Reclaim your born identity, your original nature, the part of you that has nothing to prove or hide or protect, where you are at peace with being fully yourself. This is your true face, the one that radiated with pure potential and light when you were a baby, before the thief called time and the thugs named judgment and conformity, left you clutching at the sculpted masks of who you think you’re supposed to be.

This is part two in a series on authenticity. The first piece describes the power of authenticity. The third piece outlines some practical steps to recover your true essence. The fourth piece explores the connection between individual authenticity and the needs of the planet.

Why is it so important to be yourself? This light hearted tale offers an answer.

Two guys take a road trip. They get caught in a blizzard, pull into a farmhouse and ask the woman who answers the door if they can stay the night. She agrees to let them stay in the barn out back. They leave early the next morning. About nine months later, one of them gets an unexpected letter from an attorney. He realizes it is from the woman at the farmhouse. He calls his friend, “Do you remember the woman we met at the farmhouse?” “Yes, I do” he says.

“Did you happen to get up in the middle of the night, go to the house and seduce this woman?”

Embarrassed, he admits that he did.

“And did you happen to use my name instead of telling her your name?”

Even more embarrassed, he admits that he had used his friend’s name. “I’m really sorry”, he says.

“No need to apologize.” The friend said, “Seems she took quite a shine to you. She just died and left me everything.”

The moral of the story- it pays to be yourself.  Think of it this way. Life has SO much in store for you by way of gifts and blessings, but if you make it hard to find you because you’re busy pretending to be someone else, then you can’t be surprised that you miss out. It’s like complaining about missing out on the winning lottery ticket if you put someone else’s name on the ticket.

The problem is that a lot of the time, we don’t know who we are. We’re not necessarily trying to be inauthentic. We’ve just forgotten. You have to KNOW who you are, in order to BE who you are. This is a life-long process, at least.

You have to take some of the masks off to remind yourself who you are. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with wearing masks. They serve an essential purpose if you use them skillfully; the parent’s mask, the grandparent’s mask, the helper’s mask, the teacher’s mask, the listening friend’s mask, the competent achiever’s mask, the passionate activist’s mask, to name a few. There are healthy masks and less healthy masks, like the ruthless “don’t get in my way” mask and the “I don’t need anybody” mask. The less healthy masks hide your essential nature behind a façade of protection, fear and self loathing. None of the masks, healthy or not, fully define you. They change constantly, and are easy to mistake for the real you. So you end up spending all your time behind masks and forgetting who you are at your essence.

So who are you? And I don’t mean what gender, religion, ethnicity, class, personality type, sexual orientation, profession, enneagram combination, star sign, age or stage in life are you. Maybe his parable makes the point better than I can explain it.

A woman is on her deathbed. Her life is flashing before her eyes. The following conversation takes place in her mind. A voice asks, “Who are you?”
“I’m the mayor’s wife,” she replies.

“I didn’t ask who you were married to but who you are. So who are you?
“I am the mother of four children.”

“I didn’t ask how many children you had but who you are. So who are you?
“I’m a teacher.”

“I didn’t ask for your profession but who you are. So who are you?

“I’m a Christian.”
“I didn’t ask for your religion. I asked who you are. So who are you?

“I try to be a good person, and I volunteer for many local causes.”
“I didn’t ask what you do but who you are.” WHO ARE YOU?

At this point, it finally clicks. The woman realizes that she doesn’t know who she is, apart from all the masks and roles she wears. Even though she is doing worthwhile things with her life, she is so busy that she has lost herself in the fog of activity. She recovers from her illness, and makes a commitment to find out who she is before death visits again.

Your identity and roles change all the time. Your essence never changes. Your essence is not about what you do. It’s about who you are. Jason Bourne struggled with this very challenge in the action trilogy. I first read the Ludlum books when I had glandular fever (mono) 25 years ago. As a very active person who was housebound for a month, I had a lot of time to reflect on who I was without the mask of being fit and well. We all have our challenges, where our usual roles are taken from us, and they become opportunities to find deeper strength and identity. In the books/movies, Jason Bourne suffers amnesia and has no idea who he is, or how he knows what he knows. In one scene, he is sitting with a woman in a café and explains his confusing powers to her.

I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?

He knew his roles and skills too well, but didn’t know who he was and this tormented him. This is even more true in real life. Think of yourself like a nested Russian doll. Strip away some of the layers of who you think you are, what you do, and who other people expect you to be. Some of them are amazing skills, and fine qualities. They are awesome expressions of who you are, but they aren’t in themselves YOU. Some of them are protections and delusions. You have been wearing some of them for so long that it’s hard to tell the mask from the face.

