Are you Paying the Authenticity tax?

The authenticity tax is the price we pay for intentional living. It's not cheap, but it's absolutely worth it. Click through to read more.

This is exactly the kind of stuff we talk about in my course Put Your Money Where Your Happy Is. Registration opens November 6th. Click here to get on the waitlist!


It’s 2011 and I’m at a bonfire with friends. I’m about to leave for a 10-month trip and we’re all drinking and eating in honor of my impending travel.

Talk turns to dating-while-traveling. A married friend takes a long swig of his beer and levels his eyes at me across the fire.

“Aren’t you afraid that if you keep traveling you’re not going to meet a nice guy?” he asks loud enough for everyone to hear.

I blush and mumble something unintelligible, but by now I should be used to questions like these.

This not-particularly-polite-question is an example of the authenticity tax. It’s the price we pay for living a life that’s right for us.

The authenticity tax is the price we pay for living a life that’s right for us. Click To Tweet

The truth is, anytime you make a choice that’s right for you but runs counter to expectations, you’re going to get pushback. Family members are going to ask you about it at Thanksgiving. Friends might elbow you after a few drinks. Co-workers will look askance. Maybe the neighbors will talk.

These questions and comments are frustrating, condescending, and sometimes downright hurtful. But the truth is, they’re usually par for the course if you’re living your life on purpose.

If you do something on your own because your friends + family don’t ‘get’ it, you’ll pay the authenticity tax

Maybe you’re the only vegetarian in a family of carnivores. Maybe you’ve started going to church while all your friends are devout Atheists. Maybe nobody has the time/money/interest in joining you on your Southeast Asia backpacking trip, so you’re going it alone.

It can be surprisingly hard to even acknowledge you like things that nobody else in your life likes! Doing things on your own requires a lot of courage. It’s always worth it (even if your brother mocks your meat-free meal every Thanksgiving.)

If you make a surprising life choice, you’ll pay the authenticity tax

Have you ever left an impressive, corner-office job? Or broken up with a Great Person all your friends liked? Did you sell your house and go back to renting?

Congratulations! You’ve probably already paid the authenticity tax in the form of judgmental comments and gossip you weren’t even aware of!

If possible, remind your nosy Aunt Marge that your life choices are not a commentary on hers.

If you take a stand about something that’s important to you, you’ll pay the authenticity tax

Fun fact! In the last year, as I’ve become more vocal about my political views, I’ve been trolled, lost social media followers, and been unfriended on Facebook by people I’ve known for 10+ years.

And maybe the same thing happened to you when you called out someone for using offensive language or propagating sexism. Maybe family members are upset that you keep trying to talk about politics.

If something’s important to you, it’s worth speaking up about. Will people disagree with you and be uncomfortable with your stance? Yes! Should you do it anyway? Also yes!

Related: What to do when someone says something offensive

If you evolve as a human, you’ll pay the authenticity tax

If you’ve ever quit drinking, smoking, or gossiping you’ve probably experienced the heartbreak of realizing some of your friendships were built around these things.

If you’ve ever made big, positive changes in your life – you got really healthy or upleveled professionally – you’ve probably experienced people being uncomfortable with your success.

Not everyone in our lives is comfortable with change, particularly change within the people we love. When you evolve, you’re showing the people in your life that change is possible. A lot of us would rather continue to bask in our bad habits. We’d rather roll our eyes at tryhards than, ya know, do anything.

When you become a better version of yourself, a few people will drop out of your life. That’s the price we pay.
Paying the authenticity tax isn’t fun, but it’s cheaper than living an ill-fitting life. Click To Tweet
As strange as it sounds, I find this concept incredibly comforting. The same way I can look at my income and know that 28% of it is going to the government, I can look at my life choices and know that at some point, someone’s going to judge me or comment on it.

Now that I know it’s going to happen, I budget accordingly.

I want to hear from you! Have you ever paid the authenticity tax? What for and how did it look? Tell us in the comment so we know we’re not alone!

P.S This is the exactly kind of thing we talk about in my free, private Facebook group Money & Happy. Click here to join us!

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

29 Comments

Sharon B

One major area of my life where I’m being ‘taxed’ right now is my dating life… or lack thereof. A year ago I broke up with a guy who I’d been with for 7 years. He had so many great qualities but he messed up badly. Nobody really questioned me on that but now that it’s been a while, I’m getting a lot of ‘when are you going to start dating again?’

