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Publisher's Summary

An incendiary examination of burnout in millennials - the cultural shifts that got us here, the pressures that sustain it, and the need for drastic change.

Do you feel like your life is an endless to-do list? Do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through Instagram because you’re too exhausted to pick up a book? Are you mired in debt, or feel like you work all the time, or feel pressure to take whatever gives you joy and turn it into a monetizable hustle? Welcome to burnout culture. 

While burnout may seem like the default setting for the modern era, in Can’t Even, BuzzFeed culture writer and former academic Anne Helen Petersen argues that burnout is a definitional condition for the millennial generation, born out of distrust in the institutions that have failed us, the unrealistic expectations of the modern workplace, and a sharp uptick in anxiety and hopelessness exacerbated by the constant pressure to “perform” our lives online. The genesis for the book is Petersen’s viral BuzzFeed article on the topic, which has amassed over seven million reads since its publication in January 2019.

Can’t Even goes beyond the original article, as Petersen examines how millennials have arrived at this point of burnout (think: unchecked capitalism and changing labor laws) and examines the phenomenon through a variety of lenses - including how burnout affects the way we work, parent, and socialize - describing its resonance in alarming familiarity. Utilizing a combination of sociohistorical framework, original interviews, and detailed analysis, Can’t Even offers a galvanizing, intimate, and ultimately redemptive look at the lives of this much-maligned generation,and will be required listening for both millennials and the parents and employers trying to understand them.

©2020 Anne Helen Petersen (P)2020 Audible, Inc.

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Yes. We Millenials are Entitled

Recently, I've been trying to read books that I may disagree with, and that's why I picked up this book. As a millennial, I often look at my peers as entitled even though they swear they aren't. And as someone who works two jobs, runs a YouTube channel, writes blogs, cooks, cleans, and has a son, I'm curious what others mean by "burnout". So, I picked up this book, and if this isn't entitlement, I don't know what is. 

I could write an entire book rebutting Can't Even, so I'm going to keep this simple. Petersen and others do a slight of hand where they say, "We aren't entitled," and then proceed to explain how they want to work whatever job they want, with whatever schedule they want, for as much money as they want. If that's not entitlement, I don't know what is. 

In a nut shell, if you need this book or agree with this book, I highly recommend you start with therapy. Most of the issues this book presents are due to social comparison, and the rest are due to the fact that we live in a capitalist society. Social change is going to take time, but you can start therapy now. Many of the issues brought up in this book are just about "keeping up with the Joneses", which is what we call a "you" problem. 

Like I said, I could write on this forever, but I 110% disagree with just about everything in this book. But it did start off strong when she was explaining how the previous generation kind of screwed us over.

46 people found this helpful

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It's not just me.

I read this book because I really enjoyed Anne Helen Petersen's Audible Original The Burnout Generation.

Super relatable. As an "elder millennial" (I'm 37 years old and was born in 1983, so I'm technically a "millennial," whether I feel like one or not.), I found the topic of burnout extremely relevant to my life. I sometimes feel like a walking to do list, and my to do list repeatedly recycles itself the way Petersen has described. I completely understand the feeling of always having to be "on," especially at work but in other areas of my life as well (i.e. w/ my friends and family, in my relationship w/ my partner, in my domestic duties, etc.). Phrases like "melancholic world-weariness" and "contemporary condition" jumped out at me. Petersen argues that burnout is not a temporary state of mind but has become my generation's "base temperature," which I feel deeply. My depression has become my new normal.

A lot of people in my generation are seeking purpose in their lives, and I would definitely include myself when I say that. I work for a giant online retailer and don't feel that my job provides much meaning in my life. It's a good job, and it pays the bills, but I don't feel like I'm doing anything meaningful. I'm not helping other people. I don't feel fulfilled, so I seek fulfillment elsewhere in my life. Meaning is difficult to find/make.

Months ago, I told my boss that I was feeling run down, overwhelmed, burned out. Her response was that we all are, and I felt blown off and as if my feelings weren't valid. Like I needed to keep my nose to the grindstone and push through, which I did, but I was very unhappy. I was exhausted and never felt like I had enough energy, even on my days off and even if I was getting enough sleep. I feel intense pressure at work to keep moving up, never to stagnate. I've been in my current role for a little over 1 year. It's an exceptionally good fit for my skills, and I know I'm good at my job, but I feel the push always to be thinking about what's next for me. Even what are probably offhand comments feel like pressure. Example: I was using my boss's office for a virtual meeting one day when she wasn't at work, and an executive assistant walked by, saw me there, and said something along the lines of, "You look good sitting in that office!" I'm certain he meant it to be encouraging based on our rapport. I have a weird in-between role, but he always makes an effort to include me as part of building leadership. However, I'm not interested in moving into my boss's role and accepting even more responsibility than I already have.

I don't feel Petersen blames our parents, the Baby Boomers, for the way we turned out. She is clear that one of the reasons why we turned out the way we did is because our burned out generation was raised by burned out Baby Boomers. She does sympathize w/ Baby Boomers and notes that this trend has developed over decades and that every generation has their own causes of burnout. She believes that to understand our burnout we need to understand their burnout.

