the manipulation of the work

“Ease is the sign that it’s the right path.”
“I just need to speak my truth.”
“It must be meant to be.”

We hear these things often when we start to do personal work, and for some, it brings up skepticism of self-help.The examples of people who mis-use such concepts are rampant enough that the self-help mantra of the day can start to seem like it’s used to justify whatever position someone is in.

For instance, I’ve heard of or experienced someone saying, “Well, ease is the sign that it’s the right path for me.”

Yes, ease is one of the signs that something is in alignment with your life. And of course, I don’t believe that everything worth doing is always hard.

But boilerplate, “Ease is how I know this is right?” That attitude can really rob someone of an incredible learning experience.

I spent years of my own life resisting going into the hard stuff, always choosing whatever was easy. Finally, when I surrendered to dealing with the hard stuff, on the other side of incredible and deep discomfort is where I’ve found my greatest joy.

Or how about, “I just need to speak my truth?”

For years, I used and abused that one. Having come from a place where I was afraid to speak my truth, it felt heady and liberating for the self-help world to (seemingly) be encouraging me to start speaking my truth.

Speak my truth? Why, it was just what I’d been waiting for!

If someone didn’t like it, they must be someone who was encouraging me not to speak my truth. Bad friend!

But you see where I’m going with this. Using “I need to speak my truth” to complain, put someone down, offer unsolicited advice, vent my own angry judgments, or tear into someone’s character is a manipulation of the work.

The ethos of “speak your truth” is intended to bring greater connection–not give me or you or anyone else cart blanche to spout off opinions or advice (especially those that are unsolicited).

“Speak your truth” is intended to help people to come out of hiding, to have the courage to bring to everyone’s awareness even those things that might be difficult.

It’s not a permission slip to complain. It’s a permission slip to voice something in service to greater connection–either greater connection to who you are, or greater connection to another.

And–“It was just meant to be”?

Absolutely, sometimes. But just notice if you’re using this as a curative to avoid feelings of deep disappointment, especially when something you’ve been working towards hasn’t worked out.

This is why this is so tricky–because the world is full of dichotomous relationships, places where two different categories, both seeming opposites, can both be true.

Ease can be a sign of the right path–and it can be a cop-out to avoid challenging yourself. Speaking your truth can be liberation–and it can be an illusory cage, in which all that talking doesn’t really get you where you actually hope to go. What’s “meant to be” can be acceptance–or it can be avoidance.

Check your integrity on this one. Deep down, you always know the difference between the truth and a lie. It’s impossible to offer a set of guidelines for knowing when you’re doing the work and when you’re manipulating the work, other than this one: deep within, the truth of you knows. Check in.

re-claiming “authenticity”

So in case you didn’t get the memo–it’s no longer cool to use phrases such as “being your authentic self” or “living an authentic life” on the internet. And…you can probably already tell that in this piece, I’m about to disregard the memo.

A few years ago? It was totally fine to talk about “living authentically” and “finding your authentic self.” It was completely understood that our consumerist-driven, materialistic world tends to make people externalize their happiness, turn away from themselves, and thus, to not live “authentically.”

Right around the time everyone started to use this word, the backlash began–people were sick of the word because everyone was using it (understandable) and at least half of the people using it were using it…inauthentically (which is to say, they were using it as a branding message that they didn’t actually live).

There are some words that I’m happy to toss from the internet lexicon, especially those that both say very little and kind of gross me out (top of my list? “juicy” living. Shudder).

Yet–I keep mulling over “authenticity.” I keep thinking that even if it’s not supposed to be cool to like it…I kind of like it.

Actually, I keep thinking that I really dig it–that it’s a quality of life and a characteristic in a person that I actually endeavor to seek out and connect with.

I keep thinking that maybe it’s a concept that can help us if we make it central to our lives, and that perhaps it’s not one of those that needs to be tossed away.
 

Authenticity, Defined

In case you haven’t looked it up, lately, here’s what I found:

Authenticity. noun. The quality of being authentic; genuineness (courtesy of dictionary.com)

And isn’t that what we most want in our friends, our jobs, our romantic partners? The genuine experience? Yes. No sense in denying that.

So how do you know when you’re not cultivating the genuine experience and when authenticity is not a core operating principle in your life?

>> You say “yes” to things you don’t really want to say “yes” to. You do this both consciously and unconsciously. You say “yes” to the extra errand you didn’t really want to run, or you say “yes” unconsciously–yes to more time in front of the television even though it doesn’t feed your soul or yes to the person who asks if you’ll pimp their new e-course, because you feel bad saying no.
 

>> If you got honest, you’d quickly identify the little undercurrents of resentment. Resentment that he won’t help out around the house, more. Resentments that the kids had a meltdown. Resentment that your sister’s life seems easier. Resentment that your life doesn’t look like your Pinterest board.
 

>> You compare yourself to others. Whether you compare yourself and come out favorably or whether you compare yourself and come out in the red, it doesn’t matter. Both of these are illusions (despite how it may seem, you’re not doing your life any better, or any worse, than anyone else–we all have our own paths) and ticking off the “I’m doing it better” boxes feels just as miserable as ticking off the “I’m doing it worse” boxes.
 

>> Your outsides feel at odds with your insides. You stand in front of the closet, thinking, “I have no idea what to wear,” because you have no idea who bought that tailored skirt and button-down shirt when you know you yearn for dreadlocks and a maxi dress. Or you walk into your house and it never quite feels like home. Or you find yourself having lunch with three co-workers and pretending to be interested in things that really, you have no interest in.
 

