The Cause of Burnout Culture

We had a great conversation in homeroom about an article that Jeff references in his last book To Hell With the Hustle. This article is called How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. And I just wanted to talk through the family implications of what is being described here in this article by Anne Helen Petersen. And I think she’s referencing Harris. Who’s that, Jeff, do you remember who that is? Is that somebody who wrote a book about this topic?

I think so, yeah.

Okay. So it says Harris points to practices that we now see as standard as a means of optimizing children’s play, an attitude often described as intensive parenting. Running around the neighborhood has become supervised play dates. Unstructured daycare has become preschool neighborhood kick the can or pickup games have transformed into highly regulated, organized league play that spans the years. Unchanneled energy diagnosed as hyperactivity became medicated and disciplined. Harris, The Kids These Days author, that’s the book writes efficiency is our existential purpose. And we are a generation of finely honed tools crafted from embryos to be lean, mean production machines, all this optimization as children in college, online culminates in a dominant millennial condition, regardless of class or race or location, burnout.

So I think she’s just saying, and then this author as well in the article is talking about, we have basically taken every element of childhood designed some hyper optimized version of it, and basically have feel like that’s our obligation. And there’s a lot of tension here when it comes for families because we really believe that families need to be more intentional in so many areas, but this kind of intensive parenting is also extremely destructive and can burn out both the parent and the kid. And so, especially as you’ve wrestled with this, put this in your book, I wanted to kind of just tease this out with you a little bit. Any, thoughts about how does a family figure out how to balance this tension?

I wonder if it’s a balance or a way I like to think about it is I almost feel like it’s a parody versus the authentic version. Does that make sense? I love how the article puts it of like, yeah. And I talk about this To Hell With the Hustle. Efficiency is our God, right? That is the thing we actually worship at, that’s the altar at which we sacrifice for. And you have to dig into that of it’s because we’re trying to be … we’re trying to hack our way to better versions of ourselves without doing the real spiritual formation work, which is long, sluggish, slow and takes a long time. And so it’s almost us trying to cheat the system, if that makes sense in hopes that it’ll still give us the benefits without all the consequences or without all the work.

And so, what we do is because the individualization has made it so that we try to make the individuals efficient when there should be a level of efficiency for the team that individuals can find rest in. Does that make sense? So it’s kind of different. I feel like when I’m on a team, when I played baseball, when I played basketball all these years, there’s an efficiency, there’s a drum beating to the team for sure. But that never is imposed in an individualistic way, if that makes sense then, because that does lead to burnout.

And so I don’t know exactly how to flesh that out, thinking out here live, but I think that’s where some of the heart of the problem lives of where the parody version is the efficiency of the individualization. When the authentic version is yes, a team should be moving, working, and going towards a goal. But a team is more like an organism and organisms are dynamic. An individual’s not dynamic. It’s one thing, but a team is dynamic. It ebbs and flows. It thinks, it adapts, it changes. And so, yeah, that’s kind of my thoughts. I don’t know. Do you have any closing thoughts on that?

No, that’s helpful because I think … so you’re saying that if you try to make your parenting hyper efficient through constant individual activities, it’s almost like you’re saying they … even this article is misdiagnosing the problem. I mean, the article is essentially saying there’s a tension between all of these activities and maybe we should be more laid back. I think what you’re saying is the problem is the individualization of the activities. If this was a family team that was trying to figure out… It doesn’t burn you out. It’s also far less activities because instead of trying to come up with all these individual activities, it’s what we’re doing together.

And then that gives more individuals margin, right? So like our family, because we’re more focused as a collective group on the same things, then we’re not having five things pulling us five different ways, which leads to burnout, which then also allows our kids to do a lot of the stuff that she says, like our kids don’t have as much screen time, probably as usual, our kids are out in the street, just wandering doing nothing. There is three hours at a time where they’re just sitting there digging in the grass, things like that because we haven’t disintegrated the individualization is what does that, if that makes sense. So, yeah, that’s a good point.

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