The Power of Authenticity

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. – Dr. Seuss

That quote nearly lost its meaning for me after hearing it so many times, but I’ve recently rediscovered how liberating and empowering the message is.

I believe and practice a lot of things that would offend people I care about. I’m not a Christian. I practice polyamory. Sometimes I’m attracted to women. I’ve tried illegal substances. I would prefer a world without government. I believe that circumcision, spanking, and most forms of discipline are child abuse. I think formal schooling is unnecessary and usually harmful to children. Sometimes I wonder whether humans would be better off if we lived in tribes as hunter-gatherers and never created civilization.

Did any of those trigger you? I hope so. They’re all things I’ve been afraid to admit to certain people. And each one is a huge topic that I would like to explore on this blog.

But there’s been so much fear holding me back. What if I destroy friendships? Lose job opportunities? Get abandoned by everyone I love and am forced to live the rest of my life in solitary confinement?

Some of these fears are well-founded. I’ve felt deeply betrayed by attempts to “be myself” in the past. One time I even lost a job that I adored because I opened up to my boss about my feelings. I’ve destroyed friendships by revealing my political beliefs. I’ve been rebuked by one of my biggest heroes for expressing my feelings inappropriately on Facebook.

As someone who tends to hold controversial opinions, I’ve continually swung from one extreme—proudly offending everyone within earshot—to the opposite, where I lock my feelings inside and attempt to pass as “normal.”

In my struggle to find a balance, I’m learning that I need to have a bias towards authenticity. People who get offended by my opinions are not usually people I want to spend time with. I don’t want to be friends with them, I don’t want to work for them, and I don’t need them to read my blog.

Looking back on the traumatic losses I experienced by being open in the past, I can see now that most of them were for the best. It really would not have been good for me to stay in a job where I bottled up my concerns about the environmental impact of cotton farming practices. A friendship that required me to believe in Christianity was not worth my energy. By cutting off these attachments, I’ve freed myself to develop more fulfilling relationships.

My biggest struggle recently has been opening up about polyamory. It’s a big part of my life, and keeping it secret feels like betraying myself. I want my friends to accept me for who I really am. But I’ve been worried that people would lose respect for me, assuming I sleep around with everyone I meet with no concern for safety or stability (although even that should be no cause for disrespect). I’ve already shattered my parents’ hopes for me to be a holy daughter, but this might be the last straw that causes them to disown me entirely. I’m in the market for a new job right now, and potential employers might look down on such an alternative lifestyle.

A few days ago I conquered these fears and shared a post about why I practice polyamory. I’ve never seen such a dramatic response. My blog got almost 1,000 page views over the weekend, compared to my normal 2-3 visits per day. I received dozens of messages from people I’ve never even met and friends I haven’t talked to in years. They said they’re inspired by my courage, and now they want to start sharing more about what they believe. Some of them confided that they’ve been exploring polyamory in secret, afraid of the consequences of coming out in public, expressing how grateful they are for my effort to break the stigma.

Of course, there were plenty of responses that weren’t so positive. I offended people I care about deeply. Some people made me out to be a frivolous little girl who wants to run around and sleep with everyone I meet with no regard for my offspring and the people around me. Some of them made valid criticisms of my arguments. I’m not looking forward to the reaction I’ll get from my parents—last they heard, I thought boys had cooties.

What’s amazing is that I’m learning to appreciate the negative feedback. Criticism means that I’m saying something worthwhile and threatening real beliefs. If everyone already agreed with me, then I wouldn’t need to say it.

T.K. Coleman explains it well:

“If you’re writing, saying, doing, or creating something that’s not capable of being misunderstood, I can assure you of one thing: it’s completely useless. If it’s worth it to you to put it out there, it will be worth it to someone else to put it down. Liberate yourself from the illusion that it’s possible to find a mode of expression that will go over well with every single person. Doing things that are useful isn’t the same as doing things that are universally understood.”

Thankfully, the positive connections I made from that post far outnumbered the criticism. That might not always be the case. But as long as I’m speaking my truth in a helpful way, it’s worth it to take a stand for what I believe in. I’d rather form strong connections with a smaller number of people who value that truth than stay in the middle of the road with everyone’s approval.

