Millennial Burnout

This an incredibly insightful (and lengthy) discussion on one of the biggest issues of my generation. We recently got to talking about this on my podcast (not a plug) but we are all of a certain age (early 30s) and we see this among our peers constantly. I was surprised to find this phenomenon has gained some sort of recognition, and it is real.

There have been some well written responses to this article

And while I would definitely agree that it isn’t an exclusive condition to those born 1981 to 1996, it is that my generation has withstood a particular confluence of global events that has heightened the amount of burnout we are witnessing. And that slate article misses the point a bit about how that article is what makes the burnout of the people in their late 20s to late 30’s so unique.

To me it really has to do a lot with the large amount of always online connectedness that our generation grew up with. I am on the older side of the millennial scope, but it feels very real to me, and transcends economic and social boundaries. We were the first generation of “helicopter parents”, and while I certainly didn’t have that kind of up-bringing, I was still studiously shuttled to soccer games, cub scout meetings, and school band and play practices. We were taught that we needed to be doing something all of the time (whether to get into a good college, or a good job)

This was compounded with the rise of facebook (we got it in 2005 at my school) where instantly we could connect with everyone and simultaneously feel the need to be “on” at all times. Posting information about what awesome new job we got, or how we just had a kid, or a new car or house.

Anyway, this is turning into a post lunch coffee break stream of conciousness rant, but I really felt the connection to this phenomenon. I see so many of my peers still working multiple jobs or near entry level positions just to keep up. My career growth personally was severely stunted by the 2008 market crash (I graduated in 2008) and lost my first job 1.5 years in, spent almost 10 months on unemployment until I found my next job, an entry level position making 14.5 bucks an hour 2 years out of college. I was 2 years behind my peers, and it sucked. I have always felt 2 years behind everyone my age. But I know I am fortunate. This latest era of low unemployment has been a boon for people like me with 5+ years of experience in a field. I was able to shop around for a job, and pick from multiple offers.

I also got married and we bought a house (with the help of a loan program, and some family donations to get 5% down) and I now feel like my life is really starting, and I am 33. I feel behind, always. I always feel like I am the oldest person at my level, and it sucks. (less so now than in my previous job) But I feel fortunate, because I see so many of my peers that will never have the financial stability that I have been able to grow. You see articles about how you should have X money saved by 30 etc. I still feel like I don’t have enough, and I know that I am less financially stable than my parents at 33.

It really feels like we, as a generation, are reaching a crisis of financial stability and home-ownership is something that is becoming more and more un-obtainable as the years go by. We are being stretched at both ends right now.

Anyway, have a read, very interesting stuff.

Amen, brother, but things have been looking up for me also.

One thing I’ve noted is that “burning out” can be a privilege of sorts. I’ve had a colleague from work go on “burn out leave” and got part of her salary and was able to return part time (it’s the public sector). Admittedly, it probably had more to do with her children being sick, but y’know, not all your problems can be put in their own little boxes.

Someone in my family also went on burn out leave, but she was fired the day she came back to work. Surprise!

When I was self-employed, colleagues didn’t “burn out”, so to speak. They just stopped working and dropped off the map, never to be heard of again. Which was also my case, for a while.

Anyway, if burning out is something in your case that comes with the ability to return to your job, that’s definitely something you should be thankful for.

Isn’t Trump trying to be our first millennial president, what with his addiction to tweeting?

I was talking with my friends, and I wasn’t bragging or anything, but it feels like where the middleclass used to be a 1-2 income household with a nice 3-4 bedroom in suburbia, it is now a 2 income household in a 2 bedroom apartment with rent that costs more than a mortgage.

Like, to me, it feels like I am now the new “upper middle class” because I own a home, I have my yearly income saved in a 401k, and a basic (though drastically underfunded) safety net savings account. Like, so many of my peers don’t have enough saved to cover more than 1 month’s expenses without income. IT is crazy out there right now. Even though I know I have some stability now, it feels like the rug could be pulled out at any moment. This could be due to my experience in 2009 during the recession, but I basically have no trust for employers anymore, or any sense of safety in any job.

You could tie this in to the rise of Trumpism (and probably the slow fall) because even though the economy was good (and Trump called it bad) people didn’t feel like their lives were getting any better. And now that Trump is in charge and the economy is still good, people still feel behind now.

I think this is a funny quote, because so many people in my generation I know don’t tweet nearly as much as this man. If you were talking instagram? Maybe, but Twitter is almost turning into facebook now, a place for old people. And all of the people I do know on Twitter just post basically garbage memes or retweet the onion headlines.

