WHY IS BURNOUT PLAGUING OUR GENERATION?

By: MIGHTY PURSUIT TEAM

Most '90s kids probably remember the Game of Life, a popular board game that took you through life's twists and turns and simulated the typical progression of American life: go to school, get a job, raise a family, and hopefully retire at Millionaire Estates. As satisfying as it was to score a six-figure job by picking the right job card, or pay off your loans with a spin of a wheel, the game hardly prepared us for the reality of what awaited us millennials in adulthood. Despite growing up in a relatively peaceful, financially prosperous time (save for the 2008 Recession and 9/11), the millennial generation (people born between 1981 and 1996) has developed a reputation as stressed, debt-ridden, and burnt out. Where did this desire to constantly work come from? Here's how Anne Helen Petersen, a millennial and author of the Buzzfeed article "How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation", assessed it: "Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time...things that should’ve felt good (leisure, not working) felt bad because I felt guilty for not working; things that should’ve felt “bad” (working all the time) felt good because I was doing what I thought I should and needed to be doing in order to succeed." Notice the language here: "Guilty" "I should be…" "Good things felt bad." Something is off. Our curated Instagram feeds mask the problem that something is deeply wrong with this line of thinking. We follow influencers who celebrate how they made $1 million in a few weeks by wheeling and dealing or "hustling harder" than everyone else. They're promoting the grind, which is often precursor to burnout. Work has always been a component of life, but to be dwelling on it constantly and feel a sense of guilt for not being "productive" is a symptom of a deeper issue. Here's the millennial version of the Game of Life:

  • Listen to teachers and parents tell you that you need to work hard to make it.
  • Take on as many student loans as the government will give you to pay for an expensive university you were told would guarantee you a successful job post-college.
  • Experience disillusionment in an overcrowded job market and return to your parents' house to save money.
  • Spend the day refining your LinkedIn profile and submitting your resumé through Indeed.
  • Finally get that position at the tech startup to chip away at the mountain of debt.
  • Hopefully meet someone to date or marry (if there's time) and attempt to squeeze in activities you actually like doing.
 You'll find plenty of people with this type of story in urban hubs like New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Austin, Los Angeles, and beyond. They're working to the brim, spending every waking moment refreshing their Slack or work email in hopes that putting in a little bit more will help them climb the corporate ladder. The casualties in the process? Meaningful relationships, diet and exercise, sleep, mental health…the list goes on. Any good doctor doesn't simply look at the symptoms and call it a day. They try to get to the deeper issue that's causing the symptoms and prescribe a solution to address it. We know overworking and "burnout" is a huge problem. But what's causing it? And how did millennials, once mocked for being lazy, self-absorbed, and image-obsessed, become the "burnout generation?"

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WHAT IS BURNOUT?

"77% say they’ve experienced burnout at their current job," a 2018 Deloitte survey found. But what is burnout? Is it just an annoyance with work? Or a complete and total energy drain that leaves us with nothing? When we think of the word burnout, it brings to mind a candle reduced down to a pool of wax. Or perhaps we think of a car that's revved its engine a little too much. These pictures are somewhat accurate, but they don't tell the whole story. Burnout doesn't happen overnight or in an instant – it's often gradual, daily choices that keep us stuck in the cycle of production. The Oxford Dictionary defines burnout as “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress," and the Harvard Business Review outlines three symptoms of it: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency. Translation: We're tired. We're bored. We're unproductive. The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges the impact of job burnout, but classifies it as a "occupational phenomenon," not a medical condition. But with alarming statistics around mental health and suicide, like 61% of 59 suicides studied being related to overwork, perhaps we should be looking this issue with the same severity as a disease. These definitions give us the facts and contributing factors behind burnout, but they don't necessarily address the why. Sure, we're overworked, but why does that bother us so much? Isn't work just a necessary evil? In 935 B.C., people were asking the same questions. The book of Ecclesiastes, one of the "wisdom literatures" in the Bible, questions why we work so hard is if we can't even enjoy the fruits of our labor: "So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun." -Eccles. 2:20 ESV "What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest." -Eccles. 2:21-23 ESV Even in the Ancient Near East, people were questioning if constant productivity was ultimately what led to happiness. Yet throughout history, that desire to produce, produce, produce hardly went away. There've been movements to shift to a longer workweek, such as in Soviet Russia, when Joseph Stalin basically said "no more cheers to the freakin' weekend." Believing production was the highest priority, the communist leader enacted nepreryvka, Russian for "continuous working week." Unsurprisingly, the experiment failed miserably and led to an exorbitant amount of burnout. Turns out that people do need their weekends, and productivity actually decreases when you increase working hours. John Mark Comer, author of The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, found that any attempts to break the seven day week (with at least one rest day or Sabbath) have endured similar fates as Stalin's weekend-less disaster. Revolutionary France tried a 10 day workweek, with an hour being 100 minutes. That meant workers only got one rest day for every 10 days, instead of one every seven. “It’s been proven by study after study: there is zero correlation between hurry and productivity. In fact, once you work a certain number of hours in a week, your productivity plummets. Wanna know what the number is? Fifty hours. Ironic: that’s about a six-day workweek. One study found that there was zero difference in productivity between workers who logged seventy hours and those who logged fifty-five," Comer wrote. Clearly we have this misconception that working more will lead to more productivity, more money, and therefore more happiness. Yet knowing this doesn't diminish what we feel on a daily basis:

