Like most people my age, I have a lot of strong feelings about my generation. I am not sure where the concept of a generation gap came from or where it will end, but some mindsets and patterns are shared by virtually everyone in our generation.
I believe that the most noteworthy thing millennials have in common with each other is the expectation that our value is based on how much we work. Our sense of self, our place in society, even our mental health, is all based on the expectation of overexertion.
I do not have an issue with people working hard, and I agree that it is something that needs to be done. What I am talking about specifically is not work ethic or motivation; it is the way our culture normalizes overexertion. I am not going to pretend I am the first person to discuss Lawrence’s overcommitment culture, but I am going to address the fact that I have seen it virtually everywhere else as well.
It would be convenient if I could just blame the entire thing on a handful of malicious people, but anything even resembling a holistic look at the big picture will reveal that this is not the case. The economy is in shambles. Young people cannot reasonably expect either living wages or financial stability anymore. In many cases, the desire to overwork comes simply from survival.
Let’s start with high school. School board members and counselors alike advocated heavier and heavier workloads. I did not know anyone who slept more than six or seven hours a given night. Most people would go to school on four without batting an eyelash. College is less severe, but not really much different.
Aside from more obvious detriments, such as time being taken away from other aspects of one’s life, the most problematic aspect of overexertion culture is that it more or less forces people to sideline their own well-being and health to meet a target.
I am not exaggerating when I say that I do not know a single person in my extended friend group who does not have some sort of anxiety disorder. I have reason to believe that my high school was much the same way. One of the hardest things to cope with is that a chronic disability is almost expected as long as it will produce a desirable output.
The main, if not sole, proponents of these ideas are people who already enjoy the benefits of being a “successful” adult. Although it has been done before, the baby boomers are a reasonable target for criticism. They have changed our economy, school system and job market to idealize exhaustion.
I am not going to propose a solution to this problem today, but the first step to any solution is to admit that a problem exists. I am sick of being gaslighted; no one should have to meet a superficial age or productivity standard in order to complain that their health is faltering.
Although problems involving the economy and public education cannot be solved overnight, addressing the glorification of overexertion would definitely help.