Millennial Burnout: Fact or Fiction?

In my last column, I praised New Hampshire as a state whose many attributes prove possible the ability to possess more than just a job but a calling. But how realistic is it to maintain and thrive in one’s “dream job” at a time in history during which our interconnected and globalized world renders us never truly off the clock? Aren’t we just risking burnout?

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Earlier this year, Anne Helen Petersen addressed this very issue, or at least the repercussions thereof, when she wrote an influential and widely read piece for Buzzfeed about millennial burnout. Her long and multi-layered article is best summarized towards the end of her column:

To describe millennial burnout accurately is to acknowledge the multiplicity of our lived reality — that we’re not just high school graduates, or parents, or knowledge workers, but all of the above — while recognizing our status quo. We’re deeply in debt, working more hours and more jobs for less pay and less security, struggling to achieve the same standards of living as our parents, operating in psychological and physical precariousness, all while being told that if we just work harder, meritocracy will prevail, and we’ll begin thriving. The carrot dangling in front of us is the dream that the to-do list will end, or at least become far more manageable.

Many social commentators disagreed altogether with the premise that there is even such a thing as millennial burnout. As psychoanalyst Josh Cohen summarized:

The rejection of the idea of millennial burnout seems to usually take two broad forms: that it’s an elaborate cover story for entitled laziness or that it’s a fancy term for common fatigue brought on by a long to-do list. The solutions offered are just as predictable, often boiling down to “don’t be so lazy.” Or, if you’re really that exhausted, just stop being “a neurotic mess” and do less.

No matter where you stand on the validity of millennial burnout or its agency, it seems to me that there is a clear link between one’s job and level of happiness. And at a time when the unemployment rate in NH is one of the lowest in the US, job seekers have the ability to be picky. What a great time it is for New Hampshire millennials wishing to avoid burnout to be in the job market.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

For my money, there are the 4 lenses through which you can measure the potential for burnout when evaluating your next job opportunity:

1. The ability to have a work-life balance

Stopping by the bank is proving to be impossible with its local branches close before the conclusion of the workday. Would your boss allow you to step out of the office for a half an hour? A best friend’s car broke down on 93, and his AAA membership has expired. Would asking to leave the office to help a pal in dire need render you feeling like you need to walk on eggshells for the next week? These are the day to day work dynamics that have a profound effect on our moods and mental health.

Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash

2. The potential for career advancement

One way to avoid burnout comes from feeling valued by your boss and company at large. This might prove difficult if you enter your position knowing that there are no opportunities for promotion. In seeking employment, be sure to inquire about opportunities to advance in your new corporation.

3. A fair salary and benefits

When I majored in philosophy in college, my friends always used to joke that I was relegating myself to the unemployment line. At the time I thought not about a paycheck but about the wisdom and knowledge that would be engendered in me by such a course of study. While it is possible to work for a cause for which you are passionate and also collect a decent salary and benefits, it’s also very important to remember that the former gets you only so far if the latter is not established. The starving artist needs money to buy a paintbrush and canvas.

4. A reasonable amount of vacation time

Leisure is important – so much so that the German Catholic philosopher called it the basis of culture. A job or career with reasonable vacation time is one that helps prevent burnout by affording one the opportunity to claim something that even the best job can rob us of, namely an “inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet.”

So what do you do to avoid burnout? Please let me know in the comments below.

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