Stress and anxiety

Your heart beats quickly as you nervously scan through that urgent email from your boss. "I'm going to need you to ramp up your production…" the last line reads. You're already working on a series of other projects, but feel anxious that you're not pleasing your supervisors, so you withdraw that time-off request and resign yourself to yet another late night affair. You know this stress is taking a toll on you, but figure if you can just grind it out for a few more months, you'll be able to recover through a much-needed vacation somewhere down the line. But in the meantime, nervousness, stress, and anxiety persists.

Crankiness & irritability

You wake up dazed from the late-night grind and stroll to the kitchen to make yourself coffee. You're already thinking of the series of meetings for the day and start piling up our mental to-do list. Your spouse smiles and asks how you're doing. "Fine. Just busy," you grunt. You make the perfect cup of fair-trade certified pour-over coffee and take a few deep breaths. Before you realize it, a stream of coffee trickles down that newly dry cleaned white shirt. Expletives suddenly start flying out of your mouth. When your mind is dominated by work, even the most simple, inconsequential moments can feel like the biggest deals.

Despair & purposelessness

Clicking through email after email can be soul-crushing. Is life more than this? Am I no better than an A.I. that completes meaningless tasks for other people? It's easy to feel like a dog chasing its tail when you see no end to the work ahead, and no purpose in your work. In her aforementioned Buzzfeed article, Petersen describes a therapy patient who simply tapped out after a successful career. "One morning, he woke up, turned off his alarm, rolled over, and refused to go to work. He never went to work again. He was “intrigued to find the termination of his employment didn’t bother him.”

Mental fog

The mental "brain fog" you feel from burnout isn't a random, passing occurrence. Amy Armsten, professor of neuroscience at Yale University, has been studying the effects of work burnout for quite some time. In an interview with CNN, she outlined how chronic stress and burnout can thin the gray matter in our prefrontal cortex (a key part of our brain's decision making), but enlarges the amygdala, which deals with fight or flight – or in essence, fear. "It's a double whammy," Armsten said to CNN. "At the same time the prefrontal cortex is getting weaker and more primitive, the brain circuits that generate emotion like fear are getting stronger," Arnsten said. "You start seeing the world as harmful even when it's not." If you've ever stared at a screen or completely glazed over something your coworker said, it's not because you aren't motivated, focused, or driven. Chances are, something is happening on a neurological level. We can look at these symptoms in isolation, but doing so doesn't address the underlying cause. Why is work so ingrained into our identities in the first place?

