you’re exhausted and burned out because work is terrible

I’m a big fan of the writer Anne Helen Petersen, who wrote the excellent “Scandals of Classic Hollywood” series at the now-defunct Hairpin and a series of fascinating profiles and lately has been writing more and more about work.

Her newest book, out this week, is Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. It builds on a piece she wrote early last year exploring why so many people around her were exhausted and burned out — suffering from what she calls “the feeling that you’ve optimized yourself into a work robot.”

Her new book explores the root causes of this generational burnout, positing that it stems from the intense, over-scheduled parenting style many Millennials were raised with. But although she’s writing about her own generation, in many ways the book is a broader exploration of what work is like now, how we ended up this way, and how it hurts everyone. Millennials are her entry point, but the book is a scathing indictment of how careers work now. If you’ve traded money for labor at any time in the last 15 years, you will like this book.

There’s a short excerpt from the book below, one that I thought would particularly resonate with Ask a Manager readers, and Anne has given me a copy to give away to readers here.

To enter to win a free copy: Leave a comment below with your own thoughts on the topic. I’ll pick a winner at random (or rather, random selector software will). All entries must be posted in the comments on this post by Friday, September 25, at 11:59 p.m. ET. To win, you must fill out the email address section of the comment form so I have a way of contacting you if you’re the winner.

And if you don’t win this giveaway, I hope you will buy yourself a copy! It’s fascinating.

Excerpt from Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen, 2020.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

One of the pernicious assumptions of “Do what you love” is that everyone who’s made it in America is doing what they love — and conversely, everyone who’s doing what they love has made it. If you haven’t made it, you’re doing it wrong: “Central to this myth of work-as-love is the notion that virtue (moral righteousness of character) and capital (money) are two sides of the same coin,” [Miya] Tokumitsu explains. “Where there is wealth, there is hard work, and industriousness, and the individualistic dash of ingenuity that makes it possible.”

Where there is not wealth, this logic suggests, there is not hard work, or industriousness, or the individualistic dash of ingenuity. And even though this correlation has been disproven countless times, its persistence in cultural conditioning is the reason people work harder, work for less, work under shitty conditions.

When that cool, lovable job doesn’t appear, or appears and is unfeasible to maintain for someone who’s not independently wealthy, it’s easy to see how the shame accumulates. Over the last ten years, Emma, who’s white, has attempted to break in to the information science world — what the rest of us know as librarians. When she graduated with her master’s, she was offered a full-time temp job, with the understanding that it would turn permanent “if she worked hard enough.”

“It was my dream job,” Emma explained. “I thought I was the luckiest person on earth.” But the organization went through a “leadership change” and she was strung along on temp contract after temp contract, pushing herself to her psychological and physical limits. “I worked above and beyond, putting every drop of energy I had into being the most enthusiastic, invested employee,” she said. “But the new leadership did not like me, no matter how hard I tried.”

During her repeated job searches, she experienced depression, low self-worth, intense regret about her investment in education, and a generalized lack of dignity. “I questioned every aspect of my identity,” she says. “Is it the way I talk? My hair? My clothes? My weight?”

Part of the problem was misaligned expectations: when she was getting her master’s, her professors told her that she would graduate and find a full-time position, with a $45,000 minimum salary, benefits, and the ability to immediately enroll in a public service loan forgiveness program. In practice, after numerous job searches, she’s in a job outside her field for which she’s over-educated. She’s making $32,000. Still, she feels lucky, every day, that she’s one of the few in her field who’s found full-time employment.

When Emma looks back on the last ten years, she feels cynical but grateful. “It’s always been implied that if you fail to succeed, you aren’t passionate enough,” she said. “But I no longer invest in work emotionally. It isn’t worth it. I learned that every single person is expendable. None of it is fair or based on passion or merit. I don’t have the bandwidth to play that game.”

When I hear stories like Emma’s, so similar to thousands of other millennials’, I realize all over again just how aggressively, and tirelessly, so many of us worked toward that dream job. Which is why it’s so difficult for millennials to fathom the most enduring criticism of our generation: that we’re spoiled, or lazy, or entitled. Millennials did not germinate the idea that ‘lovable work’ was the ideal, nor did we cultivate it. But we did have to deal with the reality of just how frail that idea became once exposed to the real world.

When someone says millennials are lazy, I want to ask them: Which millennials? When someone says we’re entitled, I do ask them: Who taught us we should be able to do work that we love? We were told that college would be the way to a middle-class job. That wasn’t true. We were told that passion would eventually lead to profit, or at least a sustainable job where we were valued. That also wasn’t true.

Entering into adulthood has always been about modifying expectations: of what it is and what it can provide. The difference with millennials, then, is that we’ve spent between five and twenty years doing the painful work of adjusting our expectations: recalibrating our parents’ and advisors’ very reassuring understanding of what the job market was with the realities of our own experience of it, but also arriving at a wholly utilitarian vision of what a job can and should be. For many of us, it took years in shitty jobs to understand ourselves as laborers, as workers, hungry for solidarity.

For decades, millennials have been told that we’re special — every one of us filled with potential. All we needed to do was work hard enough to transform that potential into a perfect life absent all the economic worries that defined our parents. But as boomers were cultivating and optimizing their children for work, they were also further disassembling the sort of societal, economic, and workplace protections that could have made that life possible. They didn’t spoil us so much as destroy the likelihood of our ever obtaining what they had promised all that hard work was for.

Few millennials had the wisdom to understand that as we hit the job market. Instead, we believed that if opportunities didn’t arise, it was a personal problem. We acknowledged how competitive the market was, how much lower we’d set our standards, but we were also certain that if we just worked hard enough, we’d triumph — or at least find stability, or happiness, or arrive at some other nebulous goal, even if it was increasingly unclear why we were searching for it.

We fought that losing battle for years. For many, including myself, it’s hard not to feel embarrassed about it: I settled for so little because I was certain that with enough hard work, things would be different. But you can only work as an “independent contractor” at a job paying minimum wage with no benefits while shouldering a $400-a-month loan payment — even if it’s in a field you’re “passionate” about — for so many years before realizing that something’s deeply wrong. It took burning out for many of us to arrive at this point. But the new millennial refrain of “Fuck passion, pay me” feels more persuasive and powerful every day.

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{ 1,139 comments… read them below }

  1. Loosey Goosey*

    This is amazing and so on-point for me, as an “older millenial.” Part of the problem also seems to be that the higher education system is so completely removed from the realities of the job market. Universities are happy to take students’ money, but when graduates can’t find living wage jobs in their fields, they’re on their own.

    1. It's mce w*

      Yes, I quit a master’s degree program I was in while unemployed and looking for a job because:

      1) The program was in its first year and all over the place in running it;
      2) I started applying for lower level jobs and thought the degree would keep me from being considered;
      3) I needed the money to pay bills.

      1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

        I think the best thing that ever happened to me was being rejected the first (and only) time I applied for a master’s program. I had planned to apply again for the next year, then life happened, and I felt a little defeated (and very poor) and decided not to reapply. BEST. DECISION. EVER. That’s about $60k in student loans I saved myself from, assuming I would have been able to work about 30hrs a week to cover living expenses while being in school. I was only planning to borrow the bare minimum for tuition/fees.

        I recently paid off my student loans. It took ten years, but I did it (yay!). I can’t even imagine how long it would have taken if I had a master’s degree. To be honest, in my career field, I don’t think I’d be making more money than I am now…so it wouldn’t have been worth the expense and time.

        There are times I look back and wish I had that master’s degree. It would have taken me into a more niche part of my field that I was very interested in when I was younger. It still interests me, and I think about the career-that-never-was very longingly. However, I’m one of the lucky few from my 2009 college graduating class that are actually working in our field. I think there’s 6 of us…out of 28… So there you go :/

        1. Beth*

          Hear, hear! When I left my first career, I applied to an MBA program and was rejected (partly because my working background was too iffy, partly because one of my references stabbed me in the back). I went to community college instead, got a certficate that turned out to be worhtless, took a lot of classes from TRULY wonderful teachers who taught me truly mad skillz that got me a job that led to my current career, which I entered without any new student debt load.

          I’ve never forgiven the jerk who wrote the letter of anti-recommendation, but I am forever grateful that my application was rejected. I ended up in a much better living situation as a result.

          (Useful tip: don’t assume that your letter of recommendation will never be seen by the person who asked you to write it. The university returned all three of my rec letters when they rejected my application.)

    2. Frances*

      Yep! and they hand out MLIS graduate degrees like candy, while charging $100,000 for them, which you will definitely owe after you’ve quit a fulltime job in order to do the three internships you have to do during grad school to land a job afterwards…underpaid, across the country. Older millenial librarian, here!

      1. Deborah*

        Who is charging 100k for a MLIS? I just graduated with mine for 9k. Pick a state school, be smart, and don’t apply to for-profit schools. It isn’t that hard.

        1. Not into avocado toast*

          Yeah…if you’re lucky maybe. I looked into getting my MLIS at one point. Not every school has the program, not even most. There’s one program in my entire state when I last checked a couple years ago. If you don’t have a state school that offers it, you’re SOL. And for me, the one in state school offering it, University of Washington, doesn’t accept as many in state applicants because they can make more off of out of state and international students so it’s very competitive. Even if you do manage to land a spot in the program, it’s not 9k cheap. I don’t know where or when you got your degree but I spent 9k just about to get through community college if that tells you anything.

          1. yala*

            Can’t you do online courses? I keep tossing around the idea of going for mine, and I swear I remembr looking at some that were the whole degree via online courses

            1. Not into avocado toast*

              tbh I’m not sure. I didn’t look into that because I don’t learn well in a virtual environment so online classes aren’t ideal. I much prefer the classroom setting because I’m an auditory learner so reading a textbook makes me want to lose my mind. I really do need the lecture and interactiveness that a classroom offers.

              1. yala*

                Ah, that’s fair. I’m the other way around. We took the virtual NACO course a couple years back (back when my ADHD was undiagnosed and I didn’t even have my barely-helpful meds), and while there were slides, it was primarily audio, and I wanted to CRY I was so exhausted at the end of every lecture. (It did not help that the lecturer was…not good. Like, for pity’s sake, folks, watch some film critics on youtube or something and learn to edit. You don’t need to leave in every Um and firetruck)

                That’s a much stickier spot for you then, because yeah, there aren’t a lot of colleges that offer it. :/

                (Or, judging by these comments, maybe it’s a good thing. I could be underpaid, or I could be underpaid with a master’s degree…)

                1. Ariaflame*

                  I do understand the frustration on your part, but I will note as someone in academia, we frequently do not have the time, funds, or energy to do fine editing of that sort. Even those of us who have experience in delivering online.

                  Mind you I am in a place where the costs for a degree are not nearly so high.

              2. Mrs. Smith*

                I did my entire MLS online at the University of South Florida for about $13k. FSU also has an online MLS.

            2. WA Librarian*

              Be very careful with an online MLS. The in-person ones are bad enough.

              There are about 7000 MLS granted every year for about 1500 jobs (numbers may be old.) About 700 come from San Jose State and I promise you if you have little or no library experience, and an MLS from SJSU, your application is round filed. U Dub is a good program, but you have to hit the technology hard so you have options. Reference and Archives? Another good way to stay unemployed.

              Unfortunately, only medical schools seem to be doing the right thing by limiting graduates. Law, business and librarianship degrees are way overproduced and offer little chance of a good job unless you go in with great experience.

              1. Jackalope*

                That’s unfortunate about the medical schools since we have a family physician shortage in the US. It would be nice to be able to fill some of those positions.

                1. kt*

                  The sticking point is not medical school, but residencies. Residencies are funded by Medicare, essentially, and since funds are limited, positions are limited. This is something government can fix.

                  Also, few docs want to do internal medicine or family practice when they can earn four times as much doing cardiology or dermatology.

                2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                  “few docs want to do internal medicine or family practice when they can earn four times as much doing cardiology or dermatology.”

                  Few docs can afford to do internal medicine when they have $250K in loans and spend their first few years out of school making $60K if they’re lucky.

              2. No Longer Looking*

                That depends on the business degree. There are a lot of decent-paying accounting jobs available in my area (northern IL) for someone with a BS Accounting or better. Admittedly there are a too-large percentage that want a CPA for a BS salary, but that still left plenty for me to apply to when I graduated.

          2. MLIS Student*

            This isn’t accurate about the UW library program. The MLIS program receives no state subsidy, so everyone is paying full-freight tuition and there’s no in-state preference.

        2. Southern Academic*

          I looked into an MLIS (decided to go for a PhD in a different field, don’t @ me) –– part of the reason I didn’t was that even at a state school, I was looking at 20-40K in loans (it’s been a few years, I don’t remember precisely, but it was def more than 9K), whereas my PhD is fully funded for five years.

          1. DataGirl*

            I got my MLIS at a State school and came out with about 40K in debt. Granted, part of that was because I was using student loans as my income so I took out more than needed just to pay for classes. I graduated 12 years ago and still owe apx 40K, because being poor and making minimum payments means I only paid towards interest for a long time, the balance never goes down. As for the degree itself, while I enjoyed the program and still love everything about libraries- yeah it’s been pretty useless. Library jobs rarely open up, and when one is advertised they generally have hundreds of applicants (2 library schools in my state churning out graduates means way too much local competition for jobs). Even if I could get a job as a librarian, the pay is so bad in comparison to the amount of education you have to have to get it. I work in IT now, and while it’s not my passion and I don’t love it- it pays the bills.

        3. Heather*

          I graduated with my MLIS in 2015. I went to my state school, and by the time I was done I owed $99k in student loans (undergrad and grad). After 4 years of regular payments, I now owe $106k.

      2. AnotherLibrarian*

        I went to an out of state school (and one of the best in the country) and it sure as heck wasn’t 100K. Who on earth is charging that?

      3. HarvestKaleSlaw*

        This. What you said. Argh. Who wants to go get drinks and cry into them? Oh wait. Can’t afford to buy drinks, and global pandemic….

      4. Kate*

        I got my degree online at San Jose State for less than $20k. I liked that I didn’t have to pay any additional fees there – just tuition. And it was a great program – I met people I still talk to! There are also so many scholarships you can apply for. Just wanted to give anyone who is interested in an MLIS some hope. You don’t have to go into excruciating debt to be a librarian.

        1. Ketiana*

          That’s what I love about SJSU! Just started the program and I’m excited about the technology courses since I’m focused more on the information science part of the program and want to land a non traditional library job.

      5. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        $100K for an MLIS? Wow – where?

        I went to private school for that ten years ago and it was around $30K or a litte more, though I think it was under 30K for me due to having a previous masters. I think it’s somewhat under $40K now.

      6. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        Don’t take this a diss – the library field is surely brutal. But the key to making use of an MLIS is what else you bring to it. That might be very specialized knowledge in other fields – really essential to become and academic librarian.

        But from what I saw among my classmates getting an MLIS ten years ago, perhaps most important was being “entrepreneurial” I don’t mean that in a business sense, but being good at talking about projects and things they accomplished. And being good at the intersection of librarianship and other fields/skills. Interested in design, management, technology, user experience, digital preservation with an eye toward dramatic outreach and/or monetization of collections. Or, if you want to work in a public library and it’s a very well-run system, with extensive experience in customer service. The head of one of a nearby public library systems said was really looking for people with an MLIS who has a strong background in the hospitality business, such as customer facing roles in hotels.

        And being willing to move.

        This is in an around a big city – and some of my classmates had to move to get jobs. But just today one of my classmates tweeted recollections how he went immediately to a new job in a paying field (user experience) right out of school.

        The library field is brutal. I think an MLIS can be a useful degree in information management outside libraries. I don’t think it’s worth going into debt for, but to me it seems a pretty good graduate degree – useful and not that expensive. I paid for my own and don’t regret it in the least.

        I have another graduate degree in an academic discipline which would have been terrible to pay for – not useful except in academia, which is also brutal. But I was fortunate to have the school pay me, since I was ostensibly contributing to human knowledge. LOL.

        I’m a little older than millennials and had no debt from college. So no debt in my three degrees. That’s essential.

      7. Nerdbrarian*

        Oh wow, yes. Elder millenial here and I’ve been a school librarian for a dozen years. I had to quit my first school district because of a toxic workplace and after 6 months and a job in government, I got back to the school library. I am so so so lucky to have this job. But I’ll never pay off my loans and the promised retierment of boomers opening the flood gate for new librarians never happened.

    3. Ali G*

      I think Alison has discussed this – the other problem is that academics only have academia as a reference. As students we think our professors know everything, but we should take career advice from them. Unless you want to pursue a PhD or the like, students need access to professionals outside academia for career advice. Otherwise the answer is always get a master/phd when it’s probably not needed nor even a good idea.

      1. Librarian*

        I agree with you on not solely counting on academics for career advice, but you do have to get a graduate degree to be a professional librarian, and better salaries are gated behind that title typically. I’m not indicating that it is a smart degree to get though as I think it is very hit or miss as to whether it will pay off in the end.

        1. yala*

          After 3 years in a row with no raise (and the US starting to, well…implode), I keep tossing around the idea of trying to go for mine so I can get better wages than just a Library Tech. I don’t really know what I’d do with it though–I’d almost certainly have to move.

          My mom’s even offered to help pay for it and keeps insisting it would get me a better job, but I point out that a lot of that work is already being done by, well. People like me. Even if it used to be just for librarians.

          I dunno. It’s pretty much my only option that I see tho.

          1. FutureLibrarianNoMore*

            I feel like I’m being the debbie downer of this thread, but I saw so many of our library techs when I still worked in the system go to get their MLIS. They are still either library techs or assistants. They can’t find a job, even being *in* the system.

            I moved 1200 miles to take my job post grad school. That’s with roughly a decade of experience in and out of libraries, museums, etc. I quit a little over two years ago and now work private sector, making even less money. For me personally, I’d do it all over again because if the job hadn’t brought me here, I’d never have met my now-husband. I told him he’s worth at least $50k in student loan debt lol.

            1. yala*

              Yeah, the odds…don’t look great, tbh. But for me, I’m fortunate enough that I’d probably be able to get through it without too much of a student loan.

              And honestly, much as I love living near my family and my best friend, I can’t see living here for the rest of my life (among other things, the dating pool here is…shallow and fished out, and I really would like to get married at SOME point), so having a degree might give me an actual opportunity TO move. But then, from the sound of it, those opportunities might be in communities even smaller than mine, so…ugh.

              Why does it have to be such a mess.

            2. datamuse*

              Academic librarian here and we’ve definitely had tech services staff with MLISes. They’re also increasingly doing work that used to be the province of librarians in part because of the tools we have now (we’re an Alma-Primo shop as of this summer) and in part because librarians at my U are faculty and have those responsibilities as part of our regular duties. If you’re really passionate about the technical and resource management work that’s less public-facing and really aren’t into trying to produce research and sit on committees and all the rest of it, then going for the staff position makes sense in that kind of environment. I wish the pay was commensurate with the skill set.

              I was able to get an MLIS without going into debt, and I’m honestly not sure I’d have done it otherwise.

          2. Librarian beyond the Shelves We Know*

            If you go into the degree, you have to remember that you may have to move for a job. That’s the #1 piece of advice I give all potential LIS students, because there are a lot of jobs in some areas that aren’t being filled and then waaaay too many applicants for some jobs in other areas for spots that don’t open very often. My region tends to have a harder time getting qualified applicants*, so we get extremely excited whenever we do and try to snap them up.

            *This doesn’t mean years of experience – just that you know your stuff and are excited about the job. We have hired new grads over long-term librarians, because they just know what they’re doing and are raring to do it. We’ve hired long-term librarians over new grads, because they know what they’re doing and want to do it more and better. Just know your stuff for the job you apply for. :)

        2. Unpopular opinion*

          Alternatively, the author might realize that being a librarian is simply not a lucrative career — and that if you’re after a big salary, you should go into the for-profit business world.

          To be sure, I’m not saying “don’t be a librarian”; I’m saying you should be aware of the tradeoffs it entails.

          1. Metadata minion*

            There’s a difference between “this is not a lucrative career” and “you will end up in hideous amounts of debt with very little chance of getting a full-time job without being willing to move across the country”. Librarianship pays shamefully low given how much education is required for it, but it doesn’t pay *that* poorly as salaries go. Nobody goes into librarianship to strike it rich, but it would be nice to be able to recommend that someone go into librarianship as something that they will enjoy and be good at, and have that be a way one could expect to make a reasonable living.

          2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            It’s not about a big salary. It’s about training for a career that you have little chance of being successful at getting into, because the job you think you are going for is effectively unobtainable. And most of the time you don’t find that out until you’ve already invested far too much time and money.

            I went into archaeology. I knew from the start that it wouldn’t be lucrative, but I’m not especially motivated by money and I wanted to spend my life doing something that I liked. So I expected that I’d have a pretty modest life and I was OK with that.

            What I didn’t expect was that I would find it impossible to find a steady job, and not from lack of trying or lack of skill or laziness or any of that. Rather, the job that I thought I was working toward was a myth, but because I have the skill set that I have I’m now trapped on a merry-go-round of fixed-term contracts with the same companies, over and over.

            1. No Longer Looking*

              Always remember that the word-famous archaeologist Dr Jones was a professor as his side-hustle, and we all know how well teaching pays. ;)

              1. Mia*

                I’ve heard certain critics slam “Dr Jones” for his alleged tomb looting. My answer is “Have you ever seen how little teaching pays? A mans’ gotta eat.”. I usually laugh, they rarely do :P.

          3. Corporate librarian here*

            I highly recommend the corporate library world if (BIG IF) you can find a job in a corporate library. Not so demanding that you have MLIS (I do), often pay better than public. When I retire will probably hire a tech to replace me.

        1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

          I think that’s true in some cases. Many of my professors in college were towards the end of their working lives and decided to go into academics before retiring. Several of them taught part-time and still had working practices outside of academics. I feel like their career advice was pretty good.

          However, that’s probably an exception to the rule. One had been an architect for years, one was still a practicing architect, and another had been in code enforcement. The nice thing about the one who was still working was that we would have field trips to his job sites.

          1. MissGirl*

            I think a lot if professors know the truth about the real world but they can’t tell you the truth and keep their jobs. None of my awesome journalism professors told me the hard facts but they knew.

            After all, they can’t have us all dropping out.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              At one point there was a retired teacher in my life who took a seasonal job at a mall store.

              What happened next was about what you would expect. Total shock, total disbelief, “This is what kids go through with their jobs????” She had one story after another of the things that happened. She made many missteps of course because of not being familiar with the arena. And as we all know most of these jobs are unfair to the employees, she was wildly surprised by just how unfair these jobs are. So it goes.
              The profs who actually worked in the arena were the best, they were the most grounded.

          2. My Soapbox*

            I had one college professor announce IN CLASS that they became a college professor because their parents paid for the schooling and they didn’t want to work 40 hours a week. And another (again during class) announced they didn’t like it in the “real” world so went back to college.

            These were upper level courses.

            I have a Business degree.

            1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              I mean, I also went into academia because I really liked the supposed lifestyle. I didn’t want a 9-5 job and I wanted to have time to travel and do research and I valued having more time for my own pursuits over a high salary.

              What I wasn’t told is that getting a tenure-track job that actually affords those things is like hitting the lottery. Even going to a top 10 school for my field, I ended up doing a mixture of temp jobs and adjuncting to cobble together a very hard existence after finishing my PhD (which itself was 9 years of living in poverty).

