In January, Buzzfeed published, “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” by Anne Helen Petersen, and the article quickly circulated amongst my group of friends. “I couldn’t believe how much this resonated with me,” one of my friends said. I was surprised. Based on her Instagram feed of craft projects and home decorating, she didn’t seem burnt out to me at all.
In the Buzzfeed piece, Petersen discusses her anxiety around completing simple personal tasks, like getting knives sharpened and scheduling appointments, which she believes is a symptom of the larger issue of Millennials having been raised to essentially work all the time. Even using social media has become about maintaining a “personal brand.”
Obviously, it’s somewhat problematic to generalize an entire generation, though I remember as far back as middle school being trained to think of how extracurricular activities will look on college applications. To this day, even activities I do for fun subconsciously seem like they need to serve a higher purpose. Even with doing something like joining a book club, I catch myself wondering if I will be able to make valuable professional connections with fellow members.
There’s also social events specifically set up for the purpose of “networking.” Going to happy hour with the purpose of collecting business cards to send an awkward follow-up email about job openings the next day always felt unnatural to me.
Naturally, people trained to be so career-minded that even extracurricular activities are about networking and resume-building are burnt out. One woman quoted in the article said everything she did felt like a task on a “to-do” list.
Petersen claims that avoidance of simple errands is the result of not getting the same emotional payoff from buying groceries that one would from finishing a professional task. This explains why I hate both grocery shopping and cooking. It takes too long, and if I just order food, I don’t have to think about it too much.
I don’t know how to force my brain to exit “constant work mode,” and being in school doesn’t help since “constant studying mode” is basically the same thing.
Have we really been trained to treat every task like labor and nearly every social interaction like a job interview? We need to stop doing that. There’s more to life than work.