Millennial Burnout: Staying Sane Amidst The “Never Enough” Society

Two days ago there was an article about “Millenial burnout” on BBC. It was on the front page, while the content of the article was quite simple, making me wonder why it was considered a big news. Probably because there were already so many articles bashing Millenials: they are entitled, they only eat avocados, they don’t know how to save money, the only thing they care about is their Instagram feed… so perhaps it’s time to defending Millenials by revealing this layer.

There’s an image in that article that I like:

A hamster wheel
Image: BBC

That’s the same hamster wheel that I’ve been in for seven years, but instead of name of days, it’s one achievement after another. I shared a little bit here that I’m a dreamer. I’ve always been a high-achiever. After I achieved goal A, I’d quickly chased after goal B. Then goal C. And so on, until it left me breathless.

Literally yesterday I just had my bi-annual performance review at work. My rating was something that’s bugging my mind since August last year, pretty much since the half started. My previous three ratings were always either “Greatly Exceeds Expectations” or “Redefines Expectations”. In August, I moved to a new role, and I was so scared to get only a “Meets All Expectations”. It became a spiralling thought in my head – “If I only get a Meets All this half, next half I’m probably not eligible for promotion, which means my promotion will be delayed until H2 2019, which will only be effective per March 2020. I will be almost 31 then and I’m not yet where I want to be…”

It was so torturing to have these thoughts coming every now and then. My heartbeat automatically became faster. I became snappy towards my clueless husband. That’s when I started meditating.

It really helped. I didn’t do it as much as I should have, but at least I learned how to visualise that I’m wrapping all of these toxic thoughts in a thin paper, almost like a paper that you use to wrap flowers in, and let it go in the wind. It’s gentle and flowy. I didn’t stomp over them and throw them away like a baseball. As my mentor phrased it: “Don’t be angry towards your inner critic – it will only create another conflict. Thank your inner critic for getting you here, then ask it politely to step aside and invite compassion to take charge now.”

Letting go gently. Image: Pixabay

She also recommended a book to me: The Compassionate Mind. The book stated that being able to imagine things is the key ability of Homo sapiens that made them strives (e.g. imagining how to transport things easier, voila, they invented wheel). However, this capability comes with a tradeoff: We can also imagine stuff that make us unhappy, such as comparing ourselves with other people or worrying about the future. Animals can show sad emotion when they lose their partners, but no animals will be sad over thinking that they’ll probably lose their partners someday.

The book also said that our society is now obsessed with lean thinking (guilty as charge, I used to work at Toyota, the pioneer of lean manufacturing, and The Lean Startup was one of my bibles). Lean obsessed with removing waste, improving productivity, being more efficient.

Image result for waste in lean manufacturing
Image: Go Lean Six Sigma

Every activity, even relaxing by doing your hobby, is considered as a way that will enable you to work more effectively. The company I work for provides tons of benefits with one goal: to enable you to focus on work. Don’t worry about what to eat, cutting your hair, or even booking a nice restaurant for your anniversary dinner. Everything is taken care of. The motto of the Benefit department is “Let us take care of you while you take care of the world.”

I came across a Harvard Business Review article titled: Why You Should Work Less and Spend More Time on Hobbies. Guess ‘why’? Yap, so you can be more creative at work.

This obsession with lean thinking comes with a price: quality of life. People are constantly chasing after something – and after they achieve it, they only ended up wanting more. There’s a word for it: affluenza.

Realising that you have a problem is the first step of solving it. So I refuse to suffer from affluenza anymore. When I do relaxing activities like hot chocolate meditation or cooking or gardening on the weekends, it won’t be so I’m ready to work more on Monday. It’s for me.

It’s not as easy, given that my brain has been wired a certain way for years. But I’m trying. And learning.

Few hours before my performance review conversation yesterday, I was anxious. I did some breathing exercise and pivoted my mind towards other things. As I learned from Happiness by Design book: When you pay too much attention to one aspect of your life that you’re not satisfied with, you’ll continue to be unhappy. To be happier, you simply need to allocate your attention to something else.

So what was the rating I got yesterday? I’m not bothered to tell you, because it doesn’t matter. I’m no less or more valuable as a human being because of my rating. Now let’s bake some cookies.

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