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BURNOUT & IDENTITY

You walk into a coffee shop and feel a tap on your shoulder. It's your friend from high school you haven't seen in ten years. They smile upon recognizing you and ask that dreaded question: "So…what do you do for work these days?" It's hard to fault them for asking. This question has become the default icebreaker in our society, and often serves as an instant benchmark for how people view us. "I actually work here at this coffee shop…" you say with a sense of embarrassment, thinking you should be farther ahead or on their level. This fixation on work seems to be unique to Americans, as most Europeans, for instance, have generous paid time off policies, take vacations, and in the case of the French, have a legal right to ignore work emails to curb work burnout. France also has a typical working week of 35 hours, right in line with the European Union's average of 37 hours worked per week. On the flip side, Americans “work longer hours, have shorter vacations, get less in unemployment, disability, and retirement benefits, and retire later, than people in comparably rich societies," says political scientist Samuel P. Huntington. Some may argue that America is more "productive," but to Comer's point, more hours doesn't necessarily lead to more productivity. Many of these countries have the ethos of "work smarter, not harder." And in certain cases, it's hard to argue with that. Imagine the freedom that comes from knowing your promotion or mobility within the company isn't contingent on coming in after-hours to crank out emails or finish projects. But for millennial Americans especially, we have this misplaced identity: our worth is what we do. This is a shift from the 19th century, in which Americans often defined their identity based on religion, politics, marriage, or family of origin. While marriage or family shouldn't be the sole determiner of upward mobility, it also shouldn't be subordinated. Relationships require consistency, presence, and intentionality. If your entire day's energy is being poured into work, you'll have nothing left to give to the most important relationships in your life. As one CEO was quoted saying in a recent HuffPost article: "There’s no bandwidth left to plan the logistics of the next day, much less have an engaging conversation with my wife.” Relationships are way more permanent and fulfilling than a job, yet we often treat our job with the care typically reserved for a romantic interest. We dress our best, and show up extremely focused, agreeable, present, and on time. Upon arriving at home, however, we collapse into the sofa, barely giving those around us a wave, and resume the cycle of productivity on our phones or laptops. When we're burnt out, sex, intimacy, date nights, and even basic conversations are often thrown out. Some millennials don't even have or want someone to come home to. Pew Research found that "Only 44% of Millennials were married in 2019, compared with 53% of Gen Xers, 61% of Boomers and 81% of Silents* at a comparable age." Could the lack of emphasis on marriage be tied to rising individualism stemming from career mobility and success? Suffice to say, identity once rooted in relationships and community has shifted to "you are what you do." Millennials have certainly experienced this shift, but as a new generation takes up the mantle – Gen Z – it's important not just look inward, but consider what kind of effect this is having on the 18-to-21 year olds preparing to enter the workforce for the first time. Some Gen Zers are already feeling deep burnout. Indeed's 2021 Employee Burnout report found that Millennials and Gen Zers had the highest proportion of feeling work burnout. Members of Gen Z are already growing up in a weird, unprecedented time. The COVID-19 pandemic shifted most work virtually, making it even harder to feel a sense of connection or community within their companies. You'd think working remotely would encourage us to work less, but paradoxically we end up working more. Having your work constantly in front of you on your laptop or smartphone creates a blurry work-life balance, whereas "clocking out" of a building has a sense of detachment: work there, rest is here. Older Gen Zers, often raised by Gen Xers now in their 40s and 50s, have been taught to hustle hard, and have little to no boundaries when it comes to work. They've been taught to "rise and grind." Prof. Kim Hollingdale, of Pepperdine University, told BBC she believes that "Gen Z has “the worst collection of stressors” among workers right now – from a lack of power at work to financial instability, the normalization of hustle culture and an inability to unwind. And although all generations might be juggling high volumes of work, Gen Z has the least “workplace capital”, which means less power to set boundaries and say no to tasks." In an increasingly unstable world in which prices are rising, a recession looms, gas is $6 a gallon, and global conflicts are fueling uncertainty, Gen Zers (and Millenials) are getting it in their minds that with circumstances stacked against them, they're going to have to hustle harder. Gen Zers are growing up surrounded by social media influencers who promote this idea even further. Elon Musk, a popular figure among younger people, tweeted in 2018 that: "There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week." He followed this up with a comment on his own tweet: "But if you love what you do, it (mostly) doesn’t feel like work." Again, two more identity-pronouncing statements from the world’s richest person:

  • The amount of time you work on something clearly matters.
  • And if you just love what you do, you'll make it your life anyway.
 Easier said than done, some have pointed out, especially coming from people who've "made it to the top" and don't have to worry about student loan debt or landing a job. "On one hand, we have out-of-touch billionaires and moguls who’ve never known the reality of working tooth and nail to survive and hardly making ends meet, telling us we’re simply not working hard enough, and on the other, we’re being sold a falsely glamorous lifestyle of overworking, insisting we need to surpass each another or bear the shame of underperforming in life," says writer Brittany Beringer. This falsely glamorous lifestyle is one tethered to the word more. It's part of a materialistic ethos that says we're measured by how much we can accumulate, and how influential we are. And it's inextricably tied to burnout.

