Burnout and the Millennial Condition

Hi, my name is Robyn, and I’m a millennial.

Hi, Robyn.

Millennials are the generation that people love to hate. We’re lazy, immature and largely responsible for the failing state of economies all over the world, especially the cow’s milk industry. We’re liberal snowflakes and angry pussy-hatted protesters. We’re progressive, artisanal and a good number of us still live with our parents.

We’re also depressed, anxious and burnt out.

Yes, burnt out.

If you’re a millennial and you haven’t yet read the Buzzfeed article ‘How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation’ by Anne Helen Petersen, go and read it now. I’ll wait.

Done?

Did it feel like a gut punch? No? High-five for being a well-adjusted human being. But if Anne Helen was strumming your pain with her fingers and telling your life with her words, you are not alone. We are even less alone than I thought we were when I first started writing this because yesterday BBC Three ran an article featuring responses from fellow millennials about how burnout looks in their lives.

Click here for commiseration. Also here.

In case you start thinking ‘Millennial Burnout’ is just another one of those disorders that only affects rich kids from first world countries – stop. Don’t think that. What is wrong with you? I’m a not-rich adult from a developing island state and let me be the first to tell you, that shit is real. Perhaps even more real in an economy that depends heavily on unstable external support and where I’m the first person in my immediate family to pursue tertiary education.

The pressure to perform, to achieve, and to never stop never stopping can easily lead to feelings of overwhelm and underachievement. You have to be on your A-game at all times – opportunity only knocks once. In a fractured health care system where most workers only have baskets to carry water, you have to go above and beyond to help the people who need it. In a society where Facebook and Instagram are as ubiquitous as breadfruit trees you are constantly comparing yourself to everyone else.

We know it’s unhealthy. The lines between work and life have become so blurred that for most of us work doesn’t end when we leave to go home. At home we’re answering work emails, work phone calls, taking work home with us to get it done in time. We – I – sacrifice family time and rest to get a little further ahead on this project or that meeting.

And even though we realize that something’s not quite right, we keep doing it. Sleep suffers, our concentration starts to slip, fatigue starts to drift in. But how can we stop? We’ve got to keep on keeping on because there’s more work to be done, more achievements to unlock, and you’re never going to get that promotion if the boss thinks you can’t handle the job.

I only go to sleep after dragging myself away from the work I brought home. I dream about work meetings going awry. The first thing on my mind when I wake up is ideas for Powerpoint presentations. I reply to work emails at 5 in the morning, and most days I am so tired that without coffee I barely function. I can’t remember how to relax, I obsess over to-do lists and I feel guilty if I take a night off to rest because there are so many things that need doing.

And it’s not just work, it’s the whole shebang. Bills and student loans, grocery shopping and car maintenance and all the little things that add up to keeping us afloat and financially solvent. We call it ‘adulting’. Our parents would have probably called it ‘life’. But life in 2019 is very different from “the way things used to be”, as Granny likes to remind me.

In every corner there’s another concern to preoccupy our thoughts: climate change, the environment, human rights, motherfucking R. Kelly, crime and violence. I live in St. James and even though the State of Emergency supposedly expired in January, I drive past cops at checkpoints twice a day. Not exactly a low-stress work commute.

This morning I texted my best friend, all the way across the world, and asked “Do you ever just feel tired?” To her everlasting credit she immediately demanded to know what was wrong. As I spilled my guts about the mental and emotional fatigue that have plagued me since med school she listened and reassured me that I wasn’t a crazy perfectionist snowflake. And then she told me her own story of overwhelm and I felt less alone.

It’s not just us and the readers over at BBC Three. Petersen’s original article went viral because it resonated with thousands of people. While I’m sure we’d all prefer to have something less depressing in common, it’s clear that this isn’t just some excuse for lazy, entitled failed adults. Haters, step off now.

True to form, millennials have gone all out to find ways to re-pep our step: #selfcare mani-pedis, meditation apps, a smorgasbord of life-changing ‘magics’. But in her essay Anne Helen asserts that no amount of self-help books, life hacks or yoga retreats will fix us. Houston, we have a problem.

Instead she invites us to find joy and meaning by living life, instead of optimizing it. A difficult concept for a generation used to curated social media streams, helicopter parenting and efficient schedules. Can we really stop moving long enough to simply enjoy things as they are? Are we even built that way?

As we millennials move into middle age, a time of life where the dirt settles and the patterns form a picture*, will we get a grip on the subconscious motives that drive us to burn out? Can we stop the imminent crash and burn in time to avoid debilitating illness? (Fibromyalgia is a legitimate concern). Will we ever move out of of our parents’ houses??

Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion.

__________________________________________________________________

*Quote paraphrased from Yrsa Daley-Ward’s poem ‘Mental Health’. Go and read it now. Thank me later.

5 thoughts on “Burnout and the Millennial Condition

  1. I read that Buzzfeed article and it hit me so hard. Will I ever move out of my parent’ house? Gyosh I hope so but in the meantime, I’ settle for a good night’s sleep and hope that the incoming message on my phone is from a friend and not a customer who doesn’t understand the difference between work time and home time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t even get me started on work/life boundaries! My partner is actually really good at ignoring calls and texts after a certain time of night. Meanwhile I’ve been guilty of sending work related messages even up to 9pm.

      Like

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