The Work of Authenticity
I am thrilled to be able to post this thoughtful piece from my wonderful friend, Alisa. As it is her first guest post here, please be respectful and sensitive in your comments and refer to our comment policy if you have any questions regarding what is or is not appropriate. Thank you.
Like many women, I’ve read and loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. My favorite quote from her book says: “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of someone else’s life perfectly.”
I consider myself philosophically part Existentialist. In this collection of thought, there’s this idea of Authenticity, where an individual learns to fight for her own personal truth against the external forces that can try to make her conform to the standards of others. The strongest of these forces can often come from those closest to us, the ones to whom we most desire to bring pleasure. That’s what makes Authenticity so hard. That’s also why Authenticity is something worth striving for in our lives. As a recent post by Jessawhy made me realize, if God is everything we’ve been taught, then why would God reward those who merely comply with the path of least resistance? The God I know values those who question deeply within their souls and strive to magnify their existence (and consequently, God’s existence) in the most meaningful ways possible. That requires being one’s Authentic self.
I am a full-time working woman without children. I’ve been married for over six years, and although my husband is in a professional career, I’ve made the choice to keep working. From the point of meeting others’ expectations, this hasn’t been easy at all. I planned to have children, and then backed out, feeling unfit, uncertain, and unready. I have spent my nights crying in bed because I had always thought I wanted to be a mother, and now I just wasn’t sure if I would ever be one. To compound my struggle, I have received to numerous judgmental comments from LDS people in the last few years, as well as remarks from church leaders, which left me feeling that because I chose to be a working, married woman, I had no value. These people seem to make the assumption that married women work for one of two reasons: they need the financial support, or they are materialistic.
When I was a younger, I never planned on a full-time career. I felt free to study literature and go to graduate school, just for the fun of it, and I felt my life was as Authentic as it could get. When I found my job as a business consultant, I discovered I loved working. I found out that a career was an education in itself, an identity, a source of fulfillment. My husband and I were going to start our family when I no longer needed to work for financial reasons, but that is when I discovered that I needed to work for emotional reasons. I needed that structure, the number of people depending on me to lead in meetings and projects, and the great people with whom I daily interacted who had become my good friends.
I felt enormous spiritual guilt over this. I was told that if I felt my choices were right, then I wouldn’t be so conflicted. This was no consolation. Discovering that your life defies even your own righteous expectations is not a happy thing. Realizing that prayer and tears aren’t going to fix it is even worse. I realized that it wasn’t so much about me not having kids, but about me having a crisis of faith because what I had been told all along about the role of women was no longer true for me, despite my best efforts to fit all the norms.
This is where a new struggle for Authenticity came in. From a theoretical standpoint, I had to strike out on my own, without the support of the Church or its leaders, and do what I knew was right for me, with reasons unique to me. I’m still involved in the Church, but I do so on my own terms. I check inside myself before accepting a belief or call to action to make sure it’s right for me.
My friend who is an LDS Reiki healer says it this way: I’ve got to realize that there’s certain truth within me for right now. When I’m comfortable with that, I’ll go onto another layer of truth and work with that. Despite (or because of) this work, I’m getting better. I suppose Authenticity wouldn’t count if it came easily to my life. In fact, if I waited it would never come. I have to bring it in myself.