Trust. Three rock climbers helping one from falling.


As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How many people in the world do you trust completely?

People you trust not to lie to you, cheat you, or steal from you—this is garden-variety trust.

How many people do you trust enough for you to share who you really are? How many people do you know in your heart have your back? How many people could you trust with your life?

Try to list those people.

For many of us, the number of people like that in our lives can be counted on one hand, and the truth is we are lucky if we have one or two. But before we start weeping silently into our oatmeal, let’s think about the dynamics of what it takes to be trustworthy.

Each of us has to trust ourselves first. If we don’t, we lack the fundamental basis for trust. We have to trust ourselves that we will act in our own best interest. We have to trust that we will create a life for ourselves that we can use as a foundation to do great things. We have to trust that we will give ourselves a stable emotional base.

Seems obvious, right? But I bet if you thought about it, you could name a few people who can’t trust themselves to provide these basic needs.

We all need a secure basecamp from which to operate. We all have to understand the dynamics of trust and the balance between our own self-interest and the interests of everyone else. We all have to understand that to have someone’s back, we have to have our own back first, or else we can’t be there for others.

That being said, when the rubber hits the road and someone is counting on us, will we prove ourselves trustworthy?

Let’s use a couple of examples.

In my life, there are several people I would lay down my life for if it meant saving theirs. Does this mean I can’t trust myself? Actually, I think this represents the highest level of self-trust. I have to trust that I would make the right choice and not make it frivolously.

What about more everyday scenarios?

Each of us has family, jobs, and other commitments in life that we can’t ignore. If a friend puts those things above some need that you have, does that mean that they don’t have your back? That they can’t be trusted?

Trust is complicated, and it can be easy to feel someone is not trustworthy, when in fact if you truly needed them, they would be there for you without hesitation.

Trust is like an onion. The outer layers include things like trusting someone to keep a secret—things that don’t require much effort—while the inner layers of trust might require significant personal sacrifice. There will be more people in the outer layers and maybe only a few in the innermost layers.

What does it take for someone to get to your inner onion?

At a basic level, trust comes from a sense of rapport—from seeing the world in the same way and having a similar set of values. This may lead to a level of trust based on an understanding and knowing that you can discuss your challenges, fears, and disappointments with someone who will understand and empathize.

The next step might be a deeper relationship that involves the desire to reinforce words with actions. This might be as simple as standing up for you in a confrontation or taking the initiative to help without being asked. But this will always be a balancing act.

So, how trustworthy are you? Can you trust yourself? How many others count you among their small handful of truly trustworthy people? How many people consider you to be in the inner layers of their trust onion?

Trust is a balance, and you need to keep your head and your heart focused on where the balancing point is.

Trust yourself, and you will become trustworthy.

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