Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Op-Ed: Success Is Having the Balls to Trust Yourself

As a commercial designer, a number of things excite me creatively and motivate me to make great work: the opportunity to create for an audience, the novelty of doing a project for the first time and, of course, getting paid. But nothing ruins a perfectly good hard-on for work like having a client who does not trust me. Trust sets the stage and allows good work to happen. In essence TRUST is the lifeblood of my business, possibly of any business.

The first level of trust is having it in yourself—trusting that your opinions matter and are valid. Even believing that your guess is as good as anyone else’s adds a level of personal trust and self-respect. This perspective, allows you the courage to crawl further out on a limb, to take chances and make sure you are not playing safe—or, worse, “giving the people what they want.” It also allows you to listen to your own opinion without the nagging voice of well wishing, but fearful friends (“You’re gonna start a business… in THIS economy?”) whose sincerest wish is to shield you from failure, while only succeeding in protecting you from success. Or, worse, to listen to the tiny critics inside your own head who concoct the wildest scenes possible of failure, carnage and financial ruin. It takes grit to stay on course, to trust yourself, your vision, your calling, and recognize this resistance for what it is: fear.

Their sincerest wish is to shield you from failure, while only succeeding in protecting you from success.

After believing in your own gift, you must strive for a higher level of trust: trusting others. Trusting that people will hear your message, that they will be inspired to your cause, that they will rise to your challenge and, further, act on your call. Of course it’s not possible that not everyone will heed your call, but as the Persian mystic Rumi tells us, “Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” We have to believe that when the right ones will come, they are not some generic audience, but your audience.

The opposite of this scenario is when we fail to put our trust in others. What we then win is the standard-issue workplace practice: employees are micro-managed, second guessed, and made to feel replaceable. This Dilbertian attitude tells employees that their work does not matter. It turns the drive to contribute into a week-long waiting game to collect a paycheck. Told what to do and how to do it reduces even creative enterprises into drone factory workers. Real trust in your employees means allowing them the freedom to make mistakes.  Similarly, in parenting there is no better way to crush a child’s spirit and make them feel worthless than not giving them the room to be creative and to make mistakes. When you trust your employees its encouraging, empowering, and breeds loyalty.

Both building personal trust and developing leadership skills requires a courage and letting go of control and loosening the reins. You need to trust that you will reach your goals even though you can not know all the steps the steps or even the outcome. This “not knowing” is the most important part. There is a line from the Talmud that tells us to “Teach your tongue to say ‘I don’t know’ and ye’ shall progress.” This is a request for us to practice being in the state of not knowing, establishing comfort within trust. Heeding this advice we avoid the well-worn path of usual outcomes. We are invited to play and to be open to unexpected results.

When you trust your employees its encouraging, empowering, and breeds loyalty.

In my own work, I recently started a long-term project with a publisher who came to me with little in the way of budget. In lieu of the right price I asked for complete creative freedom—essentially I was asking for their trust. Understandably, they said this idea scared them, but they agreed to our little contract. Their trust inspired me to do my best work. After the project was finished they posted on their blog, “James Victore asked us to trust him, and we are glad we did.” Now, this story may incite such claims as “Well, that’s okay for you, you’re James Victore.” But this in actuality is just an excuse—one of many reasons not to trust yourself or others.

I’d be lying to say that “Trust” is easy, especially in business. But the easy way is always a trap. Trust me.

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James Victore

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James Victore runs an independent design studio hell-bent on world domination. He is an author, designer, filmmaker and firestarter. James has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and is represented in the permanent collections of museums around the globe. He is the host of Burning Questions.
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