              I pivoted away from academia a few years out of grad school. I’m now several years into a corporate job and I *still* wish I had more time to myself, but I do appreciate not living at the poverty level.

              1. bleh*

                This. And it’s mostly because the lack of funding for education (higher ed, K-12, you name it) means that Unis hire adjunct labor for very low pay and high teaching loads to keep the bills paid and tuition low (low in comparison to costs – many state schools literally have caps on how much they can raise tuition, regardless of how much the statue funding gets cut). If we valued education as a society, then we would pay for it as a society – not just rich kids going to “good” schools.

                1. Captain Raymond Holt*

                  Exactly. I have my MA in a liberal arts subject that every school teaches. I work full time in Corporate America and adjunct half time at a small liberal arts college. Our department had four tenured/tenure track faculty and two quit in one year. They’ve replaced those courses with adjuncts, not TT faculty. Why would we hire more PhD faculty when we can just get some adjuncts and not pay them a living wage for the area?

            2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              You cannot succeed in academia at the moment not working really hard. No way. If you’re not hustling, you don’t publish enough. And teaching (as an adjust or lower level prof) does not pay enough unless y0u teach a lot.

            3. pancakes*

              I had at least one law professor who’d basically never worked as a lawyer — he’d been a student all of his adult life with the exception of 6 months or so working in public interest law, which probably isn’t long enough to take on much more meaningful responsibilities than students participating in clinics take on. (I had half a dozen clients in my year-length clinic). I found it hard to respect him at the time and I find it even harder looking back now. It’s insulting that the school is paying him a six-figure salary (and a layer of admins in support) while hiring recent grads to stuff envelopes in the career counseling office to juice their stats on the number of graduates employed. There are so many people making their livings on the backs of students who can’t the afford massive debts they’re taking on. It’s parasitic.

            4. Elsie*

              I have a PhD and in my field, working in academia is way more intense than working outside academia. Most professors in my field work 70-80 hours a week and it’s nearly impossible to get a grant and establish yourself as a junior researcher. I have one friend who has been a postdoc for the past four years because she hasn’t been able to get a grant. Although I enjoy research, I left academia because of the lack of work life balance and pressure to always find money to fund your research and salary. I’m always surprised when I hear people talk about academia like it is some idyllic easy job. Maybe in some fields I guess but definitely not in my experience. I think it’s actually not the right fit for most people unless you honestly love your work so much that you want to work around the clock and you can handle the uncertainty of not knowing whether you will continue to obtain grants to fund yourself and any staff that work for you

          3. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            Several of my professors in library school were like this. The MLIS is a professional degree and they were either working outside school or deeply connected to the working world.

          4. datamuse*

            That sort of scenario is what adjuncting was originally for. My father taught computer science college courses toward the end of his career as a programmer, simply because he wanted to (he didn’t need the money, and the college wanted him because his skill set was rather unusual). Of course, what we have now is a professoriate that’s mostly adjuncting and term-by-term contracts, which sucks.

      2. L*

        I agree with Ali G. I’m a librarian, and have been in the field for close to fifteen years. I have yet to reach the professional level that my academic advisor stated I’d be able to join straight out of library school.

        1. Cafe au Lait*

          I’ve pretty much given up ever finding a librarian position in my area. I’ve gotten close, twice. I work in a library, doing librarian type stuff, so I’m using my degree. The librarian-staff divide is huge, and I resent doing similar type of work and being paid $15,000 less for the privilege.

          1. yala*

            That’s so wild to me, because both the libraries I worked at, librarians make considerably more. My BFF is a librarian and makes about double what I make.

        2. throwaway123*

          Agree also. I left the library field last year. It got to the point where I noticed people with the same skills sets, but different titles were making almost double. I was lucky enough to transition into a new field a new job title and use similar skills in my last position.

          1. Library lifer*

            I’m feeling this comment deeply and looking to leave the field myself. Mind sharing where you were able to take your skills? I’m having trouble getting other fields to see what I can do, meanwhile in the library I do it all so there’s a disconnect I need to bridge.

            1. Sleepy Tech*

              Seconding this… I’m in a library as well, would love any insight on roles that have overlapping skillsets but aren’t so oversaturated. (Also, the way my employer has been handling COVID? Not ideal.)

              1. JoSimple*

                I work in a large bank (that you’ve likely never heard of), and we have a ‘reference team’ that we can email and ask for research into basically anything (mostly finance related but I got the impression that they were happy to do whatever if they weren’t super busy). I remember thinking that it seemed like a fantastic job – just research and writing (very short) papers all day.

                Is that an overlapping skillset? I imagined that it was but just now realising it might not be . . . Anyway, if it is, probably most banks have a team like that.

              2. Susie*

                I got into commercial insurance, which is a very interesting field that has a lot of overlap if you’re in a support position. But then I specialized even further into surety bonds. I get to research things and work with bits of contract law, accounting, risk management, etc. while helping people get what they need.

                After several years of unemployment I realized that library jobs and library-adjacent jobs were always going to be extremely competitive in my area and I wasn’t likely to get one. So I checked the job boards in my area to see if any particular industry was consistently hiring. Insurance jobs were always plentiful, paid moderately well, had benefits and a pension plan, and didn’t require insurance-specific knowledge to get your foot in the door.

            2. Future Former Librarian*

              I was actually planning to post about this in the Friday thread tomorrow to see if anybody has good ideas about alternate careers for librarians who want to leave the field.

              1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

                Here are fields in which an MLIS is useful outside libraries: records management, digital asset management, content management and strategy, front-end web/app development, user experience and information architecture, information management, business and fundraising research.

              2. Symplicite*

                I would also suggest a Business Analyst role. Typically, you are asking questions, facilitating groups of people, and documenting responses. It’s not quite the same as what librarians are trained in library school to do, but I have found it useful to augment the more reference-like aspects of librarianship to the role.

                I spent about $15k CAD on library school 10 years ago, and about 40k CAD for the undergraduate degree. What those above have said about librarian positions in Canada is accurate, which is why I’ve stayed away from library positions, and more finance/project management.

              3. tomato plant*

                According to the Department of Labor, Curators and Archivists are jobs that require similar education and skillsets as Librarians, and are fields that are expected to grow.

                1. Curator*

                  Lol. No, they are not in reality. For decades, the Department of Labor has also been stating that the Librarian job cluster is expected to grow because it assumes that people will retire and jobs will be filled. The market is even more saturated, because there are fewer jobs and more paths. Libraries are the fall back for some archivists.

                  For librarian positions, the MLIS has to be from an ALA-accredited institution. For curator and archivist positions, the path includes the MLIS path, Public History, and Art History as well as STEM for those working at zoos or science museums. This means even more applicants and often less pay because SAA and AAM don’t advocate that well for those professions. Additionally, most jobs are project and term oriented. That means more fewer benefits.

                  Also, businesses post jobs with those titles without understanding what those positions do. For example, I’ve seen minimum wage jobs at hotels listed as customer curator positions. Or IT positions with archivist job titles because that industry thinks that archive just means save stuff on a backup server. So I think that the Department of Labor is using these incorrect job titles in their analysis.

      3. char*

        I’m eternally grateful for my college thesis advisor who saw that I didn’t seem to have any goals that would require a master’s and therefore advised me not to go to graduate school. That advice probably saved me from years of debt and misery.

      4. AcadLibrarian*

        Another librarian here.(GenX) We were promised all the boomers would retire. But they didn’t. So you have to be willing to move anywhere for a job. Also, who pays $100k for a MLS? Mine only cost $35k.

        1. jonquil*

          Prior generations not retiring is huge– in many fields there is no room for younger workers to move up and there is no succession plan, folks are just holding on. And I don’t really blame Baby Boomers for this individually– I think it’s sort of the other side of some of the same forces Anne Helen Peterson points to as driving the millennial generation to burnout. It’s hard to stop working when you got caught up in the mortgage crisis or lost your retirement savings in a stock market crash or you were the first generation in your field not to have a pension, etc. A lot of us young Gen X and millennials are hitting our heads on all kinds of glass ceilings out here.

          1. Reba*

            And where people do retire, in many cases their position doesn’t then become available for a younger cohort to move into — the role is eliminated or reconfigured into lower-level or contract work, or in academia, adjunct.

          2. soon to be former fed really*

            Thanks you for saying this jonquil. Many of us baby boomers want to retire but just can’t without risking poverty. The mortgage crisis killed my finances.

        2. char*

          I feel like there’s another piece to the story here where boomers were promised a comfortable retirement, but many now are finding themselves unable to afford to retire.

          Sometimes this is framed as a boomers vs. millennials conflict, but honestly, I think the real conflict is the working class and middle class (regardless of generation) vs. the elite.

          1. Librarian*

            This is so true (and also AcadLibrarian is speaking truth as well). I’ve managed to move up to a management librarian position (I’m late Gen-X) and I supervise professional librarians who are my parents’ age (think late 60s, early 70s). I highly doubt they really wanted to work this long, but there are so many paraprofessionals in our system with MLIS degrees just chomping at the bit for the professional positions. Let’s just hope the positions aren’t eliminated or downgraded when they do retire…

            1. schnauzerfan*

              Late boomer almost gen-x librarian here. I’d retire in a minute but I’m a little too young for medicare and I can’t be without the insurance… and yeah, when I go I expect they won’t fill my job with an MLS librarian.

        3. Mil*

          Who pays $100k? People who went to college two decades after you, GenX. If you’re going to act like young people are stupid for being subject to the passage of time, just go ahead and call yourself a Boomer.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            For real. I’m Gen X; my undergrad degree was affordable without ludicrous loans. I took a few years out and decided to go to grad school. The fees were exponentially higher just a few years later. It’s part of why I decided to to go the UK for my PhD — even accounting for the whole moving to another country thing at the time it was a third of the cost of going to my first choice school in the US. And that was the University of Kansas.

          2. datamuse*

            This. I’m Gen X as well and I think a lot of people my age don’t realize how much more expensive college has gotten since our day (and it wasn’t cheap then, either).

          3. Librarian beyond the Shelves We Know*

            Yeah. I’m a young Gen X (last year or two, depending on who you ask) who was a non-traditional master’s student. I couldn’t afford to go right away after undergrad — and then had to keep saving and saving as costs increased. Not everyone can pick up and move to get a lower-cost degree, and the online-only degrees are still fairly new (and many are still quite expensive). And even then, I was a traditional undergrad student and came out buried in loans, even though I had a full-tuition scholarship. Room and board (even on campus) isn’t a joke, and books were (and increasingly are more so) ridiculously overpriced. We need to quit pretending that this hasn’t been going on for some time, increasing college costs at all levels and pay not keeping up with cost of living increases.

        4. TardyTardis*

          Boomers would love to retire. But Boomers are paying for the nursing home care of their parents, still helping their kids, and many lost their homes and retirements in 2008. Plus, SS and Medicare may disappear, and we will have to work till we die. Oh, and we’re told we should die to save the economy. Whee!

      5. MP*

        The other issue is that there is such huge survivor’s bias in all the advice. Yes, that advice worked for them, but there are ten people it didn’t work for and you don’t hear their advice/story (until it’s too late).

      6. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        One of the greatest highlights of my life, was when my husband was applying to faculty jobs. Faculty, you see, have to apply through the same applicant tracking system as everyone else. He was so frustrated submitting his resume through it!

        I was like, welcome to what I’ve been doing since forever. See why I hate it so much?

    4. Sue*

      The economics of higher education have changed so drastically since I was a student, it’s kind of heartbreaking. I went to a good small college and great law school for what would now be considered very very little money. I loved my years of liberal arts education and was raised to believe it had an overall benefit, not just job training. It hurts to see these schools suffering when I had such an exceptional experience.
      But my children have gone the same route and the cost is extraordinary, $70,000+/year. I think our education system is in need of some comprehensive change and I have no answers, just sadness for the losses I see ahead. And an even deeper sadness for those taking on huge debt and then facing bleak job prospects.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My very good friend and I have debated this point.
        She feels it’s important to be well-rounded; conversant in a variety of subjects.
        I believe that having food and shelter are important.

        But I land on, if a person/institution/other entity accepts money from a student and promises a better future for that person THEN that person/institution/other entity had darn well make sure that the individual has enough training to get a decent job right away.
        Either stop saying that people will have a better future OR make sure that every person actually does have a better future.

        I have to shake my head at the disconnect though. If people take out loans for tuition, and they cannot pay the loan back. This is not a long term plan for any school. It’s so obvious but for some reason TPTB don’t see it.

        It’s not lost on me that with all the protests in the 60s to make classes relevant the classes were still not relevant by the time I got there a decade later. I finished in the early 2000’s with decades of real life experience under my belt. I cannot count the number of times I said, “I can’t believe they are teaching our younger people X or Y. That is not how it works out in real life…”

        1. LTL*

          To be honest, I blame employers more than universities. So many of these degree requirements are meaningless. It’s just a lazy way to filter applicants and says nothing about how qualified a person really is.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            That, too.

            I read one article where the writer put out the idea that employers ask for degrees just so they know the candidate can read and write.
            Ya know, this explanation made sense to me.

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          “She feels it’s important to be well-rounded; conversant in a variety of subjects.
          I believe that having food and shelter are important.”
          I’m pretty sure the most successful people combine both. If you’re two narrow, you’re just a cog and there are a million cogs out there.

          My favorite professor in library school put it this way: You’d better be reading a daily newspaper (online is OK) so you are well-rounded and understand other worlds such as business and public affairs. If you just know the details of librarianship you can’t get a good library job. The world is too competitive for that.

      2. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I agree. Education is so important and valuable to me, and I wish it was valued and funded as a (free or close to it) public good. States have been slashing university budgets for decades, and the only way to make up that revenue is more programs and more students getting more degrees they don’t need.

    5. MissGirl*

      I think the problem might also be with the older millennials and gen X is that we’re the first generation in a lot of our families to get degrees and move into the white-collar world. Parents who saw college as the way to better-paying and less back-breaking work encouraged school as THE dream. They didn’t know and couldn’t teach us that some jobs pay better than others, that some debt is NOT worth it despite what the colleges tell you.

      I had that attitude when I got my first degree in print journalism and as was shocked to realized how little I would be paid and how little I would ever be paid. My brothers in construction with no degrees did much better.

      When I went back to get my MBA and a new career, I was far more critical of what I would study and focused on the what paid well and I would like and if not love. I went to school with mostly younger, wealthy kids just starting out. They had a much better idea than I did of what jobs paid and how to get them.

      I don’t blame my parents. They wanted better for me but didn’t know what to teach me beyond work hard (thank you to them for that). I blame the educators who have no idea what the real world is like and how to actually educated us for that. And don’t sit down and tell us the reality of what getting a job is really going to be like.

      1. Noblepower*

        +100 – I am Gen X and the first generation in my family to attend college. Like MissGirl, my brother did not attend college and I make at least $35,000 a year less than he does, probably more.

        I also don’t blame my parents, who thought that working hard, having passion for that work, and getting a college degree simply had to be the holy grail that would lead me to success and financial security.

        I do have passion for my work, and I work hard, but I have paid the price repeatedly for working in the nonprofit sector where “good” employees are passionate, dedicated and loyal, but upper management is held to the usual standard of looking at us all as 100% replaceable cogs in the wheel.

        1. Mil*

          One thing I don’t see discussed enough is that those well-paying no-college-required jobs are overwhelmingly male. Yes, a woman *can* make it in construction, just like a librarian *can* find a livable wage, but it’s not common enough to function as a viable option for most people. Women without college degrees tend to work in much less lucrative fields like retail and customer service.

          1. AuroraLight37*

            Yep. My maternal grandfather insisted that all of his daughters were going to get a college degree, because he knew that the jobs they could get without them wouldn’t pay a decent wage even back then. His mother was widowed young and really struggled to put food on the table and keep the family together because she didn’t have much education. Grandpa always said a boy could go out and get a construction job or something with a high-school degree and do fine, but nobody was hiring women for trades like that.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Not all parents sold college as “the path to jobs”. Mine wanted us to go for the bigger experience–my dad came from a long line of social climbers, but my mom was first-generation college grad whose parents just wanted her to get a job closed to home, get married, and pop out grandkids, and she didn’t want that to be the impetus for our college choices. They wanted us to graduated, but after that they didn’t care what we did. I started my post-college “career” cleaning dog kennels and they never complained to me about it so, even though I did move on to a job that does use my B.A., I believe they would have been fine with it if I’d chosen something that didn’t, as long as I could feed myself.

        1. Anella*

          commenting for the book.

          It’s a really interesting topic. Older generations worked as an obligation but their money went further with single job households. It’s interesting to hear different perspectives.

      3. OhGee*

        ^^^^^^^^^^ 100% this. My parents didn’t go to college and they also didn’t really have a great handle on finances. They would have been right to insist that I go to a state school, and instead I went private all the way.

      4. Quill*

        My mom’s generation (youngest boomers) is pretty split now in how well they’re doing, and it more or less comes down to college, though that could be because most of my relatives who never went got jobs where an injury or illness can end your career and the country has been playing union whack-a-mole for forty years.

        Still stings when they’re like “you’re nearly 30 SOMEONE should have hired you for a real job by now,” and I’m like no, the things that you need to get one of those in my field are to either have been born before 1980 or some sort of independent wealth. I’m not aging up into “maybe they’ll hire me” there’s just an ever expanding pool of temporary workers.

      5. char*

        Yes, this. My father always emphasized how important it was for me to go to college. His experience has always been that not having a degree severely limits his job prospects. So to him, any cost for a degree for me seemed worth it. So my parents and I both happily put ourselves into debt so that I could go to a great (but expensive) college. Grants and scholarships covered the majority of the cost, but even so, the remainder was a significant cost for my family.

        But my experience has been night and day with my father’s. After I graduated, I couldn’t find anything other than occasional temp work for years. I finally – through sheer luck – stumbled upon a job that I enjoy and that pays decently, but it has nothing to do with the field I studied in college and doesn’t require a degree at all. Meanwhile, my college debt has been a yoke around my neck since I graduated; often my monthly loan payments were higher than my monthly income.

        Do I think my parents were wrong to advise me to go to college? Nope. I do wish I’d gone to a cheaper one… but even then, I don’t think I could ever have gone without taking on some debt. Honestly, the lesson I take from this is that – degree or no degree – the system is going to find a way to screw over working-class and middle-class people one way or another.

        1. SadSongs*

          I had almost the identical experience. Dad’s lack of a ‘name’ degree held him back – being (wicked) smart helped him, but dumb guys with big-name degrees were always doing better. So he was determined to make sure his kids got a big-name degree. As it turned out, the lower-level management jobs he had were better than anything any of his kids got.

          It wasn’t his fault- every generation tries to do right by their kids, but every generation is preparing them for a world that’s already gone. He didn’t understand that the name degrees are good for getting you a high-paid job right out of college, but only if you are going into some really specific things like management consulting or hedge funds — and for those, you really need to know the right people or at least know how to break into those fields — and we didn’t. We loved college and got great grades, but we spent it socializing with other working-class and middle-class scholarship kids who loved learning for its own sake, who also didn’t have a clue how to get hired by Goldman or McKinsey – or even that we *could* get those jobs. Most of us wound up in jobs that we could have gotten just as easily with a state-school degree. Some of us even doubled down and made it worse, looking at the amazing, secure, life of the mind our college professors enjoyed and thinking that we could have that too, with enough excellence.

          If I had just gone to the hometown State U, I would have missed out on an amazing college experience and small class sizes and wonderful friends – but I also would have missed out on what is coming up on twenty years of paying student loans every month. I don’t know if it was worth it – it would be hard to give up those great years, but being worried every month about making ends meet in middle age is no joke.

        2. 2QS*

          Same here. Went to the expensive big name college. Had amazing time; also accrued much student debt. Parents said I’d get any job I applied for with those credentials. Graduated in 2009. Offered all of two jobs. One didn’t pay enough to live on. Other (which I took) featured an abusive boss. Quit, racked up more debt until I figured out a part-time thing the next year.

        3. Katie*

          I think the other problem too is that the workforce and higher ed have such conflicting goals and degrees aren’t as prestigious as they used to be because lots of people now have them. Higher ed = our education will get you a job! Workforce = the market is now saturated so we are going to require a master’s degree for a poverty-level-paying, entry-level job! There needs to be major paradigm shifts in both cultures.

        4. TardyTardis*

          But then, men’s jobs are still different than women’s jobs–if a woman can a job it’s obviously so easy that anybody can do it and paid accordingly. Teachers without unions are paid dirt because clearly, taking care of children is so easy, right? (the only exceptions people make are for shop, physics, chemistry etc. because so many men teach them).

      6. Not So NewReader*

        Boomer here. My “greatest generation parents” thought the same. Go to college and your future is secure.
        But my parents were lower than ZERO on the helpful scale when it came to job settings.

        Work hard and you will get promoted.
        No, work hard and someone else will get promoted because they need you to stay put.
        Pick a good company and stay with it for the rest of your life.
        Really? So I can end up as unhappy as you are with your employer???

        I’d ask them questions about how to find a job and they consistently said, “I dunno.” Shortly after that, “How come you don’t have a job yet?”The disconnect going on there was the size of the Grand Canyon.

        I saw a lot of time and energy is wasted in finger pointing- the teachers should do more, the parents should do more and back and forth the arguing went.

        Reality is that it takes a village. It takes everyone putting in their best effort at all times. This is a small example, but it is really typical of what I saw. No one ever taught me about checking accounts, how to balance a check book, etc. The excuses were, “Parents teach that!” and “Teachers teach that!” So nobody taught it. This in my mind is pretty lame.
        This is one example. I have many examples and it sends a message. “Our agenda is more important than actually equipping you with tools you will need in life.”

      7. Run Shaker*

        Same for me. My parents didn’t go to college but saw it as important. They also had no experience with employers & how the corporate world worked. My dad only worked for one employer, state government job & mom mostly stayed home/worked at school cafeteria. I started noticing my senior year that professors had no idea about outside world. I was already working corporate job. I changed majors a few times in undergrad due to realizing the low salary.

      8. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Where many who didn’t go to college steer the younger generation wrong is their lack of knowledge about the work force above what they see on the surface.

        My Boomer parents never did push college only because it was expensive and they’re frugal AF. They don’t believe in debt, unless it’s a very management mortgage because they can see a house and see the “value” in that house/land.

        But they are very unaware of what “office jobs” require, they just knew that they did not want me to be a labor line-worker like they were. My mom straight up told me “No, you can’t work with my at my job. Go find something that uses your brain, not your body.”

        So the good news is that I didn’t have a lot of debt because school was off the option table for me! The bad news was that I had to find a way to boot-strap it. Dumb luck was on my side, I knew someone, who knew someone who liked me and took me on as an assistant. They saw my potential and they jumped on it because it made their job easier in the end.

        I don’t blame parents either. They’re just as snowed as the rest of us. They are trying their hardest and truly want the best in the end. They just buy into false promises just the same as the starry eyed college age kids!

        I too blame our eroded educational system. They’re hungry for students and they’re in a different world all their own, academia is a weird land that I’m still confused about even as I dip a toe into a college degree at a later age.

        Much like medicine, the academics structure loves tradition and hates change in a lot of ways. It’s a lot of “Well that’s how it was for ME, so now you suffer too!” Eek.

        1. TardyTardis*

          But your parents were also right in a way, because waitresses, construction workers and retail workers pay in pain for every decade in those jobs. Nurse’s aides are usually out by 50 because their backs are done. Those physical jobs come at a cost that maybe you don’t know about.