For everyone reading this, I want to encourage you to be authentic. Prepare yourself for the consequences of people judging you, but know that the connections you do make will be so much more meaningful. Vulnerable self-expression shines like a beacon of courage through the dull clouds of content smothering the internet, shedding light on the fear and isolation so that we don’t have to feel so alone. You’ll discover an empowering freedom and inspire others to do the same.

The Miracle of Mindfulness

While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterwards, and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means that you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes. When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. Just as when you’re drinking tea, drinking tea must be the most important thing in your life. When you’re using the toilet, let that be the most important thing in your life.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness

Washing the dishes?? Almost too radical for me. But not quite. Because I’m learning the hard way right now that if I don’t slow down and live life, then my body will force me to slow down at the most inconvenient time.

Sometimes I feel like I constantly need an adrenaline rush in order to feel alive. But taking the perspective that living means being conscious will lead to a much more fulfilling life.

Tony Robbins

A friend once told me that when he was growing up, his father installed speakers in all of the bathrooms of the house and blasted Tony Robbins through them starting promptly at 6 o’clock every morning. Although my friend complained about this, I’m quite sure he had internalized the messages. He’s one of the most driven, creative people I know.

Another friend of mine, a fellow Praxis participant, told me how he stays motivated when life gets overwhelming. He downloads the audio from motivational Youtube videos and listens to them everywhere he goes. He puts them on repeat until he has them nearly memorized—he says that way, it becomes the voice inside his head.

I certainly know that the voices I hear most follow me wherever I go. When I binge watch Silicon Valley, I get Erlich Bachman’s voice rumbling around inside my head. When I spend too much time with my parents, I get their sighs of disappointment echoing between my eardrums. And when I immerse myself in motivational speakers, my own voices start telling me to believe in myself, that I am capable of achieving my dreams if only I take action today.

I know that if I don’t surround myself with people, books, and voices that empower me, then by default I will slide into the bleary-eyed complacency that’s constantly lapping at me from my news feed, trying to suck me in.

That’s why I’m going to start listening to motivational speakers every day as I get ready in the morning. Let’s see how this changes my life.

I’ll end with some Tony Robbins quotes that I like. You can make fun of him all you want, but you can’t deny that he’s got some great stuff to say:

“The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.” – Tony Robbins

“A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” – Tony Robbins

“One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.” – Tony Robbins

“If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you’ll achieve the same results.” – Tony Robbins

“I challenge you to make your life a masterpiece. I challenge you to join the ranks of those people who live what they teach, who walk their talk.” – Tony Robbins

Taking Responsibility

It’s so easy to fall into blame. If only it were warmer outside, I would get more exercise. If only I had more time, I would read that book. If only I wasn’t broke, life would be so much easier. If only people weren’t so stupid, I would have better friends.

When you make claims like this (something I’m guilty of far too often) you’re saying that you have no control over how you’re feeling. You’re placing your happiness into the hands of people and events outside of yourself. The result is that you might feel good sometimes when things are going your way, but as soon as the clouds inevitably roll in, you’ll go back down into the dumps.

These beliefs of victimhood are the reason people spend so much time advocating for other people to solve their problems. That’s why they want the “government” to give them free healthcare and they want everyone else to use the correct terminology so they don’t get offended. That’s why they’re so obsessed with “privilege.” It’s no wonder they’re never happy.

In “The Six Pillars of Self Esteem,” Nathaniel Branden explains how taking responsibility for your own happiness can transform your life.

One of the characteristics of immaturity is the belief that it is someone else’s job to make me happy—much as it was once my parents’ job to keep me alive. If only someone would love me, then I would love myself. If only someone would take care of me, then I would be contented. If only someone would spare me the necessity of making decisions, then I would be carefree. If only someone would make me happy. Here’s a simple but powerful stem to wake one up to reality: If I take full responsibility for my personal happiness—. Taking responsibility for my happiness is empowering. It places my life back in my own hands. Ahead of taking this responsibility, I may imagine it will be a burden. What I discover is that it sets me free.

If you believe your happiness is primarily in your own hands, you give yourself enormous power. You don’t wait for events or other people to make you happy. If something is wrong, your response is not, “Someone’s got to do something!” but “What can I do?”

Take action on this today. When something irks you and you start to blame the world outside of yourself, take a minute and think about what you can do about it. Then take those steps.



