Did you spend some part of this past weekend sending out emails with phrases like “as per our last discussion” and “for your action, pls”?
Are your thrice-postponed brunch dates with friends typically overrun with gripes about BTO woes, parental pressure to get married, and fears about where your career is going?
Or perhaps, you’re a new parent or an overworked employee who fantasises about having six hours’ uninterrupted sleep?
If you nodded “yes” while reading this half-asleep on your commute, then like me, you’re probably a millennial, aged between the early 20s to late 30s.
You’re also that bit more likely to be a sufferer of “millennial burnout” – a state of feeling physically and emotionally exhausted all the time.
One writer described it as “errand paralysis” in a viral Buzzfeed article, where, despite being highly efficient thanks to education and technology, there’s a crippling inertia when it comes to completing the most mundane of everyday tasks, like calling your insurance agent, or scheduling an appointment with the dentist.
You may also be feeling the stress from being always “on”, thanks to smartphones, messaging apps and social media that leave us so closely connected that there’s little reprieve from work and social obligations.
It’s a narrative of fatigue that I’ve noticed creep into my conversations with millennial friends who are similarly young managers, soon-to-be newlyweds and even new parents, too.
Whereas our discussions were more starry-eyed in our youth, these days, we trade stories of feeling stuck in a rut, and how we’re slowly losing the stamina for late nights at work.
It’s not just mindless complaints, because I’ve had friends who found themselves stressed and overworked to the point of depression. Some others feel caught between the needs of their young children, and what taking time out to focus on them could mean for their careers and financial security.
The instinctive reaction may be to chalk it up to first-world problems faced by a strawberry generation.
After all, we are lucky to even have a source of income and a roof over our heads, which is more than can be said for some others. Elderly cardboard collectors and low-wage cleaners in Singapore come to mind.
Compared to the baby boomer generation who were seen as being tireless and highly motivated workers, millennials are perceived as lacking drive and not being resilient enough to overcome difficulties.
So is this concept of burnout just another instance of how ‘soft’ millennials are and our inability to take hardship? I don’t think so. Not when we live different realities from the older generations and face new kinds of pressures.
Consider that many of us are starting careers and building families in a time of great opportunity, but also palpable uncertainty.
Capitalism has created a system that expects more of workers, while rewarding them with less. In Singapore, the worries about the costs of housing and healthcare, among others, are well-documented. The effects of rising costs are likely to be multifold for millennials, also referred to as the sandwich generation, who have young children and ageing parents to care for.
Then there is technology, which has helped us work faster and more efficiently, but also makes it practically impossible to disconnect from work, feeding into a workaholic culture where busy is always better.
We’re pulled in so many different directions all the time, and being busy is an accepted way of life. Being busy has become a sort of status symbol, because it’s a direct measure of how in demand we are at work and in our social lives. Somewhere along the way, we’ve also started to think that the opposite holds true – that not being busy means we’re not good enough, or not doing enough to be good.
You may be able to roll with this approach to life for some time, but in the long term, the cult of busy can only be a detriment to your mental and emotional well-being.
From exhausted young lawyers and doctors, to frazzled young parents, the burnout is real, and it’s making people anxious and depressed. The quicker we are to acknowledge our stressors, the better we’ll be able to figure out how to cope with them.
If reading this story about burnout has only left you feeling more burnt out, you may be comforted to know that there are signs of a fledging social and corporate movement towards better welfare.
There’s an increasing buzz around the idea of self-care, which focuses on enhancing one’s physical and emotional health, by taking simple steps like creating mindful experiences and starting exercise routines.
Corporate entities, so often a facilitator of the workaholic culture, are also realising that in order for employees to perform their best, they need to be feeling their best. In Singapore, some companies are moving towards providing employees greater flexibility and freedom so they can lead a more balanced and happier life.
Of course, the reality of being a busy millennial will not change overnight, and nor will burnout be eliminated just like that. Many of the problems that keep us awake at night, like financial and familial responsibilities, will continue to exist.
But at the very least, those of us who are struggling may actually be starting to recognise our unhealthy complex about busyness and see why it’s not great for us.
And that’s the first step towards making things better for and being kinder to ourselves, so our own well-being doesn’t end up becoming another forgotten task on the long list of things our errand paralysis prevents us from doing.