Which is funny because I’ve never really ‘dated’. I actually really like being single and it took a lot to convince me that a relationship was a good idea all those years ago. So now I have no inclination to seek one out again. And I don’t want children so there’s no ‘ticking clock’. I’ve bought a house. I’m staying in my city job and not running home. I’m making more time for me. I’m just doing my thing and I love it. But not everyone gets that.

Side note: So jealous of your 28% tax rate 🙂

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Polyana

I feel like I’m in a constant cycle of paying an authenticity tax, to the point where it’s a “way of life” for me! haha

First it was leaving the US to live in Brazil nearly 10 years ago – who leaves a developed country to “struggle in the ‘third’ world”? Especially because my family immigrated to the US so many years ago, many almost saw it as a betrayal to my parents’ sacrifice.

Then it was quitting my stable high paying job to start a business.

Then it was moving in with my boyfriend with no plans on getting married anytime soon. (Surprisingly, my extremely Catholic grandmother was one of the ones who was the most accepting of this)

And now it’s being vocal about the decision we’ve made to not have kids. Which unfortunately, I feel like will never be 100% accepted by “society”.

Thankfully, I have no plans on making drastic diet changes, so I at least have that 🙂

Even more thankfully, I have incredibly supporting parents who have told me to be happy with my decisions above any and every thing – and even when they don’t agree with me, they’re open to hearing my decision making processes, eventually giving in, because I’m happy!

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Tazim

Oh I pay this tax all the time. My immediate family live in another city but I’m over here at 37 living alone and single with no kids. It’s gotten to the point where my aunts don’t tell me I should have kids anymore, but that I should at least get married. Or get a real career.
I get taxed all the time at work for standing up for my beliefs when no one else agrees.

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Ali

People used to question me constantly about my decision to not have kids. It’s eased up a bit since I married a great guy who also doesn’t want kids (this debunked a lot of the “what if you meet the perfect guy but he wants kids?” people) and since I’m now in my late 30s, I think people are either realizing I’m probably NOT going to change my mind, or they just think it’s too late anyway.

I work from home and make a living from travel blogging…plenty of people don’t understand that and don’t think I have a job. I get that blogging for a job is confusing to some people, but I’m living the life I want and I have lots of flexibility, so it’s all good.

I’ve been living in Germany for over 6 years now (my husband has been here for 10 years) and yet we still get people asking when we’re going to move back “home.” Answer: I doubt that will ever happen. Berlin is home now, I like it here. This wasn’t an experiment or anything. My life is better here, so I’m staying.

The world would be a boring place if we were all the same, right?

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Emily Frömel

I’ve been in Germany for sixteen years people still ask when I will go home… My husband is German… I tell people he’s home so am I. He moves I move, we’re a package deal. It still shocks me this is a foriegn concept. I totally feel your pain on that tax.

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Ana Navarro

Me too! I’ve been living in Austria for five years, I studied there, I work there and I live there with my boyfriend, but my neighbors still ask me when I’m going back to Spain every time they see me.

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Rachael

My entire life as a Spoonie is a constant Auhenticity Tax. From having to live with my mom because I can’t work full time to going to long stretches of not dating, and especially chosing not to drive, I am always paying the toll.

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Aubrey

I feel the same way. I’m struggling with living with family at the age of 35 because of my disabilities. It feels awkward to bring it up when I do go on dates, or meet new people. But to be honest, I actually like it. I don’t like living with roommates, but I also don’t love living alone that much. It’s nice to come home to family at night. In many other countries this wouldn’t be a big deal at all, but in the US it’s considered weird or “loser-ish”.

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Sarah Von Bargen

I know multiple people in their thirties who moved back in with family for a period of time! And you’re right! In other countries it’s super normal!

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Anonymous

I find that the tax has shown up in dissolving friendships. When I made big improvements to my health, got married, moved across the country, or changed my career path–sometimes people I was close to seemed to want me to fail, and when it went so well (!!) they were not able to share in my happiness, unfortunately. It makes me really sad, but then again, I have to ask myself if these people were really friends?

