One word that overcomes cynicism, boredom, pain, & fear

by | June 3, 2013

One crippling word has become the mantra of a disillusioned generation of youth.

You’ll find it permeating any contemporary coming-of-age movie, from Juno to Restless to The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Because of this modern mantra, I almost laughed out loud when I recently read this quote from Orison Swett Marden, written in 1894:

“The most irresistible charm of youth is its bubbling enthusiasm. Youth sees no darkness ahead, no defile that has no outlet. It forgets that there is such a thing as failure in the world, and believes that mankind has been waiting all these centuries for him to come and be the liberator of truth and energy and beauty.”

If only Mr. Marden could see the slouching youth of today, wandering around with dull eyes, their hands in their pockets, shrugging their shoulders and mumbling the word: Whatever

But the whatever scourge is not limited to youth. We’ve all been exposed to too much darkness, injustice, corruption, hypocrisy.

Whatever is the pill we take to stomach the poison of cynicism. Cynicism is a symptom of feeling helpless. We feign indifference to mask the terror of helplessness.

Whatever is a drug to numb pain — it’s what we say to keep from being hurt when we care too much. It’s armor to protect our vulnerabilities.

Whatever is justification for fear, a cheap emotional shelter from the storm of failure. Whatever. I didn’t really want it anyway is a self-deceived cop-out from the truth, I’m scared to death to try and fail.

There’s another word that overpowers the boredom, cynicism, pain, and fear of whatever.

I discovered it when I was teaching high school-age youth at a private school.

They were used to being told what to do. My goal was to help them become self-motivated.

I gave them a simulation — a fictional scenario where each student is given a part to act out to achieve a specific outcome.

Most of them sat around in whatever mode, either confused or bored.

I was at a loss. I saw their goodness, strength, and power, even if they couldn’t. I was desperate to find some way to reach and motivate them, to help them discover their own light.

I observed them for a day. That night, a word came to me.

The next morning, I wrote the word on the whiteboard in big, capitalized letters:


What do you do when you witness injustice but you feel powerless to do anything about it? ENGAGE, and your strength will emerge. Write a letter to the editor. Organize a boycott. Put up a website.

What do you do when your teenager is struggling and you don’t know how to reach him? ENGAGE, and bonds will be formed. Pick him up from school and take him to lunch unexpectedly. Take him to a concert of his favorite singer.

What do you do when your marriage has lost its spark and you don’t know how to rekindle the love? ENGAGE, you’ll fan the dying embers into a flame. Write him a love note every day and hide it in places where he’ll find it throughout his day. Turn off your cell phone and just listen to her for an hour.

What do you do when you have an idea for a business but you don’t know where to start? ENGAGE, and a path will be revealed. Read a business book. Reach out to a successful business owner and ask for advice.

Engage. Act. Try. Care. Believe. DO something — anything.

Whatever hides our vulnerabilities — and thus binds our potential. Engagement exposes our vulnerabilities — and thus releases our potential.

The essence of engagement is daring greatly, as Brene Brown puts it in her fabulous book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

After defining vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, she says,

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path…

Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”

Every time she feels afraid or uncertain, Brene refers to two questions:

  1. What would I attempt to do if I knew I could not fail?
  2. What’s worth doing even if I fail?

The armor of whatever may protect us from pain from the outside world, but it also prevents our inner light from shining to the world.

And nothing feels better than the joy and triumph that come as we engage.

(For tools to engage in your purpose, click here to download my free toolkit now.)


Stop Sabotaging Yourself
& Live Your Authentic Purpose

30-page guidebook
40-minute audio training
1-hour video training