Fear is that which destroys us from a distance and empowers us up close. – TK Coleman

Most of the personal development work I have done in the past few years has largely been a matter of overcoming my fears, or as Seth Godin says, learning to “dance with fear.” Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of criticism—all these fears, and more, used to cripple me and prevent me from accomplishing anything.

This is because I was viewing my fears from a distance. When the sun is low and you stand far enough away from anyone, their shadow will loom menacingly. When you go up close and scrutinize that same fear, perhaps even giving it a hug or trying to talk to it, everything changes. You realize that it’s just trying to protect you, not ruin your life. You can negotiate with it and let it take you for the thrilling ride of stepping out of your comfort zone. Once you cultivate this relationship, you can live life so much more freely. The hard part is getting to that point.

I believe that we are all born with this kind of relationship towards our fears. But because of the way we’re raised, we’ve become estranged and lost the connection with our inner selves. Restoring the relationship is more so a matter of cutting away at the brambles that have overgrown the abandoned path than using dynamite to blast a tunnel through a mountain of solid rock, although it feels that way at times.

I spent the past couple days with a child who is growing up in the most peaceful, healthy, natural way I’ve ever seen. He spends his days frolicking in the woods, imitating his parents, and playing with other children. No one needs to push him to learn—his parents have simply removed the barriers and let him follow his natural curiosity to explore and understand the world around him. The result is an exuberant, independent child.

At almost 2 years old, he has more confidence and courage than most people I’ve met. Everything he does fascinates me, as he seems to be so free from the woes and disconnection of modern life. What struck me most was the way he treated fear.

Down the hill behind his house runs a mountain stream. The water is icy cold this time of year, and it was higher than normal due to recent rains. The only way to cross the stream is via a rudimentary bridge built by his father from thin logs. Even for me, crossing feels treacherous as I see the water rushing along the rocks beneath me and I know that one misplaced foot would take me tumbling into the stream.

Nearly any parent I know who saw their toddler going near this structure would swoop in without a second thought and whisk him away to a safer activity like sitting in front of the TV. They would imagine all the horrific possibilities: his foot could fall between the logs and get him stuck, he could slip and crack his head open on the rocks, he could drown under the icy water.

Little Aaru, however, is left to make these decisions for himself. As I started crossing the bridge ahead of him, I could see the fear in his eyes. He didn’t need an adult to tell him it was dangerous—he could see that for himself. He asked for help, and I readily gave him my hand.

Later when we crossed back, he took a different approach. Although I could see that he felt the same fear, he mustered a strong determination to overcome it. He refused my offer to help and started to cross on his own, slowly and carefully, using his hands and feet like a little monkey. He looked down at the icy water rushing beneath him periodically, clearly aware of the danger, placing his hands and feet with great care. When he made it across, he didn’t turn around and look at me for my approval, like many children who are used to external validation. He simply ran forward joyfully to meet another challenge.

Aaru’s relationship with fear is the healthy one we were all born with. For most of us, it was squelched out by overbearing parents who didn’t trust our ability to assert our own needs. It’s the one we need to restore if we want to self-actualize and achieve greatness.

Despite what you’ve been taught, fear is not a feeling that you should avoid at all costs. Instead of running away from it, you should examine it and weigh the risks and benefits. When you reawaken your natural drive to learn and overcome challenges, it will pull you through all but the most perilous situations. Then when you make it across the bridge, the internal feeling of accomplishment should be enough to propel you forward to bigger streams.

This isn’t easy when we’re trying to undo decades of conditioning. But it’s helpful to remember that it’s not something that has to be forced, it’s just about rediscovering and unlocking the knowledge that has always been inside you.



Today in my reading Anne Lamott explained how she came to terms with her jealousy of more successful writers:

I started to write about my envy. I got to look in some cold dark corners, see what was there, shine a little light on what we all have in common. Soetimes this human stuff is slimy and pathetic—jealousy especially so—but better to feel it and talk about it and walk through it than to spend a lifetime being silently poisoned. 


I saw a poster today advertising a “Walk to Stop Suicide.” “You can make a difference,” it said.

How is taking a walk going to change the minds of people who think their life has no value? More likely, it’s going to convey the message that having suicidal thoughts means something is wrong with you, and you should be ashamed of yourself. It’s going to further marginalize the people it claims to help.

