I am a 22-year-old former yeshiva...[boy]. I have always struggled in yeshiva and never did well. I recently made the decision together with my parents and rov [rabbi] to find a job. I was able to find a job that keeps me busy, will teach me an important industry, and has a lot of growth potential...Surprisingly, I have found the adjustment to this new stage in life to be very difficult. I am working very hard, under a lot of pressure and am completely out of touch with my friends from yeshiva. I also have been feeling confused and depressed, I guess not really sure what I am or what I want. My parents say it is just an adjustment period and that I will get used to things but it sure doesn't feel that way. Can you offer some insight as to why I have been so down?
Any life change can be difficult. In your case, this change may constitute a major lifestyle shift as well.
To a large degree, it seems that you answered your own question. You are “working very hard,” and likely are developing a sense of long-term responsibility. No longer are your goals relatively short-term ones, like studying to do well on an exam. You are “under pressure” to perform your duties—and likely have longer-term goals in mind, like developing a career that can sustain you for the rest of your working life.
In addition to changes centering around work specifically, you’ve rather abruptly transitioned from a setting that centered around spirituality and religious meaning to one that is focused on industry and work goals. This can feel disorienting and confusing. Also, to the extent that your sense of self was connected to your yeshiva life, you may be feeling like you lost a part of yourself.
We are social beings who thrive in social environments. The yeshiva setting is often a close-knit community. Although you may not have done well academically, the loss of what may have been an almost automatic built-in social community can be disconcerting. Again, if your sense of self was to some degree tied in to the social aspect of your yeshiva experience, this can affect your general sense of well-being.
You may be adjusting to more than a concrete, logistical change in circumstances. Your sense of who you are may be undergoing a change. This would explain why you’re “not really sure what I am or what I want.” What you are and what you want may be conflated in terms of your conceptualization of these. To some degree, identifying and defining what you want may be helping you to identify and define who you are.
For anyone, self-definition—hopefully leading to positive self-esteem—is a lifelong process. Your current struggle to redefine yourself, thus helping you to once again feel comfortable with who you are (and what you want), may take some time. If you find yourself feeling less confused and depressed as time goes on, your parents’ comment about an adjustment period will likely be proven correct. If, however, you continue to feel as depressed—or these feelings increase—it can be helpful to seek the assistance of a professional to guide you through your emotions, needs and general feelings toward yourself and your life.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200