Excerpted with permission from "The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life" by Susan Piver.

What does it mean to live authentically? Living authentically is what you're doing when you find congruence between your inner world: your feelings, values, gifts, needs, spirituality, and passions, and your outer world: your job, relationships, home, and community. When you live an authentic life, these things support and synergize each other. It doesn't mean that you have no worries, conflicts, or fears; you may even have more as you choose to live authentically. There is one key difference, though: they no longer have the power to unseat you. When you have discovered what you can offer to others, when you feel that we are on your unique path, when you have an ongoing, honest, reliable connection to your inner wisdom, then you have found your unique spot in this world with all its craziness, sorrow, and joy. This discovery gives tremendous ease. You finally have a way of relating to work, lovers, friends, and spiritual practices with open-heartedness and intelligence. Problems, no matter how intense, are workable.

An unprecedented number of us are now looking for our own answers to life's hard questions. We are no longer satisfied with the vision for life offered by clergy, family, society. We can no longer look to outside sources or institutions, no matter how cherished, to hand us a working vision of how to become an adult, find a spouse, raise children, or engaged in meaningful work. It is up to each of us individually and with those closest to us, to discover our own personal vision of life. How amazing: in our lifetime, the locus of responsibility for choosing a path has shifted away from religion, culture, society to.ourselves. Yet we've received virtually no education or training for assuming this potent task.

If we truly want to discover the purpose of our lives, be guided by our own inner wisdom, and live with authenticity, this--assuming primary responsibility for our own precious human life--is the most important shift we can ever make.

The work begins with questions. Asking a question can be a sacred act. A real question assumes a dialogue, a link to the source from which answers come. Asking a question is a simple, profound way of initiating a relationship with the energies and powers around and within you. Talking, telling, explaining, complaining, railing, criticizing, praising, lamenting, beseeching--these are the ways we must commonly approach important questions. If we can drop all these for just a moment and simply ask, wonder, become curious about.an opening for an answer will be created. Questioning by its very nature is a spiritual practice. We come into dialogue with God, our true nature, wisdom, whatever we choose to call it, whenever we stop, look inside, and take the time and effort to really listen to ourselves.

Asking the Hard Questions can help us do something we aren't really taught to do: make friends with ourselves. Usually, we related to ourselves with some crazy mixture of egotism and low self-esteem. We are continually judging, berating, haranguing, inflating, defending, and/or consoling ourselves. Rarely do we make the gesture of simple friendship toward ourselves, although we most likely make such gestures throughout the day to others. With our friends, we are interested, caring, and helpful. This process asks you to extend the hand of friendship to yourself.

Editor's note: The questions below are selected from the 100 questions in "The Hard Questions for an Authentic Life" and are meant to provide a starting place for your personal reflections. The questions are broken up into seven areas of life.

What values did I gain from my family of origin? The three most helpful? The three least helpful? Where do I notice these values showing up in my current life, with my current family (if applicable), and with my friends and intimate partners?

What do I wish my family understood about me? Knew about me? Liked about me? Are there contributions I make that I feel go unappreciated? Are there things I like about myself that my family doesn't seem to recognize and value? Does my family "see" and appreciate who I really am? If not, how can I bring them more fully into my inner life? Or become reconciled to the idea that this may never happen?

What does the word friendship mean to me? What purpose do I think friends serve in my life? What qualities do I expect to find in the people I number among my friends?

If I want to make new friends, how can I go about that? Is there anyone at work with whom I'd like to develop a deeper connection? Is there a club or organization I could join or an activity I could pursue that would put me in contact with people whose interests and values are similar to my own?

Intimate Relationships
What do I most want to share with my intimate partner? Emotional support? Sexuality? Friendship? Spiritual connection? Intellectual rapport? A shared lifestyle and values? Fun? Something else? How do I prioritize these? How does my partner prioritize them?

What qualities do I most appreciate in my partner? What qualities do I dislike? Have I discussed these with him in a healthy and productive way? Do I see him as he sees himself? Do I value him for the things he values in himself?

Am I able to elucidate my professional values, goals, and aspirations? If so, what are they? Even if I can't be specific in my description, what do I know about myself fin this regard?

Does the money I earn make me feel valued for the work I do? If not, what salary or remuneration would make me feel valued? Am I prepared to work toward this goal? With whom do I need to have this discussion? What do I need in terms of support or information to begin?

Do I possess any particular creative gifts that I'm too shy or embarrassed to admit, maybe even to myself? Am I able to "own" my gifts; do I feel comfortable admitting them, even to myself? If I were to allow these gifts to manifest in my life, how would my life change?

With whom do I feel most comfortable being my most powerful, gifted self? What do these people do to make me feel this way? With whom do I feel the least comfortable? What do these people do to make me feel this way?

Spiritual Life
How, where, and with whom do I most clearly express the spiritual qualities of love, compassion, patience, tolerance, forgiveness, contentment, and happiness? Which of these am I most lacking in? In which areas of my life and in which relationships? How can I cultivate and deepen these qualities in myself and in everyday dealings with others?

What do I do to be of service to others? Do I offer the fruits of my spiritual beliefs and practices to others? Do I give back to the world? Of am I simply not able to at this time? If I do express generosity, how do I do it? How might I increase the role of generosity in my life?

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