Parts of this book made me roll my eyes. In chapter 2, there is a story about a parent allowing their 6-year-old child walk to school in 1979 Manhattan - and then the child disappears. Well, duh. 1979 Manhattan wasn't exactly a place where a 6-year-old should be left unattended. Petersen uses this story as an example of how Millennials came to be generally more supervised by "helicopter parents" than Baby Boomers and Generation X were as children. I also didn't give this book 5 stars because the majority of Petersen's anecdotes come from middle- and upper-middle class people. There isn't much variety when it comes to the class status of her interviewees.

Petersen largely discusses the state of work for Millennials. Many of us want to do a job we love and have passion for, but many passions don't pay the bills. Petersen tries to debunk the idea that if you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life by arguing that burnout comes from losing faith in doing what you love as a path to fulfillment. Passions often end up being way too much work to make profitable, so your passion becomes chore-like work, which doesn't provide fulfillment. For some, losing a job could mean losing their identity. I felt this deeply. I was once a teacher. It was something I had wanted to do since I was a very young child. When I left the profession for reasons too numerous and nuanced to detail in this review, I felt like I didn't know who I was anymore. It's still painful for me to tell people I'm a former teacher, but my needs when it comes to work right now include a job that allows me to disconnect after 8 hours. I don't need to love it. I just need to not hate it.

In chapter 5, Petersen uses the work "precariat" to describe the precarious nature of job stability and upwardly mobile class status Millennials experience. Our generation will be less upwardly mobile than our parents. We're getting married later or not at all, having kids later or not at all, buying a house later or not at all, paying off student loan debt until we're middle aged. The "precariat" may work for an employer with high turnover, often have a college degree or some higher education, but don't feel as if they have agency within their job or that their opinion counts. Being a member of the "precariat," especially for an extended period of time, can contribute to burnout due to being on edge all the time.

A large chunk of Can't Even discusses challenges unique to parenting as a Millennial and especially parenting challenges Millennial women face. Petersen tackles the myth of equal partnership, and I found one statistic in particular slightly alarming. Petersen cites a study that states that while 35% of employed Millennial men without kids believe in traditional roles, this jumps to 53% if the men have children. Anecdotally, 1 Millennial woman says she didn't realize her progressive husband wasn't progressive until they had kids. Many Millennials are "childless by choice" because they view children as what Petersen calls "life bombs." That's one of many reasons why I don't have children. Having kids - especially for a woman - explodes all your hard work to gain and maintain stability. Petersen says that instead of this way of thinking being "selfish" it's more self-preservation for many Millennials.

Petersen does not offer any solutions in Can't Even. If you're looking for a way to solve the problems that lead to burnout, you won't find that. However, after reading Can't Even, I feel like it's not just me.

18 people found this helpful

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Warning: this book may trigger some boomers

This book does an excellent job of giving a good background for why everything feels so hopeless in 2020. Read this, make your Boomer parents read it, then burn your phone and start a vegetable garden.

12 people found this helpful

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I’ve never felt more seen

Complex, thorough, and informative. I hadn’t been able to fully understand my professional trajectory as a female freelance art director until this book. I felt this book accessed a raw place in my body that was waiting to be acknowledged and hugged. Petersen’s work is a relief to those who have felt their society just isn’t quite right but can’t quite put their finger on a singular reason as to why. The reason is because there are many. If you are a millennial or wish to understand them more, check this out. To Anne, All I have is a heartfelt thank you. A raw, exhausted, but genuine, thank you. 🙏❤️✨

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Great insight for boomers

I’m a boomer parent of 2 young millennials. I often wondered why anxiety and depression is so rampant for the millennials (and younger generations) and this book provided some valuable insight. Its a wake up call for those trapped in the upward mobility rat race. The only deduction is I felt the author was a little to left leaning with her views on capitalism and specifically Private Equity.

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Why America Has More, But Feels Empty

This book is fantastically good at encapsulating why my generation feels constantly exhausted, constantly stagnant professionally and personally, and how we got to this point. Petersen does a great job at highlighting how the baby boomer generation set us up to both expect the best, but also took from us the chance to grow in the way that they did. I wish that they had test a professional performer instead of having the author read the book. I think that would have taken the storytelling of it to a higher level. But nonetheless, her points are salient and impactful.

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Student debt?

Just one of the many gripes that were self induced. She alone made the decision to get her PHD.

I had a very difficult time getting thru this book. Snowflake comes to mind and I am not a privileged white woman.

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good, but

good analysis of the structural issues of our economy and society. but as a millennial, I found the chapter about social media unconvincing. nothing is stopping us from disconnecting from it entirely (I do not use it)

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I feel this!!

Thank you, Anne, for writing and reading this book! This is so real, I identified with so much of it and it was good to hear about everything that I wasn’t aware of as well.

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Liked the millennial stuff, gender dynamics less compelling

Overall, I really connected with the precise and impressive way the author articulates themes around millennial burnout. The gender dynamics piece - particularly the shaming of men for not doing exactly 50% of child rearing labor - is less convincing in ignoring real differences in genders (men can’t produce milk or carry a fetus, in most other species including humans’ closest relatives in the animal kingdom the female does more child rearing labor). No doubt, millennial women face impossible trade offs in modern America and especially corporate America, but the amount of time the author devotes to complaining about men feels disjointed from the first part of the book and misdirected. Overall, a great read but you may find yourself skipping over much of the latter part of the book.