The Day I Learned I Was Nobody

Submitted into Contest #228 in response to: Start or end your story in a bustling street food market.... view prompt


Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction Inspirational

One day, wandering about as usual, I ended up in a street food market where I learned one of my most valuable life lessons. 

I learned that self-examination is one of the hardest things humans can do.

And that it takes a lot of effort to recognize and accept our faults.


I felt invincible when growing up. Many of us think that way.

What could go wrong when you're 19? We are foolishly unstoppable. 

We know nothing, and yet we believe we are so bright and so able that we can become too full of ourselves, much to our detriment later. 

My “claim to fame” was only the thought that I have my entire life ahead of me; therefore, why worry? Every time I made mistakes, and they were constant, I’d go back to that premise, almost to absolve myself of any responsibility. 

I took more chances than anyone I knew. I lived for the thrills. And came out the other side relatively unscathed.

Only later did I start questioning not only my life but also my purpose.

The thrills ceased to be what they once were, and I became increasingly disappointed in myself and everyone around me. I felt confused and anxious.

I was looking for something that I couldn't name. Something that would satisfy my search for something I didn't know where to find.

An old friend I grew up with turned me into the Krishna temple, as he was already a member, but I refused to adopt their methods. They required head-shaving and begging for alms in the streets, all dressed like Hindu monks.

But since the ideas were great, I decided it was something worth exploring. So, I went at it alone.

I started reading Eastern philosophy, the Vedas, The Mahabharata, and the Bhagavad Gita.

I met a guru while wandering who turned out to be the most educated and eloquent man I'd ever encountered up to that point. As we started a conversation, I told him of my predicament.

He pointed out that it would be best to let go of whatever I identified my persona with, considering my inquiry.

“Just let it go,” he said.

“Become no one.”

“That's your path.”

I tried to understand, but I couldn't.

It was above my perception.

How could I do that?!?

He explained that I was already nobody.

That in reality, I was nothing but a walking pretense.

That all I do is repeat what I've heard somewhere. Nothing about me is original except 2 things.

So I asked, already semi-offended, “Well, what are they?”

He leaned forward and uttered, “That I can not tell you; you will have to find them yourself.”

“You are young and silly, thinking you are something or someone.”

“Let it go”.

I complained that that wasn't true.

I affirmed that I have thoughts, ideas, and intentions. I stupidly added, “People recognize me for my gifts, my presence, all that makes me who I am.”

“You are a parrot, he continued. A boy like any other, except that you are curious, that's all.”

I was stunned at his blatant honesty.

“You discover something, and you think it's you. You hear something and believe you have created it yourself. And you repeat it as such.”

“But is it yours to claim?” He continued.

“Think. Who gave you your name? It wasn't you. Who gave you an ID or a number? Not you.

“Did you school yourself? No, you went to a place of learning. Could you go after your own ideas? No, you followed others' behaviors. And you settle for standards."

“These are the results,”

“You are a carbon copy of millions like you, who follow the rules and think they have agency.”

“You don't.”

He said that we, in this society, label ourselves compulsively. It's demanded that we do. It's been taught since birth that we must “become something important" to show our value.

"But you already ARE. You don't have to 'become' anything. You are the essence of divinity itself. Just like everybody else."

"They teach you that to be somebody, you must train yourself and pay a fortune; the more degrees, the better, and don't ask questions, or you'll be singled out and mocked. It's a game, a trick, and a trap."

More confused than ever, I interrupted him to ask, "Why is it a trap?" Those degrees will help me with my future, better opportunities, and well-paying jobs.

He smiled and said, "You see those people working at fast-food places? If you ask them, they'll tell you they have all kinds of titles and degrees. And a massive amount of debt that will undoubtedly carry on until midlife or later. But in society’s eyes, they've become "somebody."

"It's a trap", he concluded.

My head was spinning at that point. I needed to breathe badly.

The man was right. I was a fool.

“One good thing, though. You're searching, which should tell you you're yet to be born. Born into you.”

I wanted to argue, deny his words, shout, and show him he was wrong, but my brain stopped me.

I needed to digest what this wise man just told me carefully. I had enough presence to recognize that much.

I said goodbye, frustrated but refreshed. I wanted to find a place alone to meditate on his advice. Was he right? Why did the last thing he said resonate so much?

It was devastating to contemplate that I was a “walking lie”!

How could that be? I thought: So what if I was like everyone else? I liked that idea, but why does it matter?

And then it hit me. That's the last thing I ever wanted, to be like the rest.

I returned to him to tell him that I always felt special, one of a kind, and appreciated.

“Special?” He asked.

Looking deeply into my eyes, he questioned:

“Are you empty?”

Not knowing what he meant, I asked, confused, “Empty of what?”

“That's another secret you have to find out for yourself.”

“Ok, just please, give me a hint,” I begged.

“I told you you're nobody, but you think that's a bad thing.” He said

“It's the opposite; it's liberation, releasing all you believe you are.”

“What, “nothing”? Do you want me to be happy about realizing I'm nothing? I asked.

“I didn't say ‘nothing.’ I said "nobody".

“So, an empty nobody? Is that it?

His face suddenly illuminated like a full moon on the most transparent lake, and a smile crowned his expression.

His silent response was all I needed to see.

I walked away, comfortable that, finally, I had said the right thing.

Looking back to see if he was still there, he waved.

Much later in life, I learned what he hinted at by saying that I already had those 2 original traits. He implied I harbored a humble heart and an easygoing soul. He told me so, some 20 years later. Couldn't believe he remembered.

I've always heard of enlightened masters who come into this realm to help humanity. We rarely pay attention and dismiss them as charlatans. Although many fit that description, others are the real thing. The latter have nothing to sell you for a cash payment.

I'll always remember my first guru. And I didn't even know his name.

He was probably “Nobody.”

December 09, 2023 22:08

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20:49 Dec 18, 2023

Wow. So much to wrap my head around! I'll be thinking about this story for the next few days at least. 💝 An empty nobody? People say that we're all different, but if we're all just empty nobodys, then there's no somebodys, and if you can't have a think without it's opposite than where does that lead us?? (I'm really confusing myself here)


Rene Volpi
21:53 Dec 20, 2023

I understand. It's hard to comprehend unless it resonates with you already on some basic, yet profound level. We are not what they told us; we are beyond labels and titles.


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