      9. Broke(n)Millennial*

        Are we the same person? I got a journalism degree because I was passionate about it, but I graduated in 2010 when the economy was broken, print journalism still hadn’t figured out how to shift to digital, and I would’ve made $30k MAYBE. I ultimately figured out how to parlay my comms skills into marketing and got my MBA. All of my classmates were wealthy, connected, and knew the game, so I was at a huge disadvantage but figured it out. I don’t blame my parents, and it really vexes me when people blame me/millennials. I was 18 when I chose a degree. I had no financial literacy (parents/school didn’t teach me), the thought of “business school” had never crossed my mind, the word “business” would never have been uttered in our household, and I was sold an impossible dream. Sigh… I could go on and on.

        1. natter*

          YES. In my senior year of high school, a classmate announced she wanted to be an engineer, and I had no idea what that meant. My mother had her GED, my father managed a restaurant. We knew nobody in the professional strata. Engineer was a job I’d literally never heard of before.

          Now, as an adult, my teenage naiveté feels astounding. But that was the same time I was making decisions like what colleges to apply to and what majors to pick! Decisions that would follow me the rest of my life. And my parents were utterly lost, they had no idea how to help me. They just figured any kind of degree would give me a leg up over them.

          Kids who come from that background with terms like “engineer” already obvious and instilled are so many miles ahead.

          1. Tired of Covid*

            Schools are major failures in this regard. Counselors in high school should be exposing students to a wide range of careers. Heck, my junior high had a career day!

    6. JohannaCabal*

      And the growth of online colleges, some of them shady, all too willing to take money knowing their students will graduate into mounting debt.

      I personally have an in-law who immigrated here and works for a big box retailer. He got an MBA from a certain online school named after a SW city. And he still works for the big box store. I think he’s moved into management but I worry that his degree that he’s so proud of will hold him back, especially if he tries to leave.

    7. Wired Wolf*

      @ Loosey: Exactly. Some degree programs in higher ed are so specialized that especially now it’s hard to find a “real job” and career counseling isn’t. I’m starting to think I was actually lucky when my college decided to nix the degree path I was on since I was able to jump to something else (and keep learning in both). Ultimately I wound up in something not in either field less than I wanted. Did/do I love it? No. Do I see it as a path to what I actually want? Yes, because my skills are recognized and I’m flexible.

    8. Mask up!*

      I was able to get my highly prestigious MFA without going into too much debt, but I’ve not made one red cent from it. Not directly, anyway. It sometimes impresses people in my totally unrelated field.

      1. PeanutButter*

        My BA in fine arts has come in handy in the most unexpected ways at the most unexpected times, but yeah…never made money solely off of it.

    9. lemon*

      So true. I’m actually grateful that when I was seriously considering graduate school for the humanities, every professor I asked for advice told me not to do it, because I’d never get a job, and I could be making so much more money doing pretty much anything else. At the time, it felt like gatekeeping by a bunch of old white dudes, but… I have financial stability for the first time in my life during the worst crisis in recent history so… yeah, I’m feeling really grateful that I didn’t pursue my passion at the sake of financial security.

    10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Or when graduates can’t find even a non-living wage job in their field. So they try to go into retail because EVERYONE says you can “GET A MC-JOB INSTEAD” but you know what, McDonald’s doesn’t even hire everyone who applies. How do I know? Because I know people who couldn’t get jobs there or Target or Walmart or whatever other place we pretend just hands out jobs if you show up and try to wear their vest!

      1. Angelina*

        I am in the UK. People say that here too. Most of the retail jobs here tend to be part time and shift work. And like you say if they have other applicants who have experience someone just looking for a stop gap will not be hired.

    11. mreasy*

      I’m on the cusp of being a millennial, at 40, and I remember the most expensive private college I looked at was something like $31K/year. I was looking at selective, relatively prestigious schools, and I ended up going to one whose tuition was still around $25K/year, and I was lucky to have some scholarships. But if I had gone to the priciest school on my list, and paid full price, I would have had maximum $120K in loans. The school I went to 20 years ago (it’s my reunion next year) is now sticker priced at $75K per year!! People make a bachelor’s degree a requirement for almost every job, and they expected young people with mid six figures in debt to accept bad wages, no benefits, and long hours without complaining or else they’re “entitled”! It’s ABSURD.

    12. Dee Mentor*

      “If you’ve traded money for labor at any time in the last 15 years, you will like this book.”

      Gen X here. We have a housekeeper, lawn care service. When the children were younger, we had an after school nanny and lots of summer camps.

      I do wonder if we were sold an impossible dream to have two parents working full-time while putting our children in all sorts of activities.

      And, don’t even get me started on how the title of this book claims to be for Millennials (only). As if Millennials are the only ones experiencing burnout or career disappointment. Thank you Alison for saying this: “If you’ve traded money for labor at any time in the last 15 years, you will like this book.”
      (This tells me that Alison is Gen X, or at least an Oregon Trail Generation.)

      1. Future Former Librarian*

        I’m not trying to be disrespectful here, but you’re displaying a lot of anger at the idea that millennials could have a uniquely difficult career experience. At the same time, you’re telling us that you have a housekeeper and once had a nanny, while many millennials I know don’t even have kids yet because we can’t afford to put them in daycare. That does seem to indicate a pretty wide difference in experiences.

    13. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      Universities are run by people with tenure and union protections who don’t have to worry about pink slips at every turn in the road. Many of those people are so privileged with secure employment and benefits that they’ve become clueless. Head in the clouds.

      1. SadSongs*

        That was probably the case for most of us, when we got degrees. But higher ed has shifted radically. The vast majority of classes in the US are now taught by adjuncts. Think of them like basically Task Rabbiters with PhDs. They get a flat fee of anything from $1000-5000 to teach an undergrad class for a full semester – lecture, advise, plan the curriculum, grade, etc. – no benefits, no office, no security. People hang on for years like this, living in abject poverty, trying to land that golden ticket of a tenure-track job.

        Yet, when tenured professors die or retire, they are not replaced. And you may have also noticed the number of small liberal arts colleges going bankrupt and closing the last few years – those professors are obviously out of work with no prayer of getting hired elsewhere, but at other institutions that are at risk, they preemptively fire faculty to try and stay afloat. Tenure is not ironclad. Once, maybe. Not now.

        Despite this, tuition goes up and up and up and up and up. I think it is fair to ask why, when it’s not going to teaching, which is supposed to be the core business of the college. Once you start asking that, that’s when you start to realize that income inequality and the (sorry) Boomer managerial class broke college. The money goes two places: 1) highly-paid, endlessly multiplying ranks of management (administrators) who set their own salaries, and 2) piling on the amenities, trying to attract the tiny pool of rich kids and international kids who can pay full freight.

        There’s a lot more – but it’s tough to summarize in a comment. The rich colleges are basically investment firms with a side hustle in education. The small ones are a shell game of everyone trying to grab some bucks before the whole thing goes belly-up, with a few idealists still trying to hold to the ideal that higher ed is for everyone who wants it – basically shoveling manure uphill in the current US.

      2. pancakes*

        No, that’s not consistent with the findings of people who’ve done in-depth research on this topic. University administrators don’t have tenure and analysis consistently shows that’s where much of the money is going. It’s called administrative bloat. If you run a search for that phrase you’ll find numerous articles about it.

    14. Yoz*

      Yes to this. I changed careers when I was 24-26 through higher education from an Arts field to a Business field. My Arts degree was in a type of health science and I needed to obtain a formal qualification subsequent to the degree to practice. I can remember towards the end of this degree how things started changing…the professors, who had been telling me what a great field this was, how wonderful the opportunities were, and frequently described the amazing types of jobs I could do locally and abroad, subtly changed their tune. Suddenly, people in the graduating class before mine who got jobs were “lucky” and “only a few people make it”. Oh, and the qualification we were studying for wouldn’t transfer overseas. Huh???

      There’s a happy ending – after I changed to Business (which required another 2.5 years study), I received an internship with a large multinational firm despite being older than the average intake. This gave me a solid base for my career, and I’m still very grateful even now.

    15. babblemouth*

      In a weird way, I wish some universities would just outright acknowledge this and set themselves up differently because of it. I love learning for learning’s sake, and if that was all it was about, you could approach getting a degree in different ways. Going part time and fully remote for instance – recorded lectures, reading materials and exams to take in your own time. I would love to join a history program, not because I hope to get a job in the field, but because I believe in lifelong learning. But I hold a full time job, and unless I somehow get my employer to agree to let me go part time to get a degree in a wholly unrelated field, it’s not going to happen.

  2. Rafflesia Reaper*

    “None of it is fair or based on passion or merit.”

    This resonates a ton. There’s very little ROI on caring.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      GenX here, and it took me way longer than it should have to figure this out. Now…I very rarely push back on anything, and when anyone above my direct boss says something, it’s “smile and nod.”

      I like my job, but it’s not my life…it’s what I do so I can have a life. And I think that’s a lot healthier for me personally. I do the things I love outside of work. One of my friends periodically tries to push me that I should find a job I love as much as my volunteer stuff, or that I should be willing to be a supervisor at my paid job. And I tell her that I don’t want that much drama. Yes, the money would be nice, but not worth the mental/emotional toll.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I think the thing I read that really clinched the idea that climbing the corporate ladder was not for me was when I read that a number of CEOs and higher-level executives exhibit sociopathic traits.

          I was already realizing that climbing those ranks required being a certain kind of person (at least in too many places), and I had no interest in being that person. I’d rather live with less and be able to look at myself in the mirror.

          1. Luke*

            There’s a price to pay for being a senior manager, and it goes beyond psychological impact.

            I worked with executives in my last job. At that company, they went from meeting to meeting to meeting. Hours without a genuine, non work related human conversation.

            Every syllable calculated, every chart massaged, every presentation carefully collated by layers of people below them. All designed to show a harmonious corporate picture, whether it was or wasn’t accurate. Trust? An unreachable luxury.

            Family time? Another unreachable luxury. At that level , work life balance is nonexistent. They can leave the office- but the office can’t leave them. Community events, socials, company sponsored charities, all demanded their time.

            For me, the financial perks of executive life is not worth the non-financial cost. I need to see more of my family and my hobbies then framed pictures on my desk between meetings.

            1. Against the Grain*

              Whereas I on the other hand am absolutely fine with working hard to be an executive. I couldn’t care less about “work-life balance,” possibly with the exception of vacation time. And yes, I really enjoy working with other Type-A personalities who are also competitive.

              1. AnonEMoose*

                It’s not the “working hard” part that I find off-putting. It’s the degree of competition, political and power games, and so on. Not worth it to me.

              2. allathian*

                Let’s hope you never find yourself unemployed. If all your self-worth is tied up in your job, you’re left with nothing if you lose it. Glad it works for you, though.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Yes. X-er as well.
        It’s a job, it pays me, I work at it. I don’t care about the company or the product or whatever. It’s not my life.

      2. SomebodyElse*

        Now I’m curious if this is a ‘typical’ Gen X mindset. (I’m one as well) I think it was pretty common for us to see our parents work in jobs and careers that were solid, decent paying, but not super exciting or fulfilling (whatever that means in a job sense).

        My goal for college was the most specialized but broadest degree I could think of… General Business. I wanted something that gave me the ‘cred’ without pigeonholing my choices.

        I’ve had many careers that aren’t necessarily my favorite, they certainly aren’t the most glamorous, but they are solid and pay pretty damn well. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done, I’ve climbed the ladder, but none of these jobs have been my passion or defined me. (I had one title that I would answer the “What do you do” question with ‘Oh I’m a -fill in the blank-, yes it’s as boring as it sounds and no need to fear I won’t describe it in detail’

        This all not to say I don’t care about my job. I do. I’ve been very driven in my career. But at the end of the day, I’ll walk away from it and say “Yup… did a good job and that’s enough”

        I do feel like more people would be happier if they stopped trying to fill their self worth with the perceived dream job. A lot of times a ‘good enough’ job is really great and allows for more self worth filling opportunities outside of the workplace.

        1. Nessun*

          Gen X here – yeah, I never saw my parents particularly inspired for their work (I always put it down to being British and Contained), but I also never looked for work I’d love; I just worked. I fell into my career, I’m good at it (mostly), and it pays the bills. The best advice I ever got was from a manager while working fast food – she said if the bills are paid and you do your job to the best of your abilities and don’t hate coming to work each day, that’s where high school/higher ed should teach kids to aim; anything beyond that has to be gravy. It’s great if you can love what you do – but it’s never been necessary.

        2. Hey Nonnie*

          At the same time, while practical and realistic under the weight of capitalism, I feel this ignores that nearly all humans have a driving need for purpose, and spending more of your life doing meaningless crap for a paycheck than you do on anything fulfilling is psychologically painful, at best. At worst it is psychologically damaging in deep, life-long ways. (I just watched a SciShow video on how losing A job — one, singular — can negatively impact your ability to trust for the rest of your life. In all areas of life, not just work.)

          A lot of the tone seems to be around the idea that having an identity around your sense of purpose and passion is a bad thing. Frankly, it’s only bad because society has made it so, and it’s a brutal shame that these are the choices TPTB have made. How much better could we be, not just individually, but sociologically as well, if we had real opportunities to give a crap? If basic survival wasn’t inextricably tied to purposelessness?

          Emotional divestment from work is a coping mechanism. It is absolutely tragic that we have been forced to make it a life goal.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            And it’s worrisome.
            Do we really want doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, etc who say, “Eh, it’s a paycheck.

            I remember growing up, I had problems with my feet. So my parents took me to this one store and we always had to see one particular shoe salesman. It’s striking to me now, because he was a middle-aged man supporting his family on shoe sales. That would not happen now. He knew my foot problems and he would point out the shoes that would probably give me the most comfortable fit and support my feet correctly.
            That’s gone now, you have to get a specialty catalog and hope you pick the right thing. There used to be more individual connections. Not so much any more.

            1. Felis alwayshungryis*

              That made me think of Al Bundy ;-)

              My parents were very much of the ‘get a good degree, and you’ll be set for life because it shows that you can think’. I was only encouraged to do subjects I was good at, that I’d be guaranteed good marks for, with the result that my education was very humanities and English-focused and not much else. The result was that all I really ended up able to do was writing-based work and it turns out I don’t really like writing all that much despite being good at it. It took me until I was 35 to realise/admit that.

              I’ll be encouraging my daughter to try out lots of things that she’s interested in, never mind if she gets straight As or not, because I feel that my education was depressingly limited. Especially if the portfolio career is still a thing when she’s working age.

              1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                I’ve heard your story multiple times and it depresses me. I went back to college and worked toward a writing-based career, but only got a few writing jobs and all turned out to be with outwardly prosperous and inwardly crumbling organizations. the longest one lasted a year and a half.

            2. anon for this*

              Yes, you do!!

              Sorry, my spouse is a doctor, and yes, he gets super wrapped up in his work. Does it make him a better doctor? I don’t think so, honestly. What he needs to do to be good is be level-headed, continue reading journals, keep up with changes in the field, be empathetic.

              Does it really make his care for you better if he’s haunted by the death of a guy three years ago whose cancer developed way more quickly between visits than anyone expected? Does it make your care better if he’s staying up past midnight and skipping family dinners to do paperwork and extra documentation? maybe… I think it would make his care better if he didn’t just accept all the crap that is foisted on him and pushed back about the number of patients he’s assigned, because I assure you, falling on his noble sword to accept another 200 patients above the cap on his panel size does *not* mean you’re getting the best care possible. It means that administration is extracting more money from fewer physicians, nurses, and staff, and forcing them to work extra hours for the same pay, which is inevitably going to let things slip through the cracks.

              It doesn’t make my spouse a better doctor to buy into the “it’s a passion so you can’t complain about poor work conditions” BS. It is not better for you as a patient, either. I’m reasonably sure that is not what you meant, but that’s how it usually plays out — passion as an excuse to exploit.

              And as a former teacher, I can say the same. I’m not teaching anymore — joined corporate America as a drone making literally 2x the salary for less grief.

          2. Reba*

            Yeah, there has to be some nuance between “total indifference” and “passionate attachment”… like work that you are satisfied with and at least occasionally proud of. That would be good.

            1. allathian*

              Yeah, this. This is pretty much my life and I’m very happy about that (Gen X). Sure, there are days when I define job satisfaction as “I’m satisfied I have a job”, but most days I’m happy to go to work. I contribute to society and I sincerely feel that my job makes some people’s lives a bit easier. I work for the government in an agency that serves the public. I don’t think I could feel the same if I worked for a for-profit business where the only goal was to make the shareholders and the top executives more money. In such an environment I’d probably grow cynical pretty quickly and would only work for my paycheck.

              1. Angelina*

                It’s interesting that gen X, I am gen X, on here seem to be in a broad consensus of wanting to work, do a good job while having little desire for pressure or drama. We want to pay our bills and have some life too. I suspect that two or three decades in the work place brings people to this view. I also agree with the idea that it has got more difficult to find a job you can be contented with over the last few years.

                1. Cassie is still fine*

                  Gen X here, but I’m an academic so the extra time it take means work history has been more on the millenial side. I don’t regret grad school at all (I got to spend several years deliriously happy, doing what I love most, even if it goes completely pear-shaped after), but yes, I always thought doing something for work that made you reasonably happy was a life goal.

                  Especially as I never wanted kids (which is a good thing, because that, like owning a house, or a car that isn’t the one my parents gave me in undergrad, or permanent furniture, is off the table) – but it’s okay to wrap your identity in your work a bit.

                  What’s not okay is that society has decided, apparently, that people must be punished for thinking that way, and so jobs in things that you’re supposed to do “for love” like education or art are to be paid grudingly if at all.

          3. SomebodyElse*

            I can afford a lot of fulfillment in my life with a good paycheck. I like what I do for work and for sure would be devastated as most people would be to lose a job. But at the end of the day we all lose our jobs one day when we retire.

            We have opportunities to care about crap outside of our working lives… honestly now more than any other time in history. It’s kind of ironic that it feels to me that people are more miserable now then at other points in the recent past because they are putting so much weight on their jobs and using them to fill parts of their self image.

            Seriously not trying slight anyone with that comment but the overwhelming theme of the comments on this topic today hit that point home.

            I disagree with your comment on Emotional Divestment being a coping mechanism. There’s nothing to divest since a lot of people just don’t have that emotional connection to their jobs to begin with.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              Retirement is a choice, not a loss, and the psychological repercussions are vastly different.

              Divestment is a coping mechanism because people need purpose and identity to be psychologically whole, and having to give up most of your waking hours to something that is the opposite of that is not in any way healthy. Telling yourself that it’s fine anyway, that one shouldn’t expect purpose to be central to their life, IS a coping mechanism. To repeat myself, saying that purpose isn’t supposed to or doesn’t need to be central to our lives is only true in the sense that society/economics decreed it so. It’s not a psychological truth. It’s an artificial, capitalistic one.

              1. waywardsister*

                Purpose is central – but purpose doesn’t have to come from what you happen to do to earn a paycheque. I think that’s the point people are making here.

                I get great satisfaction from volunteering, running, writing. I was able to find that satisfaction when I let go of the expectation of complete fulfillment from my job. (Late Gen X here)

          4. AnonEMoose*

            I can see how it’s coming across like that, but I think the reality is more nuanced. Some people do have a passionate desire to do what they do…and I hope that doctors and lawyers are part of that group. Also artists of all descriptions.

            But not everyone…probably not the majority…does. And that’s ok, too, and I think it needs to be said more. In terms of my job, I care about doing what I do accurately and well, and I take some satisfaction from it. But there’s a lot that’s beyond my control, and it doesn’t serve me well to get too emotionally invested for that reason.

            I think the essence of it is “If you are one of those people who truly loves what you do, that’s awesome. But it’s also completely fine if you do one thing to earn a paycheck, and find your joy elsewhere.”

            1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

              Yet there are all those “studies” that get cited saying the best employees are the ones who love their work and their jobs.

              1. allathian*

                The best says who? The company? You bet, if they’re passionate about what they do, they’re willing to put up with bad working conditions and a non-existent work-life balance to do it.

                I enjoy my job. I’m not religious, but as a young adult, I had definitely internalized the Protestant work ethic to the point that I needed therapy to realize that I wasn’t a worthless person at 30 because I didn’t have a full-time salaried job but was working hourly in retail (I’m in the Nordics and got emergency psychiatric help that I could afford even when I was unemployed, when I was suicidal). If I’ve swung a bit in the other direction since, at least I realize that it’s at least partly a defense mechanism.

                1. Burned out millenial*

                  I think emotional divestment from work can be a coping mechanism, and in an ideal world some part of my Millennial soul still wants to believe that being passionate about your work is important. But I’m a civil rights lawyer and after eight years and two jobs, I’m just too burned out and beaten down to keep defining myself by my work. I don’t know that all work is worthy of defining ourselves by, and perhaps we should be more selective about that.

              2. AnonEMoose*

                I’d be really interested in knowing who funded, and who conducted, these studies. And how they were conducted – what were the criteria, etc. Because unfortunately, who is the “best” employee can often be a really subjective thing, not based on objective criteria.

          5. kt*

            One of the things that I dislike about the “passion” conversation, though, is that it ignores the nobility of a lot of commoditized work. Being a janitor is purposeful and makes a real, concrete, measurable, and meaningful contribution to the health and well-being of many workers. Yet it’s not a “passion” job.

            So when we’re talking about meaningful work, let’s not confuse that with the tech-bro “passion” narrative. Serving school lunch and providing another safe adult for kids to talk with is meaningful. Cleaning is meaningful. Working in agriculture and picking our food is meaningful! Too often this work is denigrated because it’s not “passion” work — it’s done by poorly-paid people, so it’s ‘by definition’ less valuable, right? But as we saw with all the “essential worker” stuff, some work is more important to the functioning of society than others, and that does not correlate with pay.

            My dad worked landscaping jobs when he first came to the US. It was not his passion; it was a job where he could get paid to do work with not-great English skills. But he can still drive around the city and point out trees he planted…. There is meaning there.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              I agree with you. There are plenty of people who can find passion in jobs that society tells us are not “passion jobs.” When I was a restaurant server, I actually really enjoyed the work. What I did not enjoy was the poverty-line pay and management who treated workers like disposable widgets. Those are not problems with the work or the worker, those are problems with management and a social-economic system which severely undervalues types of labor/laborers which are really freaking necessary.

              We do need to get over the idea that there is only one track to finding your passion. People are different and are allowed to find passion and meaning in completely different things. And they should have a system that supports them in doing that.

            2. pancakes*

              That too. Miya Tokumitsu is very good on this topic. She wrote a book called “Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success and Happiness,” and a great 2014 article for Jacobin that covers the same themes, titled “In the Name of Love.” Well worth a read.

            3. Ina*

              This is lovely, thank you. There is plenty of meaning and pride to be had in non-prestige occupations. I remember hearing someone, maybe a work psychologist, talking about how people internally redefined these kinds of “low-level” jobs and found meaning and satisfaction in them. For example, a hospital janitor who sees his job not as menial cleaning, but as an important part of the hospital’s mission to take care of people, and who took every opportunity to lend a kind word to patients and families, help them find their way around the hospital, and so on.

              And having spend a lot of time visiting people in hospitals, yes, the care they get from healthcare providers of course is very important, but it is also very meaningful to get compassion and a little bit of friendliness from anyone there, whether a doctor or a nurse or a janitor or a security guard.

