Can’t Even by Anne Helen Petersen review – genuinely enlightening on the millennial experience


In January 2019, Anne Helen Petersen’s BuzzFeed lengthy learn on millennial burnout went viral, attracting greater than 7 million readers. My preliminary response was an eye-roll. I’m a millennial. I do know we’re all burned out, however I additionally know complaining about that solely makes individuals hate us extra. If there’s one factor extra frequent than a complaining millennial, it’s a boomer complaining about complaining millennials.

And anyway, I didn’t have time to learn one thing that lengthy. But fairly quickly, I felt like I had to. Just to maintain up with everybody else on my Twitter timeline.

These reactions? Classic burnt-out responses. And the form of factor Petersen now seems at in a e book drawing on 1000’s of first-hand accounts of burnout: the exhaustion we really feel from a lifetime of employment insecurity, monetary precarity, office stress, debt and stress to be publicly seen as productive and profitable…

The writer is astute in unpicking the many components that led to a complete era feeling always exhausted. But the secret is figuring out the drawback as societal, not private. Can’t Even seems prefer it may be some navel-gazing pop-psych title about the millennial experience. Actually, it’s as a lot about Twentieth-century economics, and serves as a essential reminder that we subscribe to an inhumane type of capitalism that prioritises revenue over wellbeing. Can’t Even is reassuring in its insistence that it’s not your fault you are feeling this drained.

But neither does Petersen supply platitudinous options, railing in opposition to the lifestyle-oriented sticking plasters millennials are often bought. You can’t treatment burnout with “a productivity app, or a bullet journal”. All they do is additional internalise the concept that if we work sufficient on ourselves, we will thrive – fairly than dismantling the system that makes it inconceivable to thrive.

Admittedly, it’s simpler to enroll to pilates lessons than to dismantle capitalism, and readers could also be left asking: “Well, now what?” Still, figuring out the drawback is a essential first step. Can’t Even – regardless of its unhelpfully whiny title – scotches the concept that millennials are simply lazy. Instead, it seems at how we had been bought the fantasy that in case you work arduous you possibly can have all of it, and so we labored actually, actually arduous, by way of world financial crises, and nonetheless discovered we had lower than our dad and mom.

This is hardly a brand new formulation. But what’s genuinely enlightening is the manner Petersen lays out how financial modifications ushered in by the boomer generation are answerable for work being so unstable as of late: deregulation, de-unionisation, decreased public spending, rocketing pupil debt, the chipping away at pensions, sick pay, and even an hourly wage. Can’t Even could focus on the US, however there’s a lot that applies to British readers too.

There is an issue, nonetheless. Petersen’s authentic article felt well timed, diagnosing a close to common experience. But this e book has been overtaken by occasions. It suggests burnout isn’t just a results of power work stress, but in addition the manner we method parenting, socialising, social media and leisure as one other form of work to be optimised. Burnout comes from by no means actually switching off. And this 12 months, many people acquired forcibly switched off. Forced to have nights in; compelled to decelerate.

In a bolted-on intro, Petersen invitations readers to imagine that Covid amplifies all her arguments. Inevitably, her descriptions of, say, the grind of workplace “presenteeism” now really feel old-fashioned. Nonetheless, she is definitely proper that the pandemic will solely add to the want for radical change. We could not be burned out, however we’re on the lookout for classes in how not to return there.

Perhaps that is naive, however I discovered it heartening that Petersen begins her e book with an instance of a time when capitalism labored higher for society: throughout a interval rebuilding after the Great Depression. An period when sturdy unions and authorities funding caused not solely “favourable working conditions for employees” – truthful wages, time beyond regulation, healthcare, pensions – but in addition a interval of spectacular development. Prosperity actually did trickle down. Can’t Even is a reminder to the burned out era that issues can be totally different.

• Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen is printed by Chatto & Windus (£14.99). To order a duplicate go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery expenses could apply



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