Through every major life transition, whether changing careers or trying new opportunities that terrified me, I owe my successes to the people in my life that I have been able to trust.
After all, trust is the bedrock and foundation of our relationships and achievements. Yet, many of us lack strong relationships based on trust. But without them, and without finding or fostering them, we lose out on so much of our own potential. I know that without trusting relationships to guide and support me, I would never have had the courage to step into my leadership potential in the workplace or launch my own business. We all need those people—in both our personal and professional lives—who we can call for guidance, who will support our journey and well-being and, ultimately, help us grow. I’ve come to call that group a “personal trust community.”
What is a personal trust community?
Personal trust communities are made up of the people who make you feel you belong. These communities can include role models, people you follow, friends, family, mentors—whatever their role, the key is that they are people who believe in you.
Trust communities also give you people to lean on. Being able to reach out to your personal trust community to have them push you past your perceived limitations and remind you of your worth, while supporting you through difficult transformations, isn’t just a nice thing to have—it’s vital for your growth. When we make a mistake or a wrong turn, our trust community reminds us that we can get back up. They give us a trampoline to “bounce” higher in life, knowing that we have a secure base to fall on while we jump, and become a better version of ourselves in the process.
They allow you to build.
Identifying who those people are, and then finding them, can be the difference between you achieving your potential and staying stuck in neutral without growing.
Finding trust communities is a process. It takes time.
My guess is that we all want to have the people in our lives who can help us in this way and make up our community. Unfortunately, it’s not as quick or straightforward as just naming the want and “picking your team,” so to speak. It takes time—sometimes, a long time—to find the right people.
When I was nine years old, my parents told me that I was adopted.
Even though I loved (and still love) my parents dearly, this moment was heartbreaking. As a child, I couldn’t fathom why someone would want to give me up, and in some ways, I felt like I was abandoned and couldn’t trust anyone but myself. After that point, when I was initially looking for people to trust (knowingly or not), I didn’t know that I was building a “personal trust community.” I was simply looking for spaces where I felt safe and people who made me feel like I belonged.
Looking to the outside
Sports became the first place where I felt I could be myself. The arenas, fields, and courts became my homes away from home. My teammates became my confidantes, allowing me to feel like I “fit in” and become part of something larger than myself. My coaches believed in me and helped me develop my confidence.
I also looked to the great sports leaders as sources of inspiration—people like Billie Jean King, a woman who became the number one tennis player in the world; Roberto Clemente, the first player from the Caribbean and Latin America to win a World Series; and Hank Aaron, a Black baseball player who surpassed the great Babe Ruth’s home run record with 715 runs.
Each of these sports heroes defied all odds; they redefined the status quo and those who came before them. Most importantly, they weren’t afraid to be themselves.
As a kid trying to find my own voice and struggling to feel worthy, these leaders gave me hope. They demonstrated the values I wanted to embody and inspired me to live courageously. They gave me confidence in knowing that, even though I had been adopted, I could still belong somewhere.
By looking up to these figures that I didn’t know personally, I also realized the importance of going out and seeking people in my community who I could develop real relationships with, who could mentor and guide me on my path.
Looking closer to home
One of the key people who guided my path was Father John. I met Father John when I was 12 years old. He was a new priest at my church at the time, and he possessed a charisma that inspired everyone who met him or got a chance to observe how he carried himself. He was the first spiritual person I had ever encountered, and he made me feel like I truly belonged in a community. He was also a phenomenal athlete, making it doubly easy for me to look up to him.
When I met him, I had no way of knowing the degree of impact he would have on my life. But in many ways, I have modeled my leadership style after his, specifically his incredible ability to gain the trust and respect of those around him. Many years after I met him, Father John became the Dean at my university and eventually officiated my wedding. Today, he remains a devoted leader, confidante, friend, and cherished member of my personal trust community.
Growing trust, expanding my community
As I grew up, my personal trust community grew too. When I entered the workforce, I found colleagues and others-focused “guides” whom I could go to for questions and professional advice, which supported my professional and intellectual well-being.
And some of those people would reflect back my own potential to me, showing me the ways in which I was holding myself back. I was lucky to have someone who encouraged me to take greater risks by being more vulnerable and authentic with others. Their urging allowed me to develop deeper relationships and become a better leader myself.
In my personal life, I’ve built meaningful friendships that support my social well-being. I lean on my friends and family when considering new opportunities or trying activities that scare me, such as training for an Ironman—an intensely challenging process on a physical, mental, and emotional level. It required seeking not only encouragement from my loved ones, but also the support of a professional trainer, Suzan, who I also now consider to be part of my personal trust community supporting my physical well-being.
Our trust communities are rarely made up of just one person; rather, trust communities can look like a wide circle of individuals that continues to build and expand throughout our lives.