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Sarah Von Bargen

It’s disappointingly common, I think. I can’t find it at the moment, but there was an article going around last year about how the TRUE measure of the strength of a friendship was how people reacted when someone experienced significant success. A lot of people are more comfortable being a helper or enabler than they are being a cheer-er-on-er :/

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Anonymous

I’ve experienced all four. All my travel friends are married with kids so I now travel solo. They always ask me who I’m going with or went with on my trips and when I say just me, they seriously act horrified. While I used to love traveling with friends, I found I prefer big overseas trips or volunteer trips on my own. I’ve quit jobs and moved a few times in the US and overseas and also got the same horrified response. I live in DC so I participate in marches fairly often these days and have also lost friends on Facebook because of speaking out. It just seems like no matter what you do someone will disagree and it never has anything to do with why YOU are doing it. Just do it, 9 times out of 10 after you do it, your current friends will be inspired by it or you’ll find new friends that fit your lifestyle.

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Beth

Girl, I’ve been paying Authenticity Taxes for decades! I live with my spouse whom I am not married to (who is also 17 years my senior), he has three adult children, and I have NO desire to bear children. I get the “don’t you wanna get married and finally commit to each other?” question (because blending your lives for 12 years isn’t commitment) AND the “But don’t you want to experience having your OWN child?” question. (Because loving someone else’s children isn’t enough! The child should come from your own body to be valid!) That’s along with the annoying “The age difference isn’t noticeable NOW, but what about when he’s 80 and you’re 63?” question. I like living my life on MY terms. I am so much happier than many of the people around me who live life on everyone else’s terms.

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Christine

I quit my teaching job this past year and have yet to find another job. Financially we’re fine and while I am getting bored I don’t want to go back into a toxic workplace just for extra money. My favorite thing is when everyone (EVERYONE) suggests that I sub instead. My husband and I just bought a travel trailer that we’re going to fix up and live in on a friends farm. I fully expect to pay an authenticity tax when I tell my parents (sometime this week).

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Tonyia

One of my many authenticity taxes is that I decided to leave a profession in 2010 that I had paid over $60,000 worth of school for. The extremely short reason why is that I was not happy in it. Many people don’t understand and say ridiculous, insulting and hurtful things. I still don’t tell everyone, although when I do I’ve learned to keep the details very general and the answers vague, as in “I was not happy in the profession and I wanted a change.”
I realize that unless people have had a certain level of education, training and experience, that they will rarely understand or get it. I am almost at the point where it is amusing to see their reaction, but I find that I have the desire less and less to see their reaction, because I have moved on and am focused on the present and future, not the past.

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Heidi

I pay the authenticity tax when my parents refuse to acknowledge my best friend and roommate, Patricio. We’ve been living together for three years and it’s like they still can’t believe that I (a white woman) am living with a Mexican man. It hurts, because of course I wish they would be happy for me the way they are for my sisters who are dating white guys.

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Byron Johnson

Hi Sara, It’s your old hilarious math teacher who my wife Karen found in the Independent article on you blog. I’m an avid reader of your blog and am sorry I didn’t teach you more math, but could at least get a chuckle out of you. If you have time to respond would love to hear about your folks who were wonderful teachers and raised great kids. I think your dad’s name was Dennis and I forgot your mom’s name, but Karen thinks it was Annette. Anyway senility has grabbed me as I prefer that to dementia or Alzheimer’s. You as a language arts person would know. Is it an adverb if?: Byron is Senile, or Byron is demented. Byron is a Swede and does not appreciate being associated with a German sounding name like Alzheimer’s. I”m up front about it because its going to cause your generation a lot of anjous. My health, though I’m pain free is not real good so I may die before I completely am unmanageable. The drugs they give for dementia seem in my case to be working so i enjoy life and find pleasure in simple things. I’m writing a history of my family and sending them via email to all seven of them. The oldest who is 21 especially seems to enjoy them. I started with my grandparents and am now to my junior high years. Each email i give a chapter name so it keeps me engaged and sinse I’m a tearable spelling I never used to write letters. So now with word processors and spell check I only contact through email. I’ve got that figured out, Facebook and all the other sociaial media is beyond me. Thought it seems we are being goverored by tweeter. My one big regret is that I may see Trump as my last President. Keep up the good work. By
ps Just noticed for some reason when I typed in the email address it would only type a capital B. It really is a lower case b.