          6. boop the first*

            THANK YOU. I’m an old millennial and I’ve gotten the whole “are you working to live or living to work” speech from my gen-x sibs (no offense, I actually think gen-x are the coolest generation), but honestly I don’t know how to be inspired by that. It’s only made me MORE resistant to digging for paychecks, because while I’m working to live, when do I get to live? Unlike this person I’m referring to, I never got to see the world or do anything fun. I only got to go to my shitty jobs because they don’t give us time off. I can’t even negotiate a part-time schedule to work on my side-gig! My choice is either full-time food service or unemployment, with nothing in between. Any money I earn gets stockpiled and keeps me alive just to go back to shitty work. And retirement isn’t going to be a thing anymore. Death isn’t very terrifying when it’s all there is to look forward to now.

        3. Catherine Tilney*

          Another Gen Xer agreeing with you. A job is just what you do to pay the bills. I never had a “dream job”, and for years I thought there was something wrong with me because I had no real passion for my work. But I make good (enough) money, have great benefits, and can therefore do wonderful things in my off hours. That’s enough.

        4. Donkey Hotey*

          Somebody Else –
          To reply to your original question, and speaking for myself: It has nothing to do with seeing a parent in a solid, decent paying but not super exciting job. It was watching my mom throw herself at job after job, work fingers to the bone, nights and weekends and watch her bosses let her go because she wouldn’t do more. If that’s “capitalism and the corporate ladder” count me the #$%^ out. It was the previous generation’s equivalent of “Your job posting will be online before your obituary will.”

        5. catcreature*

          GenX here, too.

          From the moment I first encountered the term, I heard GenX characterised as “growing up in peacetime, never making it to as much social stability as their parents did (and knowing it), and seeing their parents’ and grandparents’ societal and environmental bills coming due.”

          It was hard to convince your parents that you weren’t just some jaded no-future teen, but that there were yes, truly, actually, 300 applicants for one apprenticeship, and for the next, and the next, and the next. There were 2000 students on 600 available places and faculty saw it as their duty to kick out enough of them to get the crowd down to “manageable”. And getting a human sciences degree did not mean you’d get into a cushy public sector job, but that you’d become a taxi driver or lifelong jobber.

          But it was even harder, 20 years later, to understand Millenials. With many of my age group still struggling below the job satisfaction and the economic security our parents took for granted: Who did kids these days get that lack of cynism from? And, didn’t they know we, had shoved a good part of those bills down the line — to them?

          Turns out, 10 or 20 _more_ years later, that a “generation” is only half a generation. Millenials were not taught by Gen X, but by Baby Boomers. I wonder what attributes will be attached to GenX’s children, when they have been around long enough for labelling.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Things were a lot like that for Boomers, too. There were so many of us, we were *always* replaceable. We paid a 50,000 tax in lives for Vietnam. It was a new thing for women to have jobs besides the usual poverty class things most women who had to work were shuttled into, and some of us got chewed up by bosses and industries who didn’t want us to even try for a higher level.

            Sure, some of the pioneers made it, but some got waylaid by dysentery, too (our kids were the ones who did Oregon Trail).

        6. Leela*

          The problem isn’t that we keep chasing dream jobs, it’s that we run into this no matter what we do. EVERY business that can get away with not properly paying/giving benefits to its employees is opting to do so. I ran into this in jobs in my dream job, and super boring “solid” jobs because there are just so few solid jobs now. Even the boring ones operate like this. Yes, passion jobs do try to bleed more out of people because they know there’s a massive line of hopefuls behind them, but there’s nowhere to run from it at our level anymore.

      3. Deliliah*

        I’m an Oregon Trail generation kid (right in between Xers and Millienials) and I’m SO GLAD I got fired from my first “career” job because by 25 I had learned that I *didn’t* need to be defined by a job and that what I did in my spare time was always going to be more interesting, so there was no point in stressing out over work. I have a friend who has two masters degrees and works now in admin. She likes the job, but I know it’s not what she was setting out to do when she got those degrees.

      4. Cercis*

        I was counseled to have that mindset, except I realized that my health issues, which are actually quite minor, meant that I never had the energy to do the things I loved. I spent 12 hours a day doing work related activities (dressing, commuting, working, etc) and then another 4-5 hours a day doing home and childcare related activities (because my husband’s job required that he travel so he couldn’t do a lot of that stuff). Come the weekend and I was literally so exhausted that just spending a couple of hours doing kid related/required stuff would mean that I’d spend most of the next day in bed. ‘

        Luckily, the traveling for my husband paid off and he was able to get promoted into a job paying enough for me to quit the grind and I became self-employed. At times I’d still like a “real job” with the security of a dependable paycheck, a retirement package, etc, but then I remember the bone-numbing exhaustion and realize that it wouldn’t work. Luckily, my contacts have always come through for me and I’ve made a profit each year and this year I’ll actually make more than I ever made working full time. But I know that it’s because I’m really lucky AND because I have my husband’s salary to depend upon so I’m not constantly chasing the low paid/time intensive stuff.

        I don’t like it, but I’ve come to accept the reality. I hope someday that things will be better for folks like me (my main “problem” is an inability to sleep at the “normal” times, so I spent all my work years existing on 6 hours or less of sleep each night and that led to all kinds of bad health & mental issues, now that I don’t have to wake up before 8:30 on a regular basis, I’m actually really healthy, the difference 2 extra hours of sleep makes is insane).

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          This sounds a lot like me, except with no spouse/second income to fall back on. So I spent a couple decades killing myself essentially working two jobs — one for money, one for purpose, with a never-ending hustle for that next paycheck — for half the income of one job until I collapsed from exhaustion and gave up. Now I have a job that makes me cry from the meaninglessness of it, and my “free time” is spent trying to find enough energy to do laundry, but I can afford rent and food simultaneously now.

          Yay capitalism?

      5. Golden Lioness*

        I am also a Gen-Xer and I agree with all of this.

        The main point for me is I don’t get the millennial bashing. They were promised a lot and were dumped in a terrible situation that they did not contribute to. I feel (As someone that had to pack everything and start all over again in a foreign land in a no so great environment) much more kinship and understanding with millennials than I do with boomers. I also do not want to climb the company ladder. I do work hard, but I refuse to work 70-80 hours/week, so I pretty much hit a ceiling in my career. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I just prefer to have less material things and more time to enjoy travelling and other meaningful -to me- experiences and hobbies.

        And as somebody with multiple degrees, I wish people stopped selling the “college is the path” mindset. Not only there are multiple trades that pay much more than a lot of white collar jobs, but we need trade workers… where would we be without plumbers, electricians, wood workers and general handymen?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Trades are probably going to be a crisis at some point. Because we just don’t have hands on people.

          My husband was brilliant academically. He could not have cared LESS. He wanted to work with his hands, he wanted to take things apart, see what made the thing go. He got a degree in labor relations which he never planned on actually using to do anything. The sentiment back in the 50s and 60s was people who couldn’t actually do things went into a trade. So he was pushed on to college by social pressures. Finally he ended up doing repair work. Things break with such extraordinary predictability that we had food on our table for decades because of Broken Things. Since he excelled at it, he was never out of work.

          1. Felis alwayshungryis*

            My husband’s stepfather is a builder, and extremely clever. At school he got told that he was too bright to go into the trades, which is a crazy mindset because I don’t want a stupid person putting my roof trusses together.

          2. TardyTardis*

            Women would like to make money in trades, too, and some of us have, but there are a lot of places where no women need apply even yet. Fortunately there are apprenticeship programs now specifically geared for minority women, where even the apprenticeship wages of $20 an hour is a frickin’ fortune–certainly more than I ever made at the clerical stuff in a rural area.

        2. Trades*

          Trades can be their own problem though. They are male dominated fields and are very hard to break into as a woman. My brother has worked doing HVAC in the Southwest US for almost 15 years and has *never* worked with a woman who wasnt the admin assistant :(

          1. N.*

            I have a degree and worked a niche trade for 12 years before being laid off 6 months ago. I really liked working with my hands, but it did suck to be a woman in a field that’s 99% male (even though my last boss was cool, which made a huge difference). Now I’m thinking of going back to the career I got my degree for, but it’s been 20 years since I worked in the field. There are no other local jobs in my trade that are full-time with benefits, and as a GenXer who is newly single and woefully behind on retirement savings, I have to look out for my bottom line. At least the work is somewhat interesting and the pay can be decent. I just need to figure out how to get hired.

            At this point, I’d be fine working with and for decent people, for reasonable pay. The stuff I’m enthusiastic about (I hate the word passionate in this context) doesn’t pay, but makes for good hobbies.

          2. Garbles*

            Not to mention that if you have or develop a physical disability, you’re screwed, but most physical jobs put you in situations where you’re likely to get hurt. There’s a cow farrier youtube channel where the guy has a whole video about all the injuries he’s gotten, and they weren’t the cliche “hit myself with a hammer” or “fell off a ladder” type of thing.

            1. TardyTardis*

              And this is the reason so many parents wanted their children to have an office/brain job, because they themselves suffered like this from *their* jobs.

            2. AnonEMoose*

              Watching something like “The Incredible Dr. Pol” (about a veterinarian who works with both large and small animals in Michigan) is a good education on the potential for injury in these kinds of jobs, too. I mean, when you’re routinely working with animals who can be unpredictable and outweigh you by up to a factor of 10…yeah, you’d better be paying attention and ready to move FAST.

              My dad is a retired mechanic and semi-retired farmer. He’s over 80 years old, has been doing those jobs most of his life…and still has all of all 10 fingers. But he’s had cuts and bruises and muscle strains and so on. The potential for serious, life-changing injury is very real. Growing up, every year there would be stories on the radio about people flipping tractors and getting crushed, people falling into silos, people getting caught in combines or baling machines, or struck by lightning, or… Most of the trades have their dangers.

      6. Federal Middle Manager*

        As a Millenial, I often see GenXers talk about their job as “what I do so I can have a life,” which is great and all, but that was not an option that was given to many Millenials. By the time we showed up, the decent paying jobs that let you have a cool hobby (or “life”) on the side had evaporated. I have GenX friends who casually mention how they collected guitars, rebuilt Vespas, became SCUBA dive instructors, traveled to rock concerts, or had other passion projects on the side. I hardly know a single Millenial who had even that level of disposable income in their twenties and early thirties. So absent the option to have a life outside of work the only “choice” seemed to be to double down on work.

        1. SadSongs*

          Yeah – I fall into that GenX / Millennial gap (someone above called it the Oregon Trail generation, which is hilarious), and my sense is that people who graduated into the pre-tech-crash economy had a somewhat easier time of it.

          Sometimes things don’t change that abruptly from one year to the next. So older GenX and younger Boomers seem to me to have had similar experiences, and I’ve noticed they tend to react in a lot of the same ways. But there are markers, like the tech crash, September 11 and the Iraq War in the US, the Great Recession – where if you launch into adulthood before/during/or after these, you will have a much different time of it.

          1. Hey Nonnie*

            aka Xennials. (Kind of eye-rolly, but that’s what the media came up with.)

            Also a “Xennial,” also feel like I have WAY more in common with Millennials than with older members of “my” GenX cohort. Job insecurity has been a (forced) way of life.

          2. stacer*

            I’m solidly Gen X, and many of us didn’t graduate in 4 years and/or had to work our way through college full-time to get by. So I didn’t graduate until after the tech crash (01) and that’s after growing up in poverty, so I think the generalizations are a bit much re: all Gen Xers, even older ones, having an easy time of it. I’ll be paying off my student loans until the day I die.

        2. pancakes*

          I’m gen-x and yes, that makes sense. Wage stagnation has put a lot of that sort of thing out of reach for some of us now, too. Post-grad school I’ve been offered multiple jobs that pay less than what I was making in the late 90s with just my liberal arts degree. The benefits are worse, too. I used to have great health insurance through work. Now I pay over $1100 month for insurance that doesn’t even cover all of my needs.

      7. Djuna*

        Another GenX-er here. I had the weirdness of never believing I would have a decent job/own a home because the 80’s and early 90’s here in my corner of Europe were hard. Emigrate to find work hard.
        I took what I could get and didn’t land what I would consider a career until I was in my late 30’s.
        I care about my work, but I don’t take it personally and I am far more likely to push back for others than for myself.

        I enjoy my job, and it’s given me some great opportunities, but I’ve been laid off before and I know I’m ultimately disposable. I think age has given me the perspective that I should do the best I can but I shouldn’t run myself into the ground for a job. I’m better at boundaries now.
        I’m really looking forward to reading this book, I think a lot of AHP’s previous work and burnout pieces apply to GenX-ers too.

        1. stacer*

          A LOT a LOT of us Xers have been through at least one, and now 2 or 3 layoffs. I graduated into a recession, went to grad school to finally find a job after 6 months of looking for a job and a year and a half of working for an unscrupulous weird niche, finally graduated with a master’s in 05 with more than $100k in debt, and then got laid off in 08 as soon as I finally started to sort out the credit card debt that allowed me to survive that last year of grad school without a job because of the demands of the program, despite working full time during the early days of my master’s and most of my 9 years of undergrad.

          And now dealing with THIS recession my hours at work have been cut by 20% yet I’m still required to do the same amount of work in 4 days a week instead of 5, and I’m beyond burnt out.

          But tell me how “burnout” is only a defining factor for millennials.

          1. Former NonProfit*

            Oh no, I hope you don’t think of this as pitting millennials against Gen X (or even Boomers)! I think the erosion of workers’ rights and the emphasis on “passion” have hurt everyone (Hmmm, maybe capitalism DOES contain the seeds of its own destruction). Maybe think of the book as “Burnout, as seen through the lens of the millennial experience?”

            1. boop the first*

              Yeah, my mom is firmly a boomer, but I’ve found her abandoned accounting certificate in a box, watched her go through divorce, work an unrewarding job during day and side gig at night, be financially abused by a new husband, dragged out to small towns that forced her into retail, go through another divorce, abandon two mortgages, now frantically working 16-hour days in retail (at the age of 65) in a desperate attempt to retire someday… we see the outliers. It’s not a battle.

    2. RobotWithHumanHair*

      Yep, I used to care. A lot. And then my job laid me off…while keeping two employees with a history of insubordination.

      Never again.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        Yep, GenXer here who used to care a lot, and used to regularly stay at the office until 2:00 AM by myself trying to help my department and my managers by creating detailed reports, by documenting best practices (usually just the things I did in my job because my managers always told everyone that I set the example for the department), by training co-workers and new managers. Whatever it took because I was a Team Player and a Rock Star.

        And then they laid me off.

        I worked myself into literal sickness and ended up being grateful for the lay off because within a couple of weeks of being unemployed I stopped having any of the symptoms that had forced me to take 3 months of FMLA leave (where several specialists couldn’t find anything wrong with me). Turns out, it was the job and my “loyalty” to it.

        Never again.

        Also, I’m 54 and I’ve had more jobs than I can count on both hands. I used to be in B2B tech sales and the only way to get a raise in base salary was to jump ship every two years. What I learned from all of that is that work isn’t everything. Jobs come and go. I no longer kill myself trying to improve processes and make things more efficient (and therefore more profitable). I’ll bring something up once and, if management says no, I drop it and move on. Whatever. It’s not my company. It’s just a job. You guys want to shoot yourself in the foot, be my guest. I’m not investing myself in someone else’s company ever again.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          That makes me feel less bad because I’ve had a gazillion jobs and often feel that I’d be farther up the food chain if anything had lasted. BUt I’ve discovered that the most valuable employee to management is often the one that’s less challenging (I don’t mean the one that’s less trouble). Malleable drones, while the company cheers that it wants the best and the brightest. My company wants the loudest used-car salesman type.

    3. Mayati*

      Absolutely. The more people are “passionate” about a field, the more opportunity there is for employers to exploit them, and the more likely it is that problems like sexual harassment, discrimination, and whistleblower retaliation are rampant.

      1. Maseca*

        Chiming in to say it was a bit of a blessing in disguise to learn this lesson relatively early. In my mid-late 20s had what I thought of as an amazing career job, one I would have been happy to stay in for 10+ years. I scheduled my wedding and honeymoon around the needs of this job (it was a company of decent size; in retrospect, taking a couple of weeks off would not have caused much inconvenience for them). I said yes to every request, learned to cover multiple other jobs … then got stuck with a lot of those duties permanently as layoffs kicked into gear. I thought I would be safe because I was pretty low paid and was doing the jobs of multiple people by then. Nope. As an Oregon Trail-era kid I had fervently, unquestioningly believed that because I was competent and willing to work hard, I’d never have trouble finding/keeping a job. Turns out the economy doesn’t care! A dying industry that’s hemorrhaging jobs doesn’t have room for you, even if you’re smart, even if you’re willing to work cheap, even if you love it passionately.

        That layoff devastated me, shook me to my core. But it taught me that as nice as the boss is, as much as they appreciate you, as much as you enjoy the work, you’re still a line item in the budget, and if cutting you makes the budget balance, the company won’t think twice.

        Since then I don’t define myself by my job. I try not to get too emotionally invested in any one program we do or function we build, because at the end of the day, I’m just here to trade labor for currency. I want to do good work, and be conscientious, but I don’t need to hang my self-worth on stuff I don’t control. Also, if you look around you, is everyone at your job a superstar? Are they all even reasonably reliable? It’s a mixed bag for sure where I work. If you think about the people who’ve been phoning it in for the past decade, or who do fine but don’t bring that much to the table … guess what, they still take home a paycheck that’s probably similar to or larger than yours. There are perks to being a star, but make sure you’re really getting the ROI for what you put in.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, this is a really valuable life lesson. Some people seem to know it at the start of their career while others need at least one layoff to learn that lesson.

      2. Hey Nonnie*

        For the record, I was in no way equating having passion with having zero boundaries. Passionate people can and do engage in self-care, too.

        I think it says something about our current system that so many people here are conflating the two.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          You might not be conflating the two…but an awful lot of employers sure seem to. If you have boundaries, one of the first tactics is to question your commitment to the company and/or how much you care about your job.

  3. GigglyPuff*

    Yeah the library world will absolutely lie to you about the money you will make, I was told 40k. My first job, I made 20s at a grant job that only required a high school diploma. My full time professional job after working in the industry for 8 years now, 40k. Fun times.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I’m an archives assistant who has not gone back for an MLIS because I’m pretty certain that it won’t land me a better job but will land me student debt that I don’t need in middle age.

      1. FutureLibrarianNoMore*

        You are 100% correct. I warn anyone wanting to get a degree out of it that A. You better be willing to move, and move anywhere, and pay for it out of your own pocket. B. You need to be prepared to learn that working in most public libraries is a soul sucking profession where you’re expected to put your own safety on the line with little to no protection. And C. You need to be prepared to pay back every cent of that $50k plus on your own with no assistance from student loan forgiveness.

        I started working in libraries at 16, and left them for good at 29. I’ll never go back. After the sexual harassment, physical threats, etc. Etc.

        The loss of that dream was the biggest heartbreak. I don’t regret it for many reasons, but the student debt I have from it certainly makes me say never again.

        1. Also not gonna work in libraries*

          Yeah, I’m 28, have worked in the youth services departments of public libraries since I was 20, and have decided after all the chaos and misfires of this year that I will not be pursuing public librarianship. It’s just too poorly-paying, with too much vocational awe, for me to put so much of my energy, time, and care into. It’s been a tough realization.

        2. yala*

          B. is unfortunately correct. I used to want to be a children’s librarian, but now I know I’m really just not cut out for that. Every now and again I think maybe a school librarian. Academic libraries are much less stressful (for me) and playing around with archives is a lot of fun. But publishing? No. Thank. You.

          1. GigglyPuff*

            Yeah, I spent a few years looking around at other jobs, all academic and even got offered a couple, and was willing to have to be tenure-track even though it’s something I’ve never absolutely wanted at all. Which I personally think that’s part of problem, all these tenure track positions that don’t need to be. But luckily, since academia is kinda getting glutted right now, the math of the last job I was offered, a 10k pay difference, would have literally been eaten up by the horrible health insurance difference, so that (and a few other reasons), I decided to turn it down and (knock on wood), hopefully have a pretty stable position right now. (Even if the pay sucks)

            I enjoy professional development, but pretty sure I don’t want to be forced to that degree in my job, and have it so tied together. I really wish there were more non-tenure track professional academic library jobs. I like to leave work at work.

            1. yala*

              Well, there are some non-tenure academic library jobs (mine, for example), but they’re generally filled by Not Librarians.

              1. Metadata minion*

                There are also some universities that don’t do tenure-track librarians at all; mine is one of them. I didn’t realize how much I’d lucked out on that when I took the job. Our librarians, even the degreed Librarians(TM), are staff, not faculty.

        3. DustyJ*

          Wow, are you me? I’m still trying to get away from library work. I don’t have debt from my degree but I regret the time I wasted on it.

          All the writing that has come out in the last few years about Vocational Awe in libraries resonates so much with me. I was actually told by a career counsellor that as soon as prospective employers see the word Library in my CV it goes straight into the round file, because no-one wants to deal with all the toxicity and racism embedded in libraries. There are so many things wrong with library work; managers keep declaring that it’s not a dying field, but, um, maybe it should be?

    2. CF*

      I got lucky and found a job that I really enjoy that pays well, but it was mostly luck rather than hard work. My wife, at least as smart as me and a much harder worker, never caught the same break. Neither of us got good guidance from those who had opinions about what we should do.

      I think “do what you love” is part and parcel of the anti-union current running through the modern workplace. It suggests that someone who needs their rights as a worker protected is in the wrong job, rather than responding to reality.

      1. Anne of Mean Gables*

        “It suggests that someone who needs their rights as a worker protected is in the wrong job”

        This is so succinct, and so SO correct. I’m a (very happy) refugee from academia, and I will never stop yelling about how grad students and postdocs NEED union representation, because getting fucked in pay, hours, benefits, duties, promised training, job availability when you graduate, you name it (all while being told how lucky you are) is absolutely the norm there.

        1. Nonviolent Dove*

          Huge YES to this. Apparently it’s Post Doc Appreciation Week this week, which has mostly been met with scorn and incredibly depressing stories on Twitter.

          Honestly, it was this and burnout that led me to leave academia. I loved research, was damn good at it, and would have been a good professor (I won university-wide teaching awards as a grad student, published in good journals, did wayyyy more service than most grad students normally do). But, I’m 35 and a woman, and I couldn’t handle more years of insecure work with insane hours as a post doc, only to be followed (if I were lucky) with insecure work with insane hours as an assistant professor, especially if I want to actually have a kid. I work for the government now, and it’s not a perfect job, but I’m still adjusting to what it means to be able to leave work at work, and get adequate time off, and not have off-the-charts expectations.

          I mean, I’m only one-foot-gone-from-academia still… I’m literally taking time off from my job to finish a manuscript that I started in my PhD; not because I need to, but because I still love and miss that work. But I can’t see myself really going back.

          1. Sara without an H*

            To Nonviolent Dove — Yes, it’s a sad, bad fact that in modern higher education, the grad students, postdocs, and adjunct faculty have no more security than the cleaners and cafeteria workers. Sometimes less — the cleaners may be unionized.

            And there’s strong psychological resistance to the realization that the postdoc, as well as the cleaner, is selling labor in exchange for pay.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          I couldn’t agree more. There’s this undercurrent that if you love what you do, you shouldn’t also expect decent pay, benefits, and treatment. And that’s so damaging. And part of the reason I didn’t pursue an advanced degree or a career in academia. I knew the politics were just not for me.

      2. Sara without an H*

        I think there’s a myth (or delusion) that if you have a university degree, you are a “professional,” and therefore don’t need/would be degraded by union membership. It’s become a class issue.

