The topic? Burn-out. Apparently, it’s rampant among high achieving millennial women. At least that’s the skinny according to a piece by Forbes contributor Larissa Faw who writes that “a growing number of young professional women who seem to ‘have it all’ are burning out at work before they reach 30.”
She had me at have it all. Faw doesn’t necessarily back up the burn-out rate with numbers, but she does offer some compelling stats that link these “early career flameouts” with women’s declining presence on the upper reaches of the corporate ladder:
Today, 53% of corporate entry-level jobs are held by women, a percentage that drops to 37% for mid-management roles and 26% for vice presidents and senior managers, according to McKinsey research. Men are twice as likely as women to advance at each career transition stage
Interesting, but not surprising. What struck me, though – and what perhaps made that former student think of Undecided — was Faw’s rationale that one of the reasons for the lopsided stats is that, whereas women burnout early and jump ship, men stick around. Why? Because our brothers know how to relax. From the story:
It seems relaxation is something Millennial women have never experienced. One reason that women are burning out early in their careers is that they have simply reached their breaking point after spending their childhoods developing well-rounded resumes. “These women worked like crazy in school, and in college, and then they get into the workforce and they are exhausted,” says Melanie Shreffler of the youth marketing blog Ypulse.
Now, we can’t say whether this inability to take five logically leads to burn-out. But what we can say, based on the reporting we did for the book, is that this treadmill mentality is very real, especially among young women raised with the message that “you can have it all.” These are the girls who started building their resumes in grade school, who lived by their day planners and five-year plans, and who crumbled at the sight of a B-plus.
I remember seeing this one little girl, in grade school plaid, sitting in Starbucks, drinking this giant latte, and working w/her tutor on some kind of Princeton Review workbook for acing the high school entrance exam. No one even questioned the caffeine. And check this: one study from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that college educated parents were spending more time with their kids than ever before. Cool, right? But what the researchers discovered was the root of all this extra time was the perceived scarcity of college spots. The title of the study? The rug rat race. No joke. Another piece on CNN a while back featured hard-driving moms who had either quit their jobs or taken a leave to navigate their kids thru the college admission process.
Whew. I’m verging on burn-out just writing this stuff. Call it the curse of great expectations: The problem with the treadmill mentality is that it leads to a lot of future thinking — a bad habit that’s hard to break — or what psychologists call the arrival fallacy: If I make this team, get into that college, score that fat job – then I’ll be happy.
Or not. Because where the treadmill ends is in the real world. And though we’ve come a long way, baby, that world has not quite caught up. All of which has lead to a lot of growing pains as we – and especially our Millennial sisters – learn to navigate the trade-offs without much in the way of a roadmap.
Thing is, for this newest generation of twenty (or thirty) somethings and the rest of us who’ve been bred on perfection and raised with the mantra that the sky’s our limit, well, with everything on the menu, could it be that, no matter what the routine, once something becomes routine, we’re doomed to be just not that into it anymore? No matter the pluses, are we unable to see anything but the minuses? This isn’t quite perfect, so why should I stick around? Once we’re confronted with reality’s non-perfection, do we begin to imagine what we’re not doing? Hello, carrot. Meet stick.
Bottom line, we’re in it together, trying to figure this stuff out. As Teri Thompson, chief marketing officer and vice president of marketing and media at Purdue, tells Forbes:
“We’re all a work in progress; new inputs—from new friends to new places visited—mean we’re constantly changing in our thoughts of what’s desired, what’s possible, what’s fun, what we want to do.”
Forbes might call it burnout. We call it finding our way. By the way, that former student? She’s a millennial woman herself. A high achiever who is currently in the throes of her law school applications.