Life’s Actual Work – For Millennials
Image Source: BuzzFeed News
The other night my boyfriend and I were debating the necessity of the self-care industry while walking home after a post-run drink. I am heavily paraphrasing when I say that he thought the self-care industry is unnecessary and I thought that it has its advantages. Just to give you a bit more background, my argument was that the self-care industry emphasizes the importance of taking time for yourself. Some of us (myself included) practice self-care by going for runs and enjoying a chilled glass of rosé after a long day. Others buy into the idea that you have to spend money on things like bi-weekly spa sessions, meditation apps, or skincare products in order to adequately care for yourself. My point was that, while the capitalistic version of the self-care industry is a bit superfluous, the increasing emphasis of self-care in general is important as an antidote to the millennial condition, which is burnout.
My boyfriend on the other hand, being a Marine Veteran who deployed to environments which they call “kinetic,” did not understand how someone can suffer from being burnt out after sitting in front of the computer most of the time. Having seen and personally experienced what it is like to be so mentally and physically exhausted that you don’t know how you will make it to the next day, it is understandable that he might be a bit skeptical of the millennial burnout phenomenon. This conversation got me thinking, however, why is our generation the way it is? Why are we all so burnt out that we need to be pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars per year into the self-care industry? So, I did what all good millennials do; I took to the mighty, all-knowing Google.
The persistent millennial condition is indeed burnout, but why are we plagued with the crippling inability to complete basic tasks – like making the trip to the DMV to get a Massachusetts driver’s license after living in the state for three years? An essay I read was surprisingly enlightening (I strongly encourage you all to read it, too) and attributed the issue to a combination of the fact that our generation has been trained since a young age, nay, since birth, to be as efficient as possible. From our youth full of scheduled activity after scheduled activity to our adulthood full of side-hustles. That, in combination with the financial crises of the aughts, has left us with the implicit fear that if we stop doing things, even for an hour or two, we will lose all our money and be relegated to living on the streets, or worse, back in our parents’ basements.
While I am being a bit dramatic, millennials have the capacity, unlike preceding generations, to burn out and keep working. It’s our greatest value to this capitalist society. My boyfriend was, in part, correct – the article states “we are beginning to understand what ails us, and it’s not something an oxygen facial or a treadmill desk can fix.” It is the fact that we view adulthood as a series of tasks that must be accomplished instead of a state of being. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we are not working hard enough or long enough, hence the death of the lunch break. We are struggling to save money for diamonds and houses because the cost of living is rising faster and faster. We are discovering that we aren’t any less stressed after a successful weekly meal-prep or any other “life hack” we might be told will make our lives more efficient and therefore better. We are realizing that no matter how many things we cross off our to-do lists, they still never end.
We have dangled the proverbial carrot in front of ourselves for too long, saying that if we work really hard now we will be able to retire when we are 65, or at the latest, 70. The reality is that we won’t and the more we come to terms with that, the more stressful it becomes. Others see us as “lazy,” but according to social psychologist Devon Price, “laziness,” at least in the way it is usually conceived, simply does not exist. “If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you,” he says, “it is because you are missing a part of their context. It’s that simple.” We aren’t lazy, we are overwhelmed. But how do we fix it? Instead of expecting things to be all better after taking a mental health day or indulging in a luxurious spa treatment we need to come to terms with the fact that burnout is real – despite our views that we are too strong to succumb to it. We have to reevaluate our relationship with adulthood and all that it is. It is not a series of tasks to cross off our to-do list, it is a way of thinking about what joy and meaning we can derive from life, not how to optimize it. “It’s life’s actual work.” How do we accomplish it? I am still not sure.
Posted by Catherine