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Buddhism and University

A reader writes:

I have just recently started listening to your podcasts and I am hooked. I was first introduced to Buddhism in a religious studies course and was immediately intrigued. I’ve always wanted to learn more and try to put it into practice, but I didn’t know where to begin and most books and lectures I have on the subject seem confusing and complex. Your podcast is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I can follow it, it’s simple, and I can get a clear understanding of what Buddhism is all about.

I am a 23 year-old university student trying to finish my undergrad. It has been really tough because I also suffer from anxiety disorders and depression. I had fairly severe concussion in my second year of school which exacerbated my preexisting poor mental health. I should have quit school then. I always knew it wasn’t for me and I felt like I didn’t belong there, but I stayed in denial thinking that it will get better and I’ll make it work. This never happened, but I tried again this year to get closer to graduation and now I am almost done the school year but I’m failing my courses and am too far to recover. In my mind, I don’t believe I can graduate and even if I get second chances to finish papers I know I will squander them. The anxiety and depression have negativity taking over my entire being, it is hard to get out of once you are sucked into it. When I don’t have to think about school, or do school work, or even just attend classes, I feel so incredibly relieved.

The problem is that so much time and money have been spent, all for me to just drop out and not graduate. It is hard to stay in a positive state of mind about it. I feel guilt, anger, frustration, self loathing… all of these negative things. There is a push from my family to find other options, a different program, a transfer to college, anything to take advantage of the credits I already have. I don’t want to do this, I just want to put this in the past and move forward. But how can I quit knowing how much I have wasted? This is where depression and anxiety really kick in and become debilitating.


I guess basically my main dilemma at the moment is: should I find a way to make school work, whether changing my program, transferring credits to another school or whatever… or do I just leave school and move on, do some research and find something I’m interested in (also another reason I feel so trapped, I don’t know what to do if I’m not at university).
From just the few podcasts I’ve listened to I see so much potential for Buddhism to help me; with my anxiety, depression, self confidence, self hatred… and how to deal with school.

This was more of a novel than I intended to write, but I just had to get all of that out. I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest of the podcasts, thank you for doing them!

And my response:

There’s a lot of information that you aren’t telling me, such as how long you’ve got left, what country you live in, and what your major is. You don’t say it explicitly, but I’m assuming you are about to finish your third year of a four year program.

I teach college, and sooner or later, every student feels like quitting. I thought about it myself “back in the day.” Self-doubt and hard times are normal for a student, and my advice is always to stick it out if you possibly can. Those student loans aren’t going away (assuming you’re an American, other countries might be more forgiving).

You say you feel trapped when not at University, so I assume you don’t want to quit because you’ve better things to do. I’ve covered Depression and Dealing With Hatred (not specifically self-hatred, but much of that applies) before, so check out those older posts.

You’re failing your classes, so you’ve made some mistakes and possibly bad choices,that much is clear. Now, the question is, do you want to dwell on the past (grasping), or move on to the future? You’re beating yourself up over whatever mistakes you’ve made, and that’s poisoning your whole experience at school. Without knowing your major, I can’t comment on your career outlook, but most of the time, a degree is very important. Why would you want to sacrifice your future for a mistake you made in the past?

My Buddhist advice is to let the past go. Trying to change yesterday is only going to hurt your future prospects. Go ahead and accept the F’s and do better next term.

Another point is that you mention a concussion and mental issues. Are you taking medication? I am not a doctor, but that seems like an avenue you may want to investigate.

I don’t know the specifics, and it’s hard to give real advice, so I’m going out on a limb with all that. From my non-Buddhist experience, students that quit generally do regret it forever. If you’re going to be saddled with the debt, you may as well get the degree.

Good luck, and don’t give up!



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