Why I'm Grateful for my "Quarter Life Crisis"

Did you Know that Millennials are...

…the largest, most educated generation & yet we make up
40% of unemployed persons & make up the highest levels of people with
mental health issues like anxiety & depression?

I remember the first time I read that statistic…and that it oddly made me feel better.

I guess I only wish that, at the time when I was going through it, I knew that these things that I was experiencing were common. That other people went through them. I wish that 3-ish years ago when I was neck deep in my “quarter-life crisis” that I truly knew that a “quarter-life crisis” and that the anxiety and questioning that I experienced daily when I was in the thick of it were normal, commonplace even. Oddly, that would’ve helped in and of itself.

My Quarter Life Crisis...

Lemme paint a picture for you…

My quarter life crisis started not long after I started graduate school. In 2013, I had joined a PhD program at the University of Michigan. I was a microbiology major in undergrad, I had worked in biomedical research labs from the moment I was 18 up until a couple years ago. So, basically, science was a huge part of my identity. So, I kicked off this journey in my PhD program, which, at the time, I was absolutely pumped about! It was a new adventure. One that involved me moving to a completely new part of the country with no one around that I knew. No family, distant or closely-related. No friends, really. I was completely on my own. And though there were nerves involved in that move, the vast majority of it was excitement.

But graduate school was a wild ride. My first year of graduate school was plagued with the most intense feelings of imposter syndrome I have ever experienced in my life. Imposter syndrome is essentially a feeling like you’re an imposter in whatever you’re doing. In graduate school, it manifested for me as just feeling like I was stupid, that I got into my program on a fluke, that everyone was so much smarter than me, that one day I was going to show up to class and I was going to be found out. That my professors and my peers were going to realize that I didn’t belonged and it terrified me.

So needless to say the first year was rough. But, as much as my mentors and the higher-ups tried to tell me that it would get better. However, my peers that were later in the program warned me otherwise.

Graduate school was a marathon. The first year was made up of me trying to find my place and some sense of belonging in my program and in my lab. Second year was kicked off by prelims, which are also called qualifying exams, depending upon the program that you’re in. They’re basically huge exams that will determine whether or not you’re qualified to continue on in your program. So, that was stressful as fuck to say the least. I passed, thank God, but everything about the process really called into question a lot of why I was doing this to myself. Over the next year, I struggled and struggled and struggled to get my experiments to work. I struggled to feel like I had anything to contribute. I constantly felt plagued by these feelings of competition, of not being good enough. Then, at the end of my second year of graduate school, I experienced two separate instances of what can only be described as bullying by my peers, one of whom was one of my labmates.

I didn’t talk about the bullying to anyone that could do anything about it. Hell, for a while, I didn’t tell anyone in my immediate circle. The first instance of bullying, I found myself crying at my desk, shielding my face when my labmates walked by, sending emails to my coach and one my best friends just trying to understand what I’d done wrong to deserve being treated like this. The next instance happened probably a month, maybe two later. And I’ll never forget that when it happened, it was like 2 or 3pm on a weekday, I was at work, and I was so upset that I grabbed my stuff, walked out of my lab and cried from the moment I stepped into the elevator until the moment I got home.

That’s how things started…

And this is something that I actually didn’t appreciate until later. Those two events and the time that followed kick started the period of time that I call my “quarter-life crisis”. A time where I closed myself off from everything. Where I essentially became a hermit. Because, despite being bullied, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it!

I finally started talking about it in late 2015. It was then that I realized what kind of relationships I’d built in my new home. They were relationships with great people, but at that point, I had portrayed myself so much so as the “social girl”, the “party” girl, that few of these friendships were people who I could go talk to about deeper things. Who I could tell about being bullied and the people that had bullied me. Who I could tell how miserable I was and who would actually listen without saying “Ya, but that’s just graduate school…” I didn’t feel like anyone cared. So I buried myself, hiding from my friends, my labmates, my boss, my peers, etc.

All Groan Up posted a list of the Top 25 Signs You’re Having a Quarter Life Crisis, and let me just say, I realize now that I checked many of the boxes…

  • I was asking myself constantly if I was “ever going to feel like myself again…” because during the time that I’d been in graduate school, I had lost all of my vitality.

  • I couldn’t see myself doing the work of all the people around me, the people that I should be aspiring to be like…

  • I was constantly asking and saying to myself, “There’s got to be more to life than this…”

  • I would have paid anything and everything I have to have one damn moment of clarity

  • I felt like my anxiety, fear, uncertainty, etc. was crushing me.

  • I was drinking my feelings…even by myself in my apartment.

  • I wasn’t working at work…I was just surfing the internet, watching YouTube videos, reading BuzzFeed articles until the clock said I could go home.

  • I couldn’t stop looking back at college wondering how things would be if I did things differently.

  • I didn’t know where to go for answers or what questions to even ask.

  • And because I was so far from myself, I hid myself from my friends. Not that they seemed to notice or care.