        1. Don't Want A Perfect Job, Just A Good Job*

          Yep. My mother-in-law worked in factories and was in a union. When she found out I had a college degree, she looked at me and sneered: “so you’re MANAGEMENT.”

          No, I’m a peon. I’m barely 5 years out of school (at that time) and held a very junior position, in a job in which I was overworked. It would have been nice to have a union in my corner when dealing with an erratic boss and insane work conditions.

          (*Mom-in-law wasn’t happy with either of her daughters-in-law. That’s another story.)

      3. jojo from kokomo*

        “I think “do what you love” is part and parcel of the anti-union current running through the modern workplace. It suggests that someone who needs their rights as a worker protected is in the wrong job, rather than responding to reality.”

        This is the smartest thing I’ve read all day!

        I’ve seen so many of my coworkers strung along on what were pitched as temp-to-perm contracts. One even did the math and the company could give her benefits and a pay bump without spending any more if they took her to permanent and stopped paying her temp agency. But the company still wanted her to do yearly goals because “don’t you want to grow?” (Her: I would rather be able to support my family and pay my bills)

    3. LibrarianJ*

      I changed careers and obtained my MLIS about 10 years ago. Back then, we were told “Oh, so many librarians are retiring and there will be LOTS of jobs!” Um, no. Librarians, like many people, hang on to a job as long as they can — and also, when people left positions, those positions were downgraded or changed from full-time to part-time. It makes me grind my teeth when I hear students say they’re hearing this same thing from library schools. For what you invest in an MLS, you don’t get great ROI.

      That being said, I didn’t change careers to make money — I did it to try to make a difference. And I have been able to move up in positions over the years, in no small part to the fact that I work my butt off (and have a work-life balance that isn’t balanced at all). I grew up with parents who pushed the “Work = Worth” method and have been working since I was 15 (in various jobs). But when I haven’t done well at a job, I feel personal failure. I’m Gen X.

      1. ThreeDogsInATrenchcoat*

        Giant LOL at the “so many retirements” line. I graduated undergrad in 2009 when I was already a library associate and some of my friends who took the library school plunge during the recession never got jobs in the field at all, or only got para jobs that didn’t require it. Any school or advisor telling students this now is bad and they should feel bad.

        1. Ada Doom*

          They have legit been saying that since I was in undergrad in 2002. To be fair, I have seen a lot of retirements … they just lead to positions left unfilled/removed … and then questions 4-5 years down the road about why some basic things like access and retrieval aren’t working as well as they should. Well, because they were boring things that the retired person did that weren’t seen as worth continuing (but hint: should have been).

    4. ThreeDogsInATrenchcoat*

      I just got an MLIS after more than a decade of library work so I can go into management one day. I did find a job that puts me on that track and have since had several friends and colleagues talk to me about library school.

      I have told every single one of them not to apply.

      The public library job market is extremely competitive and libraries tend to hire from within. If you do not have library experience and an existing network (or if you’re making enough at a para job and don’t want to be a manager) do NOT go into an MLIS program, especially right now.

      1. Faith*


        I’ve been working in libraries for over 12 years, and the *only* reason to get an MLIS these days is if you want to shift into management, or maaaaaaybe take a chance on finding an academic librarian position at some random university library (and I do mean random, positions are hard to find and those are usually not in or even near big cities). I’ve been on several hiring committees for academic librarian positions, and the credentials your typical MLIS grad is competing against are pretty high, even when you’re applying to uni libraries a couple hours’ drive from the nearest large city. That’s how flooded the job market is.

        Frankly, I find it a bit ridiculous that anyone needs to get an MLIS to go into management, because it sure as hell hasn’t prepared half of the people who work above me to lead/manage *anything*. The best managers in my uni library have been, without exception, the people who were allowed to go into those roles despite not initially having an MLIS. But that’s a whole other issue.

        I’ve had so many friends/friends-of-friends wax poetic about going to library school, and I’m like “don’t do it without working in one first, it is not the field everyone thinks it is, and that MLIS is basically worthless without experience.”

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I got an MLIS for mental stimulation. I hoped I might get a different job, but that wasn’t essential and I was making decent money anyway. So did it part time.

          I know this is not normal, and I urge people not to go into debt for it. I’d also say, agreeing with you, that to be management in a library other experience is vital, and for academic librarianship you need other stuff such as other advanced degrees or special knowledge/skills.

          But also in my program some people got good jobs out of school due to crushing it in internships while at school. Which is BS at the same time – school, working to pay for school (or debt), plus unpaid internships. But three years of that (school part-time) tended to work well for my classmates. Whereas kids just out of college going to library school full-time in two years without time for internships were much worse off.

      2. Tired Zebra*

        This and the other comments to this effect about the MLiS is so weird to me, since I know a lot of folks (including my husband) that have done it and have gotten significantly better paying jobs than the average person in our area. But I suspect this might either be a really classic example of anecdotes don’t equal evidence in my case since there’s so many people asserting the opposite in this thread, or I live in an area that places way more value on the MLiS degree than most.

        That being said, I totally got a worthless Master’s degree in pursuit of doing what I love. I’m in a completely different field now, and feel fortunate that for what are some truly bizarre circumstances that I may get to use my original degree after all.

        But yeah. Do what you love feels like a curse and I’ve moved strongly into fork that shit, just pay me what I deserve category of millennials.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          There’s a gender issue too – men with the same degree can seem like ‘management’ material more quickly.

          An MLIS is what you make of it. If you think it’s about sitting around with books, you’re not going to succeed in a professional sense. If you realize (and have professors who understand) it’s about the interface of technology, information, and people, it’s very very useful in the modern world. At least relative to a lot of other masters degrees. I mean, “information science” – that’s so important.

          1. Yet Another MLIS Holder*

            Absolutely! I earned an MLIS (yes, from SJSU—but it’s my local school!) with the intent to go into librarianship. But then the 2008 economy happened, and the droves of people who were supposed to retire, didn’t. HOWEVER, it turned out it gave me a perfect background for work in SEO, metadata, and information architecture—so I was able to develop a new direction for my marketing career. I learned about many aspects of new information technology before they became overused, commonplace terms. I use the “Information Science” aspect of my degree far more than I imagined when I was starting out.

            So I am 100 percent on board with the “MLIS is what you make of it” statement, as it’s exactly what I tell people. Go in with your eyes open, make strategic decisions about the program you enter and the classes you take, and be prepared to not get a job at a library.

            1. DAMlibrarian*

              Went to SJSU as well and took information science courses like database management, metadata and i vocabulary design. Graduated last year and got a job within a month working as a digital asset manager. Definitely don’t regret my MLIS and glad I decided to take those courses.

    5. Noxalas*

      I went into library science straight out of high school (got my bachelor’s in it as well), naively believing those lies. And then when I realized I’d been lied to, I was told “You have an information science degree! Why didn’t you look it up?”

      …I didn’t have the degree at the time, smart-aleck. I was an 18-year-old with very little guidance making what I thought was an informed decision. Now, if I was able to supplement my income by being paid every time somebody tells me libraries are obsolete, THEN I’d be earning a living wage!

    6. PlainJane*

      Oh, yeah. When I was deciding to apply for library school, they loved to parade around the $40K/year average salary (now up to $45K). They kind of failed to mention that they’re looking countrywide, averaging administrator salaries, and paying no attention to cost of living. (Sure, you could make $40K in an expensive city… and then find three or four roommates to cover the rest of the rent. Or you could get that primo $23K job in a small town where you need to own a car and a house.)

      1. GigglyPuff*

        Yeah, they probably include D.C. job stats but don’t do the math to account for the CoL disclaimer given in the job ads.

      2. Yet Another MLIS Holder*

        A marketing director I used to work with wanted to go into librarianship, and enrolled in a library program (years ago). Apparently at the orientation, the school trotted out someone who made about $30-40k and pridefully held that individual up as the very pinnacle of the field with an AMAZING and enviable salary—apparently the tone was “take THAT, corporations!” He heard that, said “*expletive* that *expletive,*” left the orientation and school, and continued on in sales and marketing.

        I’m used to working in fields with DECENT, but hardly AMAZING, salaries (especially where I live). When my career was in its early stages, I likely would have been thrilled with that promised $40 k salary. Now… I can’t imagine. Librarian jobs here are few and far between and the salary average is about $55 k—IF you are fortunate to get a full-time job. But I work in an area where the median salary is around $80-120 k, with commensurate prices for housing and everything else.

    7. Lostnformed*

      Basically. I don’t regret my MLIS and I still like the work, but prospective librarians are fed a lot of bullshit. In real life most days working at a public library is combination of retail/social work/tech support.

      I think a lot of the bitterness comes from a combination of feeling like we were lied too, and the expectation that this would be a traditional white collar job.

      The only well adjusted librarians I know did long-term retail first and then started out as a library assistant before they got their degree. Those people have no illusions.

      1. Paris Geller*

        I never felt that being a librarian would be a white collar job because I worked in a library during grad school, but BOY is there such a disconnect between what I was taught in my MLIS program and reality! I’m lucky in that I got a job within months of getting my degree because I had library experience & a network, and the education award from my Americorps term paid for most of my degree. I like my job and I’m good at it, but I absolutely not paid what I should be, especially for a job that requires a master’s.

  4. Burn it all down*

    oh, the, you should always do what you love….yeah, no. I do a job so I can make money to pay my bills and travel (which I do love) not everyone is meant to find a job they love, most just need to find one that pays well and they can tolerate

    1. Cj*

      Serious question. Who is it that told millenials to do work they love (instead of working in order to make money to do the things you love)? Parents? Teachers?

      I’m a young baby boomer, and have never believed that most people, let alone everyone, will be able to work at something they love. But I don’t have kids, and wasn’t exposed to who was telling younger people this.

      1. Ali G*

        I think it came out of Boomers wanting to give their kids a better life than they had (lots of manual/low level labor in bad conditions) – they had little choice in their jobs because many were uneducated. They thought education was the door to a better life and a job you could “love” just not do to survive.

      2. Jules the Goblin*

        Yep, it was our parents. My mom and dad lightly pushed back on me studying what I loved (linguistics with a minor in a specific language), but they didn’t at all try to stop me from following my passion and/or trying to pursue a sensible career. So here I am, 15 years out of college, I followed my passion for a while and then got scared about running up debts and took the first job that came along at a career fair. It has nothing to do with my major, and I don’t *hate* it but I don’t *love* it either. I’m still struggling with finding satisfaction and motivation to do my job on a daily basis.

        1. JB*

          I don’t want to nitpick, but I would say there’s a difference between a parent who doesn’t try to stop their (technically) adult child from pursuing a degree based on what they love (and your parents at least did push back on it) and parents who actively encourage it. Parents can give advice–and do a gentle push back on their child’s ideas–but I’m not sure it’s their place to try and stop them from making up their own mind. After all, it’s parents’ bad advice of pushing their children to follow their passion that contributed to some people being deeply in debt and in a career that doesn’t pay well.

          1. Jules the Goblin*

            Fair enough. It’s not very easy to explain how it feels other than to say that “the world” / my culture told me that my job should be my passion and my identity and (other life-changing words here). I don’t know where all it came from, but this is definitely the culture I grew up in.

          2. Accountant by day, musician by night/weekend/holiday*

            Though I do remember a Facebook group from ~2007 called “I Picked a Major I Like, And One Day I Will Be Living in a Box” or something along those lines.

      3. Dave*

        My parents never really discussed the do what you love, I got that more from teachers, professors, and other adults in my life. Shoot, I still get that from my boss who of course thinks my job is the greatest and how can I not love what I do.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          “Do what you love” was such as common refrain from teachers and counselors.

          My working class parents rolled their eyes at that, and urged me to pursue careers with a lot of stability and job security.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I’m more Gen X but I definitely got that exact guidance from school, especially on “careers day” and other formal career guidance occasions. My parents both have degrees and to an extent did jobs they love so it probably wouldn’t have occurred to them to contradict this guidance, especially when it was backed up by the information put out by the colleges etc.

      4. BeenThere*

        I think a lot of it was in the zeitgeist of the early 1980s, especially after the publication of
        “Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow: Discovering Your Right Livelihood” by Marsha Sinetar

        1. Not So NewReader*

          That grabbed a lot of people because it seemed to make so much sense then.

          I have a friend who laughs, “If you do what you love for a living, eventually you will grow to hate it.” There is a saturation point.

          I always thought that reality is more like 1 in every 10k people is doing what they love. The rest of us are just doing.

        2. NapkinThief*

          My dad used to say that exact phrase to me all the time! He really meant well, and genuinely believed he was setting me up for a more fulfilling life than he had- but suffice it to say that advice has not led me anywhere but a never-ending spiral of crippling self-doubt and debt.

      5. Cascadia*

        It comes from everywhere! Parents, teachers, adult family members in your life, it’s on TV and in the movies, general think pieces on the internet, and seems to be the hallmark of every graduation commencement speech. I’m a solid millennial (’87) and I’ve heard it sooooo many times.

      6. profe*

        It was definitely the prevailing message at school and really the culture at large. The narrative of the dream job is/was as pervasive in media as the storybook romance.

        My parents were middle of the road… they had both pursued art when they were younger and ended up in “practical”, working class jobs later in life so they supported my interests (language and literature) but were also pragmatic. (However, even they were very surprised by how hard the job market was for me).

        More importantly, one of the biggest barriers for me in college/my early 20s was just a lack of understanding of what careers even existed. I once saw this succinctly explained as a common working class/first gen college student problem. Which honestly still persists now in my 30s. I eventually ended up a teacher, and I don’t understand what most other people my age actually do or how they ended up there.

      7. StrikingFalcon*

        There were many adults in my life that told me to do what I love – parents, teachers, adult relatives, guidance councilors. By high school, it felt like almost every adult in my life who hadn’t seen me for a while started every conversation with questions like “Where are you going to go to college?” and “What will you study?” and if I said “I’m not sure,” they answered with things like, “Well, what do you love doing?” or “You’re so good at everything you do, you could do anything!” No one ever sat down and had a conversation along the lines of “So how many hours a week do you want to work? How much travel do you want to do? Where do you want to live? This is what it costs to buy a house in that area, so you’ll want to make $x to be able to save up for a house.” Most of the adults in my family were in stable jobs they had held most of their adult life, so they genuinely did not know what the job market was like anymore, plus then there was the Great Recession.

        During the college search, every school tries really hard to sell you on how awesome they are, and that you don’t need to worry about cost because Financial Aid!! My parents bought into that, and I actually had to fight with them that no, I wasn’t going to go to a private school that costs a fortune when the public schools are just as good (and still expensive!).

        My college was also unhelpful. I knew the field I chose wasn’t lucrative, but none of my professors had any clue how *unstable* it is now. They honestly believed that if you worked hard enough, you could get a stable job at a university making enough to have a middle class life, because that was their experience. The reality was more like “well, if you work 60+ hour weeks at sub-minimum wage jobs for 5 years, and then get a grad school degree, you can be one of 1000 people to compete for every open position. Good luck!”

        1. anonykins*

          I think there isn’t a reality check moment for a lot of students until they hit the job market. As someone working in college admissions for a decade, I’ve seen a lot of older people in positions of authority give terrible advice on a topic that has completed changed since the one time they engaged with it 20+ years ago. Your tenured professor or union teacher hasn’t been on the job market in decades. Your parents’ tuition could literally be paid for with a summer job.

          To make matters worse, parents are nervous about the decision because they often think they MUST give their child the perfect college experience, and the cost of that experience has skyrocketed. Parents are unwilling to say no in the face of a student’s “dream,” even when it will cost the parent dearly in the future, and often even when they have serious misgivings about a student’s ability to pay back loans. The lengths they will go to in order to avoid the discomfort of saying “no, we can’t afford that” is depressing. The federal undergraduate loan limits for most students is $31,000, and any amount that’s borrowed above that must be signed off on by a legally-responsible credit-worthy individual. Parents know how much their students are borrowing, but they’re not willing to face the realities it will cost to pay that back. And the average 18-year-old who’s badgered with the “do what you love” mantra certainly shouldn’t be held responsible for failing to stand up against all those adults in their life.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is a very good explanation for why the author says boomers made mistakes. Thank you for this.

            I went to cheap schools and paid for most of my education out of my savings. It took 20 years. That was painful. But it was more painful to say I did not finish, so I finished. As a returning adult, I had shed many confusions/misunderstoods that I had when I was younger. This was a good thing, I did not take everything I saw and learned at face value. And I knew when not to take some things seriously.

          2. StrikingFalcon*

            Yeah I don’t blame anyone (everyone who gave me advice was speaking from their own experience) and I don’t regret the choices I made. But even though I was aware that things wouldn’t be as easy as “do your dream and the money will follow,” I also had no tools to decide what to do instead.

        2. Pommette!*

          Late to this comment section, but had to say: your comment captures the pervasiveness of this attitude very well.

      8. lemon*

        Parents, teachers, culture. My mom and grandmother really encouraged me to be a writer, I think because they both had squashed dreams of their own. I was good at writing, so I got a lot of encouragement for it from teachers and other adults. But, during my teen years, I wanted to start exploring other things, like technology (which is what I do now), and the adults in my life really strongly discouraged me. In their eyes, I was “throwing away a gift.” It’s funny to look back on that now because… it’s a gift that does not pay, lol. Then, when it came time to pick a college, I got steered heavily towards prestigious East Coast residential liberal-arts colleges. I’m a first-generation college grad, so I think my family just thought “fancy name=good paycheck,” and didn’t really understand what a liberal arts education is.

        And the culture at the residential LAC I went to very heavily encouraged the “do what you love” mentality. Tons of kids talking about dropping out to go WWOOFing because they didn’t want to “sell out” like their parents. I kind of bought into it for a while, not realizing that these kids came from privilege, and privilege meant you had options and a safety net, which I definitely did not have as a first-generation college student.

      9. squidarms*

        This probably isn’t generalizable, but my mother literally believes that thinking realistically about what kind of job you can afford to have is “limiting yourself.”

      10. NotAnotherManager!*

        It’s not something I heard much, and I don’t know if it was that my mom (start of the Boomer generation) didn’t buy in, that my grandparents (Greatest Generation) were such a huge part of my childhood and very involved in my education, or that I (a tail-end GenXer) am just stereotypically cynical. (Probably a lot of the latter – I remember scoffing at someone in college administering one of those career tests aimed at “finding your passion”. It’s a job, not a hot summer fling.)

        I like my job (most days), I love my boss, and I’m very good at what I do… but this is strictly a fee-for-service arrangement. I am burnt out, but I’m also very well-compensated for said burnout.

        I also don’t think that I got my position only by working hard or that only working hard leads to success. I got my position by sheer luck, and I’ve kept it and been promoted based on my hard work. But I could easily have applied that hard work in a job that didn’t offer advancement or with a employers who (like so many featured in AAM) were highly dysfunctional. I also hire people and see clearly how referral networks and who you know works. I got lucky.

      11. Federal Middle Manager*

        I’d also add that EMPLOYERS latched on to that idea and ran with it too. It was an insidious way for employers to offer lower wages and fewer benefits. Nonprofits are high on this list, but so is academia, etc. The job (helping people! educating young minds!) is “rewarding” so they pay doesn’t have to be as competitive.

      12. Fried Eggs*

        I think for me this message came from media and is wrapped up in feminism. All my childhood heroes were career-focused women. CJ Cregg in West Wing. Alicia Florrick in the Good Wife. Zoe in Firefly. Many of them found love, but they didn’t NEED a man. Their self-actualization came from being very good at what they do. That’s also how they get respect in a man’s world.

        As a result, I grew up idolizing competency. I was also taught by media that my work should do good in the world. Corporate jobs and the characters that held them were portrayed as slimy.

        So then I go into the world feeling my worth and identity are based on having a certain type of job, many of them in industries that today are crumbling (journalist, academic, think-tank staffer) AND being amazing at said job.

        “Do what you love” isn’t just about having a job that’s fun. It’s about framing career choices as statement about who you are and what you value. In an economy where it’s not actually possible for most people to do what they want.

      13. Mel_05*


        I always heard, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”
        I am doing what I love, more or less, but it’s hard work!

      14. Ducks*

        I’m a millennial, born in ’88. I don’t specifically remember my parents telling me to do work I love – I think it was more teachers, community leaders, and society in general. BUT: I never heard much pushback on the idea, and I think that’s why my peers and I internalized it so completely. There are so many mixed messages from society, telling us to worry about our looks and also not to worry, telling us to be ourselves but also to conform, telling us to buy things but also be frugal, and I think I learned to navigate those mixed messages. But in the case of finding your passion and making that your livelihood, it wasn’t a mixed message, it was THE message! I never thought to question it too much because I never encountered the pushback.

    2. emmelemm*

      I got that mostly from the general cultural vibe and thinkpieces. “Do what you love” drives 1,000 Internet headlines.

    3. argie*

      The other idea that should die is that you have to do what you are good at. Like, just because you are good at a thing (math, sports, music) doesn’t mean you have to make a career out of it. Maybe you want to keep it as a hobby, or don’t want to compete with all the other people that are good at it, or it has an oversaturated market.

      I do think it helps for work to be something you like doing, or is something you believe in the need for, just for the sake of giving a little meaning to something you do day in and day out. But you need to be able to leave work at work.

      1. Deliliah*

        I really like baking and am good at it and every time someone tells me I should open a bakery I just laugh inside. There’s no way in hell I want to turn my fun little hobby into an actual business that would sap all the fun out of it.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          SO there with you. I like to bake, and I’m good at it. But I want to keep it as something I do when I feel like it, not something I -have- to do.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            My former boss had always dreamed of having a bakery with a tea room, but her parents told her a bakery was below their educated upper middle class status. So she studied languages and started up a translation agency. But then one day she flipped, left the agency, put her husband in charge of it, left him and opened her bakery after all. She was happier doing what she loved than earning money.
            Not everybody’s take on life, of course. I’d done all sorts of vaguely satisfying jobs before I started working as a translator with her, and I consider that she was the one who gave me my break into the profession I’d always wanted to be in. There’s no “one size fits all” in terms of career advice.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Absolutely there’s no “one size fits all” with this stuff. And I’m so glad she loved it! But for me, baking is something I like to do…but not enough to put up with dealing with the public in order to make my living at it. But that’s me, and that math is very personal for every individual.

        2. Meganly*

          I’m with you! I love cake baking and decorating, but I don’t want to deal with the public. My usual response is, “I would, but I don’t ever want to get sick of the taste of buttercream!”

        3. lasslisa*

          “you should open a restaurant!”

          As it happens, I’m good enough at accounting to know exactly why I don’t want to open a restaurant. Accounting pays better, too.

          1. Bear Shark*

            This is me every time someone tells me I should monetize my hobby. No thanks, I wrote a business plan for it to see if it would even be feasible and it told me that would be a bad idea.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This can be super important in some instances. I have done a lot of care-giving. I am good at it. I will NOT do it for a living. No way. Not ever.

        I do think there is room to look at other things a person is good at. Clearly a person should not take a job doing something they are bad at. NO car repair jobs for me.

        Additionally, a person can look at what they are good at and find tangent areas of work. Someone who did not want to do care-giving might get interested in arenas that support good health so people can remain independent. My friend, who took care of an elderly friend for a long time, became interested in the whole concept of aging in place. And she broke that out into many different aspects of what it takes to help people stay in their homes longer. My ears perked up when she started talking how to remodel a home so things are accessible to the owner for a longer period of time.

