When Being Authentic Hurts

January 30th, 2013

A friend made a decision to leave a job recently. It was  a hard decision for her, because even though she knew it was the right time for her to leave, she didn’t want to disappoint her employers and coworkers.

What do you do when being yourself causes other people pain? Is it ever appropriate to compromise your values to shelter others from sadness? How do you balance your own need for authenticity with the rights and needs of others? These are big questions and we all deal with them in many ways.

The story told in Chaim Potok’s novel My Name is Asher Lev offers some amazing insight into this dilemma.

Asher Lev is born into an orthodox Jewish family just after the Second World War. His father is a leader who devotes his life to the well being of Jews around the world. He expects his son to follow in his foot steps. Instead Asher is passionate about art. He is more than talented. He is a creative prodigy.

His family and community are hyper critical about his passion to create art. Not only do they see him as wrong and misguided. They say he is being evil and sinful. Yet he can’t suppress his creative calling. He tries, but it destroys him NOT to express his gift.

For Asher, being true to himself meant being an artist. He had to express his art in order to become all that he could be. But there was a major cost to his authenticity.

He has to leave his religious community, at least for a while. Asher says toward the end of the book, “I looked at my right hand, the hand with which I painted. There was power in that hand. Power to create and destroy…Asher Lev paints good pictures and hurts people he loves.”

He then hears the voice of God reply, “Then be a great painter, Asher Lev; that will be the only justification for all the pain you will cause…. Journey with me, my Asher. Paint the anguish of all the world. Let people see the pain.”

Whether you believe in God or not, the message is powerful. However you describe or name it, authenticity is an inner calling to express the essence of who you are and let it grow and flourish. It’s soul destroying to ignore it. And if it causes suffering for others, who don’t like or understand your passion, then you need to make sure you use your gift in ways that make the world a better place.

So if your conscience calls you to leave a job, break up a relationship, enlist in the military or join a picket line, and people close to you resent it, make sure it counts for something significant.

I’ve experienced this dilemma personally. I’ve always been a square peg in the round hole that is mainstream religion. My decision to create something that goes beyond religion has caused suffering for many people. But the calling is strong and the need for those who aren’t looking for religion but still want to live full, passionate and meaningful lives, is clear.

Like Asher, my inner voice tells me to keep going no matter how much criticism I face, and to do it for the right reasons and in a way that transforms suffering.

In an interesting parallel to the novel, Asher uses Christian crucifixion imagery to illustrate his theme of suffering. This is very hard for his Jewish family.

In my case, it was removing a cross that was so important. Instead of living under the shadow of a symbol that has been used to exclude, manipulate and kill, I chose to open a path for people of all faiths and no faith to come together and practice being deeply human and real alongside each other. We don’t need to be rescued nor do we need rescue each other. We need to direct each other within, where there is limitless creative power and strength to find an authentic path with heart.

Most of us aren’t faced with extreme choices like Asher Lev, but we are all confronted with daily decisions to live authentically and face the consequences of our choices.

The bottom line is to be true to yourself for sure. But more than that, be a GREAT version of yourself. So that when people look at your life, even those who despise your choices, they are inspired to be a GREAT version of who they are.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Kindred spirits,hermits,living ahead of our time,misconstrued,branded misfits,recluses,subsisting on frugal locusts & wild honey,seize the moment,attach pinions to our wings,let us follow the path of Daedalas to release the great guardian angel of humanity in us,singing and shouting,lest we perish with the blind.

  2. Cindy says:

    This is one of the best blogs I’ve read. Thank you for expressing eloquently what I also have learned along the way And sharing with others the encouragement to be the best version of themselves, mistakes and all!

  3. ian says:

    thank you Cindy. Be well. Keep being YOU!

  4. jack harris says:

    Incisive and provocative. The evolution of your teachings incites me.  Thanx     Jack

  5. ian says:

    Thanks Jack- honored to know you.

  6. Jennifer says:

    This has been my whole life… denying my authentic self for the sake of others.  At the age of 41 I am finally finding the centered wholeness to move on and be myself.  Oddly enough, religion is a part of that (and I never find your blog at odds with organized religion – to me it walks alongside my faith without disparaging or detracting from it).  For me, practicing Catholicism is my authentic path.  My Lutheran parents weren’t ready to support me in that 20 years ago.  My Baptist sister struggles a bit with it still.  But I am renewed in it every day and finding the richness of liturgy so fulfilling.

