This month I’m posting every day, picking the top voted question from readers and answering it. With 54 votes, today’s winner was:
How do you overcome cynicism in an environment determined to maintain it?
You overcome a toxic environment by walking out the door. Unless you happen to be a powerful person in the organization, it is not your fault that the environment is cynical, broken, dysfunctional, toxic, demented, twisted or incompetent. Managers and executives are paid a great deal more than the average employee and the main thing that comes with that pay grade is accountability. If the place depresses you, look upwards: the people in power make it this way. It’s uncommon for people in power to be motivated to make big changes since they like being in power.
On a personal level, cynicism is for cowards. To be alive in this universe of mostly dead space is a miracle. To be born on this planet in a time and a country with clean running water, electricity and public schools is an additional miracle. To even be able to read and write and think well enough to have a professional job to complain about is a third. When it comes down to it, cynics are simply not paying attention. While I am all for skepticism, and by that I mean the intense challenging of of assumptions, I am an unrepentant optimist about the opportunities we have, simply because we are alive. We can do almost anything. The problem is most of the interesting things take significant effort to do and it’s far easier to be cynical and not try than to put effort in the uncertainties of change. In the worst of all cases I’d rather be Sisyphus walking up that hill every day, than the nameless guy next to him doing nothing at all for all eternity.
If you do have a powerful ally, talk to them. Come up with a plan. You can offer to do most of the work, but you will need their support to defend what you do, provide resources for you, and convince their peers to follow along.
If you are powerful, you can only change a culture one person at a time. See how to fix a team for advice on how to lead change. All change starts small. It must be grown, not constructed.
If you have no power, there is no shame in quitting. It’s brave to quit in our culture and we should do it when we’re convinced nothing is likely to change. Only by quitting a lame situation do you give yourself any real chance of having the time and energy to find a great one.