      3. GS*

        Definitely this. I specifically have kept from monetizing my hobbies because otherwise they just become sources of stress. Things become a lot less fun when you need to do them to other people’s specifications, market them, and do them to someone else’s business plan– or even your own.

    4. EgyptMarge*

      I agree but it took a solid several years after school of working crap contractor jobs and then another several years of entry-level jobs to come to that conclusion. And all the while hanging on to that idea that if I just worked a little harder, I’d be gaining the experience or knowledge necessary to move into that “passion” job.

      Why aren’t millennials buying houses and diamonds and whatever other industries we’re killing? Because we’re trying to do what we love as a volunteer gig or an “internship” for too long and oddly enough, jewelry stores and banks don’t let you pay with “passion.”

    5. AliV*

      I actually have a job I love, at an organization I love, but the terrible management is making me absolutely miserable.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I was in that situation for far too long. It saps your energy and health. My boss did eventually get kicked out so I enjoyed a schadenfreude moment there, but it would have been so much better for me to get out.

  5. iHeardItBothWays*

    I am not doing my dream job. I don’t even know what my dream job would be. What I do brings me satisfaction and I enjoy it. and then I get my fulfillment with the things I do outside of work. I think too many people get sold the idea that work should be your everything and it can’t be and it shouldn’t be. Work brings in money – you should at least be happy at work since you will be there 40 -50 hours a day. But if you aren’t fulfilled there that’s okay! Find hobbies, friends, volunteer! Just sit on the couch and veg.

    1. Code Monkey, the SQL*

      My job is so far from my “dream” in that it comprises exactly none of my interests into the actual work.

      But the interaction with my coworkers, the things do in my downtime while queries are running, the actual benefits of the job? Pretty darn good. In the end, the trade off only hurt because I was told I could have it all, and clearly, I had to pick one or the other.

    2. Dave*

      My ‘dream job’ standards keep getting lower to things like not having to constantly tell your HR department their new plan is illegal.

    3. RussianInTexas*

      I wanted to be either a hurricane chaser or a car designer.
      I am a customer service specialist for a small plastic products manufacturer.
      Life’s like that.

    4. Yet Another Consultant*

      I have been trying to adopt this mindset, but then I get frustrated that I have to add hours of committed time to my schedule to do the things I enjoy in a volunteer capacity. I think maybe it comes down to how much satisfaction versus drudgery the job can provide, even if it falls short of “fulfillment.”

    5. emmelemm*

      Yeah, I don’t even know what my dream job would be, really. I just want a job that I can do, that doesn’t stress me out too much, and that has good benefits. THAT’S a dream!

    6. Deliliah*

      Yeah, I completely relate with Peter in “Office Space”. If I had a million dollars, I’d sit on my ass and do nothing.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      I am about 20 years into my career and routinely tell people I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I have no idea what my “dream job” would be (perpetual student or professional lounger would work well for me, but one costs money and the other doesn’t pay at all), and I’m not really passionate about anything. I *enjoy* a lot of things, but I have no one hobby or activity that I’m super into enough to turn it into a career.

      1. mreasy*

        SAME. I am always boggled when a tech person sells their company for 40 million dollars then…starts a new company? You could just NOT HAVE A JOB, bro!!!

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        My spouse’s aspiration is to be reincarnated as a well-cared for cat. He thinks it’s owed to him given the feline pampering he’s administered over the years.

  6. PivotPivot*

    It’s very sad but often true. Having to adjust ones hopes and dreams, even if they were based on unrealistic expectations, can be soul crushing.

  7. Kaitlyn*

    For me, burnout came when I “had it all” – a spouse, a house, a kid, a job – and there were too many balls in the air to add in rest. I had it all, and I had it on the same day, and I was fed up and exhausted. Some relief came in the form of child care (thank you to the preschool gods), but honestly, I still struggle with feeling like I have to do it all.

      1. Jules the Goblin*

        Oh my god I looooove Brené Brown. I’ve listened to her lectures on shame multiple times.

        And yeah, hard same Kaitlyn — I busted my ass until I got “the dream” (job, spouse, house, just pets instead of kids) — and then once I’d gotten it, started feeling like I was having a mid-life crisis when I was barely over 30. What was it all for? Is this really what I wanted? I’m trying to find satisfaction and contentment but I still struggle with this empty feeling like I should be doing what I “love”.

    1. The Original K.*

      I have a family friend who told me when I was 21 or 22, “You can have it all but you can’t have it all at the same time,” and it’s some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever gotten.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Oh my, so true.
        I modified it to, “Each chapter in life brings something that was not in the previous chapter.”

  8. NC*

    Lol, absolutely been there. In grad school, which is a common starting point in my field, we had to work constantly; no time for hobbies, exercise, kids, or whatever else might interest you. A deliberate burnout! So now it’s easy to just continue with a similar pattern – although I’m forced to leave the building for evenings and weekends now. I’m really glad that I had no laptop access and wasn’t allowed to work at all once I left the building in my first job after grad school – that helped me achieve something slightly more normal faster.

    (I hope I’m not putting myself out of competition luck by possibly commenting first!)

  9. jen hen*

    “Instead, we believed that if opportunities didn’t arise, it was a personal problem.”

    That hit home! I was raised to believe this – that if I didn’t find opportunity, I wasn’t looking hard enough, wasn’t working hard enough, wasn’t “enough” in some way. It’s a hard mindset to break free of.

    1. DanniellaBee*

      I know exactly what you mean! That was how I felt when I graduated college during the recession and had a really difficult time finding any sort of job despite the fact I worked in the field part time as a student for all four years. I went on tons of professional interviews and made the top two candidates several times and wasn’t given an offer. I ended up scrambling to survive and couch surfing. I took humiliating jobs at a hot dog stand where I had to wear a revealing uniform, a hellish call center, and then a retail job where I was promised full time and never given more than 19 hours in a week. I couldn’t afford to eat if I put gas in my car and paid my cell phone bill. Then the student loan calls started which was terrifying. Finally in February I landed my first professional job where I made $27,000 a year and had health insurance for the first time since I was 17 years old. Before I landed that job I was treated like a pariah when I was used to being treated as a smart young person with potential. It was like as soon as I graduated from college I lost that glow of potential and was suddenly considered a loser because I didn’t land an amazing job as soon as I graduated. I didn’t gain any sort of financial stability until my mid 2os and created a deep fear of homelessness and never ending debt. I am extremely lucky I was able to pivot to software project management and have been able to earn a great living and eliminate my student debt. The problem is this isn’t my “passion” by any means and tech has it’s own huge draw backs. I would love to go to grad school and pursue a career more in line with my interests but the risks seems huge.

      1. lemon*

        I feel you on this.

        I took a leave of absence from college because I basically had a nervous breakdown. I was better in a few months, tried to transfer schools, but didn’t qualify for financial aid at the new school, so my family disowned me. I spent years of my life being treated like the black sheep failure in the family because I worked retail instead of having a “real” job,” and because I was falling behind on my credit card payments. But it felt really unfair to have my family put it alll on me. I couldn’t go to school because no one would cosign a loan for me– it’s a pretty normal thing to need a cosigner for student loans. And this was also during the recession– I don’t know how my family expected me to get a “real” job with no college degree during an economic crisis.

        I remember once, I broke my collarbone in a car accident, which meant I couldn’t work for a couple of weeks, which meant I couldn’t afford to pay my rent. My mom very begrudgingly agreed to help me out that month, but she balked when I told her how much my half of the rent was: $250. That was actually quite reasonable at the time. I live in a large city, and rent has only gotten worse. (I saw the same apartment listed a year ago for more than twice what it was when I rented.) I think that was the first time my mom really realized just how expensive living had gotten, and why it was so hard for me to pay my bills even though I was working retail 50-60 hours a week.

        I was able to eventually finish school, get a “real” (aka white collar) job, and get some financial security. But, you know, that retail job remains my favorite job to this day. I liked my coworkers. We had fun at work. I had time to do the things I liked outside of work. It wasn’t meaningful work, but neither is what I do now. If I could make what I make now working retail, I’d definitely still be working there.

      2. Violet Rose*

        “It was like as soon as I graduated from college I lost that glow of potential and was suddenly considered a loser because I didn’t land an amazing job as soon as I graduated.”

        I… wow. This hit home like a freight train. I remember watching the perspective shift in my younger friends who graduated after me, who over the course of a few months went from the emotional high of graduating to “…this? THIS is what was waiting on the other side?”

    2. Wired Wolf*

      Yes it is. I got that on occasion, even if I could prove there was little in my chosen field. Nobody can pull a job out of thin air.

    3. cmcinnyc*

      There is a hard sell on this idea in American work culture, and now that I am good and old and been around this block multiple times it’s obvious: people are making good money selling this idea, or exploiting people who believe it. But when you’re young and new at the game it seems true! A friend texted me this week pissed that she didn’t get a particular job after multiple interviews. We commiserated and she mentioned a few of our industry hot shots. And I reminded her: “We know them, and–” She finished my sentence: “They’re scrambling. Some of them worse than us.” SO, SO MUCH of what “success” looks like from the outside is actually a carefully curated, social media illusion. People do not have the $ you think they have, the success you think they have. Very very few of them.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Another important message right here.
        Let’s call this person my friend. When I went over my friend’s house I KNEW for a fact that everything I saw was a loan payment. Everything, the house, the cars, the boats, the furniture, the jewelry, the clothes, every. single. thing was tied to a loan of some sort.
        My friend was very tense all the time, very quick to explode in temper. My friend was very quick to berate people, berate what they owned, berate their personality or their choices.
        All I could figure is that my friend needed to lift themselves up somehow and this is how they found they could make themselves feel better about the uneasiness not owning anything in the free and clear.

      2. Grumbles*

        The easiest way to make money as an artist is to get other artists to pay you to tell them how to make money as an artist. People turn to self-help books a lot for business advice, and of course no book will sell if it says your fate is not in your own hands. They are peddling the belief that of course *some* people fail (because they gave up too soon), but if you follow their secret recipe for success, you’ll make it and eventually all the struggle will just turn into your dramatic backstory.

  10. Anon36*

    Couldn’t agree more, especially about no longer investing in work emotionally. It’s been very difficult for me to detach and accept things as they are – getting stellar performance reviews, working my ass off, but still passed over for advancement opportunities in favor of “more experienced” people from outside firms. I have to start seeing work as a means to an end. I’m here to do a job, take my money, and build a decent life where my value isn’t tied to my occupation.

    1. My Brain Is Exploding*

      Yes! You have intrinsic value as a person and it is NOT related to your employment or lack thereof! (Or the color of your skin, or your age, or your gender, or your weight…)

    2. Merci Dee*

      I would often find myself getting frustrated at work, usually over things that I absolutely couldn’t change because they were taking place in other departments before the work came to me. I worked out strategies with my boss and grand-boss about some of the problems I was dealing with, but it didn’t solve everything. I decided that I wasn’t going to stress about things that I couldn’t change anymore, and that I had to learn the art of not giving a damn. So I adopted the wonderfully useful phrase, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” I handle what I can, but some of it is just out of my hands. And when it starts to raise my blood pressure, I just shrug and repeat, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Believe it or not, it’s actually done a lot to help during the past two years. I highly recommend it as a life mantra. :)

  11. Mouse*

    Wow, I identify with this so much! My husband and I are both young milllennials in “passion fields” and we talk often about whether we should abandon our passions for careers that pay more than the bare minimum. I’m working on that transition now–I just can’t do the work of 3 people for $30k/year in one of the biggest cities in the US anymore, just because I’m in an underfunded industry. It’s not worth it.

    I’m curious to see if the book explores what I think is the #1 cause of burnout in millennials: side hustles. Everyone I know that’s my age has some kind of “side hustle”, whether it’s a second job, a strenuous volunteer position for their resume, or a hobby that they feel pressure to monetize. I don’t know many people in my parents’ generation that feel the pressure to do these things the same way millennials do. When you’re focused on a side hustle, you have that much less time to relax, and even your hobbies and things you love become a source of stress.

    1. Green Door*

      As a Gen-Xer, I’ve always perceived the side hustle as someone wanting to show off how great they think they are. I always thought, if you have a main job that pays you well, why spend free time on a hustle that you could be spending with your family, friends, a hobby, just relaxing for your mental health. But then I started reading about just how hard it is for so many Millennials to find good work after college and I get the need. And now I’m just sad for folks who do the side hustle. They make it *look* like it’s just a cool side hobby for fun, but now I wonder how many folks out there really have the added stress of *depending* on that 2nd job.

      1. Exhausted Librarian*

        And there is a serious fear of giving up the side hustle when you don’t financially NEED it anymore, once you’ve gotten stuck in that trap. I’m always ready for the other shoe to drop and I can’t stop thinking “What if I give this thing up and then I get laid off and have nothing??”

        1. MissGirl*

          Oh my gosh. I just quit one of my side hustles as a ski instructor and I’m terrified of that. Not to mention now I have to pay out of pocket for lift tickets, which my brain is shouting that it’s a waste of money. I also feel like I gave up to the man because now I’m all corporate. Stupid brain.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Some kids from the Great Depression never entirely let go. That “what if” takes a hold and grows roots. When I emptied out my father’s house I gave away seven 30 gallon garbage bags of paper goods. The reminder that I kept, lasted us six months. My father lived alone, but “what if?’….

          This goes into- what do they call it?– an impoverished mindset? But there is another term….and I can’t remember it atm. I’d love to read up on this topic if anyone has resources.

      2. lemon*

        Even if you have a job that pays decently, a lot of millennials are encouraged to keep up side hustles to help them get ahead professionally. Which… I get. So many millennials did a ton of internships in their undergrads, went on and got master’s degrees, only to end up in an entry-level job where you’re not doing very interesting tasks, because you’re told you don’t have enough experience yet. So, something like starting a blog or running a successful Etsy becomes a way to demonstrate even more experience.

      3. Koalafied*

        My side hustle was a minimum wage job delivering food for a chain restaurant. I worked 5 days a week at my nonprofit gig and 5 nights a week there. Work was basically all I did for 18 months, which I guess had the advantage of leaving me with no time to spend any of the money I was earning so it could all go towards my student loans. I quit the second I paid them off.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I sew as a hobby and the pandemic ramped up the pressure to monetize that by making masks. I have made exactly one mask: I miniature one for a teddy bear. As far as I’m concerned, everyone who thinks I should do this because I can sew can use their pandemic time to learn to sew if they think it should be a priority. They don’t get to commandeer my time, energy, and fabric scraps.

      My job and living situation are in better shape than those of many people so they haven’t been my biggest source of stress, but I still need my hobbies to remain hobbies and not become jobs. When it’s a job, it’s no longer purely a creative outlet.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Also a Gen-Xer, but oh, well. I don’t have a dream job. My actual job doesn’t pay enough but the workplace is great and I like what I do so I can deal.

      2. TootsNYC*

        as someone who occasionally sews, I would never take on any sewing for money. It would destroy the relaxation of it immediately.

      3. The Rural Juror*

        A friend of mine who loves to sew, is an empath (sometimes to her detriment), somehow felt pressure to make like a gazillion masks. I knew she was going to take on the task no matter how many people told her she shouldn’t work herself ragged to do it. I think it has to do with a combination of her bleeding heart and anxiety. Working on the masks probably made her feel less helpless in a crazy world.

        So I gave her a bunch of old tshirts and told her to recycle the fabric for the masks. She’s going to spend her time doing all that whether we like it or not, so I didn’t want her to spend money on the fabric. I think people don’t realize how EXPENSIVE some hobbies are. Fabric, yarn, paint, paper, etc…it all adds up in expenses real damn quick!

      4. Quill*

        This (and the fact that I had to fight the sewing machine which is technically ten years older than me) is why I ended up making only one batch of masks.

        The Sewing Machine won that fight.

      5. Syfygeek*

        My friend is an out of work costumer- the living history museum decided they didn’t need costumes any more over a year ago. So she began making MASKS!! when Covid hit. Mask with strings, masks with elastic, big masks, little masks, out of her fabric stash that she used to use to make custom clothing for re-enactors. We all have masks made out of fabric that is correct for the 18th and 19th century.

        She’s done with masks now.

      6. Littorally*

        Oh, geez, yeah, the pressure to monetize hobbies is insane. I do creative writing as a hobby, and my folks are constantly on my back about how I should try to get published, try to earn an income of some kind from it, on and on and on…. No! I am specifically not ever going to try and monetize my writing, as I want it to remain something I do for relaxation and fun, strictly on my own schedule and toward my own desires.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          I do a very little bit of writing. And I’ve decided I’m not going to try to publish or anything…because I don’t want to open myself up to the kind of criticism writers get. The stress of dealing with Other People’s Opinions would cancel out the relaxation. Not worth it.

      7. Tiny Soprano*

        Omg this. I’m good at lots of little creative things. Sewing, drawing, crochet, jewellery making, you name it. There is constant pressure to monetise every single one of them, because there’s this pervasive myth that “People would pay money for that!” and success would be instant and easy!

        But people don’t like paying money for things. We’re too used to fast-fashion/sweatshop prices. You just end up fighting people over how much things are worth or you end up taking less money and having to abandon it because it’s not sustainable. Every creative thing takes time, energy, skill and materials, and people only think about the materials. There’s always more hours in something than you think, and before you know it you’re pretty much juggling 7 piecemeal, deadline-heavy, underpaid jobs. Around your actual job/s.

        I don’t do any side hustles except the art anymore, and I’ve raised my prices and warn people my deadlines are subject to change. People are still weirdly offended when don’t use their idea of turning everything I do into an etsy store though.

    3. Elenia*

      And this is bs too. Not you, but this bs “gig economy”. We rate employment rates on this shit but it’s not ok to have to have 2-3 jobs just to make a living! And yet so many young people are in this boat. And that is an awful way to live, and the people who set them up this way just laugh at them. ugh, it’s ridiculous. No wonder depression is so high amongst millenials.

      1. GothicBee*

        40 hours a week should be enough for people to live off of. I will never understand the boatloads of financial advice that’s out there that essentially boils down to: get a second job. It’s demeaning to tell someone to just get another job. People have lives! They should be able to have free time!

        1. argie*

          I think the advice is “Make more money” because there’s only so many lattes you can cut. But the result is that many people need to have a second job in order to make more money.

    4. It's a fish, Al*

      Talk about hitting the nail on the head! I can’t imagine life without my side hustle – it’s the make or break point for the long-term finances (and in 2020 just for daily basics). I’d never even considered how generational this was until right this minute.

      I’ve been mentoring an older person in my field as she transitioned from academic administration to tourism – which is generally a younger person’s game – and she remains horrified by the need to hustle continuously. We just call it “building our year”, because that is the industry expectation that nobody will give you anything approaching what you need to live. I thought it was more about the change in field, but now I’m wondering if our differing perspectives are more to do with our 20-year age difference.

    5. SomebodyElse*

      I think this was a pretty common experience for Gen X at the same age (at least it was in my spheres). Honestly I was always jealous of my friends and coworkers who could have a side hustle, I was never able to do it because I was already traveling and relocating for work.

    6. argie*

      I think it also couples with this idea that you have to optimize *everything*.

      Is your money working as hard as it can? (You should be investing everything! Its wasting potential by sitting in a bank account! Throwing money away on rent instead of buying a house!)

      Here are 10 ways to be more efficient! (So you only have to spend 1 hour on house chores and devote the rest of the time to making your employer money)

      You and your time aren’t considered valuable unless you are monetizing it.

    7. jojo from kokomo*

      I was thinking about how we millennials have also absorbed the idea that your job can either be meaningful OR well-paying. Possibly neither, never both. The Important Work is its own reward and there will always be new idealists coming up behind you.

      That’s an interesting point regarding side hustles. I would add in the MLM products that have strained so many relationships (oh no, she’s going to try to get me to buy more nutritional supplements!) and failed to produce the promised rewards.

    8. Rake*

      Ugh I HATE the idea of side hustles. I have an artsy hobby that lends itself very nicely to that side hustle idea and for awhile I even had an Etsy page for it and what I found was that the pressure to design the site and advertise and keep and inventory and fulfill custom orders murdered all the enjoyment I got from it and I almost stopped producing completely. I eventually deleted the Etsy account and I’ve had more fun indulging this hobby in the past few months than I had for the Etsy years. When your hobby becomes work too, then what’s left?

    9. Koalafied*

      For my 2c, definitely get out as soon as you can.

      I clawed my way to a respectable salary in an underpaying field, and now I’m burnt out and ready to jump ship for something that would pay me better without heaping so much responsibility on me, but I lack direct experience in any other field so haven’t had much luck trying to transition into a position that would pay better unless I’m willing to go entry-level, because everybody hiring at the mid-senior level wants to hire someone who has 7+ years of experience doing the exact same job at the exact same type of company in the exact same industry. I bought a house a few years ago before the burnout hit me and now it’s a golden-handcuffs situation; I can’t take a significant pay cut without losing my house.

      I always thought that moving into a better-paying field was this option in my back pocket if I ever wanted to, but now I wish I had made the move earlier in my career, when I would be going back down to entry-level with 3-5 years of experience in a different field instead of going back down to entry level after 10 years of hard work.

  12. Healthcare Worker*

    As a boomer, I’m watching this play out in my children’s lives. At times I despair of some of our parenting choices; did I set them up for failure? Of course, they graduated in the midst of the recession, but it hurts me to see them work so hard and unable to get ahead.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I’m a boomer with kids at the age to enter the job market, and one of them is WAY behind. They missed the 2008 recession, but they’re getting the pandemic one. And I keep thinking, “did I screw this up?” Because I SURE didn’t get any help from the world around me in terms of creating an economy where my kid could get a job that would pay any kind of bills.

    2. bunniferous*

      Two out of my three children have struggled greatly in this economy. Things are certainly tougher than they were in my younger years. I could support myself on minimum wage. Now nobody can.

      1. ampersand*

        This amazes me. My parents are boomers, I’m just on the edge of Gen X/millennial, and in the late 70s my parents supported themselves, bought a house, and had me while making just above minimum wage. I can’t even imagine.

    3. squidarms*

      I doubt it’s your parenting choices or anything about your kids in particular. This is just the way things work now, depressing as it is.

    4. Diatryma*

      You have great power here: you can remind them that this is not because of anything they did, that they have made good choices based on the information they had at the time, that they have worth beyond utility, that they will find a way through to Okay.

      Emotional support, or at least not emotional undermining, makes a huge difference.

  13. Punk Ass Book Jockey*

    As a millennial librarian…oof, this hit home. I am also lucky enough to be employed full-time in the field, but what I am dealing with now is not being totally happy and struggling with thoughts of it being a moral failing. I know none of that is true, but when your identity is so wrapped up in your job and you know you’re lucky to have the job, it’s hard to not take it personally.

    1. Librarian*

      Don’t feel bad about not being totally happy. I’m a librarian who is typically happy with my job, but I’m still not sure if in hindsight I would have chosen this path instead of just moving up the ranks in my credit union job and focusing on what I loved in my free time. It doesn’t help that we’re constantly told how lucky we are by people who have no idea what it’s really like to have this job.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Never, never, never base your identity on your job. Never. Doing so is a fast route to misery. It also sets you up for exploitation by unscrupulous employers, who will work you to death and then criticize you for not being “passionate” about the organization’s “mission.”

      And yes — I, too, am a librarian, although I hope to be retired soon, if I can figure out a way to go 6-8 months without contracting a lethal virus.

