4 minute read

Quarter Life Crisis

Story by Molly Nutt | Photo by Connor Chilson | Design & Illustration by Amanda Smith 

Graduating college is a coveted milestone that used to feel like nothing more than a distant dream, so why is it starting to feel more like a nightmare these days? When your life is filled with more unanswered questions than plans, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, stressed and anxious.

For the past seventeen years of your life you have been a part of an institutionalized world. Education has given you structure, security and community you can count on. As a senior in college, unless you’re pursuing a master’s degree, the safety net of education is about to be pulled out from under you while you take the terrifying leap into the real world.

There seems to be an infinite list of fears overwhelming seniors on campus. Many of them stem from unanswered questions about how they will start their career after they walk graduate.

CWU Career Counselor Chuck Zimchek, Ph.D., knows exactly what it feels like to be uncertain about life after graduation and empathizes with the students that have doubts about their future.

“I was definitely one of those students that just had no idea, I know the pain that you’re feeling.” he says. “I made the logical choice of getting a degree in medical technology that had a lot of high-paying job opportunities, but I never stopped and considered what I actually enjoyed doing.”

For most students, choosing a major wasn’t an easy task, but deciding what to do with that major is even more burdensome. There’s no doubt that seniors are at an interesting point in their educational journey. Some students are realizing that they don’t want to even pursue a job in their field of study, while others have already nailed down jobs.

Senior Construction Management major Tristan Knaus signed a contract just a few months ago with Miles Resources, a civil construction and paving company out of Puyallup, Wash. He learned about Miles Resources after they visited campus a few years ago and gave a presentation about their company.

“I interned with Miles the past two summers as well as the winter and spring breaks,” says Knaus. “Once I realized the company was a good fit for me I asked to have a meeting with the general manager to talk about my future at the company after college. After this past winter break he extended an offer to me.”

Not all students are approaching graduation with the same excitement and security though. Senior Primate Behavior major, Kayla Ellis is still undecided about how she wants to use her degree.

“I know I want to work with animals but I’m still not sure what career path is best for me and my happiness. I don’t have a plan yet so I tend to stress that I’m behind everyone else my age,” says Ellis.

In the book Twenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning, Allison Trowbridge eloquently describes the disenchantment of adulthood.

“Never in history has a young woman had so many options before her, yet never has she had less direction or guidance on what to do with them,” she wrote.

Although Trowbridge wrote directly to females at the precipice of adulthood, her perspective stems beyond the reach of women. Men and women alike constantly hear things like ‘the world is your oyster’ and ‘you can do anything you want to do.’ Although it might feel encouraging at first, the plethora of career options can feel more overwhelming than encouraging.

The roadblock for most students isn’t finding jobs to apply for, but trying to find the right jobs to apply for. Career Services Counselor Jay Pfeiffer says, “In my experience, the thing that causes seniors the most stress is not starting early enough in the career search and having a structured plan for finding work after college.”

The quarter-life crisis usually stems deeper than just stressing out about finding a job. Psychologist Nathan Gehlert, Ph.D., describes it as “a period of intense soul searching and stress” and explains that the typical sufferer is “highly driven and smart, but struggling because they feel like they’re not achieving their potential or feeling like they’re falling behind.”

The search for meaning, purpose and direction is more pressing than ever as students start transitioning away from Thursday nights at Blue Rock to Thursday nights at the office.

According to the American Institute of Stress, eight out of 10 college students report frequently experiencing stress in their daily lives. By the time students reach senior year, the support system that they have built around them has become a home away from home.

The friends you’ve made and the relationships that have blossomed during your time at Central might be strained by distance, changing schedules and shifting priorities. It’s hard to ignore the uncertainty of the future of those relationships after you leave campus. Will those people still be your life after June 8?

If you put the list of each unanswered and complicated question on paper, you might find yourself spiraling down into the rabbit hole of the quarter life crisis.

“I just try to keep everything in perspective. I think it’s good to be nervous, but I don’t think we should be scared about what will happen after graduating,” says senior Aviation Management major Alex Walker. “If you’re nervous it means you’re excited, but if you’re scared it means you’re unprepared,”

In a study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, they found that only 27 percent of undergraduate degree holders are working in a job that is directly related to their field. Although this statistic might generate concern that you won’t find a job in your field of study, it should also offer some relief.

Zimchek’s candid advice for students feeling limited by the confines of their degree is, “You can’t apply for a job that you’ve never heard of,” and he encourages students to do informational interviews to learn about different careers and to keep growing their network.

The transition from classroom to career isn’t an easy one. For the past four years Ellensburg has become your home and comfort zone, and it’s okay to be afraid to leave the safety net you’ve built for yourself here.

Maybe your plan is to stay in the ‘Burg after graduation, maybe you’re going to move back in with your parents or maybe you’re planning on taking a leap and moving to a new city. However, if you’re like the majority of your peers right now, you still have no idea what your plans are come July.

“Having confidence is absolutely key. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You have to trust your intuition, make an educated guess and just go for it,” says Zimchek.

If you find yourself spiraling toward the quarter-life crisis, remember that it’s okay to be nervous about the future. Turn to any of your fellow seniors and you’ll likely find an empathetic shoulder to learn on. Aside from picking to attend CWU in the first place, you are about to make some of the biggest decisions of your life.