Trust is built in small moments.
I sit here, alone, in my own apartment, staring out into the deeply dark sky. I am acutely aware of the light within, reflecting my own image in the window. Today, the wind demands attention. Damp leaves hastily shuffle across streets and into corners. The trees quiver. The windowpanes creek in resistance. From inside, I quietly observe the movement and sounds.
I have never lived alone before. A few weeks ago, I got very sick—sick enough to miss over a week of work. Not from COVID, thankfully, but from a virus that did not go away each morning as I hoped. Each morning, I communicated the news to my manager—no, still not better. A task that would normally leave me increasingly anxious as my sick days evaporated, uncomfortably caught between needs and expectations.
But this time, something felt different: I knew my limits. I knew, for a fact, that I could not work that day; I was too physically ill. I knew, for a fact, that I needed rest, fluids, and a trip to urgent care. Knowing, also, that I have responsibilities, I promptly communicated these limits to those affected. I trusted my body as well as my decision-making. I also trusted my team to understand—or at least adapt to—my absence.
This knowledge, though seemingly obvious, can be hard for me to both access and articulate. I often lose myself in the presence of others. I tend to overextend, overcommit, and overreach. I frequently fail to check-in with my body and consequently allow my mind to fill with doubt. Living alone, however, I have been able to assess my own needs much more readily. I have learned—and am continuing to learn—that I can trust myself.
I struggle with self-trust because I struggle with self-worth. I rely on (and have been trained to rely on) external validation to see my value. I am quick to trust others because I am quick to value others more than myself. Rather conversely, I am also quick to control others when I do not trust them. I am operating from a place of scarcity (fear).
My current campaign for self-trust includes allowing something new to happen. With each new interaction, I must trust that connection is possible. I must also trust that I can handle disconnection. I must trust that others can show up for me—and that I can show up for myself. Operating from a place of abundance, I am both demonstrating and cultivating self-worth.
While doubt is exhaustive, trust is generative. Trust is the keystone of relationships because trust offers possibility. Trust is not given blindly but endlessly built. Trust is relational, conditional, and capacious. Trust is a requirement for connection. Like Brene Brown writes, “we cannot overestimate the relationship between self-trust and trusting others” (Dare to Lead, 238). If we do not trust ourselves, we cannot and will not truly trust or demonstrate trust in others.
I am sitting, per usual, on the couch in my apartment, looking out my broad, south-facing windows. I have never been in this apartment for a Seattle fall-winter, so I am learning how to balance the new-to-me heating system with the rather abruptly intrusive cold. The clouds are dark blue-purple, heavy with rain I can only assume; a stark backdrop to the recently-turned red-yellow leaves hanging tight to the trees. A lovely primary color story
I often ground myself and my writing in the presence of nature. I had an art history teacher in college who spoke of a colleague who once wrote to him, “How dare you write to me and not speak of the season?” I cannot remember the rest of that story, but I have never forgot the practice. As someone who frequently freezes in the face of the blank page, starting with the now of nature, the different season of the day (no two are the same), allows me to settle into my body and begin thinking anew.
I consider myself to be an extremely curious person. I can distill much of what appeals to me down into the power-laden process of symbols and meaning-making. What drives me is what I crave: connection. I accumulate to assess; I investigate to understand. I am curious to know what I do not know; I am curious to connect with my community. Like Brene Brown notes,
“’When you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask people about belonging, they'll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.’”
Thinking about curiosity, I wonder about discomfort. When I think about what I desire to know, I think about what others did not want to know about me. I think about the difficulty of knowing, of processing new (un)desired information, of holding uncomfortable (new) feelings. I think about what made me feel disregarded and unseen; I think about the power of bearing witness. I think about the vulnerability of sharing excitement and the disappointment of misperception.
I like sharing what I like. I like nature and mindfulness. I like learning about politics-of-being and how different people navigate being-in-the-world. I like bookstores and collecting books. I like collaging. I like sitting in silence, by myself or in the presence of others. I like learning about how symbols (text, images, design, figures) call people into being; how we use symbols to negotiate our human condition; how we assemble symbols into systems that govern every social interaction.
