When Buzzfeed News published “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” in early 2019, culture writer Anne Helen Petersen helped a weary generation name and legitimize their feelings of unrest. Over a year and a half later, the piece has earned over seven million reads, status as the most-Pocketed story of 2019, and an offline spin-off: Petersen’s book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in September 2020.
Petersen opened her Pocket to give us a peek at a dozen of the articles that inspired and informed the book. She spoke to us from her home in Montana as wildfires clogged the air with smoke, keeping her and her partner indoors, working, all weekend. “Being outside was the thing that gave me some sort of respite from work and concerns about Covid,” she explained. “Not being able to have that, it feels like options just keep narrowing. What else is there to do but work?” She continues:
“As Americans, we’re very good at compartmentalizing, at saying, ‘well, I have to get through this, I have no other choice.’ And now, we’re dealing with issues like Covid, systemic racism, horrific climate events across the U.S.—these things are exacerbating that burnout, but we get used to it. It’s like being a frog in boiling water, you don’t realize how overwhelming it is until you’re about to break.
Reading and learning about what other people are going through produces empathy. It helps us all acknowledge that burnout isn’t a personal problem—it’s a societal and structural one. Living in a society means that we are only as psychologically healthy as the most burnt-out among us. So even if the contours of someone else’s burnout look different from your own, understanding it produces solidarity. And together, we can figure out substantial ways to re-net the safety net for everyone.”
With playdates replacing free childhood play, it’s upper-class families who set the social norms — and working-class families who pay the price.
Anne Helen Petersen
A former senior culture writer for BuzzFeed, Anne Helen Petersen now writes her newsletter, Culture Study, as a full-time venture on Substack. Petersen received her PhD at the University of Texas at Austin, where she focused on the history of celebrity gossip. Her previous books, Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud and Scandals of Classic Hollywood, were featured in NPR, Elle, and The Atlantic. She lives in Missoula, Montana.