Yesterday I finally made time to read this excellent article on burnout, and it was well worth the long read. Anne Helen Petersen is observant and strikingly perceptive in her assessment of how Millennials have become the burnout generation. We work hard, have endless side-hustles, have it drilled into us that we must find work that we are passionate about that also pays the bills, all amidst the fallout from an economic downturn that will likely stunt us for the rest of our lives. Oh, and don’t forget, we need to look good doing all this on the ‘Gram. I’m exhausted just typing all that.
While I don’t share her exact malaise in terms of the small daily errands, so much of life these days just feels hard. I commute for over 3 hours every day, work hard at what should be my dream job where I get paid chronically not enough, serve on the board of a nonprofit, act as committee chair in a professional organization, and no, I haven’t chosen a dentist on our “new” (as of four years ago) dental plan, because who has time to sift through dozens of providers to find someone I am not afraid will advise me to get fillings I don’t need? The whopping hour and a half of “down time” I have when I get home is devoted to cobbling together some sort of dinner, feeding my pets and walking the dogs, tidying the house, doing an errand or tow, and then I get to relax… oh, wait. No, actually I don’t. I crash in bed and try vainly to push past my anxiety get a full 8 hours of sleep before hauling myself out of bed to go the gym before I go to work like someone who has it together, what ever “it” is.
We are the first generation in a long time to actually have it worse than our parents, but the meritocracy of the American Dream has been repeated to us so many times, that we think if we just work harder, longer, better, then we’ll finally get ahead. So we work more hours at the entry-level jobs we took that we were overqualified for, stay tethered to our phones in case our bosses need something, pursue our side-hustles because of course the gig economy means more opportunities (!) … and we are burning out. Hello, burnout generation.
I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe awareness will at least help mitigate the mental burnout load. Financial constraints and the feelings of futility that accompany them will certainly not go away with some internal reflection. But I am hopeful that “thinking about life, and what joy and meaning we can derive not just from optimizing it, but living it,” might be a way forward. All I can do is try. Maybe even hustle a little.