Education and depression in a prestigious Pakistani institution

Education is supposed to be a window for a blissful, productive, happy and successful life. Yet higher education can also be a nightmare and a source of great depression if one doesn’t understand it correctly. I share my narrative in a bid that others might learn from my mistakes and end or evade easily avoidable misery.

I am an MBA candidate at a prestigious university in Pakistan. My parents boast about my academic accomplishments and yet I’ve always felt shy when I think about academics. Higher education is supposed to be enlightenment for our generation, yet coping up with homework, presentations and assignments always brings forth feelings of depression and inadequacy in me.

Reflecting back, my parents had always set high expectations from me, and in a bit to meet those expectations I devoted hours and days towards boosting my academic performance. I sacrificed crucial parts of my own personal development such as playing sports or making friends and cultivating relationships in order to focus on this one specific task. In doing so my grades initially sored and I formed an identity where having the right answers or being well versed in the subject matter became a crucial part of who I was. I had no other worldly accomplishments to boast and my grades became my sole accomplishment, my reason for existence and my purpose in life.  Somewhere along the way I realized that I was not interested in learning at all and it was the quest for the best grades that drove me into the arms of insanity.

While I thrived under such a mindset in my local school and college where competition from fellow students was minimum, my university life was marred with self-doubt as I was surrounded by the best and brightest students from across Pakistan. As I lost my self-proclaimed smartest and brightest student status, I fell into an existential crisis and began to question who I was. My identity was in my grades and without a perfect GPA I began to question everything I believed in. As competition intensified I became more and more frustrated and eventually regressed into a person with a broken spirit. I lost my hard work ethic and my willpower as my efforts were no longer bringing me the results I expected. I minimized my interactions with others and became reclusive as feelings of depression and anguish clouded my brain. For a long period I stayed in this cocoon of self-inflicted pain as coming to terms with reality was too difficult a task. They say time heals all wounds and I reckon that’s what happened eventually.

After seeking a series of counseling sessions by teachers, mentors, friends and anyone willing to guide me, I eventually overcame my depression by accepting the below mentioned 5 worldly truths:-

  1. I am not the smartest human being on the planet but am one smart person in a room filled with smart people.
  2. I realized that I had lost myself in the fierce game of amassing A-grades and had forgotten that the true essence of education is to LEARN and become a better version of who I am as a human being.
  3. I acknowledge that although a drive for being the best isn’t necessarily a bad thing but being driven by this one sole factor is detrimental to any sane human being. As humans we all have a myriad of priorities and thus need to strike a balance between them all.
  4. There will always be someone who is smarter, richer, funnier, more beautiful, sharper, wittier, skinnier or bulkier and predicating one’s self-worth on being the best by continuous comparison with others will thus surely result in inevitable disappointment.
  5. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I came to terms with mine via self-reflection and am now leveraging my strengths to cover my weaknesses. To all those who are still struggling, I suggest you do the same. Understanding one’s own self is key to understanding the surrounding world. Ask friends, family, peers or colleagues to help you find out who you are.

My understanding of success no longer translates into good grades, which are inevitably just letters on a piece of glossed paper. It is the personal development, emotional maturity and mental stability that come from years of continuous hard work, tenacity, willpower and learning. Life is short, the sooner you figure it out, the better. So start today.