Step outside of as many identities and roles as you can, even for a few moments and you will see beyond them to your essence. Like the superspy, Bourne, you may need to go to great lengths to recover this true identity. You may end up in hair raising chase scenes with your deepest fears. You will survive. In fact you will thrive once you realize that most of the struggle is within yourself. But it’s worth the effort. The reward is authenticity, your born supremacy.

The incredible thing is that as you reconnect with your true essence, you discover mastery at knowing which roles to play and why; you become more natural and less attached to your changing identity. Don’t delay. Your time is limited. Start digging a little deeper into your essence today so that you can rediscover the agreement you made with your true nature long ago; your born ultimatum that the more authentic your life, the more joy you will experience. Authenticity is the primary quality you will look back on at the end of your days to measure the impact of your life.

Elie Wiesel said,

When we die and go to Heaven, our Maker is not going to say, ‘why didn’t you discover the cure for such and such?’ The only thing we’re going to be asked at that precious moment is, ‘Why didn’t you become you?’

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  1. [...] is much more to say about authenticity. Part two of the series looks at the rewards of living authentically, and the cost of choosing not to live [...]

  2. Tim Graham says:

    hi Ian

    i wrote a poem about this that I’d like to share… Cheers, Tim.

    IF YOU DEEPLY FEEL;

    If you deeply feel the need to
    there are words that God will read you
    in your heart upon a scroll
    entitled; “your best and highest goal”
    a contract you agreed to.
    Listen, and let them lead you
    knowing they have freed you
    to shine within your soul
    if you deeply feel.
    If you follow, as a seed grew
    then like the flower, you may proceed to
    fulfill your sacred role
    and once again, be whole
    remember; this only is indeed true
    if you deeply feel.

  3. ian says:

    hi Tim, thanks for sharing the poem. I love your use of nature imagery to draw out human purpose. Well written.

  4. My favourite quotation is “Be yourself: everyone else is taken” (Oscar Wilde)

  5. Anonymous says:

    I loved this and think at some point in time we must all  wonder [who am i ]  i am my self  no matter who i am talking with and treat all people the same with respect and kindness and i hope this is me with out many masks

  6. What a great post. I really liked the little stories you used, they make the point very well. It strikes me that it takes a  courage to be what you truly are.

  7. What an important message. I caught myself wanting to tear up a bit as I thought about what I do and what I can do and what I have done…surely these help make me ME, but the question of who we really are is a toughie, and it’s NOT just existential non-sense. I couldn’t help but think of the movie Overboard, where Goldie Hawn is ripped from her life as a rich bitch (she halfheartedly says, in fact, “I am not a bitch” and we don’t believe her), and while in her FAKE life as the amnesia-struck mother of four poor children, she becomes the real version of herself that her money and circumstances had clearly suppressed. It’s true–she is NOT a bitch, but is really a kind, warm, nurturing, giving person, and that person had been completely enveloped and stunted by a mask that seemed authentic but was not. Stepping outside our comfort zones may not be as dramatic as getting amnesia, but it might give us a chance to find out more of who we really are. Thanks for the article. It touched me. 

  8. Kalen says:

    What a wonder-filled article and lovely comments. My writing and creativity mascot says:
    Just BE who YOU are
    And DO what YOU do
    Then all of life’s treasures
    Will come to you!
    (In fact, they’re INSIDE you!)

    Blessings all! :-)

  9. eryanbrown says:

    Just when I thought, no more tears. You are truly blessed. Thank you

  10. Thanks for sharing Ian. Well said. I myself have been trying to figure out who I am. A better understanding.

  11. sarah waldin says:

    Yes – what they all said! 
    Well written and the reminder we all need to keep on focus … that of not being distracted by all our chosen roles and masks in life but by our overall purpose – that of being ourselves (whatever that may entail and be).
    thanks for the reminder\
    love and light
    sarah xx 

  12. [...] the masks off and living authentically. The first article is about the power of authenticity. The second is about authenticity’s payoff. The third offers practical steps to live more authentically. This [...]

  13. [...] As we start the new year, please take a moment and read this. It’s a great reminder of the importance of living your life to the fullest and becoming “you” to the fullest. Very often wives and mothers are too good at wearing all the masks described in the following piece, doing for and developing those around them, but never take 5 minutes to explore their own selves. Becoming “You” is such an important thing, because if you aren’t “you”, who are you? Reclaim Your Born Identity- Authenticity Pays Off [...]

  14. Anonymous says:

    Outstanding advice.  Thank YOU.

  15. Carol Shimp says:

    Who am I?? I’m the woman that holds her tears when there is important work to do. I’m the one preparing dinner when I have a vision of ocean waves while standing on the beach. I am the laundry clean and folded. I share hugs and kiss hurts. I’m a dreamer of things to come protecting life sending, sharing, healing & light. I am spirit, I am the flowers I plant and the food we eat. I am the music I dance to while sweeping the floor. I am one with everything. Who am I?

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