She was uncomfortable in her smart fancy shoes, having worn them all day all she wanted to do was take them off and walk bare feet, feel the sun warmed soothing grass.. I could see the pain and the longing, but of course we were in a Business setting with formally clothed people all around – we were on a break. Were we?

I looked at her and caught her in the longing moment and silently asked her -why don’t you? She rolled her kohl lined characteristics eyes, What will four people think?” she said, looking in the general direction of 50 something people who were also attending this seminar, who we didn’t know and who didn’t know us. At all.

I looked around to where she pointed, no one was particularly looking in our direction and on closer inspection I began to wonder how many of those people would love to take their shoes off. but were asking the same rhetoric –

“What will four people think”

I was amused. Because I have seen and heard this being said in different languages, in different cultures and different demographics. “Char Log kya kahenge? (Hindi). I am curious to find out

WHO are these mysterious, invisible – ‘Four people”?

How often we go through so much of self-imposed inhibitions, wear clothes that are not comfortable, do things that are unfulfilling, say things we don’t really believe, eat what you don’t feel like and in general try to “fit in” -so we suffer. feel miserable. uncomfortable, not ourselves – all because?? – These “Four People”

I have stopped and asked a few people when they have said their rendition of “Four People “Who these four people were?? – and they have NO answer. Because they don’t know. Really.

I was at Taj tea house last week, it’s a quaint tea house in Mumbai, and this particular morning they had organized a live music concert. The music was loud and so were the people. Everyone was busy with the concert and few people just sat around and were having their different versions of tea. A small American boy of about 3 was running around while his mom sat quietly in a corner with glasses perched on her nose and book in her hand. The little boy suddenly dashed against the table and the glass fell to the ground and broke. No one noticed, it was too loud anyway.

But then the Little boy did something … after a few seconds of being stunned, he turned around and randomly said to no one in-particular in a loud voice. “I am sorry. very sorry” …” It was an accident” – and he ran to the other room and pretty much repeated the same thing. No one listened because no one was looking anyway. I could see the fear of being admonished and shamed writ large on his face, and yet, no one had actually said anything, including his mom. The Invisible Four people had visited.

I was stuck by how much we are governed by these “Invisible Four Men ” syndrome. I am reading a book on change lessons from the CEO and it’s about “Authentic Leadership” and how one of the key tenets about being a Leader is about being comfortable with who you are and what you stand for, your Values and convictions. And how this builds intrinsic trust and credibility with your teams, because then they can be who they are.

And yet, it is so difficult to just be yourself. We forfeit our Freedom for these Invisible four people

“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on and individual level. It’s got to happen inside first. You can take away a man’s political freedom and you won’t hurt him- unless you take away his freedom to feel. That can destroy him. That kind of freedom can’t be granted. Nobody can win it for you.” – Jim Morrison

We also harness some myths about being authentic which may be keeping us in this rut.

Being Authentic means being radically(Brutally) Honest:

One of the biggest myths about authenticity is the idea that if we’re truly being authentic, then we’re being 100% honest 100% of the time. Radical honesty can sometimes lack kindness and empathy. When we’re honest and take into consideration the impact of our words, we create a safe space for authenticity to show up for ourselves and others.

Being Authentic means behaving the same in ALL situations: 

Practicing, my freedom ends where yours beings is important. We live in a society. An important aspect of being authentic to ourselves is to be authentic with our boundaries (a lesson I had to learn the hard way). When we make a practice of sharing everything with everyone, we not only risk hurting people who have healthy boundaries, but we also open ourselves up to the risk psychological and emotional harm from people who aren’t yet ready for an intimate relationship with us.

Being Authenticity is not a contest.

Sometimes pride can creep in quietly. And what was once an “Authentic” story – Now becomes a gimmick and (inauthentic) when the power of Authenticity becomes ..just Power. Authenticity has become a buzzword in our culture. The darker side of this is that a vocal minority have started to use it as as a method of judging and/or shaming. This completely misses the point of what authenticity is: it’s behaving in a way that is true to our own needs, preferences, and values. We are the best judge of what authenticity looks like for us, and no one else has any business judging us based on their own version of authenticity. Remember what Spiderman said, “With great power comes greater responsibility”.

Being Authentic means you have to be Vulnerable:

Sometimes being authentic can make us feel vulnerable. I don’t want to be judged as weak and emotional – Expressing emotions and being emotional are two different things – Emotions make us human. 

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brené Brown,

The questions I am left pondering are :

  • What
    does Being Authentic really mean?
  • How do
    we call out the bluff of the “Four People”?
  • What is
    the Price we pay in our personal and professional lives for this?
  • Who
    would you also be, if it weren’t for invisible four people
  • What
    would become available to you, your teams and your organisation –  if you
    were free to be you?