Instead of my life story, tonight I will tell the story of how my life changed forever.
2016, a cloudless summer night.
My best friend, Matteo, and I, were up on a hill,
our heads tilted back, fixed on the roofless dome of stars.
Matteo was explaining how the bright stars might not be bigger than the dim stars, they might just be closer. He pointed up and said “Those really dim stars might be larger than the sun, but just many light years further from us.”
It seems obvious, but up until that point, I had only ever seen the night sky as a vista of darkness and stars. The sky was, in a sense, a 2 dimensional landscape for me, because I had nothing around me by which I could measure with depth as a comparison.
As a result of tapping into this thought that stretched my imagination, my perspective of scale violently swelled. I was no longer treating my body as the center point of reference to judge the outside world. In fact, my body became part of the outside world, because my imagination no longer sat in the perspective behind my head.
I didn’t just think about the distance between me and that colossal giant in space.
I felt it.
My first person perspective shot into space toward that dim star and looked back at my microscopic body. For the first time, I saw myself standing on the surface of spinning rock, surrounded by empty space.
All at once, I felt the presence of a new curiosity for the world, a deeper presence of beauty and drama and the presence of a hole in my chest. I looked at the world with new eyes. I felt the shortness of time we have. I felt empty because I looked back at that speck of dust called the earth and saw every human story, that expansive history, encapsulated in that small, sapphire sphere, coming to a cessation in a celestial second.
Have you ever lost a fundamental truth you held about yourself or the world? Maybe it was your religion, your trust in someone you love or a part of yourself you thought you would always have?
In an instant, I lost my fundamental beliefs, my values, my truths.
I had lost my life purpose and a large part of my identity.
I went home that night.
Closed the front door and quickly shuffled up the stairs to lock the bathroom door behind me.
I stared at the reflection in the mirror. With a shortness of breath I whispered to that face,
“All this is going to stop one day. Everything I love. All the work. and no permanence?”
“What do I do?”
“Who can tell me how to live?"
"What is worth pursuing?”
Fast forward 6 years of searching, after a degree in philosophy and countless existential conversations. Still unsuccessful in my quest to answer those questions I had asked half a decade ago.
Every once in awhile though, I caught the answer, and yet my mind was not ready to receive it.
Then, in February 2017, I heard it again.
I was about to get on a flight to South Korea for a year long journey. A few nights before, everyone threw me a going away party. Mostly everyone left, so the remaining few congregated in a semicircle on the couch and love-seat. As one usually does at parties, we were discussing whether or not one can make an indisputable and universal claim about what is ‘Truth’. We each had our rounds, struggling to define the term. At a lull in the conversation, my friend, Julian turned to me. And leaning in, with the right half of his face in shadow, he gently warned me, “TJ, If you spend your whole life seeking the truth, you’ll end up an old, unsatisfied man.”
Now, at first, I thought this meant “Don’t spend your life searching for answers to unanswerable questions.” Recently, I've been rethinking that bit of insight. I think what he meant by that was not to stop trying to answer the questions, but rather to “Stop SEEKING for the answers.” Stop looking outside yourself, and realize that when it comes to life’s hardest riddles, there is an opening for the individual to create her own answer. After years I realized there is no definitive answers that applies to us all.
If there is no “best” way to live, where does this leave us? It leaves us with choice. It leaves us with freedom. Some see this as the burden of free-will. To have to choose your own way from infinite possibilities. Others, like myself, see this as the golden ticket of human life, the freedom to create meaning.
Recognizing this innate freedom to create purpose, for me, came at a painful cost. The cost of having to lose my life’s purpose first.
Nevertheless, I still say that losing purpose was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because what I lost, that burning deep inside of me, was not actually me. It was the dissolving of who I thought I was. It was an amalgamation of stories I had told myself about myself. It was a string of beliefs I took on from other people’s opinions and steadfast conclusions based on my limited experiences. I hadn’t accounted for that infinite source inside myself: my own imagination, what I didn’t know, my ability to think critically and to live with an open heart and mind.
And again, years later, I looked at myself in the mirror and asked those same questions: “What are you gonna do?” “What is worth pursuing?” And now I am here, answering this to you all with my writing, my work. My life purpose is to help others live a purposeful life. Because, for a little while, I knew how it felt to have no purpose. We need meaning: something to live for, something to die for and someone to love.
My goal is to increase the feeling of time well-spent, and decrease the feeling of regret. And that is why I am here: because I believe in the importance of this message, and hope that, by sharing it, I can help someone.
My message to you is precisely this:
Nothing will bring you purpose but an authentic life, aligned with your own values.
And with the help of all of you, listening without judgement, sharing a similar experience and commenting or messaging me about how I affected you, I will be able to better understand how I can help improve your lives.