BURNOUT & THE MYTH OF MORE

"So I just finished Bioshock Infinite, and now I'm in that state of "post-game depression" where I just have a hollow feeling inside now that it's over, and I can't stop thinking about it," a Reddit user posted in 2013. Many of us feel the same level of dissatisfaction after investing hours and hours into beating our favorite video game. Gaming gives us a false sense of reward, even though we haven't actually completed anything in the real world. And while we may laugh at someone trying to beat every level of Super Mario Bros., it's not too different from the way we approach work. There's this idea of "arrival fallacy," that once we make it we'll be okay. As author and Harvard lecturer Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar said in a recent New York Times article: "Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness." Just like completing the final level of a video game doesn't leave us satisfied, neither does getting our dream job. In a culture surrounded with new stimuli, we're always left wanting more, with higher and higher expectations every time. Americans have been trained to pursue happiness – it's in the Declaration of Independence for crying out loud. While seeking happiness isn't inherently bad, the way we think we'll get happiness is often unsustainable and unrealistic. More = happy is not a realistic equation, yet we continue to chase it anyway. We seek to cure this underlying anxiety and lie that we're not enough by filling every waking hour. Some might call this distraction. Others might call it hyperproductivity. However you term it, it's a way of pushing ourselves to unsustainable limits. It's the young tech entrepreneur who camps out at Starbucks for 14 hours – barely stopping to eat because every second is precious – and continues the cycle of productivity by laying awake at night answering emails for fear of being out of touch. It's the grad student who goes back for another degree to make herself more hireable, but takes on a teaching assistant position, a research internship, and a volunteer coordinator position to beef up her LinkedIn page. Ultimately this craving for results catches up for us, and we find ourselves isolated in our own headspace. As we mentioned before, it's actually relationships that give us objectively more happiness. Dr. Ben-Shahar reaffirms this. "The No. 1 predictor of happiness,” he said, is the “quality time we spend with people we care about and who care about us." Make no mistake, it's not bad to be motivated or have healthy ambition. Society would fall apart if no one worked, and nothing would get done. However, there's a difference between healthy productivity and tying our identity to performance. Derek Thompson, a popular writer for The Atlantic, describes this phenomenon as workism. "The economists of the early 20th century did not foresee that work might evolve from a means of material production to a means of identity production. They failed to anticipate that, for the poor and middle class, work would remain a necessity; but for the college-educated elite, it would morph into a kind of religion, promising identity, transcendence, and community. Call it workism." Thompson brings up a good point. Work is no longer solely functional, as our grandparents may have seen it. It's an obsession, and even evokes the same level of devotion often reserved for religion. Though society is society becoming increasingly less spiritual and religious, people still worship something. And adherents to the new religion of workism show their devotion with a pursuit for more…but not necessarily more things or experiences. "Today’s rich American men can afford vastly more downtime. But they have used their wealth to buy the strangest of prizes: more work!," Thompson noted. Like a soldier suiting up for war, we tend to wear our accolades on our sleeves and continue to pile more armor on in the form of side hustles, board member positions, and extra shifts. But is this work armor giving us a false sense of invincibility?