You know what might actually make a difference?

If we were to start encouraging others to be open about how they really feel. If we didn’t always expect them to have a positive mindset. If we were accepting of depression, grief, and anger, and stopped avoiding them like ebola. If we acknowledged that it’s normal to be depressed sometimes—and that many of us have had suicidal thoughts.

That way, people would realize that they’re not all alone in this.

A few months ago, an acquaintance of mine committed suicide. Although I had never even met him in person, it came as a great shock to me, because he was in a similar place in life as I was, and we had numerous mutual friends. As I discussed the event with these friends, some powerful revelations came to light: nearly all of them, including myself, had at some point dealt with suicidal thoughts. Yet we had suffered in silence, because it’s not okay to talk about that. It’s that lonely suffering that is the most dangerous.

Knowing that others are struggling with similar troubles eases the burden. And once you can talk about these things, you start to find solutions. You realize that life is indeed worth living.


I like thinking about each person’s life like a plot of land. At birth, we’re given a certain amount of land of a certain terrain. Then it’s up to us to do what we want with it.

Before you build anything on your land, you need to explore it–to figure out what type of soil you have to work with, what defines the landscape. Even if it’s not optimal, you can cultivate the land.

Then, when you’re ready, you can build something. You can construct a humble abode, or you can make something tall enough to inspire those in the land surrounding you. You can even build something that will shed light on the surrounding land, helping others to explore the dark regions of their land that lie in the shadows.

Anne Lamott has some similar ideas:

Every single one of us at birth is given an emotional acre all our own. You get one, your awful Uncle Phil gets one, I get one, Tricia Nixon gets one, everyone gets one. And as long as you don’t hurt anyone, you really get to do with your acre as you please. You can plant fruit trees or flowers or alphabetized rows of vegetables, or nothing at all. If you want your acre to look like a giant garage sale, or an auto-wrecking yard, that’s what you get to do with it. There’s a fence around your acre, though, with a gate, and if people keep coming onto your land and sliming it or trying to get you to do what they thing is right, you get to ask them to leave. And they have to go, because this is your acre.

Being Normal

“You’re not normal.”

Has anyone ever used those words to hurt you?

My high school experience was basically 3 straight years of this insult being shoveled onto me until I was buried so deep that I could barely see the light. It took me a long time to realize that I should actually be taking those words as a compliment.

Unlike many of my classmates, who could magically conform to whatever absurd fashions were trending at the time, I couldn’t seem to do it—even when I tried. I thought something was wrong with me, and I hated myself for it. Being different meant being a loner, and I thought I would never be successful until I learned how to fit in.

The education system rewards this type of conformity. You succeed in school when you follow the rules to a T and never dare to question authority.

But the real world doesn’t work like that. Especially as machines take over automated tasks and humans are left with the creative work, success awaits those who are able to break the mold and be brazenly different. You can’t change the world unless you’re willing to stand out from the crowd.

Don’t ever try to be normal. Figure out where you’re different, and then cultivate that area. Be proud of it.


Last night I dreamt that I was walking down a staircase that led me deep under the earth. The air down there was barely breathable, but I couldn’t turn around. I told my companion that I was suffocating and he didn’t hear me. When I finally realized that I was stuck in a dungeon with no way out and I couldn’t breathe, I awoke.

After some lengthy analysis of this and earlier parts of the same dream, I realized that the dream was telling me something: I’ve been pursuing too many conversations where my voice is not heard, where I’m traveling down a tunnel with no way out. Unlike conversations that let you explore new ideas without fear of judgment, these discussions turn into debates where everything I say is used against me, and my opinions don’t really matter. That’s what it feels like when you get defensive about a position you hold, and you argue for it with all your might, but you know it’s never going to get you anywhere.

The dream helped me understand a part of my life that I wasn’t paying attention to.

Your subconscious knows more than you do. Sometimes the only way it can reach your conscious mind is through your dreams. It’s easy to dismiss them as trivial, but if you take the time to analyze them, then they can reveal powerful connections in your life and point out things that you would never be able to understand.

Pay attention to them. Write them down. Unlock the power of your subconscious mind.

Dreams are the deepest messages of our soul, but expressed in symbolic code.

– Daniel Mackler