      1. Sinister Serina*

        Absolutely this. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what generation. We are all replaceable. And if you tie up your identity with your job, you will be crushed when you find out you’re replaceable. Signed, someone who never did that, but has friends who did and saw how painful it was for them to find this out.

      2. Bob Loblaw*

        I have a slightly different perspective on this. I agree that it’s likely not good to base one’s identity on one’s current job (bc of the risk of exploitation, etc.), but on a career or on work generally? Maybe not for a lot of people. It depends on personality, etc. But I learned early on, including through some less than rewarding jobs, that I derive a lot of my identity and personal satisfaction from my work. That’s just how I’m constituted. Does it mean that a career setback or issues in a job can cause me more misery than for someone who is less invested? Sure does. But then again, a divorce or marriage problems will cause misery for folks invested in their marriage. Work-to-live is a perfectly healthy attitude, and maybe the most healthy for the majority of people, but as long as you know what you’re signing up for, I don’t think it’s *wrong* to invest more of one’s identity in work. (Not that you’re saying this, but all my (Gen X) life I’ve had people tell me I was going to be unhappy for investing so much in work. Which is interesting bc it’s the opposite of the message that Millennials seem to have gotten).

      3. Kimmy Schmidt*

        I’m also a librarian, and Punk Ass Book Jockey sounds a lot like me. I don’t even know how to not base my identity on my job. Every positive trait that I like about myself gets warped through my librarian identity (I’m a problem-solver, I like to help people, I’m a good teacher, I’m a lifelong learner, I’m a cat person). I’ve wanted to be a librarian since I was little, I come from a family of librarians and educators, and I don’t know how I would market myself to get any other type of job. How, how do I base my identity on anything else???

    3. E.R*

      I feel the same way about my publishing job. My identify feels tied to it, I know I’m lucky to have a full-time, well paid job in this industry, and yet I can’t say I wouldn’t be just as happy, maybe even happier, doing something else (particularly in an industry that has more growth/opportunities). But its tough to give up what you have when you feel like one of the “lucky” ones. Like can a person get lucky in this economy more than once?

  14. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    As a millennial, I get it. We are doing the best we can though, just as the generation before us. My parents faced crises that my grandparents wouldn’t have dreamed of, yet it was they who rode the depression bareback, and my grandma’s mother ran away from a plantation at 15 to be a career homesteader with a middle aged immigrant in the Rockies. They did what they had to…but I thank my lucky stars for adequate health/mental health care these days!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Each generation has their own story and their own thing.

      I remember my father extending his sincere concern to me with this, “I grew up in the Great Depression. No one had anything. We were all poor together, everyone was the same. But you have a different life. You have some people who have everything and some people who have nothing, with you being awkwardly in the middle somewhere.”
      Jawdroppingly, he said, “I would NEVER trade my setting for yours. Yours is worse.”
      He had no food, no clothes, he sewed his shoes every night in preparation for the next day and some how I had it worse.
      But I do get it. A person gets fed a storyline about a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Just find where the rainbow ends. Then the person finds out there is no rainbow and there is no pot of gold. It is worse now just as my father said, the pressure to have material goods, the pressure to spend and spend, the pressure to have all the markers of Success have increased exponentially. It’s worse than when I was in my 20s and 30s. And the space between what wages are and what things cost has gotten even wider. There is no doubt in my mind that a full blown sense of hopelessness can set in. If I wanted to buy a house now, that would be entirely off the table. Indeed, I know many people 10 years younger than me who have decided not to buy house. And why would they, as the ROI is horrible.

  15. My Brain Is Exploding*

    I’m way past being a millennial, but still get wrapped up in discussions about your “passion.” Nice if it happens, but work is…work. Look at the likely ROI on your passion, and if it’s not good then either try something different or have a backup plan.

  16. MissKiss*

    I’m a boomer and I’m feeling guilty. I’m going to share this with my kids, none of whom are in traditional office or manufacturing style jobs, just to see if years of watching me struggle at a well-paying job I hated led them to the semi off the cuff sorts of jobs they’ve had during their lives.

    1. Estelle*

      As a millennial with boomer parents… Probably. It’s a conversation I’ve had with them – I watched both of them get screwed by companies they had given decades of their lives to. I don’t make a lot of money, but I do a thing I love for a cause I believe in.

    2. Quill*

      Possibly. My parents are the youngest set of boomers, I’m in the youngest set of millennials, but one thing I learned from them in all the recessions: every company will screw you over.

      It’s just way more comprehensive these days how thoroughly and quickly that will happen. And because of everything going on in the economy people overall don’t have any cushion for when that happens, which was slightly less of a worry in 2000 (at least in my dad’s field, when everyone and their toddler wasn’t coding.)

    3. I'm A Little Teapot*

      One thing that my parents don’t understand and I wish they would STFU about is changing jobs. I don’t change jobs on a whim, but I am on job #5. My parents seem to think you should stay at the company for 30 years. Maybe it used to be that way, but the world isn’t the same as it was when they were young. And considering my mother hasn’t worked in an office since I was about 2 years old, her advice frequently actively harmful.

    4. MissKiss*

      Back in the early ‘00’s our ‘lifetime’ jobs shipped all of our work overseas. We had to reinvent ourselves. I had already taken a year’s leave to finish college. I think those two things showed our kids more of how life works than if we had retired after 40 years with the same company. The kids saw flexibility and picking ourselves up after getting the boot. Maybe that helped them more than anything to realize you don’t need a ball and chain around your ankle to be successful in life.

    5. Grapey*

      My dad is a boomer and worked in menial jobs. He never outright said he hated his jobs but he NEVER told me “do what you love”. It was more “don’t be lazy and unemployable, and anything worth doing is worth doing right.” Meaning he wouldn’t let me talk down about baggers or public workers or anyone that had an honest but “low” job. He didn’t turn his nose down at in-state colleges, taught me how to be frugal by gardening and fixing my own stuff instead of being a consumer.

      I’m doing extremely well for myself. My peers laughed when he said “in state public school is a better choice than Harvard” but it worked out to be true. No student loan debt.

      1. Le Sigh*

        I also went to a state school–private wasn’t even a choice–and graduated with minimal debt (like, $7K in total). But that was also in part because my parents didn’t have a lot of money, so I was eligible for a lot of need-based aid (though I also had to work multiple jobs). A lot of state schools have jacked tuition rates and unless you can find enough scholarship money or get need-based aid, state school can still bury people in debt.

        1. Quill*

          Especially these days. The closest state school to my hometown, which had a reputation of taking anyone with a pulse, costs about $7k per semester (just tuition and fees) for the upcoming school year.

          I got a pretty dang good scholarship elsewhere but it still baffles me that it costs more than a year of the average household income in the same county to go to that school.

        2. Grapey*

          Same – I got in on need based aid, which I guess to a college is still “they have money!” (doesn’t matter if it’s from gov’t or a trust fund.)

          Thinking more about this, I’ve talked to many adults that expressed hatred at the idea of WIC or HeadStart because “my parent tried to get on it, but we weren’t ~poor enough~ to qualify”. Seems like the social safety net actually does help those at the very bottom, while leaving those just above the cutoff to flail. The stigma of being on food stamps and wearing KMart clothes wasn’t fun as a kid but over the long haul the social safety net really, really, really boosted my chances of success.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Boomer here, and this is what I saw with my father (the parent who worked). He gave his entire life to a bunch of ingrates. This company is a well known household name. Some people do well at this company, although it wasn’t at the location my father was at. He never saw anyone do much above average. I still remember picking him up in the parking lot. It was a big lot, probably a couple hundred cars. They were ALL used cars. All of them were older vehicles.

  17. Green Door*

    I’m not a Millenial, but I totally agree with one of her underlying points. It really sucks to have a previous generation blame you for not being successful – when you followed the guidance that *they* taught you. I remember being amazed that my grandfather got a huge pension, a real gold watch and a color TV when he retired, for 35 years with the same organization. “Pays to be loyal” he said. Ha! For my generation, it was “If you dream it, you can achieve it.” I say “F that,” too!

      1. Sinister Serina*

        Exactly. My grandfather died shortly before his retirement date-and by shortly, I mean a couple of months. Sorry, his widow-you are SOL. They did not care about his 34 years and 10 months. That’s the lesson I learned. No pension, nothing.

    1. IL JimP*

      Totally agree, for me being at the tail end of Generation X I get pulled in both directions but also always having that nagging feeling I should be doing something bigger, more impactful, more meaningful. It pushes me to not embrace what I have which is a good job that pays well and focus on the other things in life. It can’t always be “I’m doing this until I feel the thing I love to do” sometimes I’m working here so that I can maybe do other things down the road. There is no path the greatness unless you’re born into it or get really lucky with a one in a million idea.

    2. cmcinnyc*

      I”m Gen X and my parents are 78. They have pensions. Actual pensions. I have something called a pension by my job that is not actually a pension–it’s a 401K-type investment account. I get a tax break on it, and the company puts a little money in it (not a match) and it’s better than nothing but it’s not a pension. Pension-lite. And I very much doubt most millenials will get pension-lite. I hold out hope the Zers will get Universal Basic Income.

      1. Doc in a Box*

        Right. My parents (born in the 50s, started careers in the early 80s, retired in the mid 2010s) have Actual Pensions, based on a formula of X% of average salary times Y years of service. When I was looking for my first job out of training, in 2018, my dad was all “What’s the pension plan like?” and I was like “None of these places have a pension. Most of them don’t even have a 401k/403b match.” He was shocked.

        1. Bear Shark*

          My boomer parents were shocked when I explained to them that there’s basically no such thing as a pension anymore.

      2. londonedit*

        Yes. I’m in my late thirties; my parents are in their early seventies. My dad retired about seven years ago and he has an actual pension that gives him and my mum enough money to live very comfortably on. I only started paying into a company pension scheme two years ago (I couldn’t afford to before then) and so far my pension pot amounts to a couple of thousand pounds. Not exactly enough to keep me in my old age. Plus the state pension age keeps going up and up in the UK and will probably be well over 70 by the time I get anywhere near retirement. Fun times!

    3. Not So NewReader*

      My grandmother’s nursing home bill was paid in full by my then deceased grandfather’s insurance.

      Companies used to actually give you things of meaning.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        Right? My Grandfather had lifetime healthcare because of my Grandmother’s position in state healthcare. She took reduced pay in return for the guarantee that both she and her husband would have healthcare til both of their deaths, even if she did (which unfortunately she did, FU cancer) pre-deceased him.

    4. Le Sigh*

      My parents are boomers and I watched them both do everything “right” according to their parents’ generation — work their way up to an BA and MBA, get office jobs, buy a house, make enough for mom to stay at home when they have kids. And then get laid off repeatedly in the early 90s, late 90s, and early 2000s. I learned at the age of 8 not to trust employers and just roll my eyes when people talk about how millennials aren’t “loyal” — lol who do you think taught us that?

      But at least my parents have pensions!

  18. A Teacher*

    Fitting. I’m a millennial and actually wrote a thesis on burnout for my first Masters degree. Now I am a careers teacher and cover this in my courses.

  19. BatManDan*

    I’ve been self-employed for 32 years, and this essay / excerpt is part of the reason why. My wife will get a lot out of this, though.

    1. Nonna Jr.*

      I was self-employed for two years and found it just as exhausting actually! Just a different kind of exhausting.

      1. BatManDan*

        The only one burning out me was ME lol. I knew I was working for my purposes, not someone else’s. That is, physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion still there, just not spiritual exhaustion.

  20. Khai*

    I make $11 an hour to run a front end at a discount retailer and people think I should be grateful for the paycheck that leaves me deciding whether I’m getting food or doctor’s visits for the back, knees, hips and feet I’m constantly injuring at work.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      One of the cruelest generalizations is that the lowest paid people do the least work and the highest paid people do the most work. Over the last 10 years I’ve found the opposite to be true. As I worked up the ladder to higher paying jobs, the pressure decreases and the support increased.
      I believe that pay is inversely correlated with suffering. The more you suffer, the less you get paid. The less you suffer, the more you get paid.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I used to be a veterinary assistant, which is a job that you can get into without a lot of formal education, but which still needs to be done by people who are careful, detail-oriented, observant, smart, and willing to learn. I worked with a lot of (women, mostly) who were great people–very caring, curious, and thorough.

        We never made a living wage or got benefits (at the time; nowadays they probably would probably keep us at 29 hours a week). And then people kvetch all the time about how much vet care costs! It’s expensive. The materials and medications are expensive. It’s healthcare on a small business model, and it takes a lot of people to run a place safely. Do you want your vet to skimp on personnel or hire people who don’t care about doing the job well?

        1. Tabby*

          SAAAME. I come from a vet assistant background, and it’s a lot of work for little pay. Ironically, I’m actually best suited to vet assisting/petsitting/dog daycare. And, natch, none of it pays very well. Or even usually has full time work, unless you want to manage, which I don’t.

          And none of my skills really transfer to any high-pay jobs,that I’m aware of. I mean, I could probably do child daycare (I gotta tell you, there’s nothing quite so exhausting as being in a room with 30 fur covered fiends trying to eat each other’s poop, mount each other, and climb all over you for attention… I don’t think kids are /that/ bad! They’d probably be a step up! lol), but again, that doesn’t pay well. So, yeah, I internally roll my eyes when people complain about how much vet care costs. Seriously, a clinic is not cheap to run.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        Interesting. I would say I grew up with learning the opposite generalization – lowest paid people do the most work. . .highest paid people, well, no one in my family had much to say about that except that most of their own managers weren’t worth what they were paid.

        In my career, I have not found this decreased pressure and support that you speak of as I have moved up the white collar professional ladder, but I agree it’s worse at the bottom. (My industry is one where you’re supposed to be a company person and work a lot and we’re always so busy that staff can’t be assigned to help you.) I think the mental work of my job is possibly more stressful (I wake up in the middle of the night worrying about things), but I have no physical stress and personal stress is definitely decreased exponentially when you have money.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          The people up the ladder may or may not have more work. What they have is respect. They are presumed to be adults, who know their job and can be trusted to get on with it, rather than unruly, dimwitted children who need a firm hand to keep them in line.

          I’m a techie now. I’m treated very well, because there’s a line of recruiters in my inbox, and if you can’t be bothered I’ll make like a tree and leave. But I’ve also spent some time chasing a dream job, because millennial, so I’ve been on the wrong side of this too. I desperately wanted to work in my field; there was a line of applicants in my boss’ inbox who wanted it just as badly, and would have been just as good. So…why would I be treated with any respect whatsoever? Spoiler: I wasn’t.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Hard agree. The less you are paid the harder you work and the more scrutiny you will face.
        I worked front lines at a job that offered company picnics once a year. No one on the front lines went. And the reason was we saw the higher paid workers standing around gossiping and sipping their coffee for large chunks of time, yet if we stood still for one minute we were going to be fired.
        The opinion quickly took hold that the higher paid workers don’t know what real work is. They don’t have to keep moving when their body is screaming, “I need to faint right now.”

      4. Shortstuff*

        I don’t think they’re correlated necessarily. My experience has been that the peak workload point sits somewhere in the middle ranks and what the highest paid people get paid for is more of the ‘buck stops here’ responsibility. At different levels, people do different work rather than more or less specifically (individuals may find it more or less at different levels depending on their preferences and skills). I do think that the higher up you go the more likely you are to be insulated from the consequences and emotional labour requirements of your decisions.

    2. Tiny Soprano*

      Also that we’re getting trapped in what I’m calling “active” customer service jobs until we’re older, which wrecks your body. When I was 22 my body could handle a month straight of 12 hour shift customer service work. It could cope with very long, physical opera rehearsals and raked stages. Now I’m doing hospitality while I retrain in a new field, and one long shift last week left me unable to walk for three days. Plus I got stuck crouched down on the floor for a few minutes because I couldn’t get up by myself and my colleague thought I was joking because I look young. Being an older millenial sucks.

  21. GeekFreak*

    I see this in post-secondary students all the time! So much pressure to be 100% at everything all the time, yet they often lack basic life skills, such as time management and mental health opportunities.

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      This. The social pressure to succeed in everything is crushing. Be pretty, be fit, have good marks at school, have friends, make lots of money… It’s impossible.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I feel like social media also exacerbates this in a way prior generations didn’t have to deal with. I’m old and also don’t do social media, but the pressure to be on all these platforms and constantly posting/liking/commenting just seems exhausting to me. I barely have enough hours to live my in-person life, much less curate both professional and personal lives online.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      So I was millennial-esque before millennials. In the 90s, I did the whole high school thing to the extreme–the most advanced class in everything, band (state band!), foreign language exchange, sports, etc.

      My kids are out of college and in high school now, and while neither of them are much for that academic dork lifestyle like me, I told them it isn’t really necessary anyway. I see kids taking the most advanced math class because it’s the most advanced. They act like you can’t be a [fill in the blank] if you don’t get on the right track in 7th grade. I agree there is probably a more sure-fire way to do something and get into the top schools, etc., but most kids don’t know what they want to do and some are taking Calc 3 in high school in case they decide to be engineers. Spoiler alert-most won’t be engineers and you can take Calc 3 in college anyway. The programs are set up for that. Let Dilbert who wanted to be an engineer since pre-K do that, but the rest would be better off taking personal finance 101 or FACS, lightening their course load, and learning some practical skills.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Yes! Thank you! We have forgotten to teach our kids a few things.
      Unfortunately, this has been going on for decades.
      The failure here is epic.

  22. TW*

    As an older millennial, this really hits home.
    Get a job that pays, so you can clock out and go home to do what you love? You’re never able to just clock-out.
    Go to college, study and work hard, and you’ll get paid to do what you love and are good at. But where are the jobs paying a decent rate out of college? My first career position after grad school offered a $20k salary, and I was ecstatic because I actually *found a job in my field.* Paying for food and rent had to wait.
    There is cultural value associated with passion and ingenuity, but there’s very rarely adequate, currency-based payoff. And yet, somehow, it’s also the fault of millennials for having to create–and still not be sustained via–the gig economy.
    It all… it just hurts.

  23. RC Rascal*

    As a member of Generation X, I strongly believe “do what you love” has been a disservice to many in my generation as well as Millennials. Sometimes the work is good because you did it well, it needed to be done, & the customer is happy. Sometimes that’s good enough.

    Companies used to train employees. In the 1990s those programs got cut. Then entry level jobs got outsourced & exported. Now the cost of the education has been pushed off on the student, with graduates of specialized masters programs having hundreds of thousands in debt and not necessarily having job prospects.

    Meanwhile there are still well paying jobs in boring meat & potatoes industries that young people don’t target. I work in the industrials & hear this from my customers. Everyone wants a glamour job. Meanwhile somewhere in the Midwest someone is selling switchgear & paying his mortgage & truck payment.

    1. Green Door*

      So much yes on the job training angle. As Gen-Xer, I think it started with us, where “getting trained for work” meant College! College! College! Except, as someone said up thread, there is a huge disconnect between what colleges teach and what employers need. And that disconnect is still there 25 years later and we have an entire generation of highly educated people who are screwed.

      1. RC Rascal*

        My biggest fear from the COVID work from home is that an entire generation of knowledge jobs will be outsourced to lower cost countries. It’s a short step from “ this job can we done at home” to “lets send it to India. Or Phillipines. Or China”. The US no longer has the corner on higher education. I was most recently with a large global organization and it was amazing what we could figure out what to send to lowest cost countries. They were still company employees. Some of them were excellent. And sometimes they got promoted to the US.

        Knowledge jobs are easily exported.

        1. LDF*

          Oh man, I’ve been wrapped up in just “companies offloading the cost of rent to employees” because that’s bad enough imo, but what you’re saying seems obvious in retrospect :/ Not to begrudge people in lower-earning places a better living if that’s what actually ends up happening, but I don’t really have faith that that will happen, or that COL will go down elsewhere quick enough to compensate.

        2. LPUK*

          yes. there a great book that came out some 15 years ago called ‘The world is flat’ (Thomas Friedman) that talked about this when outsourcing was much less prevalent than it is today, which pointed out that tomorrow’s ‘safe jobs’ were those that had to be done face to face ie service jobs, sales jobs etc and that former safe professions like lawyer, accountant etc were the next to go offshore. Worrying stuff even then. When one of my companies had McKinsey in for a large project and I was n the project team with them, we were together all day and I went home exhausted and was simultaneously embarrassed and appalled when they would come back in the morning with beautiful, highly professional presentation decks. I imagined them working into the early hours but later learned that they sent all their presentations across to a team in India who did the work while they slept!

      2. Hotdog not dog*

        I’m in the opposite situation. For Reasons I didn’t get a BS, only an associate degree. I learned almost everything I needed to know over the course of 25 years at a job which unceremoniously eliminated my position in favor of someone who would work for half the salary. (She does the same work I did but has a different title.) It turns out that I am considered unqualified for equivalent jobs because I didn’t finish college 30 years ago. Great news, though…I am totally qualified for a minimum wage retail job! At this point, I’m not concerned about doing what I love, I’d be very happy to do what pays the bills.

      3. Gumby*

        “getting trained for work” meant College! College! College!

        Yes! I am always kind of depressed when I see college pushed as primarily about being trained for work. That is not what a liberal arts education is supposed to be about!

        Someone did a study that showed college degree holders made $x more on average than non-degree holders over their lifetimes and voila – now college is the one true way to get a higher salary. But averages are not guarantees. And looking at it as if they were has encouraged a lot of people to go to college who really might have done just fine work-wise w/o the experience.

        OTOH, I am a big fan of the whole idea that “learning makes a [woman] fit company for [herself]” – but that is about personal growth, the cultivation of one’s intelligence, creativity, curiosity, etc. It’s not about making money. It also doesn’t have to happen on a university campus. (Though I do highly recommend it because I *loved* college.) This is why I hate it that jobs advertise as requiring a degree when it really isn’t necessary. Oh, and that schools actually ask the business community what they think should be taught. And when people say someone’s education is “wasted” if they decide to be a stay at home parent.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      As a Gen-Xer, I think my generation got knocked down faster than the current generation. Many of my friends went to prestigious/art/unique colleges only to drop out after a year because they couldn’t handle it. They had to reevaluate their lives at 20 and set a new outlook on life. But college has changed to focus so much attention on the success and support of the individual student that the student isn’t prepared for the “world.” And colleges feed into the whole “follow your dream: do what you love” message. So millennial students are 25 when they start to feel the stark reality of the working world…with a lot working against them.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Gen X was a weird time. I’m a “young” Gen X, and went to school for a practical, well-paying career. I never left it behind, but I angst’d my way through the 2000s once I caught the “do what you love” bug. I believe that’s how I found this site, actually. Now 20 years in, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and love other things.

    4. Zephy*

      I work for a college that offers hyper-specialized bachelor’s degrees, to say nothing of master’s! Who actually needs a degree in “automotive dealership management,” specifically? Why not just go for a BA in business? What arcane secrets hide in the world of automotive dealerships that require a whole separate degree program to learn how to manage them?

      1. SomebodyElse*

        At some point somebody decided that general non-liberal arts degrees were worthless.

        I remember somebody telling me they wouldn’t even look at someone with a BS in Business… I thought that was really weird, and was curious how they managed to find candidates if they were that picky.

        I do think that some areas are specific (hotel and restaurant management as an example*) but yeah mostly not so much.

        I went to a university who had this degree program. The first thing they asked freshman was “Are you here to learn how to run a hotel or restaurant or are you here to learn how to own one? If you are here to learn how to own one, go now and switch to Business and pick this up as a minor. Everyone else, stay.”

