How the Millennial Generation Became the Burnout Generation

Millennials enjoy whining about other millennials making fun of them. But, as I grumbled about this 27-year-post old’s office phobia, I was caught up in a cycle of “errand paralysis,” a phenomenon I’ve coined during the last five years. I’d put something on my weekly to-do list, and it’d be pushed to the back burner, tormenting me for months.

Shameful inbox

Getting knives sharpened, taking boots to the cobbler, registering my dog for a new license, sending someone a signed copy of my book, making an appointment with the dermatologist, donating books to the library, and vacuuming my car were all simple activities. A slew of emails — one from a long-lost acquaintance, another from a former student inquiring about my well-being — accumulated in my inbox, which I use as an alternate to-do list, to the point where I began to refer to it as the “inbox of shame.”

It’s not like I’ve been lazy the rest of my life. I wrote tales, cooked, executed a cross-country move, planned trips, paid off my student loans, and exercised regularly. But I avoided the banal, the medium importance, the things that wouldn’t make my job easier or my work better.

My guilt over these errands grows with each passing day. I remind myself that my mother was constantly running errands. Was she pleased with them? No. She did, however, complete them. So, why couldn’t I pull it together – especially since all of the duties appeared simple to perform at first glance? I recognized that the vast majority of these duties had one thing in common: their primary beneficiary is me, but not in a way that would genuinely make my life better. They appear to be high-effort, low-reward tasks, paralyzing me, much like millennial Tim was paralyzed by registering to vote.

Tim and I aren’t the only ones stuck in a rut. My boyfriend was so frustrated by the multistep, tremendously (and purposely) complicated procedure of submitting insurance reimbursement papers for every week of therapy that he didn’t send them for months, resulting in a loss of over $1,000. Another woman informed me that she had kept an unopened parcel in the corner of her room for nearly a year. A friend acknowledged that he had spent hundreds of dollars on garments he couldn’t return because he couldn’t return them. Errand paralysis and post office anxiety are both symptoms of the same disease.


For the past two years, I’ve ignored warnings from editors, relatives, and peers that I was on the verge of burnout. Burnout seemed to me to be something that only relief workers, high-powered lawyers, and investigative journalists had to cope with. It was something that a beach vacation might remedy. I was still working and completing other things, so I wasn’t completely exhausted.

But the more I attempted to figure out what was causing my errand paralysis, the more the true nature of burnout became apparent. Burnout, as well as the behaviors and weight gain that come with it, isn’t something that can be cured by taking a vacation. Workers in acutely high-stress environments aren’t the only ones that suffer from it. It’s the millennial condition, and it’s not a fad. It’s the temperature we’re used to. It’s the music that plays in the background of our office. It’s just the way it is. It’s our life we’re talking about.