Back in January, an article on Buzzfeed went viral. No, it wasn’t about the 10 best ways to cook a hot dog (although I’d be intrigued to find out the ways other than: 1. Roasting over a fire; 2. Boiling in a pan on the stovetop; 3. Wrapping in a paper towel and microwaving for 45 seconds).
It was an article titled, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation,” by Anne Helen Petersen. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to take the time to do so here. The gist of the article is that, while burnout isn’t a phenomenon unique to the millennial generation, millennials are held captive by it in a way that other generations aren’t. Millennials have essentially been programmed since birth to attempt to optimize every aspect of life. Beginning with over-scheduled childhoods filled with a variety of extra-curricular activities designed to make us the most attractive college candidates possible, to the society-driven goal that every single one of us attend said colleges, we have spent our lives being maximized. This has led millennials to be pre-disposed to burnout. Burnout happens when you give everything you have to something, and yet still more is asked of you, which you continue to give until you just stop.
I resonated with this article. Being an older millennial (part of the xennial sub-generation) I can’t say that everything fit my life, but it nails the general social context in which I’ve grown up, and in which I find myself attempting to successfully ‘adult.’
And I admit, that I often feel a bit burned out. Like Ms. Petersen notes in her article, I can find myself struggling to focus on accomplishing simple, uncomplicated tasks. This is one of the hallmarks of burnout.
It’s the result of being expected to produce something in every aspect of life, to give and give and give until you have nothing left to give and then give even more. It’s a mental and physical reaction against the programmed commodification our whole lives have become. This goes far beyond just the work we do…it extends into our hobbies.
For years I’ve felt a bit ashamed of publicly revealing my hobbies. When asked what my hobbies are, instead of saying things like, working outside, exercising, or woodworking, my answer is, “I play games.”
Most often this means video games, but it also includes board games. The problem with board games is that you have to have a group of people get together, and with work and travel and families, finding time is an issue. PLUS, you have to live near each other. Video games requires neither of these so, more often than not, I probably should should say that my hobby isn’t playing games (in general) but simply playing video games.
I felt shame about sharing this hobby because, unlike those other hobbies I mentioned, playing video games isn’t ‘productive.’ Like, I don’t get to the end of an hour of doing my hobby and say, “Look at these chiseled 6-pack abs I’ve been working on!” There are no books to analyze and review, no cool walking sticks I’ve whittled, no flower gardens to show off…instead, I could share about how I won the 1998 World Series with the Twins after I took over as the General Manager in 1994 for an utterly horrendous team!
Even in my hobbies, which are supposed to be about what I do to relax in my downtime, I was being sucked back into this idea that the only thing important about life is how well I could optimize my time to produce stuff.
Enter Dungeons and Dragons.
Here was a game that I could play, with others (and thanks to the wonders of the internet we can play together even though we don’t live near each other!), and we weren’t producing anything…at least, not some tangible product.
When you play D&D, you do end up producing things…you produce a story…you produce active imaginations…you produce team-work…you produce friendship…in short, you produce community. These are an entirely different kind of product, a product that doesn’t drain you of life like a 4th level Blight spell, but instead restores your soul like a Bard’s Song of Rest.
Since I started playing D&D 4 years ago, I have felt zero shame in sharing about the adventures of my Hill Dwarf Fighter-Paladin named Leroy Jenkins. In fact, I relish the chance to share about my hobby, to raise a fist in the face of productive hobbies, to boldly claim, “I’m not making anything and it feels great!”
So, how do you deal with millennial (or any) burnout? Why not try joining up with other adventurers to end a tyrannical Lich’s reign of terror? To quote my gnome friend Channing Tenderhammer, “Liches get stitches!”