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BURNOUT & INVINCIBILITY

Japan experienced rapid economic growth following World War II, but the surge came with consequences. Kamei Shuji was a 26-year-old stock broker living in Japan's economic boom of the 1980s. He started on the bottom rung of the ladder, but quickly climbed his way to the top, often working 90 hours a week. Shuji made work his life, his identity, and his passion. He became a legend in the brokerage world and earned accolades for his hard work. He was addicted to success. Then he died. Not from a freak accident or an overdose, but death by burnout – or as the Japanese call it, karoshi. Research has shown that stress is linked with heart issues, and one day Shuji's heart just gave out. That's extreme…I'd never go that far, you might think to yourself. While we may not be as intense as Kamei Shuji was, we often fall into the same trap. And to a degree, it's not entirely our fault. Our smartphones have given us access to work at all times, meaning we can simultaneously read emails, check up on our stock portfolio, and chat with our business partner on our bluetooth headset. WeWork, a network of coworking hubs, has reinforced this "hustle" messaging. New York Times Journalist Erin Griffith witnessed this firsthand on a trip to a NYC WeWork location. Upon entering, Griffith immediately noticed messaging that demanded more work. Neon signs flashed "do what you love," and even vegetables promoted working more: "Even the cucumbers in WeWork’s water coolers have an agenda. “Don’t stop when you’re tired,” someone recently carved into the floating vegetables’ flesh. “Stop when you are done.” Kool-Aid drinking metaphors are rarely this literal. Welcome to hustle culture. It is obsessed with striving, relentlessly positive, devoid of humor, and — once you notice it — impossible to escape," she said in a 2019 article. That relentless positivity can often be mistaken for invincibility. Part of the messaging stems from millennial individualism. Our culture preaches that "we lead ourselves," and that we're the masters of our own destinies. Therefore, we don't often seek out advice, or pause and ask if the pace we're going at is sustainable or not. Sir Isaac Newton's third law states that "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." But society has taught us that there's little to no consequences for hustling harder, and that overwork doesn't lead to burnout, it leads to rewards. And yes, in certain cases there are significant rewards – Shuji became a top executive – but can we still attain success without sacrificing our wellbeing in the process? Anyone who's ever played a casual game of Mario Kart knows that the best power-up is the gold star, as it makes you completely invincible for about 20 seconds. You can plow through other cars, take dangerous turns, and quickly push past the rest of the pack. The star power fades, but we still drive as if we have its invincibility power and quickly face the consequences. Ironically, it's often the people that stay at a steady pace and stay out of danger that end up winning Mario Kart. Those who quickly jump out to 1st or 2nd place often dabble in risky decisions or get targeted by everyone else behind them. If you've never played this game in your life, here's the point: we're taught to go at max speed, when really we should be recognizing that slow and steady wins the race. Problem is, we have a hard time slowing down. Yet imagine if Kamei Shuji had some balance in his life. Imagine if he escaped the cycle of constant burnout and decided to take a rest day, or even a full sabbatical. Most of us don't even have a concept of what a sabbatical is, and companies think it's counterintuitive and costly to give their workers time off for such a long period of time. In 2018, only 15% of employers were offering sabbaticals for their employees. Modeled after the Biblical idea of Sabbath (an intentional day of rest & worship on the seventh day of the week) a sabbatical is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a period of paid leave granted to a university teacher or other worker for study or travel, traditionally one year for every seven years worked." Imagine knowing that after seven hard years of work, you could get an entire year off to reset, rest, spend time with family, and enrich your life? Some of the greatest minds in history understood the value of doing this. It's important to distinguish that their goal wasn't a forget-the-world, escapist vacation. They saw this rest period as a means of honing their craft and restoring themselves even further. A sabbath or sabbatical isn't a time to tune out, but presently tune in. (Just not into work.) As author Jon Tyson put it in Beautiful Resistance, "Our souls are rarely restored through entertainment. Restoration comes through rest. Relaxation, though good, will not do a deep enough work." Carl Jung, the famed Swiss psychiatrist, would often retreat to a castle called Bollingen Tower to untether himself from the distractions of the world and hone his deepest thinking. Jung produced some of his most influential works after spending extended time at the castle. Tyson, also a leader of a local community in New York City, recognized that many of his colleagues were fading away or burning out in ministry. The more he studied those who "made it," the more he recognized a common through line: rest, and the admission that we all need help and support along the way. "Over time I began to notice a trend," he said. "Every conference had the same talk in it; every book had the same chapter in it. It was burnout. Everyone on the stage and page seemed to follow the same path. They worked like mad to pursue their visions; they burned out and harmed their friends, family, and themselves. Then they slowed their pace and changed their rhythms. They all urged people to learn from their mistakes and build rest into the frameworks of their lives." Even if you agree and understand the value of rest and a healthy break from your work as a means of returning better and more focused than ever, you may be skeptical that your workplace or profession would ever have such a policy…

