We used to be best friends. Now, I hadn’t heard from her in six months.
My last “Hey, how are you?” had disappeared in the vast nothingness universe of unanswered WhatsApp messages.
Eventually, I thought she didn’t care anymore. That she had silently deleted me from her life, just like we now nuke our relationships by unfriending people on Facebook. You know, without ever telling them.
I was sad for a bit, but these things happen. Friendships die. Connections fizzle out. The shared culture you’ve developed takes on a life of its own and, once you stop tending to it, spins out of control. It slowly circles from meaning into emptiness, ultimately landing right next to that last WhatsApp message.
Ironically, one of our last talks had been about just that. The fact that losing touch is a sad, but sometimes healthy and necessary, part of life.
Then, two weeks ago, I stumbled over some old Tinie Tempah songs. Instantly, my mind slingshotted into a nostalgic flashback. I remembered the time we spent raving in clubs with the gang. I remembered how we yelled “tsunami!” all the time for no reason. I remembered how we blasted his songs driving around in the summer.
And so, in a moment of vulnerability, I sent a message:
You’ll always be the first person I think of every time I hear Tinie Tempah.
That’s the best message I got all week!! So glad to hear from you!
We started chatting and caught up. Before I could even start to wonder why she didn’t message me all this time if she were so excited about talking to me, she said something that perfectly explained it.
That same week, she had met a mutual friend of ours, who, like her, had recently entered the workforce. After the usual “how’s your job,” “fine,” and “what else is new,” my friend confessed she was having doubts. That not all was great at work. That she was having second thoughts about her choice.
Suddenly, the girl she talked to opened up. She too wasn’t happy.
And then my friend said the sentence that stuck with me: “I think she just needed a trust advance.”
As it turns out, so did my friend.
A trust advance is reaching for a stranger’s heavy bag on the bus and saying “let me.” They might flinch, but they’ll usually be thankful for your help.
A trust advance is shouting “hold the door” and hoping the person in it won’t take your out-of-breath-ness as a threat. They’ll rarely shut it in your face.
A trust advance is admitting that you just don’t feel like it when someone asks you to join their spontaneous soirée. That you’re not in a good place.
A trust advance is not deflecting the “why” that follows. Because the only way to find out whether they meant it or not is to give an honest answer.
A trust advance is being the first to say that “some things about my job really suck,” to deliberately turn off the highlight reel and start with the real stuff.
A trust advance is picking up a loose end even if someone else left it hanging.
A trust advance is saying “I’m sorry” before you’re sure you screwed up.
A trust advance is texting “I miss you” without context because feelings don’t need one. They’re true the second you have them.
A trust advance is choosing to show your private self in public, even if it means you’ll be exposed. But maybe you’ll get others to show theirs.
A trust advance is tearing down a wall without knowing what’s on the other side. You might be carried away by the wind, but you also might make a new friend.
By and large, we live in a world where our biggest concerns are our careers, our relationships, and our happiness. Most of us are not running through the wilderness trying to survive. More people in the world die from too much food than too little. More from self-harm than violence.
As a result, cooperation now carries disproportionately greater reward than competition. It’s what allowed us to create this world of abundance in the first place. We haven’t figured out how to allocate it best, but we’re getting there. And while the world isn’t perfect and never will be, cooperating humans win.
Therefore, most of the risks we take are risks of rejection, of being exposed and vulnerable. But they’re not risks of survival. They’re problems of ego, not existence. Being laughed at, being told “no,” being rejected romantically—these are not matters of life and death.
We forget this. Our brains haven’t caught up. They still equate “I’m sorry,” “I miss you,” and “I need help” with “I’m gonna pet this tiger.” But they’re not actually dangerous. We fear these things because we can’t control them. That they’re really unlikely to happen doesn’t register. We’d rather have a definitive threat we can respond to than a vague improbability that’s out of our hands.
When I reached out to my friend I felt weak — but actually, I was the strong one. Sending that message felt like caving, like giving in. In reality, I was the one showing up—the one saying “here I am.” Yes, I exposed myself. Yes, I was vulnerable. But it was an act of courage, not defeat. And in today’s world, at least most of the time, courage is rewarded, not rejected.
The best thing you can do to be of service; to be a good friend, partner, parent, even stranger; to be the person we all want to be around, is to be vulnerable.
There’s this popular line that “everything you want is on the other side of fear.” But fear is nothing I can act on. I think everything you want is on the other side of being vulnerable. That’s something I can do. I can always hand out more trust advances.
No one spends their day obsessing about having to buy toilet paper. We’re all thinking about deep stuff, all the time. Let’s use our time to talk about these things. You might still get hurt, but the risk pales in comparison to the reward.
Being vulnerable tears down walls between humans. Behind those walls are trust, love, honesty, joy, resilience, friendship, and lots of other magical things. What’s more, each wall that crumbles hands more people a hammer. Trust advances multiply. You hand out one, and they’ll hand out five more.
Give trust first, and the world will shower you with trust in return.