In The Emperor’s New Clothes Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of an emperor whose biggest concern was how to dress well. Most of his time was spent buying new clothes or showing them off. One day, two merchants gave him an offer he could not resist: In exchange for a lot of money, they would weave a set of clothes more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. Not only would it have the brightest colors and most elaborate patterns, it would also be invisible to anyone that was stupid. The emperor could not think of a better way of looking great and trimming the fat off the royal court. Unfortunately, once the clothes were done and the merchants dressed him, he found himself naked. None of his advisors dared to tell him the obvious, afraid of being outed as stupid. So, the emperor ordered a celebration in honor of his new outfit. And that is how, unable to admit his vanity had gotten him tricked (or that perhaps he was stupid), the emperor was surrounded by his entire empire when a little child finally said it: “the emperor has no clothes!”

Facing the truth is hard. Most of the time it requires owning up to parts of yourself that you would rather not think about. But a life worth living is one of adventure, and the greatest source of adventure is the truth. So here is why you should face it.

Truth is what you find when you let go of how you think things should be. The systematic process of discovering truth is known as Science. 1 Truth is what you see when you look in the mirror. It is the way people treat you. It is how you look. It is your spouse. It is your career. It is your health. It is your talents. It is your mistakes. It is your insecurities. It is your responsibilities. It is not your potential, it is what you’ve done.

Facing truth means you stop avoiding what you don’t want to hear. For example, it may be accepting your relationship is toxic, you use hobbies to avoid responsibility, you care too much about what others think of you, you distract yourself from hard emotions with pleasure, you don’t work as hard as you could, you hate yourself, you have bad friends, you are angry, your job is a dead-end, or you avoid conflict and let yourself get stepped on. If any of this makes you uncomfortable, it’s probably true. Will you let these uncomfortable truths drag you down into a bottomless pit of resentment, cynicism, and hate? Or will you face them and get better?

Truth is the ultimate adventure because it does not depend on what you know, like, think, or want. And I think you should face it because what is more adventurous, more uncertain, more worthy than going headfirst into the dark forest of reality?

“If I know what I shall find, I do not want to find it. Uncertainty is the salt of life” - Erwin Chargaff

You should face truth because it will force you to become the best version of yourself. Truth shines a bright light on what you lack. When you face it and ask “why did I fail?” or “how can I be better?” - and you also want the answer - you can begin to improve. And if you don’t feel like you deserve becoming a better person, think of the people you love. Pursue truth for them because if you don’t, they will eventually carry the burden you’re avoiding.

When you face truth, you let go of identity. Think of how much energy you spend maintaining a mask defined by society, social media, friends, family, or even yourself. Perhaps you try to look as independent as possible because you’re afraid of feeling dependent or appearing needy. And that would be unacceptable because you have always presented yourself as self-sufficient, competent, and resourceful! Perhaps you wear a mask of extreme generosity and warmth because you’re afraid of facing the immense anger and resentment that lives inside of you. Or perhaps you’re agreeable and avoid conflicts at all costs because you’re afraid of rejection.

We all have vices and bad habits. Some are easy to recognize, but some are so scary, and go so directly against who we’re “supposed” to be, that we spend a monumental amount of energy pretending they don’t exist. But in a war against yourself, you’ll never win. And the only way to become the best version of yourself is by surrendering yourself to the truth, letting go of identity, and accepting your shadow side. And when you do, perhaps you’ll find an unexpected source of power.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek” - Joseph Campbell

However, facing truth is harder than avoiding it and will require sacrifice. To me, this has meant missing out on parties, travel, and losing some friends. To you, the sacrifice may be different, but it will still be needed. As Christopher Hitchens said it: “In life you must choose your regrets.” Choose wisely.

If you don’t face truth, sooner or later, it will come knocking at your door. The hard work you didn’t do today? Your career will reflect it in a couple years. The terrible way you treat your body? Good luck with medical bills and shame as your body begins to fall apart. The toxic relationship you avoided leaving? It may legitimately derail your life. Every bit of truth you avoid today is using up some part of your future.

