Burning out as a millennial

By Sandhya Sivakumar, Columnist

About a week after school started in the summer, there was a letter in my apartment mailbox, addressed to the previous resident. It was first-class mail, labeled “URGENT” in bold letters. My roommates and I considered it and came to the conclusion that we should probably take it to our leasing office.

The letter moved from a prominent position on the counter, to being buried under piles of other papers, to a spot in the back of a never-opened drawer, and despite our many offhand remarks about how we should really do something about that letter, it remains in my apartment to this day.

There’s a BuzzFeed article that came out a week and half ago about millennial burnout by Anne Helen Petersen, and it starts out with a description of this very phenomenon – the characteristically millennial inability to complete seemingly simple tasks that have no immediate effect or consequence.

It’s a caused by burnout, as Petersen describes, and symptomatic of a much larger issue.

Millennials, as Petersen says, are working constantly, and constantly optimizing that work, so that an interminable line of tasks are completed as efficiently and rapidly as possible. Why? It differs – maybe the goal is a job that you’re passionate about, something worth working so hard for, or maybe it’s just having enough money to not be worried about it anymore. But the truth is that the work is never over, and the line for making it is an oasis in the distance that’s forever glimmering just out of reach.

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Although Petersen details her realization of this in her early thirties, it feels like this generation has come to this conclusion much earlier. We killed ourselves in high school to get into college, we’re killing ourselves in college to get a good job and that should be the end of it, but I’ve known the futility of that sentiment since like the 6th grade.

It’s not just minor tasks that are difficult for our generation. Large, important tasks – like studying for a final or looking for an internship for the summer – feel just as inconsequential and meaningless as a trip to the post office to send a physical letter.

Despite ambition, despite daydreams of being interviewed by Ellen, despite the years and years of ceaseless work, the knowledge that the future is more likely to be worse than the present is omnipresent. It’s close to impossible to strike a balance between a near insatiable desire to do everything, to not just succeed but to excel, and the equally powerful desire to never do a single thing that I don’t want to.

Petersen’s piece raises poignant philosophical questions that she ultimately leaves unanswered, that she openly admits she has no idea how to solve. There really isn’t an answer to an institutional epidemic. There’s just solidarity.

Sandhya is a sophomore in LAS.

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