“All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality — it doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”– Conan O’brien during his last show
I realize this quote is probably a pop culture phenomenon now, but it has been sitting on my desk since the moment I decided to leave Corporate America and start my own business.
It sticks with me for many reasons, but the real heart-tugger portion is more about not getting exactly what you thought they were going to get.
For those that aren’t Conan fans, this was the last few lines he spoke on his very last, short lived tenure at the “Tonight Show.” It couldn’t have been an easy night for him. He had chosen to step down from his dream job as host when NBC decided to change the timeslot to make room for a Jay Leno program–a move that many fans, including Conan, thought would ruin the show.
He still spoke eloquently about his very valid disappointment, but left with his head held high. He wouldn’t let this hand of cards turn him into a miserable, cynical turd. Something that easily happens to each one of us, including myself.
I’ve experienced both sides of this: watching miserable people continue their tedious tirade of convincing everyone this world is awful and also being so deep in negativity myself that I catch myself thinking the absolute worst of people.
As women, we’re taught, from a young age to need to fight to be heard, noticed and given credit where credit is due in office settings. I’ve certainly seen a shift over the years, but it’s still not great. We still need to wave our hands and demand to take up the space we deserve. Often this creates unnecessary, internal catty competition; sometimes seeped in jealousy.
While in the midst of a full-on mean girls campaign at the expense of my name and reputation in an office many moons ago, I had to work hard at reminding myself that miserable souls do miserable things. I had to remind myself that the truth eventually shows itself, even if it takes months or years. I’m talking, deep-dive meditation, writing in my journal, hitting the dammit doll on the desk and not punching people in the face kind-of-hard-work.
Background: In what felt like the blink of an eye, kind connections and conversations, turned into keyboards furiously tapping when I walked in, messages minimized when I walked by and the distinct feeling that I was being actively iced out and made fun of. (My suspicions were later confirmed by other coworkers who eventually left the company as well.)
Eye rolls. Critical information withheld. Inaccurate information provided. Lies told to superiors.
It was awful.
Don’t be fooled into thinking I did nothing and sat idly by. I did stick up for myself at one point and stood up to one of the office bullies to remind her I knew of her shenanigans. I talked to management. I asked for help. I kept records and notes.
But, in the meantime, I kept my head down. Did the work.
Flew to NYC to pitch Louis Vuitton. Kept my head down more. Did the work some more.
Saved every penny we could. Kept my head down more. Did the work some more.
Won an international client and got zero credit for it. Continued to keep my head down. Worked. Focused on those in the office that collaborated well.
Maintained awesome connections with talented, creative souls in the office (even to this day). Worked some more. Saved some more. Kept my head down still.
One of my close girlfriends reminded me to “enjoy the jealousy,” walk in with my head held high and happily wave in their direction; knowing full well they would think I was dumb for seemingly not knowing what was going on, but knowing in my heart they are the sad ones instead. (Oh if it were only that easy.)
You know what’s saddest of all about it? That kind of cynicism and misery is such an awful way to live.
In fact, they picked apart this very blog. You know, the one which evolved into my own copywriting business.
From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely hope they are doing well. Really, truly, hand-to-heart. Why in the hell would I feel otherwise? Who would want to carry that spiteful burden?
I also hope, again from the bottom of my heart, they aren’t circling their next prey, ousting them and then treating their very presence like a virus no one wants to get.
After saving some more, working some more and keeping my head down the day finally came.
I turned in my resignation and didn’t look back except to tell this story so others know they aren’t alone.
All I ask is one thing, and I’m asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism. For the record, it’s my least favorite quality — it doesn’t lead anywhere.
In its most general sense, and mental illness aside, it’s your job not to be a cynical jerk. It’s the easy route to gossip and to unleash cynical tropes about how someone may be different than you.
I’ve been caught up and whirled into the negativity at times, spewing out seemingly harmless jokes about others or believing a person was personally out to get me or not doing their best.
Was I correct sometimes? Yes. Was I incorrect sometimes? Yes. But, still, what a crap way to live and believe in others.
I once read–it was probably Brené Brown, yes 100% it was her–that it’s so much easier to believe everyone around you is just doing their best. Trusting that, believing that, will lead to so much less work on your shoulders to criticize and instead, help.
Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get.
There’s a scene in the often overlooked but awesome movie, Contact.
Laugh all you want, it’s a great flick!
Jodie Foster’s character, Dr. Ellie Arroway, has worked for decades as a scientist and finds strong evidence of extraterrestrial life. The moment she’s brought in to tell the world about it from the White House, her archnemesis literally steps in and steals the show. This was also the guy who tried to shut down her project and didn’t have great things to say to her about her work. He took her work, called it his own and got all the accolades.
I viscerally remember crying in the theaters at this scene. And it seems like such an innocuous one, no?
But even at that point in my young life, I had experienced people mocking me or stealing my work to copy and claim as their own. And man, that’s such a gut punch.
Dr. Arroway didn’t get what she thought she was going to get; what she deserved to get.
How many times have you felt that too? Knowing with every fiber of your being that you deserved the credit, promotion or pay raise. It’s infuriating!
“But if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen.”
Life often presents itself with a choice:
You know those people I mentioned above? They chose cynicism. They chose mean. They chose gossip.
Dr. Arroway continued to be her kind-self, as awful and frustrating as it was to watch from afar that the ahole got to do what she had worked towards.
You know what ended up happening to her archnemesis? He died.
Do I need to be that dramatic? No, but man, it sure gets the picture across, no?
She eventually got to go on her mission too!
Mean didn’t win. The cynics didn’t win.
The truth will always, always, always–repeat after me–ALWAYS come out.
I’m sitting in my office running my own business pantsless from Hawaii about to go take a break and sit by the ocean. Who’s the real winner now?
There are so many times throughout our day we are tested and asked for a reaction of kindness. From that rude cashier to the jerk in the office.
Does that mean being taken advantage of? Heck no! Sometimes the most kind thing you can do is to set boundaries.
Goddammit Brené Brown, you’ve seeped into my soul.
But to respond, coming from a place of kindness, being yourself and sticking to the ethics you most value is a beautiful thing.
The Conan quote may seem like TV fodder. It may, at worst, even seem cliché. But for me, it’s a reminder that working hard and being kind go hand-in-freaking-hand.
Mean doesn’t win.
Mean doesn’t play the long game.
Mean is temporary.
You don’t need to dim the light of others to shine yourself.
The real victors are the kind ones.
That kind light will always be bright enough.