Succumbing to millennial burnout

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Aka why it took me six months to get my blog up and running.

The day before Easter Sunday, I read a trending article about the systemic burnout affecting the millennial generation. Though there have been plenty of think pieces published about those of us born somewhere between the early ’80s and late ’90s, this one hit me hard. Unlike the naysayers declaring millennials to be “lazy” or “entitled” or the advocates who proclaim we’ve gotten the short end of an already difficult stick, writer Anne Helen Petersen identified a problem plaguing my generation in a way that both absolved us and held us accountable. But all I cared about was that she was—impossibly—describing me to a T.

When I read how her partner had absorbed over $1,000 in medical bills because the process of submitting insurance forms had felt too overwhelming to tackle, the stack of bills, receipts, and—yes—even medical records awaiting my attention on my desk danced in my peripheral vision. When she described the idea of errand paralysis, my growing shopping list gave me an enthusiastic wave.

And when she explained how many millennials are mislead by the notion that, sure, life is hard and unfair, but if we just work hard enough, stand out, and beat the system, we’ll succeed, the last ten years of my life played through my mind like the highlight reel of a CW teen drama.

Maybe some of you haven’t known me through seasons of exhaustion, seasons of striving, seasons of pushing myself to my physical, mental, and emotional limits, but, if you know me at all, my guess is that you have. And last year, the process of moving to Singapore was, in many ways, another one of those seasons. Moving to Asia for a year was exciting—but it certainly wasn’t easy. And the result was depthless, all-encompassing burnout.

I’ve been “burnt out” for years, but up until this last fall, I’ve always pushed through. Something about being so very far away from home, so out of my comfort zone, so removed from my well-worn treads of achievement and overexertion, took away my ability—or, perhaps, just my will—to persevere.

After reading Petersen’s article, I realized how good this cessation of go, go, go actually was.

It’s good that I’ve stopped feeling guilty about not logging forty-plus billable hours every single week as a freelancer. It’s good that I’ve been able to take vacations and travel without being constantly plugged-in to work. It’s good that the low-priority items on my to-do list have fallen from my mental awareness.

What’s more, finally acknowledging this released me—to see the things in my life that were important, that mattered to me, or that simply needed to get done, and do them.

I know it may sound contradictory to claim that seeing and owning my burnout motivated me, but my realization, really, was this: I’d been using my time and energy in a way that was not life-giving to me for so long it had stymied me from doing anything besides the bare-minimum requirement of working enough to pay rent. In order to have a truly fresh start—the kind I’d claimed I was after this year abroad—I needed to let these old habits die. Doing so started with acknowledging where I was and that I wanted to make a change.

I couldn’t think of a better day to do so than Easter Sunday. Though I didn’t go to church that day, in my own personal act of worship, I logged into my website, which had sat dormant and unfinished since we left the states back in September, and together, we came alive.

I’m not trying to poke fun with these religious metaphors or claim a BuzzeFeed article as my savior. I truly believe God can use all manner of sources and experiences to move within us. So while the TLDR version of this story may be “I read a BuzzFeed article and it inspired me to finally finish my d*** blog,” the last few days have been a deeply meaningful process of self-discovery—a journey that, of course, has been steeped in prayer and conversations and reading and therapy sessions and plenty of other “legitimate,” time-consuming efforts.

So, here it is: my website, my blog. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping to finally start doing other things I’ve been wanting or needing to do this year—things like reaching out to friends, going to yoga class, and getting my budget back in order—not for the sake of checking items off a to-do list, but because they’re important; they matter to me personally or to my life as a whole. I want to do them because they’re worth doing, so much so that if they eat into my working hours or, gosh forbid, the time I spend watching Netflix to drown out my stress and anxiety over not being “productive,” it will be worth it.

As Peterson encouraged, it’s time I started doing life’s “actual work.”

Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:24 BSB)