BURNOUT & THE WORKPLACE

The American workplace has a lot in common with a theme park. Once inside, you have endless food options and things to do, and when you've exhausted the day's activities, you go back to the resort located on the property, rest up, and jump into more activities the next day. You're completely immersed in the experience – why leave if you have everything you need? Employers understand the value of a captive audience as well, often providing on-site housing for employees and offering perks like laundry service or catered meals. The whole goal is to get you to stay at work longer. Here's how Griffith described the ideal WeWork devotee: "The ideal client, one imagines, is someone so enamored of the WeWork office aesthetic — whip-cracking cucumbers and all — that she sleeps in a WeLive apartment, works out at a Rise by We gym, and sends her children to a WeGrow school," she wrote. Jared, a young advisor at a wealth management firm in Seattle, experienced this firsthand. Bright-eyed and fresh out of college, he was excited to have landed his first "corporate" job, and follow in the footsteps of his dad, a successful bank executive. Though the early days were filled with perks like after-work parties and paid ski trips, Jared began to notice some not-so-subtle work pressure creeping in. He'd prepare to leave at 5:00 p.m. (the hours in his contract said 9 to 5 after all), yet realized he was the only one heading out. He'd ask his colleagues if they wanted to catch the bus with him, but was typically met with the same response: "Sorry, I can't. Gotta grind. Huge project I'm working on." Jared wanted a sense of rhythm in his life, and valued time to eat a healthy dinner and go to bed early so he could be a productive worker in the first place. He'd show up the next day and find that his bleary-eyed coworkers had barely slept, and were constantly angling to get their superiors' attention. This is all too common of a story in the American workplace – especially for millennials. And ironically enough, moving up the corporate ladder often has nothing to do with your work. Finance writer Hannes Grauweihler outlined some painful truths about how he was able to advance in his career, which included bragging to get noticed playing office politics, and stroking his boss' ego. Graunweihler also said that "working hard is the medicine dished up for people who never learned how to say no." Yikes. It's no wonder that as of last year, a new phenomenon called "The Great Resignation" has taken place. Per Investopedia, it's defined as "the elevated rate at which U.S. workers have quit their jobs starting in the spring of 2021, amid strong labor demand and low unemployment as vaccinations eased the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic." The MIT Sloan School of Management analyzed factors driving this mass resignation, and the results were telling:

  • A toxic work culture was 10.4% more likely to contribute to employee attrition than factors like pay or COVID safety.
  • "Between April and September 2021, more than 24 million American employees left their jobs, an all-time record."
 In addition to factors like lack of diversity or ethical treatment of workers, part of the toxicity comes from the aforementioned "grind" culture that Jared experienced. A Gallup study found that the top five reasons for job burnout were:
  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure
 Two of the five points have to do with a high volume of work and a high volume of time. People have been reduced to machines and are expected to crank out work with precision and efficiency while running on little to no fuel. Ironically enough, future forecasters thought that our current reality would be the opposite. Here's how John Mark Comer describes it in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: "In the 1960s futurists all over the world—from sci-fi writers to political theorists—thought that by now we’d all be working way fewer hours. One famous Senate subcommittee in 1967 was told that by 1985, the average American would work only twenty-two hours a week for twenty-seven weeks a year. Everybody thought the main problem in the future would be too much leisure." Needless to say, that didn't happen. We work 40-70 hour weeks for almost 52 weeks out of the year. As Thompson noted earlier, rich people no longer spend the majority of their time sipping piña coladas on boats or golfing in Arizona, but rather starting other companies or buying Twitter. Busy is the new chic, and exhausted is the new norm. "How are you doing?" "Oh man, just sooo busy." Media depictions of the rich and famous paint them as people who hustle and work hard to get what they want. We want that same freedom (we think), so we emulate the Bill Gates and Elon Musks of the world, who constantly seem to be doing something at a torrid pace. A 2014 Cadillac commercial features a wealthy, middle-aged man walking through his mansion. He chides other countries for taking long months off work and praises American ingenuity and greatness. "It's pretty simple: you work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible. And as for all the stuff, that's the upside of only taking two weeks off in August," he says as he zooms away in his shiny new Cadillac. Our perceived appearance plays a huge role in how we interact with the workplace. We constantly tinker our LinkedIn pages to show we're employable. We subtly flex on our coworkers, but really we're insecure and gauge our worth by comparison. The Harvard Business Review published an article recapping several studies about the link between business and perception. In one study, some participants were given a card describing a man who worked hard and whose calendar was always full. Others were given a card describing a man who took plenty of leisure time. Unsurprisingly, the time-strapped, hard-worker was rated as more successful. "In general, we found that the busy person is perceived as high status, and interestingly, these status attributions are heavily influenced by our own beliefs about social mobility. In other words, the more we believe that one has the opportunity for success based on hard work, the more we tend to think that people who skip leisure and work all the time are of higher standing," Harvard Business Review noted. That said, not every company is addicted to production, and many of the most innovative companies are finding out the not-so-shocking revelation that putting employer happiness first actually translates to better output. Patagonia has a "Let My People Go Surfing" policy that gives employees the flexibility to "catch a good swell, go bouldering for an afternoon, pursue an education, or get home in time to greet the kids when they come down from the school bus." They also have on-site childcare and a cafeteria with healthy options. It's part of founder Yvon Chouinard's hierarchy-less workplace ideal, in which the office floor is open-concept, and CEOs don't get special privileges like reserved parking spaces. And it's working. Patagonia has an incredibly low employee turnover rate (4%) each year. This mindset might feel foreign to millennials in particular who fear putting in boundaries and limits. Even if companies do offer time off, like Patagonia, we might be hesitant. Do we really have this Friday off? Is this a trick to test our loyalty? "Attempts to discourage working “off the clock” misfire, as millennials read them not as permission to stop working, but a means to further distinguish themselves by being available anyway," Petersen said in the aforementioned Buzzfeed article. Workplace rules are one thing, but how we choose to interact with it is another. Off the clock should mean off the clock. Not checking emails on your Uber ride home, or trading your weekend rest day to get ahead of the pack. But how do we resist the urge to produce?

