the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
During my high school years, I went through an existential crisis. I spent a lot of time contemplating and questioning my life purpose. I struggled to find meaning and was unable to answer life’s greatest question: what am I here for?
As my peers formed groups, made meaningful connections, and socialized about their interests and desires — I was the class ‘loser’ and a complete loner.
I didn’t have any friends. I spent almost all my free time (i.e., spare time and lunch break) in the library, reading books, and doing my homework.
I never talked to anyone and avoided any situation that involved talking to other people.
But what about group projects?
I would do them alone. Or at least, I tried to.
There were a few teachers that would be furious with this and either coerce me into joining a group by bullying me in a subtle manner.
For example, my Grade 12 English teacher would make comments like this:
“Remember class — this is a group assignment. This means you have to work with other people if you want full marks.
So, if you don’t have any friends, now is the time to make them. And, if you don’t know how to make them, you can always bring a little money to class and bribe them.”
The class would erupt with laughter. One kid that sat behind me would whisper stuff like this in my ear, “she’s talking about you Jef!” “Don’t be such a loser, Jef!” “It’s not going to kill you to talk to us, Jef!”
This only made me shut down and avoid people even more.
When it came to the final exam for my English class, I was going in with a failing grade. I felt hopeless and knew no matter what I did, the teacher wouldn’t let me pass. She made it quite clear that she detested my ‘anti-social behavior.’ I ended up sitting at my desk with tears of anger and frustration falling on the exam paper. After a few minutes of crying, I ripped up the exam, threw it in the trash, and walked out — accepting my failure.
Even though I failed English class that year and had to return to high school to complete my diploma — books were always my great escape.
In the summer, I would ride my bicycle to spend my afternoons at a used book store. I will never forget the smell of old books while looking at titles, wondering what kind of adventure waited inside.
Whenever a title that caught my eye, I’d go sit in a vintage leather chair on the lower level to explore the first chapter while the owner played jazz music on his guitar.
This has to be one of the fondest memories from my teenage years.
I became familiar with the book store owner and he was something like a mentor to me. As he got to know my taste in books, he would have recommendations for classic literature and world history waiting for me when I was ready to leave.
Some of my favorite book recommendations were:
- Magic Mountain by Thoman Mann
- For Whom the Bells Toll by Ernest Hemmingway
- Fathers and Son by Ivan Turgenev
- 1984 by George Orwell
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
For Whom the Bells Tolls was an emotional journey. Its a wartime love story set during the Spanish revolution. The main character, Robert Jordan, is an American dynamiter who volunteers to join a band of guerilla fighters and blow up a bridge in the city of Segovia. He meets a girl named Maria, and even though he believes there’s no time for women during the war, he completes falls in love. I won’t ruin the ending but it was very tragic, and it left me balling my eyes for a few minutes (yes, I know, I’m very emotional and a hopeless romantic…).
I don’t come from an educated family, so there were a lot of words that confused me while reading. I bought a dictionary and would keep it balanced on my lap to quickly look up the meaning of any new and unusual words.
Books were a blessing and introduced me to a world of infinite possibilities.
As I devoured classic literature and world history, I would relive the main character’s story or play cinematic movies in my mind.
I was a war hero that ran hundreds of kilometers to deliver an important message that would prevent an attack and save thousands of soldiers from dying. I was a fisherman, in my elderly years, struggling to catch a fish until a great big tuna grabs the line and takes me on a journey across the ocean. I was a giant that landed on an island of little people who tied me up and questioned my existence.
I’m 31 now, and my teenage years are long over but not forgotten. Even though I was bullied by both classmates and teachers and spent most of my time alone and reading — I wouldn’t ever want to change it.
Books helped me find my life purpose.
I read thousands of stories about people and places and memories of the past. While I struggled to find answers to life’s hardest questions, I have a deep curiosity for this big beautiful world. I’ve made it my mission to go out and explore the real world, to create an endless adventure that defines my own life story.
In 2011, I hitchhiked from Toronto to Vancouver, Island where I slept in parks, picked up seasonal jobs, and played guitar to make a living.
In 2012, I cycled from Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I raised money for a local charity called Boost to support their youth advocacy program.
In 2014, I sold all my belongings and flew to Tokyo, Japan, where I started a 4-year journey, cycling from country to country and discovering my life’s true meaning.
In 2016, I cycled to Kumamoto, Japan, where I raised $1000 to provide relief in the form of a french toast treat for people living in a YMCA shelter.
In 2017, I went to Masbate, Philippines where I helped share the joy of reading and taught English to kids in local villages.
It’s honestly difficult to capture ‘purpose’ in a single sentence or so. There’s just a strong feeling that tells me to never stop learning— to keep moving forward and testing my limits. I want to live a life that’s always exploring and struggling and trying and growing.
However, I also find purpose in sharing the knowledge and experiences I’ve collected along my journey. I hope I can help others find their way toward a life full of meaning.
For me, there’s nothing more fulfilling than to see other people’s eyes light up with the hope for a better future, an idea to make it happen, and the effort to make it a reality.
Now It’s Your Turn
Have you ever questioned your existence and asked yourself:
- Who am I?
- What am I doing with my life?
- Where do I belong?
What were your answers you found? How did you find it? Did you ever discover your life purpose?