to conform or meet some ideal? How did you deal with it? 

39 Comments
  • Carol Cassara
    Posted at 09:31h, 27 March Reply

    I am one of those women who came in with a strong sense of myself, kicking and screaming when anyone tried to push me. I have no idea how that happened except that the Universe thought I’d need it. I agree wholeheartedly that being who you are is always the best course of action. I love being original. We are all originals!

    • Walker
      Posted at 13:16h, 27 March Reply

      Original is always good. Being true to oneself and seeking a self-determined path is what really allows us to develop, I think.

  • Michele W
    Posted at 09:36h, 27 March Reply

    I enjoy your blog, it answers real life questions.
    Sorry you did not get the writing job, but if they can’t see your ability. Just remember one thing you can’t fix stupid or is that crazy!
    You help all of us and ask for nothing in return, if we meet I owe you lunch. Thank you

    • Walker
      Posted at 13:17h, 27 March Reply

      Thank you Michele. And, if we do meet up some day in the future, I’ll let you buy me lunch. It’s a nice feeling to know that I’m providing helpful information!

  • Laura Lee Carter
    Posted at 10:18h, 27 March Reply

    Yes Walker, my entire writing career has been about defining and redefining what I need to be writing about. That’s why I stopped freelancing article for others. The theme of my life is midlife transformation, and nobody wanted to talk about that seven years ago when I started my blog.
    Now I always go with my gut, and it’s just starting to pay off… Sixty is looking good to me too!

    • Walker
      Posted at 13:18h, 27 March Reply

      Laura Lee, that’s great! Best to you as you move forward.

  • Joan Stommen
    Posted at 13:40h, 27 March Reply

    Part of reinventing and renewing who we are is clarity of self. I love how you’ve actually been given this gift of rejection and made it work for greater worth! I too am learning and clarifying as I look to the future. Loved reading this…gives me new purpose. Well done!

    • Walker
      Posted at 14:50h, 27 March Reply

      Joan, we never stop getting clarity about where we want to go. So glad that I could contribute to your journey-thank you.

  • Linda Crowe
    Posted at 14:46h, 27 March Reply

    Letting go is the key to happiness. Thanks for posting.

    • Walker
      Posted at 14:51h, 27 March Reply

      Linda, I agree!!Thanks for stopping by.

  • Lori
    Posted at 18:27h, 27 March Reply

    What a wonderful piece! You hit the nail on the head with regard to how I have been feeling these past few months. I am letting go of everything I know and moving 700 miles away from friends and family to start a new chapter in my life. And I’m really excited to find out who the “new” me turns out to be!!

    • Walker
      Posted at 18:56h, 27 March Reply

      Thank you Lori, and welcome. Wow, sounds like you’ve made some major changes. Good for you! I hope all of this works out for you. I admire your willingness to let go and start anew.

  • Tom
    Posted at 10:14h, 29 March Reply

    This subject is one for which I have strong feelings. I tell everyone, “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid”. It is a quote by Joseph Campbell. The full quote is here: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/143093-follow-your-bliss-if-you-do-follow-your-bliss-you.
    I’m 62 and my children think I am crazy. But I know they are young, and someday, I’m confident they will understand.
    We are social creatures and the pressures society puts on us can be great. Fear of rejection and alienation make us bend to social (and workplace) pressure. Listening to – and acting on – our desires is not for the emotionally insecure. Success comes when we are not silenced by conventional thinking. Our odds of finding cohorts improve with each rejection. Tell 100 people your desires (in a reasonable time appropriate way) and you will most likely find 10 like minded souls. Rejection by the other 90 is the price you pay – but it is worth it.

    • Walker
      Posted at 10:47h, 29 March Reply

      Tom,
      I spent quite a few years, “under wraps” and in that box. My kids probably think I’m a little too out there too.

  • Kathy Radigan
    Posted at 10:29h, 29 March Reply

    I so related to this piece Walker. Like a lot of women I have tried to be the perfect daughter, employee, friend, wife. But not only for others, I wanted to conform, at any price. I was not comfortable feeling different or even exceptional. I purposely put myself in a helping role, and I was good at it. It has been a real process for me to be the Kathy I think I was always meant to be.

    Thanks for a wonderful piece. I have found that sometimes the best gifts we get are from the no’s, not the yes’s. I’m sure something amazing is just waiting for you and your many talents!