HOW TO DEAL WITH BURNOUT

It would be the ultimate irony if we supplied you a to-do list to overcome burnout. Which goes to say, the goal isn't to add more time, more meetings, and more work to your schedule, but offer a few reminders to slow down and have balance in your life. But the solution isn't simply to have a "me day." "The most common prescription is “self-care," Petersen said. "Give yourself a face mask! Go to yoga! Use your meditation app! But much of self-care isn’t care at all: It’s an $11 billion industry whose end goal isn’t to alleviate the burnout cycle, but to provide further means of self-optimization. At least in its contemporary, commodified iteration, self-care isn’t a solution; it’s exhausting." If work has become our identity, our schedule has become unsustainable, and we have no boundaries, then it follows that the solution would be the opposite of that:

  1. A right-placed identity
  2. A rhythm of life
  3. Healthy boundaries
 One who exemplified these three traits wholly was a figure you might be familiar with: Jesus. It only takes a little digging to see that his rhythms are incredibly compelling and we can learn much from them. Even though he had a huge weight of responsibility, he wasn't stressed out, impatient, or obsessed with efficiency. His followers were often confused why he was so interruptible. You have someplace to be, why are you stopping to help this person? We see this in Mark 10, when his disciples try to dismiss kids from bothering Jesus, but Jesus affirms he has plenty of time for them. When asked to describe Jesus in one word, the philosopher Dallas Willard said: "relaxed." Central to this relaxed state-of-being was a healthy sense of identity. Jesus knew who he was, and didn't strive for validation from the powers that be. This helped him create boundaries in the sense that he didn't stray from his core mission. Even though he could have easily acquired power and fortune, he chose to resist these things. Particularly when it comes to the rhythms of Jesus, we see him walking everywhere, and often retreating into nature to pray. Modeling these types of rhythms can help you achieve your goals in a way that's sustainable and still fosters personal, relational, and spiritual growth. Bridgetown, a local community based in Portland, advocates for building something called a Rule of Life. Here’s how they describe it: "A rule of life is a schedule and set of practices and relational rhythms that help us create space in our busy world for us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did—to live “to the full” (John 10v10) in his kingdom, and in alignment with our deepest passions and priorities." While millennials may recoil at the word "rule," this concept is rooted in the Greek word trellis, a device that supports plants (such as wine grapes) to have more sunlight exposure, resistance to pests, and increased air circulation. The result? Often sweeter, bolder wines that have been rhythmically refined. Rule of Life or not, there are some simple, practical ways to reduce burnout in your life. Like we said, the goal is to prevent clogging up your schedule. These are supports to help you achieve your goals, not run away from them. You may read this and think this discourages productivity or performance, but it's actually the opposite. In his bestselling book Deep Work, Cal Newport outlines strategies to get things done in a focused, shorter amount of time to open up your schedule to what really matters. Despite being a popular author and professor, Newport says he finishes most days by 5:00 p.m. and has plenty of margin for quality time with his wife and two kids. You can check out Deep Work on your own if you're intrigued, but in the meantime, we have a slew of other resources we believe will be beneficial to your journey in coming back stronger from burnout. A few components of a sustainable rhythm include… Rest: The toll of not resting has been well-documented, from impaired memory to high blood pressure to depression. Yet rest is often the first thing that gets tossed in the quest for productivity. Rest involves sleep, but it also means finding pockets to step away and slow down during the