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Burnout at 30?

Everything Old Is New Again

That Peter Allen song resonates with surprising frequency in the digital 21st century. Most recently because of a Forbes magazine article, “Why Millennial Women Are Burning Out At Work By 30.”

About a decade ago, I wrote a book, with co-author Loretta Kaufman, about mid-30-something moms who left demanding careers to stay at home.  We kept in touch with the women interviewed for “And What Do You Do?” and found that besides raising children they were volunteering, going back to school and considering new careers. So we wrote “Going Back to Work” which looked at how 40-something women fashioned balanced home-work lifestyles.

So it’s not surprising a decade later that everything old is new again and that fast-track careers are still stressing women. But the big difference in 2011 is that these women are under 30, without children, aging parents or households to run! In one way it’s not surprising that they are frazzled: Many have been working at warp speed since middle school developing a “passion” to put on a college application, excelling in college, doing a half-dozen internships and then (until the recession hit) jumping into demanding careers.

In the Forbes article on the under-30 burnout, reporter Larissa Faw notes several possible explanations: exhaustion from fast tracking, lack of career planning beyond their first job, and most interesting, unrealistic expectations about full-time employment. Yes, that first job can be a harsh reality check, even for young adults who excelled at internships. Faw quotes Kelly Cutrone, owner of well-known PR firm and author of “If You Have to Cry, Go Outside” about the often difficult transition:

“College is nothing more than a baby-sitting service. These students are totally unprepared for the real world…No one will say thank you. You will eat lunch at 5 p.m. It sucks and it’s hard work.”

With more than 250,000 views, the column struck a chord with many readers. In a follow-up post,  Faw wrote about readers’ reactions to the causes of the alleged burnout:

Some attribute it to the high expectations placed on them by their parents, unrealistic expectations brought on by an entitled generation, and general culture shifts. Others have less sympathy, describing these women as whiners.

So parents are blamed, again, for raising spoiled, narcissistic young adults. Despite the complaints though, it’s unlikely that any of them are quitting. So what do we tell our daughters—and sons too—who after snaring those long-sought jobs are overwhelmed by the reality of work. Perhaps suggest that they find some balance; find time to follow those well-honed passions, even if they’re not at work. Join a theater group, train for a triathlon, volunteer with a social agency, plan (and save) for a trip to an offbeat location, go back to school at night to pursue a hobby or get a new career credential, write a novel or a dozen other myriad ideas. A job doesn’t have to define them 24/7. And pace themselves: It’s marathon, not a sprint.

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