>> You aren’t telling the truth in important relationships–like your marriage, or with your family or closest friend. Every time you hang out with your cousin, you come away angry at the things that she says–but you never talk to her about it. You feel like you and your hubs are more roommates than partners–but you’ve never initiated a conversation with him about it, or you tried it once and then didn’t do it again because he wasn’t responsive.
 

>> You aren’t taking responsibility for your life. Check this out: Think of someone you’re currently in conflict with. Whose fault is it that there’s distance between the two of you? Play the situation out in your head. It’s probably “theirs.”

If your cousin’s words bug you, the focus goes to what she says and how she should have said it differently–rather than taking responsibility for your reactions, or for speaking up, and rather than considering other possibilities (maybe you misunderstood; maybe she just needs to be made aware that what she said was insensitive and she’ll apologize; maybe you’re the one over-reacting and the onus to get over it is on you). If your husband isn’t responsive to your attempts to resuscitate the marriage, the focus goes to what he’s done (or is not doing), what he’s saying (or not saying), how he’s not showing up for the marriage.

 

>> And now, the biggie: You’re tired. A lot. Maybe even all of the time. Living inauthentically is exhausting.

 

Course Correcting

“Living authentically” is often painted as a place you can arrive at, a black or white land of “you’re either doing it, or you’re not.” Most people who embark on uncovering their “authentic self” tend to think that their lives are in need of a complete overhaul.

That’s a wonderful, dramatic, passionate, spicy…fantasy. Starting over with a blank slate is fun, but it’s impossible with “living authentically.”

Why? Because there is no blank slate. Your life’s experiences have become etched upon your soul. You already have preferences, aches, and the promise of new, ecstatic joy to be discovered.

All of this is uniquely yours. You can screw with it to a certain degree. But within each of us, there’s a place where you simply can’t deny who you are.

The work of “living authentically” is not about finding yourself. It’s about removing the obstacles to finding yourself.

It’s an ongoing process. It won’t be done in one fell swoop. Not one of the so-called “thought leaders” that you might look up to right now are “done” with living “authentically.” It’s a practice, a process.
 

Removing (self-imposed) obstacles

Stop saying “yes” to the things you don’t want to say “yes” to. Start with what’s easiest and most in your control before moving to the harder stuff (saying “yes” to the boss’s request).

Get honest with yourself about your resentments. Then see above.

Start telling the truth–and tell it clean. Tell it with the intention to connect, not to criticize or make someone else wrong. (P.S. it’s a perversion of the work to criticize someone and then use “What? I’m just telling my truth!” as a fall back).

Clean out a closet. This is an astonishingly potent form of inner work. It will bring up all your stuff (literally and figuratively).

Release the illusion of comparisons. If you’re looking to anyone else as a gauge for whether or not you’re winning at life, you’re looking in all the wrong places.

Take responsibility for your life. It is, after all, your life–your choices. Your happiness. Your ecstatic joy.

 

Think your life needs a complete overhaul? Think again.

You’ve figured out what would fix everything–

  • getting out of your marriage;
  • leaving a soul-sucking job;
  • firing that “energy vampire” of a friend;
  • getting the success you’ve always wanted;
  • finally losing the weight.

 

I vote no.

I vote that life is more nuanced than that.

Yes, there are those cases where one’s life needs a demo and rebuild, not an update. Funny thing, though–usually when someone’s life needs to come crashing down, that tends to happen far beyond their control.

Life is more nuanced than “If this, then that.”

Here is what I know for sure about people: you will take yourself with you, wherever you go.

That means: you will take yourself with you when you leave the marriage (so be very careful about fantasizing that life beyond this marriage will be better, and use this time to discover all that you can about who YOU are, within the context of this relationship).

You will take yourself with you when you leave the job (and project all of the same annoyances onto your new profession, whatever that will be).

You will take yourself with you when you leave that friendship (the part where you give anyone the power to “suck” your energy, for instance).

And of course–you’ll still be you, regardless of the proportions of your thighs.

As a path to happiness, both cutting things out of our lives (people, jobs) and attaining some new shiny thing (money, career, sexier people) is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.

You will always take yourself with you. You can’t swap out for a slimmer pair of pants to get to the fulfillment you crave, and bypass the necessary, and sometimes painful, initiation of truly seeing yourself.

Seeing ourselves is about telling the truth, and telling it clean. This is actually a skill that (I and) most people have needed to learn.

You’ve got to get down to examining the belief systems–because those belief systems are what inform the daily habits, which are then what inform the patterns, which are then what create…the marriage that isn’t working, the job you hate, the relationships that seemingly suck you dry.

The fact that your life does not need a complete overhaul? This is actually the good news (though it can, for some, carry with it a whisper of devastation–no new project? no exciting new self-help plan to map out? you mean it just comes down to me being with me?).

It’s the good news because the skill we most need to learn is how to be with ourselves, fully. It requires courage (of course) and a willingness to get a bit uncomfortable.

Really, the moment that you’re willing to get a bit uncomfortable is the moment that your “entire life” will change.

That’s really where all of this spiritual stuff leads–not to perfect marriages, or perfect careers, or perfect friends, or perfect bodies.

It all leads to feeling a greater sense of happiness because, paradoxically, there’s less resistance to life’s discomforts.

So: want to be liberated from all the stuff that “weighs you down”?

True liberation is when you realize that you take yourself with you, wherever you go–and you’re excited enough about who you are, that you’re happy to have all of you along for the ride.