Living in a lie may feel like a safer alternative, but only because you get to control the lies you lay around the truth. But the force of reality stands behind truth and no distraction, pleasure, or manipulation will ever stop nature. The more time you spend in bad relationships, avoiding responsibility or distracting yourself from uncomfortable emotions, the bigger the monster under the bed grows. And with it grows the sacrifice you’ll have to make when you face it. Let it grow too big, and it may just destroy you.

Facing truth is easier if you surround yourself with good friends. A good friend will carve out the mediocre in you and will never tolerate cynicism, avoidance, or self-pity. He will be your biggest critic in private, your biggest supporter in public, and will never let you give up on your dreams. On the other hand, a bad friend will help maintain the lies you’ve built around truth. He won’t do this out of evil, but because you serve a similar role in his life. In a bad friendship, you sign an agreement to never call each other out on the real problems you’re both avoiding. And if you ever manage to slap yourself awake from this nightmare, a bad friend will try to drag you down as your search for truth shines a light on his faults. 2 He will resent you for constantly reminding him of the dreams he gave up on, or the sacrifices he didn’t make. Good friends help you face truth, bad friends help you avoid it.

Personally, this is something I struggle with a lot. I avoid feeling abandonment or incompetence at all costs. But in avoiding these feelings I’ve repeatedly made friends with people that don’t value me for who I am, only for what I do in the service of an identity they like. Letting go of these relationships has been hard, but it is the best way forward for everyone involved. Figure out who the good friends are and cut out the bad ones. And if any feelings of selfishness or guilt stop you, consider the toxic role you serve in their lives, and do it for them.

Instead, surround yourself by courageous people. Find people that aren’t afraid of pointing out your bullshit. People that celebrate you for facing your biggest fears. People that support you when times are hard and sober you up when times are good. People that also want to get better and are ready to face truth themselves.

Anaïs Nin said it well: “life expands or shrinks according to one’s courage.” Ask yourself: are you courageous? Is your partner courageous? Are your coworkers courageous? Are your friends courageous? You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely.

If you’re reading this, you likely live a life of privilege beyond the wildest dreams of millions of people around the world. Honor the sacrifices made by parents, teachers, friends, and strangers and become the very best person you can be. If not for you, then do it for the people you love, because they will bear your burden if you don’t. There is never a perfect time to leave an unhealthy relationship, face your insecurities, quit that dead-end job, or go back to school. As C.S. Lewis wrote at the height of World War Two:

“We are always falling in love or quarreling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.”

Accept responsibility for who you are and start doing something about it. Sometimes, facing this responsibility will be easier than you expected. Most of the times it won’t be, but what were you expecting? Did you really think that a worthy life was going to be easy? Well, this is what hard feels like. Take a moment and pay attention to whatever you pretend doesn’t exist. And face it today.

“If not you, then who? If not now, when?” - Hillel


  1. As legendary physicist Richard Feynman put it: “Science is what we have learned about how to keep from fooling ourselves”.

  2. Personally, one of the hardest aspects of facing truth has been the resistance from those I love. I wrote a bit about this here. This reminds me of one of my favorite passages in Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil: “One has to test oneself to see that one is destined for independence and command—and do it at the right time. One should not dodge one’s tests, though they may be the most dangerous game one could play and are tests that are taken in the end before no witness or judge but ourselves. Not to remain stuck to a person—not even the most loved—every person is a prison, also a nook. … Not to remain stuck to one’s own detachment, to that voluptuous remoteness and strangeness of the bird who flees ever higher to see ever more below him—the danger of the flier. Not to remain stuck to our own virtues and become as a whole the victim of some detail in us, such as our hospitality, which is the danger of dangers for superior and rich souls who spend themselves lavishly, almost indifferently, and exaggerate the virtue of generosity into a vice. One must know how to conserve oneself: the hardest test of independence.”