I’m an idiot.
I have always taken a certain amount of pride in being to face any circumstance with ease. In business I’m adaptable, a fast and sure-footed decision-maker and as an empath, I can navigate the complexities of many social situations, putting people at ease with a little friendly conversation and banter. (When other people are at the center of my attention.)
I can make easy conversation with a stranger at a bar. I can walk into a variety of situations without fear. I have broken curfew in Haiti to buy rum from a gas station, the only woman within miles. I have used my kickboxing training to wrestle my way free from a late-night carpark attack. (I have the scars to prove it. Concealer is a miraculous thing, when you need it.)
But I have other scars too, ones that require a different kind of cover-up. The ones left behind from getting it wrong when it comes to trust, mistakenly vulnerable with those things I value most.
Sometimes you choose to trust someone and if they let you down, it doesn’t matter at all. There’s no high stakes and no skin in the game. Other times, you choose to trust but you’re not only trusting another person, you are also trusting yourself. Trusting your own intuition, your ability to judge the character of others but also to make your own wise choices and avoid poor assumptions. You trust yourself to hold yourself safely together while giving parts of yourself away at the same time. You have to trust yourself to be vulnerable, but to do so wisely and in safe places.
You can trust yourself until you make a mistake, until your intuition fails you. Until you realise maybe you can’t be trusted to choose wisely who to be vulnerable with. You become very afraid.
Within me the battle goes on; a child-like girl who opens her vulnerable heart to the world over and over against the terrified one who holds herself back at every turn. Most of the time, the child-like girl hopes and the fearful girl hides.
The result is I become a little bit vulnerable with everyone, but I don’t know how to move past fear of being truly vulnerable with those I know I can trust. There are, of course, exceptions – my childhood best friend, my trainer and those that have proven themselves over time.
I must choose to trust others again, but I must also learn to trust. Trust has a shape and a form, a sound and a fingerprint created over time. And this, the hardest thing to learn: trust doesn’t look like hope – hope is an altogether different thing. Hope is the belief that everything will work out in the end, but trust is the platform for vulnerability, the vital connection that helps us get there. Hope sustains us, but vulnerability strengthens us to have real connection.
I have confused hope and trust over and over again, because I am so drawn to hope. But trust is built and proven over time, earned in a series of small actions and intimacies that demonstrate what is safe and good and kind. Best summed up by Charles Feltman, who wrote The Thin Book of Trust, trust is “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”
Brené Brown says that without trust there can be no meaningful connection between people. And people are the most important thing in my world, connection the only thing I long for. So in learning to trust myself again, I can trust others, which leads to true vulnerability and connection. Simple!
And this, the hardest thing to learn: trust doesn’t look like hope – hope is an altogether different thing.
Trust looks like unpacking those scars and reversing them. Trust looks like paying attention to the small things, making the calls and knocking on the door. Asking the questions and answering them too. Following through on the gritty conversations, letting your actions speak louder than words, but your words also being true. Trust is not accidental or insecure. Trust is persistent and optimistic.
Do you know what hasn’t changed? I still go looking for the gold in everyone. I still tend towards trusting more than distrusting. I am still an optimistic idealist and there is a lesson in everything, even the most painful mistakes I’ve made. What’s for me will not pass me by, whether by the fates or the winds I choose to sail by. I find myself in the waiting space, because trust takes time. It will take time to trust myself again, now I realise where to begin and I will keep digging up the gold within.
Hopeful, optimistic and willing to trust beyond fear.