The Real Reason Millennials are Burnt Out

Perception Vs Reality

“Photo by Devin Avery on Unsplash

I read an article on Buzzfeed this week that claimed burnout is “the Millennial condition”. While I don't with that idea, I don’t agree with some of the arguments the author laid out as to why Millennials are so stressed out.

What kept bugging me as I read this article was the author repeatedly using anecdotes from her own life and prescribing them to all Millennials. As “middle-aged-Millennial” AKA a 30-year old, I feel qualified to comment on some of these statements.

One of the arguments that really jumped out to me was the claim made that not ticking every item off on your weekly to-do list was representative of Millennial burnout. That the constant low-level stress of a seemingly endless list of things to accomplish is somehow unique to this generation.

Is not getting everything done on my to-do list really a sign of burnout? Or unique to Millennials? I know plenty of people in their 50’s that don’t get through half the things on their to-do list.

Most of the arguments made in this article are based on the narrative that Millennials are substantially worse off financially than previous generations. It takes this as a fact of life without pointing to any data to back that claim up.

Do Millennials Truly Have it Worse Financially? Or do They Only Perceive It That Way?

The Financial Upside for Millennials

I’ve written here, that there are some areas that Millennials are financially better off than their parents.

· Millennials have inherited a similar labour market as their parents

· Millennials access to the digital and sharing economies provides a unique advantage

· Millennials have more job security than they might think

· Millennials are driving entrepreneurship

· Female millennials are paid more, participate in the labour market more, and have made gains in traditionally male-dominated roles compared to their mothers

· Due to historic low-interest rates, millennials are more (not less) likely to own a home then their parents were at the same age.

The Financial Downside for Millennials

Yes, Millennials are more likely to own a home then we might think, and they are the most educated generation in history. But there are two major issues that cause significant financial burden; both the price of housing and post-secondary education is at all-time highs.

So, while more millennials may own a home and have a degree, it cost them a lot more to acquire those two things than it did for their parents. That means Millennials are carrying around more debt than their parents did at this age.

I’ve read a lot of articles online arguing that given the high price of getting a degree it’s “not worth it” anymore. That could not be further from the truth. I would argue that a college degree is more important than it’s ever been.

Education may be expensive, but it is necessary. Making it difficult for Millennials to avoid the student debt trap. This high level of debt has reduced Millennial’s disposable income compared to their parents.

I would lean towards Millennials having more adverse financial conditions compared to previous generations, but their situation is not as bleak as some would argue.

While Millennials financial situation is a grey area, their stress levels are very real. I believe a lot of that stress is coming from our perception of our circumstances. We believe our job security is more fragile than it actually is, and we are not doing as well as we “should” be doing.

I blame two things for that.

  1. Social Media
  2. The Financial Crisis

Social Media Sets Unattainable Expectations

I’ve written here, about the financial “double lives” many people live. Social media has become a place where we brand ourselves as the best possible version of ourselves.

When most people post pictures online, they find the most flattering picture to post. One with a perfect smile, wearing your best clothes and probably celebrating a special occasion at an impressive venue.

Most people do not post pictures of ourselves asleep on the couch covered in potato chip crumbs. Even though that is probably closer to our everyday reality.

Millennials, particularly younger Millennials who grew up with social media post pictures of themselves online that make them look much wealthier and successful than they actually are.

It’s understandable that people would see pictures of people they knew in high school dressed up in a suit at a fancy dinner and think to themselves “Wow, that person must be doing fantastic, I wish I was doing as well as that person”.

We see a successful “looking” person in nice clothes at a nice restaurant. What we don’t see is that person paid for their nice clothes and the fancy dinner on three different credit cards in which they can barely make the minimum payments.

Perception VS Reality.

If we perceive the people around us are doing better than we are it can cause stress even if the reality is something completely different.

The Financial Crisis Scarred Millennials

Many “Middle-Aged” and older Millennials were entering the workforce during the height of the financial crisis. It was the most challenging job market since the great depression.

Many Millennials graduated from college with a pile of debt, zero assets and could not find a job. They were forced to go back live with their parents. Given their introduction to working life, it’s easy to understand why many younger people still feel insecure about their career even if their job is more secure then they think.

Again, perception vs Reality.

It doesn’t matter if you have the most secure job in the world if you have been conditioned to believe the rug will be pulled out from underneath you at any moment, you will have high levels of anxiety about your job security.

If you have anxiety about your job security, you are going to have anxiety about your finances and your future.

I agree Millennials might be more prone to burnout than previous generations but in my opinion, it’s less about economic realities and more about how our experiences and social media have shaped our perception of those realities.