Slay cynicism: embrace your inner hero

By Steven McCarty

The National Ethics Association


Cynicism can be poisonous to advisors. So, how do you embrace the true (and yes, heroic) significance of your work?

Are you the type of person who smells flowers and immediately starts looking for a coffin? Then you’re exactly who the writer H. L. Mencken had in mind when he penned that quip. Although it’s funny on the surface, Mencken’s underlying message is tragic: No one likes a person who wallows in scornful or jaded negativity.

Unfortunately, the world has become more cynical in recent years. People are jaded about their jobs, their government and their futures (or lack thereof!). So it’s no surprise they’re also turned off by the financial services industry, the performance of their equity investments, the low interest rates hampering their fixed-income investments and the perceived untrustworthiness of financial companies and advisors.

This cynicism can be poisonous to advisors. Prospects sometimes tell you to get lost. Clients occasionally go “postal” when market volatility strikes. And strangers can make snide comments when they realize what you do for a living. Granted, your thick skin often repels such negativity; however, some advisors take it to heart, resulting in:
  • lower energy levels and productivity
  • a sense of shame for what they do
  • hiding behind vague job titles
  • a defensive attitude, which hampers their ability to engage with prospects and close sales.
Am I describing you? Then here’s a book to read: "Living a Life of Significance" by Joseph W. Jordan (The American College Press: 2011). Jordan’s thesis? That it’s time for advisors to better appreciate the great work they do. "In what other industry do professionals give clients peace of mind when someone dies prematurely?" the MetLife executive asks, "or help people achieve a worry-free retirement with an income they can’t outlive? Or safeguard their income and lifestyles in case they get sick? Or help them create a permanent legacy that can preserve family comfort today and fund the accomplishment of cherished dreams tomorrow? None!

“By ensuring that individuals can protect their assets and their personal dignity, and by helping them to build a meaningful legacy, (advisors) will build their own legacy as well,” Jordan writes, “one of ... heroic significance.”

So, how do you embrace the true (and yes, heroic) significance of your work? Here are several suggestions:
  • First, recall how you felt the first time a client died and your work created lifetime security for his or her spouse. Jot down the couple’s names on a card and place it prominently on your desk.

  • Second, always ask for the names of your clients’ children. File them and never forget that their legacy is your legacy.

  • Third, once a quarter, touch base with several clients for whom you’ve done great work. Let their gratitude wash over you. You deserve it!

  • Finally, strive to become a person who smells flowers and immediately starts looking for a client to give them to.