It was around this time that I realized that graduate school may be the thing that needed to change. Graduate school was sucking the life out of me in lots of ways. I started enthusiastic and passionate about science and over the next couple years, that enthusiasm would be sucked dry from me, so much so that when I finally went and met with our Student Services Rep for our graduate program about she said something akin to, “I feel like this program stole the light from you…” and she wasn’t far off. But it wasn’t just that. As I dove deeper into my quarter life crisis, I started trying my damndest to dig myself out. I invested in personal growth. I did only training programs trying to find something that light me up again. But, many of the books I read and programs that I did didn’t reveal what I thought they would. If anything, they suggested that I should get the hell out of graduate school.

I realized during this time that I was in my graduate program for exactly 3 reasons.

  1. I wanted to be Dr. Ellyn and have PhD at the end of my name.

  2. My family, particularly my parents, were proud of me.

  3. It was my income.

None of this had anything to do with being passionate about what I did. I knew this. And I continued to know this with 100% certainty over the next approximately 10 months that I would spend in my graduate program. But I had no concept of what I would do instead. I had no clarity or certainty about what I would do with my life if I wasn’t doing science. Science had been such a part of my life and such a part of my identity for so long that I didn’t know who I was without it. The only thing I could see myself doing was coaching…but how was I to make my living as a coach?

So, I grew to resent things. I grew to resent science for not giving me the kind of success and fulfillment that it was “supposed” to. I grew to resent Beachbody and the coaching community that I had been a part of since April 2014, that had brought me so much fulfillment because it threw a monkey wrench into my life. I may not have been perfectly satisfied with being a scientist up until I started coaching and getting involved in the personal growth sphere, but I was content. But Beachbody and coaching introduced me to something new, something different. It introduced me to this entirely new way of living and this community of people that were fucking excited to do their work and were endlessly fulfilled by it and making a kickass living while they did. I loved personal growth, fitness, learning, growing, mentoring people and helping them improve their lives. But I was scared AF.

My quarter-life crisis probably started around mid-summer of 2015 and continued until early 2016 and during this time, the best way I could describe it is that I went into a state of disconnection. I fell off track with coaching, the community of coaches that I had been involved in, the healthy lifestyle habits that had lead me to a 25lb weight loss, with the personal growth habits that had helped me change my mindset and confidence so profoundly, and last but not least, my work. I completely disconnected.

Emerging from my crisis…

I started to emerge from my state of complete and utter disconnection primarily because I started to talk about what I was going through with people. Some of the conversations were with that had finally reached out to me, realizing that we hadn’t connected in a long time, while others were conversations with new friends or friends who I hadn’t quite fully connected with before. These conversations grew and deepened. I started talking about the bullying. I started talking about the anxiety. I started talking about the uncertainty and the rumblings of wanting to leave the graduate program. The more I started talking about what I was experiencing, the more these new or rejuvenated friendships helped to pull me out of the hole that I’d dug myself into. And slowly but surely, other parts of my life started to get back on track too. I started working out again. I started doing personal growth again.

It was like a domino effect. Each new conversation and connection picked me up a little bit more. Each pick me up re-engaged me in all those activities that had helped me re-shape my life, my emotional growth and my physical health in the years prior. I went back to so many of the journal entries I’d written when I was in the thick of the crisis, journaled more, dug into more personal growth books and online trainings, etc. In conjunction with the passing of my grandpa in June 2016, I suddenly found a clarity that I had never had before. I finally started listening to all these rumblings I’d been ignoring or was just not tuned into the years before. So, when the straw finally broke the camel’s back in graduate school, I was ready to step away. I was ready to embrace the uncertainty. I was ready to move on.

What’s THERE to be grateful for?

Because since my quarter life crisis, even though it was shitty and even though the emotions I experienced during that time are emotions that I never want to experience, I feel like I have so much more clarity on what I want in my life. Some of the questions that I was forced to answer revealed aspects of who I am and what I want that I had no concept of…and it’s been mind-blowing the kind of impact these things can have.

My life has completely and dramatically transformed. I feel authentic and more like the person I want to ultimately be in my life more and more each day. I realized that coaching is something I’m so damn passionate about after engaging in coaching and mentoring for the last 12 years, whether it’s been being a captain or coach in soccer, tutoring, mentoring, assistant coaching, teaching…it truly has been 12 years. And up until my quarter life crisis, that had never dawned on me and I had never realized that this is something that I could make a living doing. Hell, I’ve started a fucking business! It’s something I never would’ve considered doing. I’m not educated in this. I’m not naturally wired this way. Hell, I never thought I’d have the balls.

Transform my health? Start a business? Travel the world? Before my quarter life crisis, I wouldn’t have had the bandwidth of the belief that I could do anything like what I’m doing now with my life. And, hell yeah, sometimes I have my doubts. But going through my quarter life crisis gave me and understanding of not only what I want, but also what I’m capable of and what I’m capable of overcoming. It showed me that I’m much more resilient and much stronger than I’ve ever given myself credit for. And that’s a beautiful thing.

So, that’s why I’m Grateful for my Quarter Life Crisis!

Ellyn SchinkeComment