The importance of intentionality
However, our personal trust community doesn’t grow or expand just by chance. It’s our deliberate choice. When making that choice and trying to find your own personal trust community, it’s important to ask yourself: What values are most important to me?
When I began my career in sales, I desperately wanted to find my community in the workplace, so at first I simply followed the guidance of my senior colleagues without question. However, I quickly realized that just because we worked together didn’t mean we shared the same values, and I could see that I needed a community in the workplace whose values aligned with my own.
I had to go out and search for colleagues who conducted sales with integrity and possessed the qualities of kindness, compassion, and empathy that I wanted to cultivate in myself. Certainly, I made my share of missteps and learned from them.
Being intentional about who you go to for support—and being clear about why you go to them—makes the process of finding “your people” much easier.
How vulnerability builds trust
Many years later, when I was at Yankee Candle, I was part of the company’s Toastmasters club, where folks came together to share personal stories about themselves.
At this point in my life, I had decided to begin searching for my birth mother—a process that brought up old childhood wounds of abandonment stemming from my adoption. A colleague of mine, who I trusted deeply and with whom I’d shared that I was thinking of starting the search, encouraged me to tell my adoption story in front of all my colleagues at Toastmasters. A terrifying idea to me!
Yet, despite my fears, there was something inside of me that knew I wanted and needed more authenticity in my relationships at work.
So, I decided to do it. I would tell them my story.
When I opened up and shared my adoption story with them, they were so grateful to learn more about where I came from. They didn’t think less of me for showing vulnerability—which was something I was afraid of. Someone I worked with even shared with me their own adoption story, and that they were inspired to search for their birth parents after hearing my story.
Vulnerability is often the catalyst for developing greater trust in our relationships. Yet, many of us have a hard time finding the people we can truly be vulnerable with and trust with our story.
So, how do we find those people and nurture those relationships?
The 5 pillars of a personal trust community
The incredible thing about trust is that it applies to all areas of our lives and well-being. And we need people we can trust in each area.
I’ve defined my five pillars of a trust community as “P.I.E.S.S.” to address all areas of well-being:
- Physical well-being
- Intellectual well-being
- Emotional well-being
- Social well-being
- Spiritual well-being
The purpose of having different categories is to discern who in our lives might be a fitting support system for a specific area so that we don’t rely on them for support in areas in which they might not be the best person to help.
For example, I wouldn’t reach out to Father John for advice on my physical health; I’d save such questions for my trainer, Suzan, who coaches me on nutrition and exercise. And though Suzan is a fantastic coach, I probably wouldn’t ask Suzan for workplace advice. In that area, I might choose someone in my trust community who supports my intellectual well-being, such as a colleague or former boss.
Which people in your life fall into each category?
Who makes up the five pillars of your personal trust community?
Trust communities change throughout our lives.
Once we’ve determined that someone is in our personal trust community, it doesn’t mean they’re a permanent fixture. Just like with any form of relationships in our lives, our relationships with individuals in our personal trust communities often resemble an accordion: some expand while others contract. Some will stick around for years and years, and some will come and go. As a result, trust communities can change and evolve; this is a normal process.
This doesn’t mean we eliminate people who supported us in the past, but instead that we can grow our circles by making space for new people to “join,” helping us as we tackle new challenges and opportunities life throws our way. When I left college and entered the workforce, my group of 20-30 college friends shrunk to a tight-knit circle of half a dozen people with whom I still keep in regular contact. After I got married, my parents’ roles changed from being my primary caregivers to my cheerleaders through major life changes, like having children and buying a home. Even though their roles changed, their support was crucial through my transition from being a child to becoming a parent, and they remained important members of my trust community—just in a different capacity.
We aren’t made to do this thing alone. Life is a team sport.
Throughout my life, in seeking out leaders with whom I built trust, and feeling their genuine desire to help me, I became surrounded by a purposeful circle of dependable friends and mentors who became my personal trust community. And by leaning into and on those relationships—and sharing my experiences and vulnerabilities with them— I thrived.
I wouldn’t have been able to raise three amazing daughters without my incredible wife and loving parents in my personal trust community. I also wouldn’t have discovered my potential as a leader without the support of those in my trust community at work. And I certainly wouldn’t have been able to complete an Ironman without the help of my trainer.
Now in my work, I focus on helping other people build their own personal trust communities so they, too, can have people to lean on for support and guidance.
As you start your process of building trust communities, here are some questions to consider:
- Who do I trust? Why do I trust them? When times are difficult, do I trust that these people will be there for me, and am I committed to being there for them?
- What are my core values?
- Who represents these values in different areas of my life?
To learn more about building trust communities, please reach out. I’d love to hear from you.