I love being casually informed in a wide range of useless topics: the sociology behind the filthy rich, the baby names of celebrities whose shows I don’t watch, and what exotic new place is going to be “the next Tulum.” To stay informed, I subscribe to a bunch of internet newsletters—Rolling Stone, Digg, PopSugar, Need 2 Know, Fast Company, the Skimm—and I love them all. I know most people only sign up for these to get submitted for a giveaway or because their information was annoyingly sold to some internet marketing company. But I’m just not one of those people. I’m particularly fascinated with e-newsletters that tout self-help lists of “how to be blah blah blah.” In a constant pursuit of bettering myself, I read these lists religiously (even if they don’t apply to me, specifically).
It was because of my addiction to e-newsletters that I stumbled upon one such list: “How to Prevent Work Burnout.” The article talks about the self-imposed pressure on millennials to constantly be on the move, to be informed, and to compare ourselves to our peers—and this causes us to “burnout” early. To be clear, when I say “burnout,” I mean that we get SO overwhelmed by the plethora of social media content, and the pressure of life in general, that we lose sight of what really matters, and then just give up altogether.
We all already know the negative effects of social media—and how addicting it can be. Some researchers say that children shouldn’t even be exposed to screens before age two. But, screens have made our lives so much better in so many ways: I can track my husband on his 100-mile bike rides through the GPS on his Apple Watch, and feel better knowing he won’t get stranded somewhere. I can FaceTime my best friend in New York for when she needs a female perspective on an outfit. If I’m having an argument with a co-worker on who starred in Kazam, I can look it up on my IMDB app so I can prove him wrong.* We’re instantly connected to a stockpile of information which, in turn, has made us (millennials, in particular) one of the most highly informed generations.
If our lives are made so much better by technology, why are so many young people feeling burnt out? We should feel enriched, not depleted.
Inevitably, since we’re so readily connected to anything and everyone around us, we start to compare our lives to others. I follow other designers on social media because I find their work inspiring—but when I realize they’re Associate Creative Director at some big agency in Austin, I start to reflect on my own life and why I’m not in that position yet. My childhood friend, whose blog I follow? Well, she’s married to a DJ and they travel the world together going to amazing, exotic places—and she gets paid by companies to feature their products in her Instagram posts.
Instead of feeling invigorated by the world of possibilities presented by the internet, we start to feel like everything we see is a missed opportunity. And, there’s really no escape from constant comparison—we live in an era of a global, “always-on” mentality. We’re encouraged to stay connected, but staying connected means that we’re robbing ourselves of any form of escape.
So, how do we avoid it?
Take a break.
Give yourself some time to take a vacation from unnecessary stimulation. Occasionally, I’ll delete social media apps from my phone so I’m less inclined to check them. If I can’t check them, I won’t be able to compare myself to others. Social media is an easy inlet for envy—but it’s only a one-dimensional glimpse into someone’s life. It’s not a safe indicator of how happy someone truly is. And, as advertisers, we should know better than anyone that ish isn’t real.
And, don’t use your phone as a crutch. I recently went camping with a group of friends where none of us seemed to have cell service. After a long day of hiking, swimming, and canoeing, we sat around the fire chatting and watching the flames. Someone joked, “this is what people did before the internet!”And, it’s true. Humans have been entertaining themselves for thousands of years without videos of Kim Kardashian ugly-crying.
Don’t focus on the big picture (all the time).
Do you worry about how taking a day off work will somehow affect your career in the future? Well, it’s highly unlikely that it will. It’s good to have a five-year plan, but you don’t need to consider every single angle of how your actions will affect it.
While I don’t think it works for everyone, meditation can be a powerful tool to keep us from feeling overwhelmed and, eventually, burnt out. Some of the world’s most successful people meditate, so there has to be some validity in it, right?? Even if you’re not sitting cross-legged on the floor with your eyes closed, finding a way to clear your mind—like going outside and walking around the block—can serve as a much-needed mental vacation.
Illustration by Kati Szilagyi
It’s inevitable: you’re going to mess up. Try not to dwell on the joke that you bombed in the meeting with a new client. And, whatever you do, don’t compare your successes to others’. For most of us, we’re our own biggest critic. Instead of keeping record of everything you’ve done wrong and how you can do better, keep an ongoing list of things you’ve done that you’re proud of, or things you like about yourself—and reference it often. And, when you fuck up, move on. We live in a really exciting time of connections: both social and informational. Technology has the power to bring people together, or pull them apart. But, the technology factor is the stable in this equation; we, as individuals, are the variables. It’s what we do with the content around us that matters.
I challenge everyone to make a conscious effort to take the steps to avoid burning out: try not to compare yourself to others. Unplug, and take breaks from being constantly informed. And, maybe I should stop subscribing to so many newsletters. That would probably be a good first step.