Is Trust a Blessing or a Curse

Is Trust a Blessing or a Curse?

I was an only child, born to young parents in the small town of Redding, California. My dad worked long hours at a lumber mill to support us, while my mom stayed home. By the time I was two, the stress and financial strain had become too much – my parents divorced in a bitter split.

From that point on, it was just my dad and me. He did everything he could to give me a good childhood, working double shifts, taking odd jobs on the weekends. I have flashes of memory from those years – him reading bedtime stories, us playing catch in the park, but mostly I remember how hard he worked for us.

My mom was another story. The court gave her regular visitation, but she was inconsistent at best. She’d make plans and break them constantly. I remember so many disappointments – birthdays and holidays where I sat by the window, waiting for her to show up. When she did come around, it always felt like an act to appease the court, like she was just going through the motions. There was no real motherly bond or affection.

Money was extremely tight, but my dad did his best to make ends meet. We didn’t have latest toys or gadgets, but he made sure I always had good books, nice clothes for school, and he never let me go hungry. He worked his ass off at jobs he hated to keep a roof over our heads. I’m sure I whined and didn’t appreciate it at the time, but looking back, I have so much admiration for the sacrifices he made.

When I was six, everything changed. Dad met and married a wonderful woman named Karen. From day one, she stepped into the mother role completely. She loved me like her own son. She worked hard alongside my dad, pooling their resources to slowly build a better life for our little family. We went from living paycheck-to-paycheck to a solid middle-class existence. More than the financial contribution, Karen gave me the nurturing mother’s love I had been missing.

I don’t dwell on my childhood out of some desire for pity or to bond over shared suffering. My point in laying it out is this: my experiences fundamentally shaped my outlook on trust in a way that has proven to be a double-edged sword.

You see, from a very young age, I internalized the idea that keeping your commitments is extremely important, perhaps the most important virtue. I saw my dad and Karen sacrifice everything, work themselves to the bone, all to provide me with what they saw as the fundamental promises a parent makes to a child – food, shelter, education, opportunity.

At the same time, I saw my own mother disregard that sacred obligation over and over again through her selfish actions. Her empty promises and lies taught me at an early age not to simply hand out my trust to anyone, that it must be earned through consistent actions over time.

In spite of that valuable lesson, I’ve always leaned heavily towards giving people the benefit of the doubt, extending my trust generously, maybe to a fault. I desperately want to see the good in people. I want to believe that if someone understands the right thing to do, they’ll follow through. More often than not, I find myself sorely disappointed.

I’m not stupid or gullible by any stretch of the imagination. I have a degree, skills, and accomplishments that indicate above-average intelligence. But my fatal flaw is my boundless capacity to extend trust to anyone who shows even the slightest ability to uphold their end of a commitment. Then despite myriad betrayals and letdowns over the years, I make the same mistake again when someone new comes along.

It’s not that I get suckered by outrageous “get rich” schemes or blatant fraud attempts. No, the ways I tend to get burned come from a more subtle place: failing to recognize when people are acting primarily in their own self-interest, even if it means disregarding verbal and implied promises they’ve made to me.

I’ve seen this play out repeatedly in my professional life. Twice, I’ve had to watch my own business crumble because trusted employees, partners or associates made promises they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep. In one case, it was a longtime colleague who assured me he could handle a major new manufacturing line, only to badly mismanage it into the ground, costing us millions.

In another instance, I brought on two investors who made elaborate commitments about their available capital and expertise…then immediately started working against me and the company’s interests once the money changed hands. Their signature on a contract meant nothing.

Each time, I heard the same thing from my wife and others close to me: “How could you not have seen this coming? The red flags were all there!” But I didn’t see them. I took people at their word because I so desperately wanted to extend that trust. It’s become a pattern in my life that has brought me an immense amount of pain and lost opportunities.

The most recent example which has pushed me to finally come to terms with my issue happened just a couple months ago. Our family was in a tight financial spot, looking for any opportunity to get back on our feet and get my wife’s small business off the ground after it struggled through the pandemic.

An old business contact approached me with what he portrayed as an exciting opportunity. He claimed to have access to investment money that he could loan me at low-interest rates to get things up and running again. All he wanted in exchange was for me to pay back the principal, give him 20% of my earnings up to a cap, and split any remaining profits with him 50/50…despite him having no active role in the company.

It was such a blatantly one-sided, exploitative deal that Karen immediately wrote it off as a scam. But I considered it. I’ll admit, the desperation of wanting to provide for my family made me think “maybe this is just how these kinds of deals get structured.” After all, I’d seen predatory terms like that in the business world before.

In the end, all that happened was four months of strung-along empty promises from the guy, angry calls from billing companies demanding payment, and me looking like a fool yet again to my wife and kids for having put any shred of trust in this obvious snake. Our personal and financial situation only grew more precarious because of it.

This has got to stop. If I don’t get a handle on this toxic optimism and tendency to blindly trust, it’s going to ruin me. I need to fundamentally reframe how I grant trust to those around me, professional and personal. It can’t just be handed out freely on hope and good intentions.

Don’t get me wrong – loyalty, commitment, and trust are all vital values that I want to uphold. But that has to be a two-way street. Trust needs to be actively earned through people’s consistent actions over time, not just handed out to anyone making big empty promises. And the moment that trust is violated, no matter how small or infrequent, it needs to be revoked completely. No second chances.

My wife is a prime example – despite 15 years of marriage and building a family together, she often tells me that she doesn’t fully trust me because of the many times I’ve made commitments to her based on the empty words of others that ended up letting us all down. I’ve abused that trust through my naivete, and now I have to work to rebuild it brick-by-brick.

So that’s the vow I’m making, to my wife, my children, my business, and myself. From now on, trust is a finite resource that is meted out judiciously based on tangible track records, not feel-good assurances. No more benefiting of doubts or second chances. If someone breaks that trust, even once, it gets taken off the table completely with no renegotiations.

Treat trust like a flask of water. When it’s empty, not a single drop is promised to anyone until it gets refilled. And the moment the flask is broken, that liquid gets tossed out and you start over from total drought, no matter how long it took to fill. That’s the harsh new reality I’m living in, and I encourage anyone who has felt that sting of misplaced trust as much as I have to adopt the same policy. Trust is indeed a curse when given away cheaply

As told to Ruthless Magazine