Self-trust is a virtue, like patience, that has been all but lost in the externally focused society that has increasingly evolved over the past fifty years or so. It is the capacity to know ourselves deeply and to rely on ourselves confidently as the source of our decisions. It is a combination of two dimensions of well-being: self-acceptance—this is who I am—and autonomy—this is what I choose to do regardless of what anyone else is doing because it’s right for me.
Self-trust has always been an important quality of heart and mind, but it is even more crucial in these fast-paced, challenging times. Here’s how James C. Collins and Jerry Poras put it in Built to Last , “With the demise of the myth of job security, the accelerating pace of change, and the increasing ambiguity and complexity of our world, people who depend on external structures to provide continuity and stability run the very real risk of having their moorings ripped away. The only truly reliable source of stability is a strong inner core and the willingness to change and adapt everything except that core.”
According to Webster’s, the first meaning of trust is, “Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength or truth of someone or something.”
When we trust ourselves, we’re in touch with that inner core Collins and Poras are talking about. We have self-possession—an ease under stress that reflects a command of our powers. Consequently we know we can handle what life throws at us—we can complete the assignment, juggle our schedules, organize our desks, handle the difficulty with our boss, say no—or make a mistake and survive.
Self-trust is also blind self-esteem—it’s not thinking, “I’m great.” It’s about coming to understand how I am great, where I want that greatness to manifest, and how to use that greatness when I encounter the big and little difficulties of life. If we know these things, we can move through life like a regal schooner, rather than a tippy canoe. For the more we come to understand our unique capacities and how to use them, the less overwhelmed we will be no matter the circumstances.
When we trust ourselves, we can better navigate the waters of challenging emotional times—when we feel lost or grieving, angry, or afraid—believing somewhere in our hearts and souls, that we will make it, even if we’re not sure how or when. We’re safe in our own care. We treat ourselves well, kindly, as a loving mother would nurture her beloved child. We learn from our mistakes instead of beating ourselves up about them, because we understand that life is about learning and therefore seeing errors as valuable information about how to go forward. We don’t consider ourselves bad when we screw up, just not yet as skillful as we would like to be.
Precisely because we accept ourselves exactly as we are, we are more able to change.
Shame and guilt loosen their grip. We may be in difficult or challenging circumstances, but rather than getting mired in them, we see ourselves like the lotus flower. The lotus’ roots are deep in mud yet its flower is one of the most beautiful in the entire world. Each and every one of us is like that lotus—precious and whole, despite the mud of our lives.