I read a great article last month that has been getting a lot of attention online, and eventually the piece went viral. The essay is on Buzzfeed and is entitled “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” and is definitely worth the read if you are a millennial yourself, or work with or teach millennials. I found a lot of the ideas in this article resonated with me despite the fact that I’m part of Gen-X.
I think that we’ve reached a tipping point where many of us are starting to push back on the idea that exceptional optimization is a good thing. Life shouldn’t be a video game where you are constantly trying to level up; some hours in your day should be savoured for their inefficiency and slowness. In my experience, it usually takes a big wake-up call (e.g. health crisis, death of a loved one, etc.) to come to that realization.
The other point made in this article that was really interesting is that millennials have been molded to believe that hard work will pay off in the end and that they can “win” at life by constantly striving to be better. They have a general sense (and have been told) that life is a meritocracy and that if you only work hard enough to be the best that everything else will follow. As a Gen-Xer I learned pretty early on in life that the above is a false premise. We knew that we would have to work hard essentially to stay in place, but that there was no guarantee that success would be waiting on the other side of that labour. It’s a pretty cynical world-view, but it has served me well. Part of it is perhaps personality; I always plan for the worst and then can enjoy being pleasantly surprised when the worst doesn’t come to pass. My childhood was pretty free-range; lots of time to be bored (and to find ways to amuse myself) and few scheduled athletic or academic activities (my parents insisted on swimming lessons so that I wouldn’t inadvertently drown). In contrast, millennials have been subjected to a high rate of academic and athletic programming, with every moment of their lives mapped out and the message that one misstep would bring the whole house of cards crashing down.
The author of the article, Anne Helen Petersen, was recently on the Hurry Slowly podcast and the conversation between her and the host, Jocelyn K. Glei is very engaging and insightful.
I highly recommend reading the article and listening to the podcast.