Tips on overcoming academic disenchantment

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University giving you burnout? You aren’t alone || Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

Are you ever at home writing an essay on a topic you couldn’t care less about and think … “Maybe I’m not cut out for University”?

You aren’t alone.

According to the Australian Government Department of Education, Higher Education Statistics, almost 20 per cent of all school leavers drop out of their degrees within six years.

As students, we often find ourselves balancing a whirlwind of tutorials, lectures, readings, and managing our social life and everything in between. In the thick of all the busy periods and potential uncertainties of our academic journey, it is natural to be disillusioned about why you even started University.

You may feel wrong about being unsure about your course and think that everyone else is happily completing their degree. Academic disenchantment can be culmination of many stressors – whether that the cost of living, decline in mental health, and burnout.

According to a renowned Jewish-Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, the question of meaning is the most difficult question an individual can be confronted with. As suggested in Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, understanding why we do things can differ daily and change from person to person. We cannot apply one fixed meaning of life on a mass scale.

Frankl uses an analogy of a chess game. There is no such thing as a single best move in chess, and the chess combinations can reflect the complexity of the real world. The player must consider their current position and carefully move accordingly.

It follows that the purpose of completing our studies comes from how we react to the challenges university throws us. For example, say you get given a 2000-word essay worth 55% of your grade and have three weeks to do it. What is your next move?

Your play may be to plan, write the essay gradually and leave enough time for proofreading before submitting. Another move you may make is to leave the report to the last minute, writing it in a rush and hoping the anticipation of the impending due date will pressure you to finish it quicker.

It follows that writing an essay is, under Frankl’s interpretation, a challenge for you to confront.

However, the challenges that come with academic disillusionment should not stop you from having an enjoyable and memorable university experience.

Photo by Verne Ho on Unsplash

Let’s have a look at three ways we can curb academic disenchantment under Frankl’s theory: 

1. Through achievement and accomplishment:

We can uncover meaning by seeking work or study that is intrinsically meaningful to us. When we look forward to such assignments, we can actualise a purpose for what we are doing.

Let’s imagine you are interested in gaining professional development within your studies and think it is meaningful to your career. It follows, then, that you would enrol in units or internships that provide you with work experience and accomplish something meaningful to you and curb disillusionment by doing so.

2. Experience something, someone:

We can also uncover meaning by being curious about the world. For example, talking to a stranger in class or trying a new restaurant you saw on campus can add meaning to your life in small but enduring ways.

That stranger you initiated a conversation with in class may become a great friend. The restaurant on campus you tried out might become your favourite study spot. The classroom stranger and the random restaurant became meaningful because you were brave enough to be curious.

3. The attitude we take in the face of unavoidable suffering:

Meaning is found in the most hopeless and destitute of circumstances. Experiences of loss, grief and trauma can all shape our worldview. Such cases can nurture resilience within us or lead us to stagnation or self-destruction, depending on how we face them. However, even after failing an exam, experiencing a breakup or even the death of a loved one, we can choose to accept what has happened and pursue an optimistic vision of the future.

For example, let’s say you failed one of your final exams for the semester, felt ashamed and wanted to drop out of university altogether. If you were to quit, you wouldn’t gain anything. However, if you accept your result and identify areas to improve on in the future, the failure may become a meaningful development in how you approach studying going forward.

Everyone feels like dropping out at one time or another. University is challenging and designed to make you think critically in tight spots. However, remembering the good things that come with student life can inspire you to stay on board and have a meaningful university experience. 

Maya Salim

Hi there! I am currently studying psychology. I chose this because I revel in uncovering…

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