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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

From a young age, I have been drawn to explore what lies beneath the surface of life. While many around me have been content with straightforward explanations, I find myself continually drawn to the deeper mysteries that linger beyond the obvious. At times, I have asked the questions of why we must face death and what lies beyond its veil. I’ve wondered at the complexity of nature, questioning why even the gentlest creatures sometimes turn on each other. I’ve grappled with the complexities of human relationships, asking why those closest to us can sometimes hurt us the most. Since I could remember, these have always been questions I have asked. It fueled something inside of me for an insatiable curiosity and a deep-seated desire for understanding. And at the heart of it all it leads to the same inquiry: What is the meaning of life? 

It’s a question that has perplexed minds far more expensive than mine, yet it’s one I’ve pursued with fervor through the ups and downs of my 20 years on this earth. As I bid farewell to my teens this week, I took a trip down memory lane, taking myself years backward and asking myself, what did I think the meaning of life was during those years that made me who I am today? Upon reflecting on my 20 years of life, I’ve realized that my quest for meaning is an ongoing journey that has shaped me into the person I am today. These two decades have provided wisdom beyond my dreams, yet many questions remain unanswered. I’ve come to embrace these questions, as the pursuit of answers adds depth and richness to life. Here’s a chronicle of my journey through time—a narrative of a simple person striving to understand a complex and often bewildering world.

Between ages 1-to-5, I found myself wrapped in the warm embrace of life’s simple joys. For me, the essence of existence revealed itself in the gentle act of forehead kisses for my two newborn siblings. I thought my meaning came from catching butterflies, each one a delicate flutter, a dance of wonder and fascination that stirred something within me. My sense of existence came from the countless hours spent by my dad’s side, struggling to find balance on my bike. He embodied constant patience throughout my life. Days spent with my mother were filled with simple joys – feeding the geese with leftover bread, indulging in imaginative play with my Barbies – moments that etched themselves into the tapestry of my childhood, shaping the person I have become today. Within these years I found safety in my parents’ arms. I found refuge from the mysteries of this strange and wonderful world. Their love has always been a grounding point for me. As my brain started to form during those early years, I marveled at life’s simple wonders—the intricate patterns on ladybug wings, each one a masterpiece of nature’s design. I discovered my own tastes and preferences, such as the comfort of familiar foods like homemade pizza and the aversion to anything spicy. In these pivotal years, life’s core unfolded in the simplicity of love, exploration, and connection. These early encounters weren’t just moments—they were the building blocks of who I would become. They gave me a deep understanding of who I am and why I’m here. Still, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, if I see a ladybug, I pick it up, make a wish and smile. 

As I journeyed through the realm of ages 5-to-10, the meaning of life took on new dimensions. It became about imparting wisdom to my siblings, sharing the secrets of crafting the perfect sandwich, mastering the art of riding a bike and styling my hair just right. It was a time of discovering that love and affection could extend beyond the confines of parental care. I learned that meaning could be found in the exhilarating rush of mastering a new backflip at gymnastics, or in the camaraderie of forging friendships with classmates who genuinely cared. Yet, it was also a period of coming to terms with the harsh reality that people in this world could sometimes be unkind, and that their actions stemmed from their own inner struggles. As my mother always says: “If they hurt you that much, imagine how much they are hurting inside.” As the eldest of four children, I embraced the responsibility of fostering independence, knowing that in the end, it’s up to you to make your life what you want. Those years answered my questions of existence with memories spent gathering firewood during our summer camp trips, the scent of pine needles, laying a foundation for my deep sense of understanding people in this world, having been navigating the complexities of life since birth.  

In the years between 10 and 15, my ambition drove me to completely immerse myself in academia, seeking to uncover some semblance of meaning in my studies. While school expanded my intellectual horizons, it was the lessons learned outside the classroom that truly shaped my understanding of the world. Adolescence proved to be a lonely and challenging period, as the tumult of puberty introduced me to the harsh realities of mental illness for the first time. The once-comforting relationship with food became fraught with anxiety, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, proved to show just how lonely adolescents can be. The loss of control over my own body and health felt overwhelming, compounded by societal pressures that left me feeling insignificant and unworthy of love. My meaning had slowly become solely what I looked like. 

Yet, amidst these immense times of darkness, there were moments of unexpected beauty and solace. I found refuge in the simple joys of companionship, whether it was the support of girlfriends or the warmth of a more intimate relationship. I slowly started to fall back in love with the simple moments of life. The moments that used to be my meaning during my childhood. How even on the worst days, the sky always erupted in fluorescent colors. Through it all, I learned the importance of resilience and the power of human connection. These years made me the resilient human I am today. I discovered that there is always a way forward, and that having a support system to fall back on can make all the difference in navigating life’s loneliest moments.

As I reflect on my journey from adolescence to adulthood, I’ve come to find meaning in the richness of my experiences. Embracing adulthood, I’ve made it a priority to nurture my relationships with my family while also forging connections with my chosen family, those who offer support and understanding beyond blood ties. My purpose has evolved into a profound connection with writing, where I’ve found meaning in expressing my tangled thoughts on paper, hoping to offer comfort to even just one person. Through getting to this big world, I’ve discovered my love for seeing and connecting with as many people and places as I can. I’ve come to accept loneliness as a part of the human experience, recognizing that true fulfillment lies not in avoiding it but in learning how to deal with it. My questions of my purpose were answered by becoming intertwined with the journey of life itself, embracing the inevitability of change and loss as part of human existence. Instead of chasing perpetual happiness, I’ve found purpose in embracing the full spectrum of emotions that life has to offer—loss, grief, happiness, loneliness, anxiety, beauty, and renewal. Each experience, whether joyous or painful, is a gift, a reminder of how the nature of existence is always changing.  

In the end, my purpose is simply to savor every moment, to fully immerse myself in the journey of life, knowing that every experience, every connection, and every emotion is a privilege. How fortunate I am to be alive, to experience it all, and to leave behind a story woven with memories and moments that will endure after I’m gone. 

This entrance into a new decade can be scary. But I’ve chosen to enter by wholeheartedly embracing the depth and richness of each moment, fully immersing myself in life’s profound journey. By embracing the privilege of each experience, connection, and emotion, I find gratitude simply in being alive. Waking up each day and taking a breath fills me with appreciation. Having a body that can move and a heart that beats with love is a blessing. Though the questions of existence remain unanswered, and perhaps always will, one certainty remains: I am deeply thankful for the gift of life. As I contribute to the ongoing story of my journey, weaving threads of memories and meaningful moments, I discover my purpose in cherishing all that life has to offer.

Hi, my name is Rowan Ellis-Rissler and I am a journalist for HER campus at CU Boulder. I was born and raised in boulder and have always had a sincere love for Journalism and connecting with people and places around the world. My free time consists of mountain biking for the CU cycling team and also skiing for the freeride team at CU. I enjoy anything outdoors and I spend a significant amount of time working on photography. My dream is to be either photojournalist or a broadcast journalist. Here at CU I am majoring in journalism and political science with a minor in business management. I write to make people feel something. I report because I want to spend my life doing what I love while also helping at least one person feel less alone in this world.