The Iron String

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“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nearly every night, as my workday nears its end, I say to my family, “I'll be finished in five minutes,” or “I’ll be finished in fifteen minutes.”

But I'm not.

In fact, it’s a running joke. My family already has a margin of error built into their internal clocks and calendars. Wife/Mom said ten minutes. So, she’ll be done in 30, maybe 45 minutes. Sometimes they even take good-natured bets. What will five minutes mean today?

It’s a running joke, but at its core, unfunny. The gap between what I say I’ll do, and what I actually do matters. It’s serious. It impacts the quality of both personal and professional relationships. Maybe not in huge ways, but maybe it’s one of those things that is just slowly erosive, eating away a bit at a time. That’s how a little gap became the Grand Canyon. In fact, the gap impacts my relationship with myself: my confidence, my sense that I am the person I want to be.

I like to think that I am worthy of trust. And in many, probably most, instances, I am. But I could be more trustworthyTrust isn’t built only on the big things; the ones where we know we have to come through, or else…. Trust is built, or not, on whether we deliver on the small stuff, too.

I've talked about this previously—how we can perpetually overcommit, and then cancel so readily and routinely, that commitment becomes a completely negotiable, and therefore meaningless, notion. Except that the negotiation undermines us in our own eyes, and in the perception of others.

Our podcast guest this week is Stephen M.R. Covey, best-selling author of The Speed of Trustwho says that “self-trust will always precede relationship trust.” Nineteenth century American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson characterized self-trust as an “iron string.” As a pianist, I think of the heavy strings at the bass end of a piano, and their powerful, enduring resonance. In contrast, our voices may sometimes play a little weak and thin. “Tinkling cymbal” and “sounding brass” are the phrases the King James Bible uses to describe our casual hypocrisy, where we allege commitment but with little, or no, follow-through.

One of my long-time editors, Heather Hunt, shares that early in her husband’s career he received a life-changing word of advice from a boss: “If you want to be a star, do what you say you’ll do, because almost no one does.” Credibility is that simple, and yet so often a challenge. We bemoan the decline of trust at a societal level, but companies and societies can't disrupt this cycle unless you and I do. We all can and should ask ourselves, how can we become more trustworthy.Covey breaks trust into two and then four elements that create credibility and sustain trust: Character, which includes integrity and intent (our motives, which can either burnish or tarnish our trustworthiness); and Competence, which is an amalgam of our capabilities kept current, and our track record. Together these attributes—there’s a lot more about them in the podcast—inspire confidence about us in others, but not before they inspire us to feel more confidence in ourselves. Ultimately, feeling more secure in our knowledge that we can be counted on, in both large ways and small.

An earlier podcast guest, Erik Orton, said that the size of our dreams is in proportion to how much we trust ourselves.

I'm upping the ante on self-trust by finishing my day when I say I will. I'm stopping in 5. And sticking to it.

What will you do to flex the trust muscle en route to bigger and better dreams?

As always, thank you for being here.

My best,

Whitney

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