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Bun

I get this sometimes, though it’s mostly just wide-eyed questions about “how can you stand it?”, over my long-term long-distance relationship. I’ve been with the same guy since college (14 years in January), and though we lived together the first 5 years, we’ve been at least a 6-hour drive apart ever since. It happened because of work and rent (we started the split both living with our respective parents in different states) with the idea we’d get back together in a few months, but careers went a different way and we’ve ended up staying put (I even bought a house). We both work a lot, and I have health problems, and it’s actually kind of nice to have someone who loves you but isn’t in your face or on your schedule all the time. We talk every night, and visit when we can, and it works for us. But people find it really weird, and I suppose I don’t blame them…

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Courtney

Great article!
I limit my speaking out on the subject but I am growing more confident in sharing that I don’t buy into this oppressive narrative that Black and POC folks are oppressed and are so down-trodden. I’m a huge believer in the law of attraction and know that our words hold SO MUCH POWER so I refuse to buy into a narrative that sees me as powerless, down-trodden, etc.
I already feel alienated holding this belief as a Black woman but then there’s the further alienation that comes from other folks who look like you….but I find I’d much rather be loved for who I truly am than some fake-ass version of myself.

Unrelated, my mom asked me last weekend if I had anyone “special” in my life. I admit I was triggered and got upset. I quickly told her, “[My cat’s name] is my someone special.” I ended up writing my mom a letter last night letting her know that I’m happy as a single woman. Sure I’d like a girlfriend but so much in my life has worked out without me having to toil to make it happen. I figure the universe/my Higher Self knows better than little old ego me and will bring that special lady/those special ladies into my life when the time is right. Until then I’ll keep enjoying my time with my cat and my houseplants.

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Sara

Leaving my full-time job 5 years ago to make a go at it on my own (even though I had already been freelancing for more than a decade). Finding a degree of success. Finding more. Not being able to have kids when people thought I should. Doing IVF. Taking a break from IVF. Getting pregnant at 38 (IVF!). Working while pregnant. Working adjacent to the craft beer/wine/spirits industry while pregnant. “What are you going to do after?” Not oversharing everything about said pregnancy on Facebook. Not minding not drinking (though I really could go for a glass of wine right now … and I might. I’m 39 weeks.)

Thank you, Sarah, for the opportunity to vent. And to the rest of you for “getting it.” xoxo

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kddomingue

Being a stay at home mother and housewife for years. Breastfeeding. Working part time at jobs that allowed me to take care of my family and work my schedule around theirs, to be available for them. Choosing not to go to college garnered many hurtful comments about wasting my intellect. Not having a “proper” career. Any time you choose to do anything outside of the norm, you will pay the authenticity tax.

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K

This is so real. Moving 2000 km away to go to university at age 18. Living on my own in a city much larger than where I grew up. Travelling instead of saving up to buy a car/house/whatever. But by far the biggest one has been quitting drinking. Unfortunately I have lost friendships and it is a huge hindrance in my dating life, which is so sad because it was such a positive change for my health.

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Anonymous

I must be a top level authenticity tax payer …in the past three years I left my senior management role , got divorced and moved from a city in England to a farming village in southern Spain and bought a puppy dog !… A lot of my friends think I lost the plot ! … When actually I was escaping the hampster wheel and the cage .

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J.H. Moncrieff

The comments that used to drive me craziest were, “Why isn’t (boyfriend’s name) going with you?” whenever I talked about my trips. Even my best friend, who knows me well, will ask why I’m not bringing my bf when I ask her to travel or go to an event with me. It’s so frustrating! Why does having a romantic partner mean you have to do absolutely everything with that person? I think it’s healthier not to. Sure, I traveled with my bf as well, but I had the time/money/desire to travel a lot more than he did…should I have just stayed at home and waited?

People in my life are already used to my decisions not to have kids, get married, and that I quit my high-paying job and remortgaged my house to follow my dream of being a full-time novelist, so I don’t take much (or any) flack about that.

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Vanessa

Have I ever paid the authenticity tax? Have I ever?

I paid it when I finished a law degree and decided that I didn’t want to follow all of my friends into corporate law jobs and started working in retail.

I paid it when I decided I didn’t want to have children, that being a Mum is just Not For Me.

I paid it when I became a vegan, when most people around me want to joke about how vegans are pushy and lame.

But I am working in a job that I enjoy. I’m happy playing with my friends kids and giving them back when they begin to get grizzly. I enjoy experimenting with delicious plant-based recipes and trying foods I never would have dreamed of eating before I went vegan. I feel like I’m the most honest version of myself, and that’s important to me.

I feel comforted by the idea of an “authenticity tax”. I am happy to pay if it means living the way I want to live.

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