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It’s the Cynicism That’ll Kill You.

“Oh it’s just humiliating as hell. And no, I don’t frankly give a rat’s ass that I’m not alone and others are suffering, or that the universe is bigger and my problems are small by comparison. None of that shit helps. No offense.”

That note came in a recent e-mail from an old newspaper colleague who is now unemployed and financially desperate. I’d called a day earlier to check in, but apparently my usual hope and optimism didn’t go down well.

I don’t know why I expected it would. Almost all of my former journalism colleagues have one trait that makes us clash when we talk about what’s ahead for them. This characteristic is not reserved for journalists, but it is pretty widespread in the profession.

It’s cynicism.  I used to be one of the most cynical of all. As journalists, we always saw the negative, because that’s where the news was. When I finally started seeing the world through new, open eyes, I had vast new power to control my success and enjoy life.

For the journalists who might see this, please don’t think this is being written by some marshmallow who worked a couple of years for some puny paper before getting a job writing fluffy press releases. I got my first newspaper job when I was 15 and spent 25 years in the business. Reporting was the only thing I ever wanted to do with my life until the day came when I realized I’d done it and was over it.

I wanted out, and at least I had a choice. So many of my former colleagues who are forced to transition and re-invent actually expected to report for newspapers until the final days of their careers. Change of this magnitude was so unexpected that most are shell-shocked and clueless about what to do next.

Unfortunately, most have a handicap that will hold them back at every turn. It is the skepticism that made them good journalists and the cynicism that festered in the newsroom.

I have become the kind of person that I used to roll my eyes at when I was a reporter. And yet, I am happy. I make a living talking about manifesting success and believing in positive outcomes and all those things that I used to think were a load of bull. I believe every word I say. I had to heal and overcome and open up. It was a very long process that began with my leaving newspapers to write my first book, then being forced to persevere as it was universally rejected. I was so embarrassed by my failure that I spent almost three years underground, ashamed that my old cynical colleagues might be laughing at how I’d left my career to fall flat on my face.

And yet.

I didn’t quit.

Somewhere in all of that failure emerged a spirit that told me that I could do anything if I believed I could do it and did not give up. Someone suggested I read Think and Grow Rich, the 1937 classic by Napoleon Hill. Imagine a journalist buying a book with a title like “Think and Grow Rich.” I thought to myself, “What a crock.” But, it wasn’t.

Hill’s book introduced me to the concept of the Law of Attraction, which basically says that we manifest the reality we believe in. So, if I say my schedule is overwhelmed with speaking engagements, it is suddenly jam-packed. Back when I was  a journalist, I would consider such a concept a total crock.

But, it isn’t.

It just isn’t. It made me a lot of money.

One of my old friends once said to me, “You don’t actually believe that crap, do you?” And the answer is, “Yes, I do.” Completely. With all my heart. I believe we have the ability to create success or wallow in defeat. That our mindset is something that we can program to be positive or negative, and whatever programming we do will deliver results in-kind. I have friends who tell me that I just don’t understand the obstacles they are up against in this job market in a dying industry and I think of the time when I had no money in the bank. None. Nothing. And I had a mortgage, an electric bill and loan payments. Durring that time I was without insurance, I would call to get free life insurance quotes but they never met my budget…In the end, it all worked out. It just did. And, it always does.

In the world of self-employment, you have good years and bad. There are times when I don’t have to hustle for anything, yet the business comes without effort. And there are times when I have to work it, work it, work it. But, as long as I keep my head in the game, certain that I will manifest success, guess what? I manifest success.

There is power in hope. There is power in positive expectation. I realize that everything I am writing can be twisted and mocked by the people I used to respect as friends and colleagues — and that’s all okay by me.

They’re just being cynical.

  1. It’s the old half-full / half-empty debate. I’ve always been on the half-full side of the argument, making me one of the few optimists in a newsroom. After 20+ years working for newspapers, I chose to leave for a new career only to lose that job in the economic downturn. Talk about irony. I left newspapers to avoid layoffs. Wow, what a blow. But with the right perspective you can turn it around. I now have my own business, which has kept me working full-time since leaving the corporate world. It has been empowering. My only regret is that I haven’t had a real vacation this year. But in the spirit of the half-full side of the debate, that’s a problem I’m happy to have. Keep the message going, Fawn. And in defense of journalists, cynicism is often rooted in intelligence. It’s a matter of emotional management.

  2. Fawn,
    I knew Julie at OSU and she turned me on to your blog. I’m in 100% agreement – positive energy and a belief in the possible rather than fretting about obstacles is the first step to living a successful life, however one define’s success!

  3. Although I haven’t completely lost my cynicism, I have lost it enough to have taken a chance on leaving the news business after 30 years and chasing a dream – moving into academia full time. It took a change of attitude (from one of hanging on to the secure and the familiar) and a desire to worry more about what will make me happy than what will, at least in the short term, make me the most money. I know others who have taken Fawn’s attitude and are now both happy and successful and doing something other than working in the news business. It’s good advice.

