About Letting Others Define You

Black and white illustration of a woman holding index finger to her lips & a splash of multiple colors streaks over her eyes
“The Secret” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas by Melissa Whitaker

Wow! My first post on Medium and I am nervous. My mind automatically starts wandering and giving me negative thoughts.

The mind likes to invade our heads with self-doubt and it’s important not to listen. We all have something to offer, so don’t let your mind or anyone else tell you otherwise. After 17 years of being a licensed REALTOR®, I left the industry to concentrate full time on my art career. There were a few naysayers, a lot of people who did not want me to leave the real estate business, and a precious few who said, “Well, it’s about damn time. What took you so long?” The fact is I was born to create and not to sell real estate. I majored in art and psychology in college and the dream was to have an apartment in the East Village, wear paint-covered jeans, and occasionally go get a cup of coffee and a cigarette at some bistro on 9th street, where I could have deep existential conversations with other artists. Life had other plans for me though. I went to college and majored in art and psychology until March 18, 1986, when I was raped.

For a while I let it define me. I was a rape victim, not an artist. That was all I could see in myself for a LONG time.

Then I fell in love and I fell hard. He did not see me as a rape victim and he did not pull away when I told him what happened. He saw a strong woman and not a victim, however, he had NO desire to live in New York City, Los Angeles or any other artistic utopias. I could not picture my life without him, so I took the marriage path. Then I became a wife and not a rape victim. I put my art in the basement, in the closet, or under the bed. I put all my focus and energy on my family and told myself that I was happy.

I was happy, but something was missing so I got my real estate license. I started my career thinking, “This will define me. I’m not just a mom and wife. I’m a REALTOR® now.” Yet, I never fully dived into the business as other people did. I did not want to commit all my energy to real estate, but I did like to go out for lunch and have deep philosophical conversations about contracts.

Then 2007 came rushing in like a tornado and upended everything.

I am not going to go into all that happened in 2007 because I just wrote about that in my last blog post, but those events made me search for who I was again. In March 2008 I took my art out of the basement and knocked the dust bunnies off the artwork that was under the bed and started creating again. It had been 17 years and I found what was missing. My Art.

The problem for all those years was, I based my identity and definition on what I thought other people perceived and what others wanted me to be. By doing this I was not being honest with myself because I was too scared to face the reality of what happened on that fateful night in 1986. It took a year of loss after loss to force me to take a hard look at myself and accept that there are events that I have no control over, but those events do not have to define who I am.

There are many things that define who we are in life and at times that definition may change, but the root of who we are never changes even when we try to hide it under the bed. Other people may tell us who they think we are or who we should be, but it never fits right. Kind of like a homemade knitted wool sweater. It’s beautiful, soft and full of love but one arm is always longer than the other and you’re constantly pushing the sleeve up so that you don’t feel too lopsided and sometimes you break out in a heat rash.

We attempt to put people and things into categories so that we may understand them better and know how to react to them. It makes everyone comfortable if things fit into their designated boxes. Everything in order. However, it never fits into the boxes that we designate. Sesame Street taught us how to organize things and put them in their rightful places. The soundtrack to my life was the Sesame Street song, “One of These Things is Not Like the Others”


There is something totally creepy about that song and what it teaches. It encourages conformity and not uniqueness and reinforces some of the negative thoughts playing in our heads. If we let others define who we are and put us into labeled boxes, then we become prisoners to what society dictates as being “proper” and lose that fire that burns in all of us.

The fact is, I let someone rob me of my passion and identity years ago over something I had no control over. I can never get the loss of those creative years back, and I will always have a case of the What-ifs. What if I had dressed more sensibly that night? What if I had never smiled at the guy? What if I didn’t let him kiss me? What if I had not given him power over me? What if I had continued on the creative path and finished college? What if I had never put the pencil/brush down? What if I hadn’t placed all my artwork in the attic? What if. What if. What if. An endless cycle of self-doubt and imprisonment that really doesn’t matter, because it’s what I do now that matters. The past is what makes us who we are today. All the good and the bad can either build walls or tear them down. I recommend tearing them down, it’s exhilarating.

People will still label me and try to shove me into their boxes and I’ll hop out of them every single time. I will block out the Sesame Street song with a bit of Tom Petty or Eric Clapton, and if I need reinforcement I may break out a bit of Led Zeppelin, but I’m not going to let others dictate my identity or path in life.

I’m an artist, an illustrator, a storyteller, a photographer, a creative soul, a mother, a wife, an art instructor, a landlord, a woman who makes mistakes and has embarrassing moments at least 3 times a day, a woman who has a few extra curves where they shouldn’t be. I’m a dreamer, a seeker of knowledge, and a blonde. But most of all I’m me and my labels keep falling off.

Artist | Illustrator | Photographer Writing about art, life, inspiration, and the journey of self-discovery. https://melissawhitakerart.com

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