As the world starts to return to normal, there’s been a scourge of articles about how workers are choosing to stay out of the workforce. Just as I was starting to get sick of them, I started reading the book Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen. And before we go any further, let’s be clear that all millennials are adults. The oldest millennials are now 40. Even the very youngest is already 25. We are not kids anymore, as much as many like to pretend. I can’t say that I know the experience of the American millennial but this book gave me a crash course of what it might be.
What is it?
Can’t Even was really, really hard to read. Not because it wasn’t clearly laid out. It was, to devastating effect. That was the very trouble. Petersen lays out the ways that modern American society is wearing especially the millennials down. The things that affect millennials affect everyone else as well, but millennials are uniquely placed to bear the brunt of it. Millennials entered the workforce just as the US financial system went up in flames. Most millennials have never had a stable job and thus just as they were trying to get established, the rug was pulled out from under them.
I don’t think the book was meant to be brutal, but it is. Petersen lays out the history of how we got here, all the ways that things are hard. All the expectations that make things even harder. Some of the ways that things are even harder for people of color. I had to stop listening several times just because it just got too hard. All the ways that significant chunks of my generation are set up for burnout. I know that a good number of boomers like to talk about millennials as the wah-generation, which is why I think it would be even better for boomers to read this book.
The honest truth is that I can’t even summarize this book effectively. It is all about the structural causes of burnout and it does as thorough a job as any white woman can. I can’t say I liked it. But I do think it was important for me to read. I do recommend it. Just go in ready to do something bright and happy after, yeah?