I hear you, man. I’m in the Oregon Trail generation (born in '78) so a little older, but my twenties saw my life completely upended with a few crises that drastically delayed getting my college degree. I finally had things getting back on track when the 2008 crash totally derailed me, from years of stagnant or reduced wages to eventually having our office shut down and being laid off a couple years later.

Once more, I’ve righted the ship and am doing pretty good, but I feel far behind a number of my peers. While I’m doing fine now, I do feel like I’m playing serious catch up. And with the Trump presidency, economic mismanagement, and lack of real fixes for what brought us to the brink in 2008… well, I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop and to have to start all over once more.

It’s all a little exhausting!

Not a millennial, but that’s totally my situation.

And I think this crosses across generations as well (what that Slate piece talks about)

It could also be increasingly people are looking less to own as well and to have the flexibility to live wherever they want, but it does feel like the dream of home ownership is moving further and further away. Traditionally this is how a lot of people in my parents generation collected wealth. They bought and paid off homes that only increased in value over the years. IT feels like our generation is going to be stuck renting forever.

For me that ties into the lowered perception of employer loyalty these days. I’m happy to rent instead of tying myself to an area for now, knowing that my employer could theoretically drop me on a whim (and remembering just how bad the job market was when I graduated in '09).

That’s true. Both my daughters, who are millennials, quit tweeting and do instagram now. I think they may follow someone but they don’t tweet out themselves anymore.

I think that home ownership dream is real only depending upon where you live, or want to live or work. Home building is booming again here, which means people most likely selling an older “cheaper” home and moving up. But the price of apartments here has jumped dramatically in the last 10 years or so and so maybe home ownership doesn’t seem so crazy.

But I don’t see anyway someone who lives/works in the Bay Area or Greater LA could afford a house.

I just checked out the slate piece, and I’ll check the piece it’s about later… But part of it strikes me as odd:

Petersen spends the piece detailing why people my age feel so overwhelmed by small to-do list items, like going to the post office or the grocery store: We’re so burned out from trying to endlessly work and fulfill our larger goals, and that we essentially no longer care about the small things that don’t come with a major reward.

I mean … i don’t “care” about going to the grocery store or the post office. I do that stuff because it’s just shit you need to do.

Life is full of boring shit. It’s always been that way, forever. Lots of folks work their asses off every day, their entire lives, and never fulfill any “larger goals”. Their goal is “don’t die.”

I guess I’m a little bit older, as I’m from the very end of generation X… But do millennials really have things so much harder than other generations in regard to any of this stuff?

I mean, Jon… You got a family, a house, savings… Why do you feel “behind”? It sounds like you got it all.

The problem is that we all think that there’s better things to do that going grocery stores and yet, that “better things to do” end up being watching Netflix, looking at Instagram or just spending time on a tablet or PC. I start telling myself to take it easy and enjoy that grocery shopping experience and watching people doing their things instead of just zooming in, grab what I need and zoom out, causing me stress with all these rush.

Sure, making the most of whatever you need to do is a good way to make stuff suck less.

But still… It’s stuff everyone needs to do.

Well I think they do with some things, mainly housing and employment. The price of housing has greatly exceeded any increases in wages for the average employee. The same with health insurance coverage, or a college degree.

But I remember with my first real job doing the grocery shopping at one in the morning because that was when I got off work. And the morning was no good because I went to college until I was 26. But back in those days the cost of education allowed you to take your time if you needed to.

I feel like I’ve been on this treadmill before, I guess things don’t ever change. I don’t really think generational labels are very helpful because it’s absurd to me to paint an entire population with the same brush just because they were born around the same time. It’s like demographic astrology.

Now as to what’s going on now, definitely growing income equality and disparity and younger people have a tougher time establishing themselves. I remember starting out at a temp agency doing crap jobs for minimum wage until I could find something better. I guess soon my kids will be blaming me for the situation they’ve been left.

“Now you can’t afford to fake all the drugs your parents used to take
Because of their mistakes you’d better be wide awake”

I don’t have any doubt that they do. Thirty years of stagnant wages, increased costs for education, housing, health care, etc.

I think that the slate piece is missing the big picture here. It isn’t that burnout is happening because millennials need to do the same every day mundane tasks that people have been doing for ages, it is that some of the main things that have been drilled into our heads while growing up was that we were in a race against everyone else. That it was some sort of competition for us, and doing mundane tasks like that slow you down. And those everyday tasks don’t count towards some social capital that we expect to have running around. That Black Mirror episode “Nosedive” felt far too real.

