The Burnout Generation

Like so many people these days – and perhaps especially among my generation – I’ve suffered from burnout. For me it comes and goes, and at those times when it’s impacting me, I seek answers. That’s how I discovered the audiobook The Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen last winter. I downloaded it months ago, but it was only in the last few weeks – when I felt a flair-up of burnout – that I finally gave it a listen. It’s a short audiobook, but relevant and worth checking out.

Summary

The Burnout Generation starts with Anne Helen Petersen describing her own feelings of burnout. She discusses her January 2019 article about the subject, which unexpectedly spurred a huge reaction from readers. This led her to interview people for this audiobook.

Besides the intro and conclusion, The Burnout Generation includes four chapters, each an interview with one or two burned out millennials talking about a specific type of experience. This allows listeners a chance to hear the myriad types of burnout millennials face, how it affects us, and how we’ve worked to overcome it.

Review

The Burnout Generation is a quick and relatable audiobook, and the interview format often makes it feel more like a podcast than a book – perfect for today’s listening habits.

I admit, the first chapter – which talks about burnout more generally and how it affects our generation – was in some ways the most informative. I found myself nodding along with much of what Anne Helen Petersen was describing. Indeed, burnout has worked its way into my life, and I can recognize many of its symptoms in me.

The four interview chapters are interesting. We get a guy who was in the military and now works as a caretaker, then we meet a young woman who talks about her college experience and the student loan debt that she’s now stuck with. Following that, we meet two women in the entertainment journalism field, talking a lot about the exhausting job application process and use of social media for work. Finally, we get to know a man who works as a pastor and who proposes that churches can do more to help alleviate burnout.

Incidentally, the three women’s stories felt most relevant to me. Student loan debt is the bane of my existence (and that of my younger sister). Unlike the woman interviewed here, I’m happy with the universities I went to, and I feel that I made intelligent, financially conscious choices. Even so, I have a mountain of debt, and my current salary simply doesn’t go far enough to make much of a dent in it. Student loan debt is the biggest stress in my life, and it holds me back in many ways. But I don’t need to get into that here – this is just a book review! Suffice it to say, this chapter on student loan debt was an important one for me.

The next chapter also felt all too relevant. First off, I very much want to work in the entertainment journalism field. While may day job is in another industry, I feed my craving with this book blog here and with my music news website. The discussion of how stressful it is to apply for jobs got me right in the feels. I remember years of applying and interviewing for jobs; it felt like a full-time gig on its own, but I was already working part-time at dead-end jobs and internships. And with many careers today, there is a constant pressure to look good on social media and be available at any given time. It’s so tiring and leads to burnout in ways that jobs of the past didn’t quite reach.

From the four themes here, I check off two of the burnout boxes. Other themes that didn’t come up here, but I imagine would also contribute to burnout, can include political exhaustion (ugh, I’m sure feeling that this year), parenting (whether as a full-time job or along with a paid job; whether as a single parent or with a partner), or issues related to illness, injury, or medical debt. Surely there are other major burnout generators, too – what do you think? Comment below with what you’ve experienced or have seen others going through.

The Burnout Generation doesn’t offer solutions for burnout, though the interviewees do share tips that work for them – from moving your body to enjoying a hobby. It also doesn’t go into as much detail or research as I would have hoped. If anything, this is about shared experiences as opposed to helpful answers. To be fair, this is just a very short audiobook, and a precursor to Anne Helen Petersen’s full-length book.

Her full book, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, just came out earlier this month. I’m eager to read it, and I hope it will provide more depth and answers – not just from interviewing fellow burned out millennials, but also from researching the issue from other perspectives and offering ideas on how to change it. I suspect that beyond individuals changing their habits, we’ll need significant societal change to assuage our current issues and minimize further stresses.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed The Burnout Generation: it felt relatable, relevant, and easy to digest. I do wish it had gone deeper, but I hope Anne Helen Petersen’s new full-length book – Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation – will provide that. If you’re a burned out millennial, or if you know a burned out millennial, this is worth listening to.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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