At the beginning of this year, Buzzfeed published an article declaring Millennial’s the Burnout Generation. I thought this was very typical of a publication that (for want of a better description) chooses to paint Millennial’s as victims of every generation that came before them. Since Buzzfeed is led by Millennial’s, I guess that makes sense.
They describe themselves as seemingly running out of energy or motivation to do even basic tasks like washing their clothes, cleaning their safe spaces or even running the most mundane errands. They’re always feeling overwhelmed, stressed and have a perpetual sense of constant disappointment in the world at large. Like most of Buzzfeed’s articles, it lacked any research or data, was almost entirely anecdotal and blamed capitalism, Facebook, and everyone’s parents. I for one, get tired of my generation being so critical of the Millennial’s because there’s a lot we can learn from them and I really enjoy interacting with them, especially since I have two of my own. However, in this case, they do a pretty good job of indicting themselves without too much help.
I’ve always taken issue with this idea of Burnout and have always felt it was just made up. After all, we live in a culture that has evolved from one of practical, logical, fact-based evidence to one of cliche’s and narratives that take on lives of their own. Depending upon what group you belong to (especially if you’ve chosen to adopt the values of that group), and it becomes the only lens through which you choose to see the rest of the world, those cliche’s morph into ideological afflictions that supposedly infect us all.
Examples that come to mind are overworked, underpaid, marginalized, disenfranchised, and I could keep going for a while. The problem with all of these cliche’s and attending narratives is that they’re all subject to choice. Taken collectively, it’s easier to be a victim of any one of these afflictions and buy into the group think that created them than it is take ownership of the fact that whoever belongs to the group is choosing to do so.
Take the overworked narrative. There’s simply no evidence in the data. Previous generations dealt with just as much work (if not more), not to mention the anxiety of sky-high crime rates, worse health, and the nuclear threat. On average, people work fewer hours today than at any time in modern history. We have more leisure time and choices, are more traveled and are more educated than any other generation.
Take the Millennials narrative. They may have more debt, but they’re also more financially responsible, saving earlier and more for retirement than any other generation. What about all those chores and mundane errands? There’s literally an app for every single one!
Take the Burnout narrative, which by the way isn’t exclusive to Millennials. I think they’re a couple of factors that contribute to this cliché and it’s narrative.
The first is something known as Direct Attention Fatigue (DAF), which is exposure to too much stimulation, causing mental and emotional fatigue to the point that we shut down, feeling lethargic and irritable. I’m an Author, Blogger, Video Broadcaster, Podcaster, Speaker, Facilitator and I do my own website development and Social Media. I’m a living testimonial to the effects of DAF. (By the way, Buzzfeed puts forth that DAF is a product of late-stage capitalism and its evil corporate overlords. I can scarce take it in! 😊)
The second factor can best be described as follows: Perceived Reality – Expectations = True Reality. By any standard, we live in the best economic era in history. I can present all the data in the world to support it, but it’s never going to be enough for anyone with over-sized and unrealistic expectations.
Being stressed and anxious isn’t a new phenomenon. We’ve been dealing with it since the beginning of time. For whatever reason, there are more people than ever before that seemingly never expected to have it and it’s become so terrible that they had to have a name for it. Ergo, Burnout! I just don’t buy it and never have.
Finally, there’s one question I keep asking myself more and more often. Is the News really worth it anymore? I’ve always loved the news and have pretty much been very diligent about staying up to speed on what’s happening and also doing so from as many viable sources as possible. However, it’s become increasingly evident to me that as more and more of it keeps being put out there, it becomes increasingly difficult to digest it all, much less arrive at any concrete conclusion.
I have some friends and family that have a compulsion for news that borders on obsessive. With some of these friends, a conversation about anything substantive is impossible without the bombshell of the day taking over the discussion. With some family, I can’t stay in the room for more than an hour because of the endless barrage of one narrative that keeps coming out of the TV and into the discussion. If I even dare to engage with a different opinion, narrative or (God forbid) factual data, I become the anti-Christ. It just wears me out. What’s even more distressing is that I’ve seen these compulsions break up friendships and create breaches that may never close. Yet, if they were asked what benefit they derived from this obsessive consumption, I’m not certain anyone could tell you. Truth be told, I just think that most of the news keeps removing us further from reality.
So, what does all of this have to do with Leadership?
The biggest obstacle to any organization is when it’s best, brightest and most passionate (regardless of demographic, race, religion, sex, gender, etc.) become silent. They’re not sick, I can assure you. They’ve become unmotivated.
When that starts happening, the issue is and will always be leadership that stopped listening to reality and started buying into the narrative.