    I am embracing other parts of myself that are even bigger – parts that were shut down by gradeschool bullies and by my own parents (growing up in a Scandinavian town, the pressure was to blend in and be just good enough, but never excellent at anything).  I am making up for a lot of time and lost ground and I know it still hurts some people to see me making these choices.  They are worried for me in their own dysfunctional way.

    Your blog brings up something I’d never thought of before – if you are going to cause pain, then make sure you use the choice to make the world a better place and to be a great version of yourself.  This feels like permission to unfold my wings and soar.  Thank you SO much for this message.

    Keep doing what you’re doing.  You are a blessing to me and so many others :)

  7. [...] Before I started writing, however, I decided I needed a little inspiration. I visited my Facebook page, which I’ll admit happens a little more often than necessary at times. I’ve intentionally filled my Facebook feed with positive and inspiring messages by finding, posting and liking things that make me feel awesome. I’m glad I have done this, because I read a post that really resonated with me today. It is entitled “When Being Authentic Hurts“. [...]

  8. ian says:

    hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. Im glad you feel encouraged in your religious path. I dont want to take that away from anyone. I do want to offer an alternative to people who don’t get religion. Seems like you get me, and for me that I am very grateful.

  9. Cyndi says:

    I think so many of us can relate to this at some level. The cost of denying and withholding a major part of ourselves in order to conform to our environment and/or please others is too great to be ignored. It causes dis-ease of all sorts.

    Thanks for sharing this.  Being authentic is invaluable.

  10. Camille says:

    This is deep and truly thought provoking. I feel so priveleged end blessed to have connected with you and Meg on twitter. I always look forward to your articles.  

  11. ian says:

    thx Cyndi- well said.

  12. ian says:

    thx Camille- we feel the same way.

  13. louise says:

    This article provides a seed of hope for me!  I have denied my authentic self for so long now that it’s hard to know where to start; so acknowledging the problem even exists, is important.  I am an artist, and acknowledge that I have been given a precious gift that is not being nurtured (like my mother before me).  My primary relationship is dysfunctional, my life is dysfunctional, and my health is suffering.  Where do I start?

  14. Petra says:

    The power of synchronicity……..this inspirational article arrived in my inbox today.  Have just spent the weekend walking this path with my husband…… he has always been authentic to his great talents and it has taken him away from family and this is resented and once again this weekend he was needing to defend who he is……This will be such a balm and affirmation to who he is and what he does…….Thank you Ian for articulating what I could not.

  15. Manfred Luck says:

    Well Louise you start by being true to yourself.10 years ago I was part of a spiritual community with a busy social life. Then I found a higher truth and no one in that community would relate to me anymore. I don’t regret it.

  16. Jo Guthrie says:

    After a rough couple of weeks and being verbally beaten up for what I do, this was just what I needed to hear!  I love what I do and it makes me happy – so be it!  Thanks for this, I needed to hear this today!

  17. Jeri Boily says:

    I am trying to find my place and stay my most authentic. It has proven to be an arduous journey. I know it is one that I chose to take before I came to this life and I thank myself for that as often as I can remember to.I am also not receptive to organized religion.  I grew up Catholic and never bought in and always questioned it all.  I appreciate what you are doing and building and providing for all of us that follow soul seeds.

  18. Bernadette says:

    This is so encouraging to so many of us who can see our gifts but have been stifled in expressing them, whether by others or by ourselves after listening to others. Even though I am surrounded by supporting influences now, it is hard to overcome the old conditioning. It’s a constant, conscious choice to encourage myself each day and hope that I step out of my comfort zone a little more before each sunset. Thanks, Ian!

  19. ian says:

    Well said Bernadette, you are an inspiration.

  20. Hi Ian, directing people to “go within” is a divine assignment I feel.More and more are open to it.. as people search for authenticity is this multi-distractural world. I take a “Jesus approach”,ie: lovingly and intelligently as I can suggest a “thou shalt” attitude and perspective, rather than a “Moses approach”, which was “thou shall not”.. at the end of the day, it’s mastery of self vs being conquered by self. Great article, thanks for posting this! Peter.Mississauga, OntarioCanada