It’s oddly validating to hear Jeff say this. Because I’d started to second guess myself and wonder if I’d just made up a convenient narrative about him, telling it to myself over and over, adding small details each time, until it was essentially divorced from reality. But the way Jeff describes himself as a kid is remarkably in line with my memories.
“It’s weird, I know,” he says with a chuckle. “But you just never know what people are dealing with inside.
After high school, Jeff went away to college at the University of Arizona. Not long after he arrived, he began looking for a fraternity to join. One house in particular seemed like the best fit—the guys in it were jocks with a reputation for partying hard. But just before he pledged, Jeff ran into a friend from back home who was a couple years older. He suggested that Jeff give his fraternity a look.
Beta Theta Pi was known as “the gentleman’s fraternity,” and its members were expected to be polite, respectful, and positive contributors to the local community. While it wasn’t what he had in mind for himself when he got to school, Jeff was drawn to it for some reason, and joined soon after.
Through the Beta house, Jeff started doing community work and, in his junior year, began volunteering in a group home for teenage girls. The experience was harrowing, and it opened his eyes to the reality that many people do not enjoy anything like the comfortable life he’d always known. Some of the kids had been sexually abused. Others had been helping their parents deal drugs since elementary school. “I’d only seen things like it in movies,” Jeff says. “I realized I hadn’t done much thinking about people that weren’t like me.”
Around that same time, Jeff was exposed to Buddhism through a college class. He was surprised by how deeply the teachings resonated with him. “It was all new to me, and it was hard to put into words how much it inspired me,” he says.
After graduation, Jeff moved to Philadelphia to begin a career in business consulting. Then, around the time of the dot-com boom, he found his way back to San Diego, where he consulted remotely for tech companies in Silicon Valley. He was good at the work and made a lot of money doing it. He had a nice car and a big loft downtown. He went to trendy restaurants during the week and partied with friends at clubs on the weekends. But a few years into his career, Jeff, then 27, began to notice feelings of emptiness, dissatisfaction, and even depression creeping up.
A childhood friend had become casually interested in Buddhism and was occasionally visiting a local temple, Hsi-Fang, to take meditation classes. She remembered that Jeff had talked a lot about his brief introduction to Buddhism back in college. She could tell that Jeff was struggling, that he wasn’t happy despite his successful career. So, one day, she invited him to join her.