(Photo above by Angie Baughman/AngieLeigh Photography)
Matthew Wroblewski, of Doe Run, Mo., shares how he once couldn’t look others in the eye. Now he’s a social worker who’s got everyone’s back.
A year after getting my bachelor’s, my life was marked with utter complacency. My average day in 2015 consisted of waking up far into the evening, playing video games for hours on end and remaining cloistered in my dark, dingy room unless I absolutely had to run an errand. This lifestyle came with a price: I lost a lot of my social skills and felt painfully awkward interacting with most anyone.
One day when I did go out, I shuddered in fear of having to make eye contact with the person across from me at a four-way stop sign. That’s when I realized I needed to change.
This led me to research numerous forms of meditation. One was too expensive, and I questioned the need to pay for a mantra, while other forms of meditation were isolating—the very thing that was making me unhappy. I eventually resorted to asking my mother about her practice of Nichiren Buddhism as an SGI member.
I began to chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for 15 minutes each day, and in just the first week, I felt great vigor emanating from my being, as well as an ability to see my life more clearly.
Chanting and reading books on Buddhism, I felt that maybe I could change my life, that things were not set in stone. I started setting goals and taking action.
In just under a year, many things transformed. For example, I started working out and eating healthy, and I eventually lost 50 pounds.
Through interacting with people on a deeper level, I overcame my social anxiety and felt confident to take on challenges.
I also determined to break through my isolation by connecting with others. Here in Missouri, we don’t have a lot, but we have nature! So, I invited friends on hikes, and rather than just smoking weed together, we had honest dialogues. Inevitably we’d share about our problems, and I’d tell them about chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.
Through interacting with people on a deeper level, I overcame my social anxiety and felt confident to take on challenges. I went in person to apply for a job opening that I had just heard about and also worked up the courage to apply for a graduate school program, which I was later accepted to. My inner transformation opened up a new career path and, in January 2016, I began my job as a social worker.
As I continued to pursue my dreams, however, there were obstacles at every turn. At one point, I thought I was going to lose my job because of my plan to go to graduate school. My dad was diagnosed with cancer, and one of my best friends passed away from a drug overdose. I challenged everything with an hour of chanting and gongyo every day. I had to win, not just for myself, but for my friends, too.
When I needed encouragement, I turned to Daisaku Ikeda’s words:
You [youth] should not be hasty. It is unreasonable to suppose that you can become both spiritually and socially stable in one fell swoop. ... Life is like a marathon as is faith. Though you may lose the lead in the midst of the race, victory or defeat is decided at the finish line.
My Dear Friends in America, third edition, p. 83
Not only did I maintain my job, but also my bosses gave me high praises for my productivity at work. My dad received excellent treatment and is doing much better today. We also held a heartfelt Buddhist memorial service for my friend who passed away, and his mother was so touched that she started practicing Buddhism herself.
I completed my master’s program and am now working as a research coordinator at a medical school. My fiancée and I recently bought a house together.
I chant every day with appreciation for how much my life has changed in these past five years.
I went from not having any direction, to fighting to win in every aspect of my life. Now, I’m led by my dreams.