27 Mar What Happens When We Refuse to Be Defined by Others
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?