Helping men who feel something missing in their lives

The Disquiet in Men

Helping men who feel something missing in their lives

Cynicism and Resignation

I am sitting in a computer room on break from leading training for a program that fast-tracks high potential grad school graduates into management positions in the federal government. I’m a faculty member for a 3-day intensive leadership program for them.

We had a great discussion today as we explored the challenges of working with cynicism and resignation in the workplace. These are young, very intelligent, immensely talented, energetic and idealistic people. As they move into their new roles, they sometimes get stopped in their tracks as they get exposed to the [tags]cynicism[/tags] in the workplace.

I listened to their stories of working for zombie bosses or with retired-in-place colleagues. It reminds me of when I have worked with senior leaders trying to lead their organization through change and how they often got stopped in their tracks by the resignation as well.

I’m also reminded of my own bouts of burn-out and cynicism, as well as the times I helped other managers heal their own struggles with it.

As we explored this, some interesting things popped up in the discussion. They learned the ultimate irony of how the cynics were once very committed and idealistic workers just like they are today.
Over time, these hard chargers were disappointed over and over again by incidents and events. Their enthusiasm was blunted and their hearts broken as they were worn down. Their ideas were not heard, promotions didn’t come or change efforts left them behind.

Over time, the bright light of possibility just flickered and sometimes it was snuffed out.

People and organizations dismiss cynics as pains-in-the-butts. Yet cynics were at one time the most motivated and committed workers.

When I think back to what it felt like as a cynic, I think, “If we didn’t care so much we wouldn’t be hurting or angry or disappointed. The quiet ones are the ones to worry about – they don’t care as much.”

Some of the deepest periods of Disquiet for me occurred when I was also struggling with my own cynicism and resignation. They seemed to all feed each other.

There is a deep connection for me between cynicism and the Disquiet. Learning how to heal the resignation, to transform the cynicism into engagement and commitment is an important part of working with the Disquiet.

This isn’t easy or quick work. When working with your own cynicism, or someone else’s’, you have to do some digging. Like an archeologist. You have to scrape away the layers of feeling wronged, complaining, railing against the system and yearning for justice.

Eventually, you might uncover that original spark, that little pilot light of what you (or the other person) really cared about. The reason that got you flying out of bed in the morning ready for the day, happily slugging through the commute and putting up with the meetings about meetings. Remember that time?

If NPR were to interview you and they asked you what inspired you and what you were most proud of in your career, could you remember?

If it’s not too late, if the flame hasn’t been totally extinguished, it can usually be fanned back to life. Look for that glowing ember.

We will come back to this from time to time in my newsletter, “Time for Change”, and explore ways to get that ember glowing. We can also discuss what happens when it’s been blown out completely and what you can do to start a new flame in old ashes.

You can subscribe at the sign up box on any of the pages on this site or by clicking here.

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4 Responses to “Cynicism and Resignation”

  1. jennifer Says:

    Excellent site! Great, great work!



  2. Dave Says:

    Thanks Jennifer – I really enjoyed your site as well and recommend it.

    Come back often and join the exploration!

  3. Lyle Lachmuth - The Unsticking Coach Says:

    Dave, I like the imagery of the buried ember!

    If only we can see past the crumudgeonly exterior to see the excited youth inside.

    Not easy, sometimes.

    Provocative conversation — good stuff!


  4. Ron Says:

    Dave: Cynicism is easy to fall victim to given what we are bombarded with from the media and coworkers. It is easy to see how it feeds the Disquiet without being aware.

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