Cushman: We Can’t Live Only in Pursuit of Our Futures


Sophie Felici

KC Ellen Cushman, opinion writer at the Daily Utah Chronicle, poses on Friday, March 31, 2023 at her favorite place on campus, Presidents Circle at The University of Utah. (Photo by Sophie Felici | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By KC Ellen Cushman, Opinion Writer


I’ve always been an overachiever, at least academically, collecting resume builders the way children collect Pokémon cards. Also like Pokémon cards, I aimed to trade my experiences for better things. Every decision I made was about what would come next.

For college, I felt desperate to leave my rural Cache Valley roots to go to the city. After that, I wanted to leave Utah altogether. I felt that leaving where I grew up would give me the opportunity to do something meaningful. This outward focus was only compounded by my major — studying political science pushed me to focus on national and global issues. However, I’ve found unexpected value in the times that I’ve moved my gaze closer to home and connected locally.

During my first year of college, I applied for every opportunity I saw. I interned with the Salt Lake County mayor’s office, where I practiced writing political talking points and learned about the role and day-to-day functions of local government. I became involved with the Hinckley Journal of Politics Editorial Board, which gave me experience reading and editing college-level research. I also joined the Chronicle’s opinion desk, where I advanced my writing skills and learned about local journalism.

These experiences became more than just resume builders. They provided me with my first opportunities to learn about Utah politics and how I could directly shape them. Through them, I met people who became more than just potential letters of recommendation, but true mentors.

However, despite these experiences, my mindset hadn’t changed. I continued pushing onward with a set idea of who I would become and that every experience was one more step on the road to get there.

It was 2020 that would ultimately challenge my perspective the most. The pandemic changed everything — it ripped away so much certainty about what the future held. Articles came out covering how stunted education and a pandemic-induced recession would make the futures of young people much less certain and more difficult. More than that, all the experiences I started to build seemed to crumble before me as everything moved online, which gave me a renewed appreciation for real-life connections.

This period of uncertainty also pushed me to realize how much of my self-image I had tied up in a planned future. I felt that reaching that future would be the mark of success. As a result, concern about that future induced crippling anxiety and self-doubt.

Throughout the pandemic, one thing in my life remained largely constant: my work with the Chronicle. Despite the pandemic changing nearly everything, I maintained a connection with this campus and Utah politics through my writing.

This pushed me to recognize that engaging the world with the goal of reaching some nebulous future was shortsighted and unfulfilling. Only looking forward prevented me from appreciating my present or making a large impact through my experiences.

My shifted perspective pushed me to reevaluate my goals and strive for opportunities that wouldn’t just build my resume, but build me into a better person. During this last half of earning my degree, I got an internship with the Rape Recovery Center. There, I worked directly with sexual assault survivors and found meaning in connecting with people in my community. I also learned skills for helping people through trauma or panic that I could carry directly into my own life.

And here at the Chronicle, I’ve spent recent semesters writing the pieces I’m proudest of. In large part, I think my pride comes from writing more community-centric pieces. I’ve covered campus issues I’m passionate about, like policing and sexual violence. I wrote about the legislative session, covering bills through angles I hadn’t seen other journalists take. I’ve even talked about people and groups in the Salt Lake area. I’ve learned so much about my community, but I also feel that I’ve left a lasting mark through my writing.

I still consider a future where I leave Utah. I still have goals for my career. However, I’ve learned not to look toward my future with a singular focus, which allows me to find joy and meaning in the connections and impact I make now. I no longer feel as though I’m waiting for my “real life” to start or overcome with anxiety about what failing to attain that future would mean. Instead, I feel that I’ve made my college life valuable to myself and my community.

We should never stop looking forward, especially as young adults. Nonetheless, we should also strive to make meaning now by engaging with our community.


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