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Being Real, Being Human: The First Step in
Becoming a Conscious Leader

by John Renesch


We all have ways of covering up our pain, anesthetizing ourselves from hurts or discomforts we endure in our lives. Almost everyone does this at some time along the way. Many people have made it a way of life.

For people who work at jobs they wish they didn’t have, this might mean shutting down their vitality in order to simply get through the day. For people in unhappy marriages it may be a few too many cocktails at the end of the day or an outside activity that keeps them from going home at night. For children living in a household filled with conflict and violence, it might be imagining themselves in some altered state, in a dream or fantasy where they do not confront the reality of their lives.

Recently, two colleagues and I attended an evening of improvisational theatre where they asked audience members to tell a story so the improv troupe could act it out. An 82 year old woman went forward and told the story of giving birth to her first daughter, fifty years earlier. In an incredibly authentic way she told the story of being in the hospital with her husband, sharing the intensity of the experience, the nurse handing the newborn infant to the father and having the most profound spiritual experience of her life in that moment half a century ago. There was no pretense, no concern about how she was coming across.

I was so moved by this woman and her story that the detached person who came to watch a show disappeared. I was no longer a mere observer. I was touched to the core of my being by the experience this woman had shared with us. Tears were streaming down my face and I was transported to another reality where I remained throughout the rest of that evening and into the next day.

I was reminded of the power of being real, how we can touch one another so deeply and profoundly simply by being authentic. After all, giving birth is an everyday activity. There was nothing extraordinary about it or this beautiful older woman. What was extraordinary was the impact she had on me (as well as others in the audience and the cast) by just being herself.

We all have the power to impact each other in such a meaningful way if we can be authentic, real and fully human rather than acting some way we think we should be acting.

If one is to be a leader, not simply attain a position of leadership but a leader with consciousness who consistently has a positive effect on people, then one must forgo coping mechanisms and be absolutely real in that role. Being a “conscious leader” means being conscious as a human being. Being a conscious human being means being authentically human, mature, real and free of anesthetic.

Most everyone has some way of “numbing out” or distracting themselves when they are feeling significant pain or discomfort. It is a way of coping with unpleasant situations. Most often, people learn to do this as children. After all, how can a child be expected to change or leave a situation when he or she is so young? They cannot be expected to reason or respond like an adult.

But adults can change their circumstances. So their rationale for this “numbing out” is suspect. They are choosing to endure these unwanted situations and anesthetizing themselves even though they have the ability to change the circumstances.

Suffering vs Freedom: A Choice

This is a choice for suffering rather than freedom. People who make these choices are choosing to remain in unpleasant or painful situations and subsequently rationalize their choice, whether they abuse alcohol, TV, overwork, sex or drugs. They are choosing the life of self-pity and suffering rather than opting for a life of freedom and power.

One of life’s best kept secrets is that all emotions are healthy expressions of being human. Somehow, the “civilized” human has decided that certain emotions can and should be avoided. So we think we know more than Nature and determine that we only want to feel the “nice” feelings and avoid the less pleasant ones. But numbing out the unwanted emotions also precludes feeling the nice ones!

Another secret: when you fully experience any emotion, such as anger, fear, hurt and those other “not nice” feelings, they transmute! A fully-felt emotion dissolves when fully experienced. Numbing out emotions by any means keeps them alive, stored in our bodies where they fester and eventually show up as disease. Wouldn’t you rather feel some unpleasant emotions for a short time than harbor them and carry around all that toxicity until it shows up and kills you down the road.

A third secret: experiencing an emotion like anger does not mean dramatizing it. It does not mean temper tantrums and blowing your top. Experiencing any emotion is simply letting the feeling into your body and staying with it for as long as it wants to remain. You might feel the anger in your belly, then it may move up into your chest or down to your pelvis. But it will pass eventually, sometimes in seconds.

And, a final secret: as you get used to this it gets easier and easier. It is, after all, “natural” to feel. It is unnatural for human beings to suppress those qualities that distinguish us from machines. We are human beings after all. We are not machines!

If you see yourself on a path toward becoming a conscious leader, someone who is authentic and fully-human as you take responsibility for your work and your life, you will be constantly checking in with yourself on this. You will find yourself living in the question of “How real am I?” And this will be a living question you ask yourself time after time after time.

How Real Are You?

How do you numb or distract yourself in order to cope with the realities of your home life or workplace? How do you anesthetize yourself against the discomforts that you’d rather not experience? If you allow yourself to feel the emotions you are avoiding, what changes would you make in your circumstances so you don’t need to resort to anesthetics of various sorts?

These are difficult personal questions but ones that need to be addressed if we are ever going to get real again. Engaging these matters takes us out of concepts and ideas and puts us into the palpable reality of what we are avoiding.

So take some time for self-examination. See how you avoid emotions when the going gets tough. See if you have made a habit of doing this routinely in your life. If you are engaging in this kind of coping mechanism I strongly suggest that you stop and feel those emotions that you’ve been avoiding. If you need help, there are plenty of programs to support people in kicking their various addictions to coping mechanisms. But end the distractions from being fully human, from being completely vital and present to your life and your work.

Like the 82 year old woman who touched me so deeply that evening, her authenticity as a person is what inspired me and had such a profound impact. It wasn’t the story or her skill as a story-teller. It was another person being completely comfortable in her own skin, being herself sharing an ordinary experience. She was not trying to ‘have impact’ or attempting to ‘touch’ people. She simply was herself, being absolutely real.

Being real will bring you closer to being a conscious leader, having more rewarding relationships and living a fulfilled life.


The Author


John Renesch is a San Francisco writer, business futurist, and mentor. His latest book is Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing. Visit for additional information and for a preview of his book, and for a list of all the services John offers, go to .

Many more articles in Authenticity in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2004 by John Renesch. All rights reserved.

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