Part of it is because our generation was so stunted due to the 2008 financial crisis, we all feel like we are behind, and the burnout comes in doing that mundane everyday stuff. Also, we grew up during 9/11, I watched that shit in a high school classroom. Nobody left, nobody could turn off a TV. I had friends deployed to Afghanistan, and one of the didn’t fucking come back. We have been part of this complete useless war for my entire adult life, and it really makes you not give a shit about whether you went over 3000 miles between oil changes.

It is like, I have to catch up to everyone else, (or what my social media perceptions of everyone else is) AND do all of the mundane tasks that don’t get me closer to my work or social goals? A big part of this is how during our youth we were in competition, and it was very easily and publicly quantifiable. Social media poisoned our minds.

At least that is how I see it. Like we grew up in a world that promised us more automation, greater productivity (which my generation has excelled at) and better pay for less stressful work. But, as we know from the wage growth curve, that isn’t the case. We are working harder, and not making more money, thus the burnout. This is exacerbated by the fact that we grew up with “helicopter parents” constantly judging our accomplishments and ranking us against other students, which has translated in to a social media pecking order of “who can look the most accomplished” on social media.

I love my parents, and I had it damn good. But it was always, “Why don’t you do more activities?” “You can work during the summers now”, “You got a A? Why wasn’t it an A+”. I am happy they pushed me so hard, but it also puts some sort of drive in you that what you have is never enough. Coupled with the rough start to a lot of our careers post 2008 crash, we all feel a bit hamstrung.

But… somehow I don’t feel I do? Hence the burnout. It is like we were taught when we were kids, when you put your mind to it, and work hard, you can be anything you want. And that just isn’t true any more. Institutional racism and sexism still exist in the workplace, that awful rich kid you went to college with who fucked up all his classes still got a cushy job from his investment banker dad, and now all you see are instagram photos of him and his family in this McMansion celebrating the holidays with a prayer emoji, #blessed

AND I HAVE HAD IT GOOD! I have friends that work multiple retail jobs, struggle with debt, and feel the dream of financial freedom and stability will never come. These are smart hard-working people who chose the wrong jobs out of college, got fucked in 2009, and haven’t been able to claw back as hard as I have.

Wheew… Anyway, a lot of rage lately, the episode we talked about this on my show was titled “eat the rich” so you get the mindset I am in. Is someone sharpening the guillotines yet?

Is it possible you are just hitting your midlife crisis?

I think everyone in their thirties at some point wakes up and says, “is this it?” I think that’s normal. Some folks seem to get hit harder than others, but i think everyone goes through it.

Based on what you are saying, you are pretty close to hitting the traditionally held “win condition” for normal people.

Now, regarding millennials having to deal with housing costs and the recession and stuff…
Sure, I guess if it got right when you got out of school, it’s be disruptive. A recession hit in 2001, just as i got out of school too, although certainly nowhere near as bad. Although we also had terrorist blow stuff up and all kinds of craziness ensue.

But i gotta figure that for boomers, a bunch of those guys got just as fucked in 2008. A bunch of them lost a bunch of their retirement money. A bunch lost work, and they will have a WAY harder time getting back into the job market.

I dunno man, I’m not sure you guys have it any better or worse than other folks. We’re all on the same bus.

From an article in Axios about 2 yrs ago

To be fair to you, you are correct, we are all in the same boat. Everybody goes through this stuff in their 20s/30s. That doesn’t change much between generations. But what I think everyone is saying, is that the playing field has changed drastically for us, and the game has not.

But, also in fairness to my generation, the expectations for us were very high. The buzzfeed article gets into this a bit, about how across social classes, whether it be the kid who stressed over getting into an IVY school, or the lower middle class kid who was the first in the family to go to college, we were all pushed really hard to achieve. That we could achieve if we worked hard enough, the future was bright, tech would save us all.

I mean, what it feels like to us, is we put up our end of the deal, and what did we get? A never ending war in the middle east, mediocre pay, and mountains of debt.

And that isn’t even getting into how the previous generations have ratfucked the environment for all of us. (This is much more on the boomers than anybody)

I know that Buzzfeed piece is an insane word-count, but I think it is worth a read, she is a lot better at writing than I am. (and an older Millennial by 4 years)