day. Consider turning your phone off for an extended period of time and checking out places of rest in your city to practice silence and solitude. This might feel foreign at first, as we've been trained to be attentive to the constant pings and alerts from our phones. Silence might feel uncomfortable at first, but it's incredibly restorative to take our minds off of work and onto what fills our tanks, from God, to gratitude, to what meal we're most excited to try. Nutrition: If you've ever scarfed down a Chipotle burrito in record time to make that post-lunch meeting, you're not alone. We often trade healthiness for convenience when we're stressed and on a time crunch, and it's easy to find ourselves Doordashing fast food everyday. If possible, try to cook your own food to save money and ensure you know exactly what's going in your body. Corporate culture often encourages going out, eating, and drinking to impress others and socialize. But in the long run, it's not physically sustainable or cost-effective. For some practical tips, check out our guides on how to shop at the grocery store, what processed food is doing to us, and how your diet can promote longevity. Fitness: We know what you're thinking: "I don't even have time to eat…how am I supposed to have a gym membership?" That's valid, and for many of us, an intensive workout routine just isn't possible with our current schedule. However, fitness doesn't mean looking like a bodybuilder. Walking for just 10 minutes, for instance, has myriad benefits on our mental and physical health. The science of exercise reminds us that the core fitness elements of balance, endurance, strength, and flexibility can be achieved from the comfort of our apartment or home. Working out is an instant mood booster and can help curb stress and anxiety that comes from your work. A recent study suggests that "a single bout of acute aerobic exercise supports regeneration of cognitive flexibility performance and of subjective well-being. This holds true not just compared to artificial active control treatment but also compared to widespread leisure time activity, namely watching TV." In short, walking, running, and other forms of aerobic exercise can help with brain recovery and cognitive function. Mental & Spiritual Health: WebMD cited the following as potential mental health side effects of work burnout: anxiety, depression, distress, poor decision-making, and lack of motivation, to name a few. Mental health is staggeringly underfunded and not prioritized in the United States. There are 28 psychologists / therapists per 100,000 people in the United States, and the U.S. allocates just 5.5% of the total health budget towards mental health. We have a series of blogs dedicated to mental health, each dedicated to understanding root causes behind different mental health struggles and addressing them gracefully and practically. They range from dealing with mental disorders and addressing mental health stigma to overcoming cognitive distortions and neuroplasticity. On a spiritual level, we talked about how Jesus took intentional time to withdraw and pray. Some call the act of engaging God in quiet, focused spaces contemplative prayer. This is a practice not intended to be an escape, but rather a restorative, intentional time to bring rest to your mind, body, and spirit. But it’s important to emphasize that these practices will be hollow if you're starting from a place of misunderstood identity. The goal isn't to do more or produce more, but be. Deep joy and contentment is the result of knowing that your identity is secure in who you were made to be. Patagonia reads resumés from the bottom up. Most people put their flashy achievements, degrees, and career experience at the top, and save their interests and who they really are for the bottom or back page. They place a premium on hiring human beings, not walking cover letters. We millennials have been dubbed the burnout generation, but have a unique opportunity to change the narrative. What if we knew who we were and balanced our lives so sustainably that our happiness was not derived from productive output, but inherent worth?

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