    • Walker
      Posted at 10:49h, 29 March Reply

      Kathy, we can still be helpers when we do it on our terms. I do think there is more of a gender bias in this area—we have so many expectations of what women are supposed to be. And, breaking free as you note isn’t always easy. Glad this piece resonated for you. Thank you!!

      • Tom
        Posted at 11:42h, 29 March Reply

        Walker, I agree with you. When there is a mess to clean up, it is usually women who are called upon to do the job. It isn’t fair. Have you hear the phrase “a woman’s touch”? Here is a song that includes the phrase – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lr6Mb1j0VNk.
        Helen Fisher http://www.helenfisher.com/ says that early agricultural societies gave us male and female roles because men pulled the plow when there was no mule. Consequently, women became dependent on men. Traditional roles can be broken today but we evolved over 2 million years to be the creatures we are. Now, it is politically correct to raise our boys to be girls and our girls to be boys. But that is another topic.

        • Walker
          Posted at 13:42h, 29 March Reply

          We don’t have to ‘break’ roles, but rather look at ways of dropping rigid definitions of what it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’, or ‘other’. Women can be tough and gentle. Men can be nurturing and yet commanding on the job-just as women can. It is our generation that can help shape the way to a less stereotyped future. I love the sensuous side. I enjoy being the center of a man’s attention-yet both he and I know that I’m quite capable of taking care of myself. That’s what it’s about, really.

          • Tom
            Posted at 16:23h, 29 March

            I agree – well put.

  • Carol Graham
    Posted at 10:55h, 29 March Reply

    I would like to know how you got inside my head and read my thoughts. You did a great job of putting those thoughts into words. I always enjoy your posts. I started a new life at 65 but it wasn’t scary at all — at that age we either come with baggage or tools — I prefer to use the tools and apply what I have learned so I don’t make the same mistakes again! However, rejection always has to bite — at least a little bit. But you are a survivor!

    • Walker
      Posted at 11:23h, 29 March Reply

      Carol! I’m a mind reader. I think many of us have felt pushed and pulled and squeezed in the life challenge to figure out who we are versus who we are supposed to be. I feel like I’m still starting a new life! Rejection does bite. I got 2 that week, one was a right out “no” the other was open-ended and I walked away from that one too as I could see it would be a challenge to work with that particular editor! So, yes a little ‘bite’ but huge power in recognizing that I wouldn’t die of starvation by walking towards better choices for me!

  • Susan Bonifant
    Posted at 11:49h, 29 March Reply

    You seem to me to be very truthful to who you are, and a bit of a trail blazer which I admire. I see rejection like a cloud over the moon. As it passes, it takes a minute to absorb the sting and sense the message, but it won’t be lost on you. You’re very wise.

    • Walker
      Posted at 12:14h, 29 March Reply

      Susan, I’m not sure I deserve such praise, but thank you. I look at emotions/feelings/challenges like waves on the beach. I see them, acknowledge them and then let them just wash away-helpful tool I learned from a wise meditation coach. I like the shadow over the moon metaphor as well–thank you for contributing to this conversation.

  • Savvy Working Gal
    Posted at 11:59h, 29 March Reply

    Lately I’ve been thinking the reason I blog is to discover who I really am. The funny thing is each new discovery is not something new, but something I’ve suppressed. I knew more about myself at 18 than I know now. If I could go back to that 18 year-old girl, I would tell her to stay true to herself.

    Glad I stumbled across your blog.

    • Walker
      Posted at 13:43h, 29 March Reply

      Agreed! I find that writing, and blogging, allow me to tap deeper. It is with pen and paper that I make some of my deeper discoveries! I’m glad you found me as well; nice to connect with you here and in other places.

  • Claudia Schmidt
    Posted at 13:01h, 29 March Reply

    I too think I blog to help me continue to define who I am. I let others define me more when I was younger, and over many years have gotten better at not letting others have such an impression on me, but it hasn’t been easy for me. When I write, I feel like I’m clarifying what I think and feel more clearly. I really enjoyed this post and you are SO brave to be dating. Good for you, hope we hear about how it goes!

    • Walker
      Posted at 13:49h, 29 March Reply

      Claudia,
      Like I said to Savvy working gal, I find that writing is a powerful tool for clarifying one’s self. I don’t think it’s easy for most of us to break out of those long-standing roles we’ve played.
      Brave? Ha Ha… Thick-skinned for sure. I just happened on a very nice man but when I revealed my full name and my job he found it a bit too overwhelming. Sadly we never even met. His loss!!!! The challenge is going to be finding the guy who can embrace what I do and who I ‘am’. That’s a bit of a challenge, particularly since I don’t live in a big city.

  • Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com
    Posted at 17:42h, 29 March Reply

    Hi Walker! This points to an issue that I’ve been dealing with for a while and I’m happy to say I’m making progress! As you say, having clarity and awareness about what we do want, sure helps to let go of all the rest.

    But I don’t think we are really taught that we should be clear about what we want. So we often go through life reacting to things rather than being proactive about them. We train ourselves to respond to others needs before our own, and then wonder why we feel so used and abused (I’m talking about myself here of course.)

    Gradually though I am finally starting to listen to me first. I’m getting clearer and clearer about what feels right to me and giving myself permission to go and stay there for a change. Maybe it’s age, or maybe it’s the combination of everything I’ve learned along the way. Regardless, it feels good.

    But I don’t think it is something I’ll learn and then be able to forget about. I think staying awake and aware that anything I go after or want that others tell me to want–will never be that satisfying. It’s gotta come from me.

    Okay, thank you for allowing me to REMEMBER all this. And congratulations on your own discovery! ~Kathy

    • Walker
      Posted at 21:29h, 29 March Reply

      Kathy, I think it’s age and wisdom and the combination of years on the planet! You and I see eye to eye on thins. I think. I absolutely agree-it comes from within.

  • Tam Warner Minton
    Posted at 18:43h, 29 March Reply

    The blog and what it says is great; a wonderful lesson to share. I have to say that the photo is very disturbing to me…it reminds me of the Larry Flynt photo of the woman in the meat grinder. I think maybe Gumby is more the vision in my mind.

    • Walker
      Posted at 21:30h, 29 March Reply

      Thanks Tam, sorry the picture is disturbing for you. Gumby is a good image! Thanks so much for coming in to visit.

  • Lisa Froman
    Posted at 17:40h, 30 March Reply

    Yes, shape-shifting, people-pleasing is exhausting work. Better to be your authentic self. The thing is, it takes some of us a long time to figure this out. I’m speaking for myself and for all of us late bloomers. And frankly, it’s easier for some than others. But the more we show up as our authentic selves, at midlife or at any stage of life, the more we give others permission to do the same….

    • Walker
      Posted at 23:06h, 30 March Reply

      Lisa- yes, I guess it does take some of us longer! I would have expected you to talk about the authentic self-you are sharing such great wisdom on finding one’s way in life. Thank you.
      I agree that we can set a positive example when we dare to break through the patterns that no longer serve us. Permission! I feel that sense of obligation and yet comfort in sharing my stories because there are so many others who experience the same challenges.

  • Kathy
    Posted at 22:56h, 30 March Reply

    I let people define me for too many years. I always tried to fit the mold. Then I found out one thing: I needed to be me. Through many tears and much work I am getting there. Like you I am entering into the 60th year and am more confident, know and like me much more than ever before. Thanks for the great post and letting others know we are not alone in our quest

    • Walker
      Posted at 22:59h, 30 March Reply

      Yeah for for us almost 60 Women! I feel the same way you do. Though there are probably still times when those old habits creep in and I find myself playing to public opinion. Just occurred to me that it’s like the flower that bends to follow the sun.

      Thanks for visiting, Kathy.

    • Walker
      Posted at 23:02h, 30 March Reply

      Kathy, yeah for us! I feel more confident and ready to tackle the world now days. It strikes me that the pattern of trying to fit someone else’s needs is similar to the flower that bends to the sunlight. I’m pleased to connect with you here. The conversation here has convinced me that this is not a unique challenge for women!

  • Diane
    Posted at 14:34h, 31 March Reply

    The movie, “Runaway Bride” taught a very valuable lesson in learning to know and understand yourself. More recently, my almost-ex son-in-law showed us that you can’t really survive by pretending to be someone we’re not. Loved this post. A must-read for everyone!

    • Walker
      Posted at 18:02h, 31 March Reply

      Hi Diane. Great example…I had forgotten about that movie.It is hard being ‘that’ person-and sometimes it’s so hard to take off the mask that people allow themselves to stay stuck-my example was staying in my marriage way too long.
      Thanks for finding me and for the compliment.

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