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Conan O'Brien's farewell has lasting impact

By Breeanna Hare, CNN
Conan O'Brien, seen here at the 60th annual Emmy Awards in 2008, gave parting words that are still resonating with viewers.
Conan O'Brien, seen here at the 60th annual Emmy Awards in 2008, gave parting words that are still resonating with viewers.
  • Conan O'Brien has been off the air for nearly a month, but his words have stuck around
  • Those who watched his farewell say they still reflect on his advice to not be cynical
  • His advice may have worked for him as well: NBC picked up pilot from his company

(CNN) -- If all else fails, Conan O'Brien just may have a shot at becoming a life coach.

As he signed off as the host of "The Tonight Show" for the last time on January 22, O'Brien instructed the audience to lose the bitterness that so many felt about the way NBC had handled its late-night shows.

"All I ask is one thing, and I'm asking this particularly of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical," he said. "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."

A simple statement that, in the weeks since, has become more than just O'Brien's parting words -- it's become advice on how to live.

Amy Ferguson, a 31-year-old art director in New York, said she not only cried like a baby when O'Brien did his final show, but also found herself deeply moved by O'Brien's suggestion.

"At that moment I felt like he was talking directly to me," Ferguson said. "In my job, it's easy to get frustrated and cynical. It's a cycle you can get wrapped up in and I don't like that I've let myself be taken over by that."

He was right, she said, when he commented that cynicism doesn't lead anywhere. "It's not in my nature to be a negative person, and Conan's words reminded me of that."

For Terry Bain, 42, in Spokane, Washington, it's become a mantra of sorts.

Despite the fact that Bain wasn't a big fan of O'Brien, after watching his final show he made posters and mugs bearing O'Brien's advice to "work hard and be kind." Those daily reminders help him to avoid focusing on the negative, as all humans will do, he said.

"It's really easy to be cynical right now -- turn on the TV, turn on the Internet and you can find cynicism in anything," Bain said. "I've thought about it at least once a day since he's given that message, asking myself why I'm doing what I'm doing; asking myself if I'm being cynical."

Undoubtedly, part of the reason O'Brien's words have become a phrase of affirmation is because of timing.

The same week that O'Brien ended his "Tonight" run, Haiti was coping with a disaster of epic proportions, the health care bill was still in limbo and the unemployment rate was 9.7 percent.

"A lot of people are slowly letting go of hope, and his words resonated because they're trying to find a way to make things work and this was a beacon for them," said Chris Lynn, an Austin, Texas-based blogger.

Lynn, 27, said O'Brien's words have been an inspiration as he wades the waters of an uncertain future after being laid off a year ago.

"I have my moments of cynicism, especially with my career," he said. "I have been looking for jobs and have had eight or nine interviews that didn't work out. It's easy to get upset when things don't go your way, but it's like [O'Brien] said, you have to persevere and if you're doing positive things, eventually things will go your way. Whenever I have hard times, I go back and look at that quote."

O'Brien has maintained a low profile since his departure. There have been plenty of rumors that he'll end up on Fox by the start of next year, but the only certain thing about the ginger-haired host's future is that he won't be on anyone's network before September 1, according to the settlement with NBC.

However, though NBC has removed physical traces of O'Brien -- his photo is gone from the 30 Rockefeller mural, and his "Tonight Show" videos are no longer available on -- he's still a presence at the network.

Barely a week after NBC and O'Brien parted ways, the lagging network picked up an hourlong pilot from O'Brien's production company, Conaco, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Such deals indicate that, for NBC and O'Brien, business goes on. But O'Brien's words may have a more lasting impact.

"Conan took the high road, and I even showed the kids that clip. With kids, everything is a teachable moment," said Toni Klym McLellan, who said O'Brien's words echoed a message she has been trying to pass on to her three young sons.

To be honest, McLellan said, to hear those words from O'Brien caught her off guard.

"To hear 'don't be cynical' from a comedian and a comedy writer, it was unexpected," McLellan said. "But I think what he said transcended celebrity, and that's why it resonated with so many people."