  4. You are completely right – I am often accused of being an eternal optimist – and I am – negative thoughts result in negative actions – positive thoughts are the ones that will actually get you somewhere.

    I can’t believe the incredible waste of time it is thinking, talking, mulling over what might go wrong or why not to do something. Instead, all that energy could have been directed and getting done what you think can’t be done.

    One of my favorite quotes is “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, because that’s where the fruit is.” and it’s true. Motivating yourself in a positive direction gets more and greater things accomplished than sitting around thinking about why not to do it.

    One of my current projects is to attempt to do something that has never been done before in any US market. Many people have told me it can’t be done, or that’s never been done before, or “they” will never go for it. And those are all the reasons I want to accomplish it. So far, everything that can go RIGHT, has gone RIGHT – and we are on track to doing the impossible. But then again, what is impossible if you can see it being done in your mind and charting the path to get it done.

  5. Truth is that most journalists I know are actually Romantics pretending to be cynics. We wouldn’t stay with it if we didn’t believe in the cause, some cause. That what we do matters. That what we do can make a difference. That if we only get out the right bit of information, we’ll make the world a little bit better.

    Most of the time, there’s no evidence that we succeed. So we put up the facade of cynicism, like any jilted lover. But just as that jiltee will almost surely fall again, so do we.

  6. You always have a choice. You don’t always know that, but you do. Yes, perhaps it feels empowering to step away from what you know doesn’t work anymore. And yes, perhaps being laid off can encourage feelings of victimization. However, the opportunity to really exercise your right to choose is pretty powerful when you experience something like losing your job. People can choose to be like the friend you wrote about a couple of weeks ago – a world-class photographer who realized after he got downsized that working at a Chinese restaurant wasn’t his calling, and took his life savings to go to Africa. Or they can choose to hold on to “hey, this wasn’t the plan” and feel all of the accompanying blame, resentment and bitterness. Only one of these choices will manifest peace in your belly. Only one of them will enable you be who you really are. Maybe this is why I never really tried to be a journalist, despite the degree 🙂

  7. Being a journalist is hard and it’s rewarding. I did it for almost 25 years and if I got a do-over I would do it again. I was a skeptic, though, not a cynic. When friends asked how I could get up each day to face the daily bad news I said “because if I didn’t think I could make it better I would give up today.”
    I left in 2001 because the business model was dying and because I could.
    Now I pick and choose the best potential AIDS research and programs and combine that with a passion for logistics and deadlines to run multi-day fundraising bike rides.
    I just finished NYCDC this week, and know that Fawn is right. Success breeds success, and optimism, joy and perseverance are contagious. Again and again, I saw people shed doubts about their physical abilities and push on because everyone else was doing it.
    I’ve learned to separate the rare malcontent from the group because that negativity can infect and taint an entire event.

  8. We are all our own worst enemies. Didn’t someone smart say that? Dawn’s work is inspirational to us all. We can’t wait to hear you speak in Denver at the ACG meeting. OMG alert the authorities, she’s returning!

  9. Maybe more than cyncism, what your friend faced was depression. There’s a lot of it going around these days as journalists, even optimistic journalists, face the loss of their occupation. The challenge for a life coach like you is to meet people where they are, and help them figure out their first few steps, then the next few. Hail Mary passes rarely work or happen, as you well know. It’s the old “three yards and a cloud of dust” that moves the ball down the field. Same is true when you think about the path to reinvention. Few of us find the perfect opportunity out of the box. But as we explore this and that, we will find our way. To many of your friends, your success looks formidable and unreplicable. But when you break it down into “how to” steps for moving forward, no matter the destination, the path seems not so daunting. Defining small steps might help your depressed cynic find a sense of direction again.

  10. That’s a really good point. I think I’ll write an item about this rather than going on about it right here. Great point, Rosemary.

  11. I’m with @Jeffry Weiss on this one. The journalists I know and respect are idealists who believe that their critical attitude is a positive force in this world.

    I used to be a journalist (not a marshmallow) and even though I’m an entrepreneur now, that idealism will always be part of my identity.

    Once you become cynical, you’ve probably lost that ideal and it may be better for you to move on – like write a book in the tradition of Napoleon Hill and grow rich.

    BTW, did anyone read Chris Locke’s new chapter in Cluetrain@10? @Doc, I know you did 🙂 Would be interesting to discuss it here in this echo chamber.

  12. Idealism instead of cynicism? We all know the things we’ve said when tragedy happens. The names we have for bums frozen under the bridges or the corpses burned in fires. That’s not idealism. It’s the cynicism that comes by trying to make it in a harsh business with harsh people. I think can’t help but think Jos Schuurmans didn’t spend very many days in real newsrooms.

  13. As a reformed negtivity junkie, I truly appreciate your article. I too am striving to positively effect those who read my words and at times I feel unqualified or inadequate, picturing people who “knew me when” rolling their eyes and visualizing me in a white robe with my head shaved and passing out flowers (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Regardless, I am doing the work and reaping the rewards of manifesting my own reality and it’s reassuring to be inspired by someone successfully farther down the path. Thanks!

  14. Great post, Suzanne.

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