I am comfortable sharing what I like—but on my own terms. At first, I am excited, if they are excited; I fill up on mutual interest and value-added commentary. Instinctually, I am very trusting—arguably too willing. I am captivated by finding someone as curious as me. I feel connected, seen, less on-my-own. But I also notice how attuned I am to their reactions; how if I trust too soon, or fumble with my own worth, I soon feel disconnected. I feel unseen, perceived improperly, perhaps misunderstood.
As I dive further into myself, and as I begin to practice vulnerability over disclosure, I have learned to include discomfort in curiosity. I want to be curious with myself, my reactions and the reactions of others. I want to pay attention to what I pay attention to; to engage a sense of curiosity instead of judgement. I want to pause, experiment, and allow something new to happen. I am willing to hold the discomfort.
I am sitting on my couch, looking out my south-facing windows. I am watching the green, yellow, and bright red leaves sway in the wind. I can hear cars on the throughway and birds in the distance. Outside felt crisp, bright, today, as well as yesterday, though today a little dimmer: more and more leaves become heavy and start to fall.
I am sitting on my couch, thinking about storytelling. I often find myself using nature to begin. Reflecting on last week, I remember most how I listened to two women speak of resilience. Both speakers offered testimonies of calculated risk and recovery; of self-evaluation and re-evaluation; of believing in yourself and your story.
As one advised: the first story we should write is the one we tell ourselves. Instinctually, stories ground us. Narratives give us structure. In order to inform and inspire, we must first identify and organize. We must find where we stand and know our worth. The clearer we are with ourselves, the clearer we can be with each other.
I am constantly (re)evaluating the story that I tell myself. Both internally and externally, my narratives have shifted and will continue to shift over time. On this recommendation, I intend to create a living personal manifesto. I begin today, as the ground piles with leaves, by amassing affirmations:
1. I am responsible for managing my pain, needs and boundaries.
2. I trust that new something new can happen.
3. I know my worth does not depend on the actions of others.
4. I am emotionally independent.
5. I give myself the grace and permission to make mistakes.
6. I have a lot to offer.
7. I am a steward to nature.
8. I am capable of more than I think.
9. I have what it takes
10. I care deeply for the misunderstood and overlooked.
11. I am not to be understood by everyone.
12. I am understood by those who love me.
13. I am excited by deep conversations and considerate observations.
14. I heal in nature, especially around water.
15. I need ample time to myself.
16. I allow myself to take time and space.
17. I invite uncomfortable feelings.
18. I remember that feelings pass.
19. I do best when prepared and/or allowed time to reflect then respond.
20. I have great capacity for empathy and intimacy.
21. I am thoughtful, dependable, and curious.
22. I value genuine connection.
23. I am worthy and courageous.
24. I am hopeful for the future.
25. I aim low and go slow.
26. I need intellectual challenge and opportunity for advancement.
27. I lead with compassion, inclusion, and curiosity.
28. I recognize and cultivate the potential in others.
29. I value words of affirmation and appreciation.
30. I have a great desire to learn and improve.
I am foremost a collector.
Vigilant, patient, and curious, I tend first to observe; not to make the first move. I start inward and slowly ease outward. I am shy, cautious, acutely aware of my body in space. I accumulate to assess; I do not want to be perceived improperly. I must be prepared. I take avid notes, ask thoughtful questions, and provide comprehensive responses. I pride myself on my diligence and dependability. I am not afraid of conflict, but I am afraid of failing. I am preoccupied with how I make people feel; I am preoccupied with proving my own worth.
I readily draw from introspection when working with a team. I see my collection of insights as a substantial asset to fostering any healthy connections. Not only for the time to incubate and evaluate, but for the space I allow others to occupy. Ever since childhood, I have felt the desperate pain of exclusion as well as the expansive vibrancy of inclusion. Hearing others speak of their lived experiences connected me to my own; amplifying such experiences connected me to others.
Recognizing my position of power, I seek to steward the space necessary to resonate this vibrancy with those who systematically feel excluded. The most positive—and powerful—team dynamics occur when each individual feels like an individual: valued for their unique contribution. Knowing this, I struggle to bring forth my own worthiness. I struggle to find the necessary confidence to be decisive, take constructive feedback, and more readily offer my opinion. I am preoccupied with my perception.
I struggle to take up the space that I so desperately want to give to others. I know that I possess the ability, tenacity, and sincerity to collect many parts into a new whole; but I am still plagued by deep-seated beliefs of non-belonging. To be vulnerable, I must work to foster my own worth.
I must collect more parts to make me whole.