      2. RecoveringSWO*

        And then those super narrow bachelor’s degrees hurt graduates when they need to pivot to another career field because their initial field is dying/the major employer in the region has moved and grads have geographic ties they can’t leave behind, etc.

    5. Urn*

      THIS. The shifting of risk burden and education burden onto the employee can’t be overstated as a big part of why things are so f’d. From the death of on the job training and apprenticeships to 1099 gig work that leaves workers to deal with everything on their own. It makes me livid.

      1. My Soapbox*

        I’ve never thought about this but it is so true! And not only is there almost no specific job training or apprenticeships, but companies want every new employee to have at least X years experience so they don’t have do even basic job training. If companies had their preference they could plunk you down at your desk on hour 1 and get the work output of someone at the company 5+ years.

  24. Nonna Jr.*

    I can’t wait to read this.

    I can’t believe the self-promotion required to even keep my boring office job now. I feel like I need to be good at 1000 different things to stay employed and 1000 other things to manage some kind of social/personal life. It’s no surprise to me that we’re burnt out.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      You need to do four different jobs for four different bosses these days for an office job. I just don’t have that many arms.

  25. Stackson*

    This resonates so strongly with me. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I work, how good of a job I do, or how much others acknowledge it–the same people who acknowledge it also disparage millennials as a spoiled, entitled, lazy generation on the whole, even when evidence to the contrary is all around them. AND even when those who claim that we are spoiled, entitled, and lazy are the very ones who raised us. If that’s what you think of us, what does that say about you?? I never asked for a participation trophy!

    1. Ali G*

      As a GenXer, the Boomer-Millennial fight is quite interesting. Boomers did this to their kids and then blame them for it? I guess it’s somewhat possible that some Millennials have younger GenX parents, but not likely. All my GenX parents that had kids didn’t do so until well into their thirties.
      It really is backwards! And the point the author makes about how this is instilled in Millenials because of how they are raised is so true. I remember when I first started working in my early 20’s and was hearing about parents of teens and all the crap they were doing “to get them in a good school” and it was exhausting. I grew up very unstructured, and still got in a good school.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yep. The whole thing is just a larger-scale version of growing up with my Boomer mom and Millennial sister, which I could not escape fast enough. I am so stereotypically GenX that it’s comical, and I learned early not to get caught in the crossfire of other people’s drama.

        2. Cheryl C*

          Yep, Gen X is invisible because there were never enough of us to have any economic clout. It’s strange how little we’re noticed now. Although like a true Gen X I prefer staying under the radar, thanks.

      1. Lady Catherine de Bourgh*

        It was also a LOT easier to get into a good school then than it is now. I went to a well known good school and I am quite sure I would never get in today. There is no “just do your best and it will be fine” if you want to go to a good school, and definitely not if you want to go to top schools. If you haven’t loaded your schedule up with APs and haven’t mastered at least one or two instruments/sports/ancient languages by your senior year, forget it (unless you have some super special “Unusual” factors working for you, which most middle class kids don’t).

        1. Dust Bunny*

          I went to a top-tier college, with good scholarships, for which I’m pretty sure I would never qualify now.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              My internal recruiter and I routinely joke that we’d never be accepted to our alma maters now nor would we make it through the screening process for our own jobs.

        2. Dave*

          I think some more of the bad advice we got /give is the need to go to a top school. There are definitely exceptions to the name on your degree mattering, but for most of us where the degree came from doesn’t matter after the first job or two. What those top schools got most of my friends where debt they will spend a lifetime paying.

        3. Cascadia*

          Yes, this is so true! My brother and I went to the same university as my parents did, and both of them said they would have never gotten in when we did. I was a good student and pretty motivated, but I’m not sure, even just 15 years out, if I would still get in today. I work at a high school and the competition for college is fierce. In 2004-05 I applied to 4 big state schools and got into all of them. I would say I was fairly average in my good public high school. Students at my school now apply to 7, 10, 13, 18 colleges… it’s crazy! And it’s a positive feedback loop, the more some students apply, the more they all apply, which makes the acceptance rates even lower at these schools because they have so many more applications, which then allows them to up their tuition rates. The whole system is f*cked.

        4. Federal Middle Manager*

          I have multiple family members who are high ranking career military officers who say the same thing, that today’s (officer) recruits are better educated, more motivated and better prepared than they ever were. So even the “just join the Army!” if you don’t know what to do / want to see the world / want options advice doesn’t hold up!

    2. jojo from kokomo*

      Yup. I think the other piece of this is that we’re still being judged for how we were at 20. And guess what? Many 20-year-olds throughout the decades have displayed those same characteristics.

      Source: they’re still looking at college students (Gen Z) and shaking their heads about those ridiculous millennials.

      1. Tabby*

        SAAAME. I come from a vet assistant background, and it’s a lot of work for little pay. Ironically, I’m actually best suited to vet assisting/petsitting/dog daycare. And, natch, none of it pays very well. Or even usually has full time work, unless you want to manage, which I don’t.

        And none of my skills really transfer to any high-pay jobs,that I’m aware of. I mean, I could probably do child daycare (I gotta tell you, there’s nothing quite so exhausting as being in a room with 30 fur covered fiends trying to eat each other’s poop, mount each other, and climb all over you for attention… I don’t think kids are /that/ bad! They’d probably be a step up! lol), but again, that doesn’t pay well. So, yeah, I internally roll my eyes when people complain about how much vet care costs. Seriously, a clinic is not cheap to run.

  26. Rose Red*

    Definitely hits home. I’m a millennial, and I also have a Master’s in Library and Information Science. When I graduated, my dad gave me a wall hanging that says “Love what you do.” It happened to be the same day I got a job that was in my field, but definitely not the dream librarian job I wanted. And it was a contract with no hope of becoming permanent, despite what I was told when I started. But I got lucky, because it was a government job that made me an internal candidate, and I got another job that was even further from my field. I realized that wasn’t the right fit, and I got another job that truly has nothing to do with my field at all…and this is where I’m happiest. “Loving” what I do has taken on a whole different meaning: I don’t need to be passionate about it. I just want to be productive and not stressed. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’ve failed in some way; some people in my life say things like “but you won’t stay in this job long-term, right?” Because I’m overeducated for it, and the pay is just barely a living wage. But it *is* a living wage, I’m happy, it’s a permanent job…why wouldn’t I stay? I count myself very fortunate, and also recognize that it was not just hard work, but a pattern of luck that got me here.

    1. Nonna Jr.*

      I feel this! Having a pleasant day-to-day existence is so undersold when you’re considering the job you want to do. I also feel like I’ve “failed” somehow because I did so well in school and now I work in a job that doesn’t require any special amount of education and is nobody’s idea of a job they would “love”. But I’m good at it, I like my coworkers, I make enough to live on, and most nights I sleep soundly. I hope we can stop trying to sell passion for work so hard.

  27. Archaeopteryx*

    When that cool, lovable job doesn’t appear, ***or appears and is unfeasible to maintain for someone who’s not independently wealthy***


    shout out to all my fellow would-be writers/essayists /arts critics whose output is choked by the fact that society has decided that having good stuff to read is not worth having to provide a livable wage and benefits to those who produce it. I’m pretty sure I read an article a few months ago that the average revenue professional writers got solely from their writing was less than $10,000 a year; most of them have to have family money or a wealthy spouse in order to keep doing it full-time.

      1. bighairnoheart*

        What is the point you’re trying to make? I get the sense it was intended as a “gotcha,” but I don’t think it really tracks with the example you gave of this website.

        Alison is the only writer on Ask a Manager and I’m pretty sure she does what she needs to in order to have a livable wage–like doing some sponsored content, hosting ads, and promoting books where she gets a small cut if you buy from the link she posts (like in this exact post!). It’s not the same as a writer trying to make it off the terrible wages they often get when writing for sites they don’t own.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          No, it’s not a gotcha. But writers are paid by the money sites and publications bring in.
          Except no one wants to see ads, pay for media, or read promotional posts.
          I myself use ad-block freely. I do not click on about 99% of promotional posts or sponsored content, and get really irritated when they aren’t labeled as such, because they are well, promotional. I do, however, pay for few subscriptions, for things I read.
          If you want for a profession to get paid well (general you, not you specifically, I don’t know what you do or what services you buy), you need to vote with your wallet too – pay for subscriptions, click on ads, etc.

            1. Grumbles*

              The cheap good is advertised in vain to the penniless buyer. I wonder when companies will figure out that the money they pay in wages eventually comes back to them?

  28. Person from the Resume*

    IDK, who was feeding those Millennials those lines of bunk. I don’t have kids, but if I had had a kid in my early 20s they could just be starting out in the work force. I would have told them that “do what you love’ is BS advice and IF they went to college they should study a field that pays enough to pay off their college loans.

    Sounds like the Millennials discussed in this book were from upper middle class, highly educated families.

    1. Sylvan*

      Which field pays well enough and has enough job openings for you to be reasonably certain it’ll pay off loans?

        1. CanYouJustNot*

          There’s a huge chunk of STEM jobs being offshored or automated. My company just went through a round of layoffs and stateside IT was hit hard. Nothing is guaranteed anymore.

          1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

            As someone who live in one of those countries, the pay is pennies for you and it should be decent pay for us but alas, inflation exists.

          2. Anon for this*

            Offshoring would’ve wiped out all stateside IT jobs by now, if not for the fact that the companies that practice it are typically large corporations, the people in charge of finding an offshore contractor company are not in any way familiar with the actual work, and (FME – several different employers over the last 12-13 years, same pattern) when they go looking for an offshore contractor, they look for the cheapest instead of the best. As a result, companies still need people in-house (including the more talented and driven professionals from the very same countries a company is offshoring to, who made their way over to US or Europe and are living and working there) to do the actual work, because the best an offshore contractor company can do is not break things that are already in place. Saved by the stupidity of our bureaucracy. Ridiculous, but whatever works.

        2. lemon*

          It can be hard to get an entry-level tech job. Everyone at my last job had master’s degrees, even the junior developers, and we were a far, far cry from being a Google or a Facebook.

        3. Unionize Your Workforce*

          Okay, but…not everyone can or should go into engineering, tech, or finance? Quite apart from the fact that people have different abilities (I would be the worst engineer ever no matter how much I tried), the world needs writers, scientists, activists, policy wonks, and many more careers that are less secure and pay less well. And, if only upper middle class and above folks went into those careers, the world would be much poorer for it.

          The problem here isn’t the people, it’s the system, and that is what we need to try to change.

      1. Student*

        Economics. Statistics/data. After nearly two decades of underemployment and frustration, I went to a state school for a grad degree, then got a job that pays well enough to keep me and my family in a good neighborhood in a big city. It pays my student loans directly as a perk.

        When I decided to change careers, I spent a few months looking at Indeed and Monster and other job boards, picking out jobs that paid well and sounded like something I wouldn’t hate doing. Once I had a bunch of them, I went through and looked for the qualifications that showed up most often. And then I got those qualifications. Back-engineering the education from real jobs that are really posted with real salaries attached is a good way to make sure your data are current, although it doesn’t eliminate the risk of recession or other big-picture economic shocks.

        1. Grumbles*

          Simply having the spare time/energy/money to get those qualifications is itself a rare opportunity. When people are working 2-3 jobs just to survive, how are they supposed to tack on college? We hear stories of single mothers taking one semester at a time to get themselves in a better place, but people don’t realize that takes *forever* and it’s very easy to mess up. My community college bans people for attending for a certain amount of time if they fail a class. With things like that, it’s easy to get derailed off the Path to Success when you get screwed over by your current job or a car crash or a cancer diagnosis or a death in the family or an eviction or a surprise pregnancy or an unjust arrest or…

          1. Student*

            This is true. I did my first year of the PhD while working full-time at night in a town 100 miles away, as well as doing 12 credit hours a semester and a 20-hour TA assignment. I had two kids under four and a disabled husband. I routinely didn’t sleep at all between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning. Both my husband and my younger child had multi-day hospitalizations that year. It was one hell of a tightrope to walk and I’m very grateful to be off it.

        2. Grumbles*

          Also, once everyone identifies the magic hiring market, wages and job opportunities will go down. It’s an ever-shifting game, and by the time the answer is obvious, it’s probably not the answer anymore.

      2. CheeryO*

        I’m in civil engineering and don’t know anyone my age (30) who still has student loans, although most people in my network went to state schools. I know not everyone can be an engineer, but as someone who grew up without much, it was never an option to pursue something that wasn’t practical.

      3. Dave*

        My partner and their friends all graduated from law school. The amount of debt they each graduated with and still have is amazingly different. It isn’t that my partner had better financial aid it was they were willing to go to community college and live at home attending the local unitversity. Law school was also lean living and post law school was lean as well until the debt was paid. There are affordable colleges and lifestyle choices where you can make it work for many degrees and fields but you really have to plan and budget. They knew the debt was their responsibility and not their parents and made life decisions accordingly.

    2. Emily*

      This book sounds amazing and the excerpt alone makes so many good points! She is spot on about how colleges misrepresent what the job market will look like, especially if you get a master’s or higher degree. I’m a millennial and I had a lot of people telling me I should get a master’s degree, but I am so glad I didn’t. The jobs I could have gotten with a master’s weren’t jobs I wanted to do and would have put me in a ton of debt.

      1. Bear Shark*

        I am super grateful that it never worked out for me to get a master’s degree since I wasn’t willing to take on more student load debt and couldn’t afford it otherwise. Blessing in disguise.

    3. violet04*

      I was born in India but grew up in the US. I never got the “do what you love” guidance from my parents. It was be a doctor or do some other job that is stable and pays a lot of money – so engineering or IT was acceptable. I never heard of any of my friends majoring in something like English or philosophy. There were no options other than going to high school after college. However a lot of Indian families paid for their child’s college education so there wasn’t a pressure to pay for student loans. I got a scholarship for tuition, but I’m very lucky that my parents helped with living expenses.

      I’m 43 and ended up going into IT and actually like it. But my job is not my passion. It pays enough that I can pursue my hobbies and interests outside of work.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’m 43 and ended up going into IT and actually like it. But my job is not my passion. It pays enough that I can pursue my hobbies and interests outside of work.

        I’m a bit older, and this is where I landed too, after some years of self-search and evolving from “do what you love” to “don’t do what you love as your day job if it doesn’t pay” to, finally, “it really helps not to hate what you do, because you’ll be bad at it if you hate it, and because you’ll be doing it for a while” (like most of my generation (x), I don’t expect to be able to retire at 67 or whatever they tell us the retirement age is). Even if you start out loving your job (I did), no one can stay passionate about any one occupation for 45-50 years.

        I immigrated to the US at 29 with two young children, though not from India (or Asia overall) and there are some parallels between our experiences. I did pay for my children’s college, to the extent that it wasn’t covered by their scholarships and AP credits. I did however abandon the idea of “my kids must major in something practical” when they were in high school, after hearing disaster stories from my friends, whose kids went into practical majors they didn’t like, dropped out of college after a year with failing grades in everything, and ended up getting the impractical degree that they had had the talent and drive for to begin with. (Getting a degree in philosophy does not mean that one will need to work as a professional philosopher until they retire. A good college education can be utilized for doing, oh whatever the heck a person wants to do, outside of maybe being a brain surgeon. An ex of mine is a business owner, with a talent for business and sales, currently owning a chain of vape stores, but his degree was in journalism – he uses what he learned in college to better market his businesses.) My oldest had always wanted to study CS anyway, but his brother changed majors three times while in college; from engineering to psych to business to finance (his passion being music and specifically producing music – which he intends to continue pursuing as a hobby). I’m just happy he was able to try different things and work on finding himself. It was a cheap state school and he lived at home after he lost his scholarship, so changing majors multiple times was feasible.

    4. Mouse*

      I’m from a lower middle class family and was a first generation college student. My parents always told me that I could do anything I dreamed of, and that I should find a job I love. I don’t think it has anything to do with class or education, but if it does, I’d say more highly educated parents probably had a better idea that college isn’t an express ticket to being a CEO by age 30.

      1. Hey, me too!*

        This was my experience exactly (with added “your (insert ancestors here who couldn’t go to college) would be so proud you were following your dreams!” and “women can’t have a trade and your mom doesn’t work so I guess it doesn’t matter what you do because you can just live with us until you get married”)

        1. Mouse*

          Oh God yes. The weight of your entire family on your shoulders is SO real. Beyond just ancestors, I get a lot of “your extended family doesn’t have anyone who can be successful like you, so you’re going to have to take care of everyone.”

          The gender impact didn’t happen for me until I got married, which is kind of surprising looking back–but now I get a lot of “why are you investing in your career? Aren’t you just going to have kids soon? Why don’t you dedicate more time to keeping your apartment clean?” and it’s like whoa, wait, I thought I could do anything, and working + education + inevitable “side hustles” (see my other comments) mean that I don’t have time to be the stay at home wife/housekeeper/chef that my mom was! And that’s where the burnout comes in.

          1. anonintheuk*

            I am late gen x (born in ’76) but I know a number of women 5-10 years older than me whose families were all ‘OK, you got the good degree from a high ranking university. And now you actually want to *be* a lawyer or an accountant or an engineer rather than looking for a husband and becoming a SAHM?! Oh! the horrors!!’

      2. Paris Geller*

        Same! As a first generation college student who was constantly told by my parents and teachers that I was smart, bright, etc., it felt like if I did all the Right Things (go to college, study, get good grades), I would be at least guaranteed a medium level of success.

        Haha, nope, because turns out there’s millions of other people who did all those same things and had the same leadership experience and internships and x and y and z and we’re all applying for jobs and all getting rejected and struggling just to make ends meet way later in our life than we thought.

    5. He-Woman*

      Respectfully disagree here. I know many people who majored in areas that should, by your logic, should have allowed them to pay off their loans once employed. Except- millennials graduated in a recession. Econ, finance, and business majors were taking FOH service jobs. STEM majors were scrabbling by on contracts and grants until they could get funding for grad school or squabbling over the few engineering jobs available. Those “money making” majors aren’t for everyone- me included- and I stand by my decision to attend college as someone who doesn’t have an aptitude for math or science.

      As another anecdote, my sister did just what you said you’d make your hypothetical child do. She majored in marketing, barely graduated, and worked as a fashion buyer for years. Every day was a struggle, until she finally quit and made a career change. Not everyone is cut out for that, but that shouldn’t preclude them from seeking further education. It’s the system that’s broken, not the people attempting to opt in.

      1. Cascadia*

        Not to mention that we do need people with degrees to do the jobs that traditionally don’t pay much. I’m a teacher and the pay, in general, across education, is terrible. It sucks because I think many people recognize what an important job teaching is to our whole society, yet we pay our teachers like crap. You definitely need an undergrad degree to be a k-12 teacher, and you’ll get paid slightly more if you have a masters degree, but you’ll also have more debt.

    6. DanniellaBee*

      I have to disagree with you. I came from a blue collar family and am the first and only person in my family to graduate from college. My grandparents and parents constantly told me growing up that I could do anything I wanted with my life all I had to do was work hard, get into a good college and I would be on track to achieve my dreams. That all turned out to be bunk. My grandparents are Greatest Generation (WWII) and my parents are Boomers. For them education really was the doorway to prosperity and as a blue collar family they saw my attending college as a gateway to management and significant wealth that was not attainable for them in their labor jobs.

      1. GothicBee*

        This was my experience too. They just assumed a 4 year degree = good job. And honestly when they were my age, that was mostly true, but things have changed a lot.

    7. Dearth Mofongo*

      I am sure it’s not a CLEAR line of definition between the two, but I tend to agree that at the very least this was not a common refrain in impoverished families.

      I’m squarely in the middle of the millennial stack, my parents were both highly educated, but we grew up with extremely little available to us* and the line for us and the friends I had in similar situations was NEVER about doing what we love, though my parents pushed us to get scholarships as much as possible so that we could go to college. But it all really came down to finding a job we were good at and didn’t hate in exchange for economic security. And that was modeled for us, by both of my parents working long hours at jobs that were fine (and very much not in line with their dreams or passions) in exchange for making sure we had enough to get by, as much as possible.

      I think when you grow up without financial security, it becomes a lot more personally important to get that financial security by any means possible. And watching your smart, talented parents work jobs not because the job was exciting but because being able to take you on a day trip to the beach once a year or so was exciting helped cement it.

      (I dislike the idea that I have to prove my creds here, but I’m talking free school lunches, “scholarships” for the 25 dollar school field trips, no AC in summer/minimal heat in winter, second or third-hand clothes impoverished – and there are many folks who had it much worse than I did)

      1. Kat*

        I hear this. I’m nearly 40, the first person anywhere in the family tree to get a degree. This wasn’t my only option – my parents supported me doing anything that would keep me paid and employed (e.g. a trade, a vocational degree, military etc). We grew up not being able to afford school trips, or new clothes.

        My dad worked for the same government employer his whole career, and complained endlessly about not getting promotions because he didn’t have a degree. My mum stayed at home until I was about 10. Neither of them had any relevant career advice, but the idea of finding a path to financial security was key. Dad had MANY good options for retirement thanks to pensions etc. I don’t and won’t have that, so for now I have to bust my ass paying for now and saving for later. My work is as secure as possible so I’m grateful. I *am* burned out though – long work weeks, parenthood, covid, and being a breadwinner (plus studying for a Masters – why??) – it’s taking a toll.

    8. NotAnotherManager!*

      I live and work amongst the upper-middle class, highly-educated set, and they’re not the ones that took the hit here. It’s primarily the middle class and lower who are badly affected by the do-what-you-love and college-or-bust mindsets. I think it’s a combination of the belief college is always a path to a better life and not wanting their kids to get stuck in a soul-sucking job for life (perhaps like they did), combined with the prior-generation career advice that we so go so horribly off course in AAM letters.

      The UMC has connections or can more heavily subsidize their kids through college and even graduate/professional school. They can call a former colleague or connection and set up internships (and provide living expenses, if it’s unpaid). These are not the kids going into mountains of debt for college, even top-tier ones. I can’t tell you how many of my peers (in our 40s with middle-school kids) still get financial assistance from their parents for their children’s educations and activities or had the downpayment on their house provided by a UMC parent.

    9. Moth*

      I have to agree with several of the other commenters here. While the line about “do what you love” may not have been as explicit in my household growing up (in poverty, always one paycheck away from homelessness), the mentality that you could work your way out of poverty was. If we all worked hard enough and studied and made a good life plan, we could guarantee a better life ahead. And that was essential because, as my parents often “joked”, we were their retirement plan. But of course, it wasn’t really a joke. We knew that their careers didn’t offer security and that as they get older, they’ll need to depend on us more and more.

      One of my siblings studied a field in the sciences, but was never the strongest student and was burnt out by the end of college already. Another studied a strong, stable field and was able to get a job right out of college — until everyone was laid off during the recession and since her industry was hit very hard, she eventually had to work for just above minimum wage in another field. My third sibling is the one who actually ended up doing what she loves and though it doesn’t pay well, she’s getting by. That leaves me, the good student who has internalized all of the good millennial rules that if I just work hard enough, I can win at this game of life. And I’ve done okay, mostly through some lucky breaks (though certainly hard work hasn’t hurt). But now I’m 35 and have already had an ulcer and shingles, yet I never feel like I can stop giving everything 100%, because now my whole family is depending on me. And I know we’re all still one lost job away from being back in poverty. The idea of doing what you love may have been a more common line in wealthy households, but the burnout from the rest of the millennial upbringing isn’t exclusive to any specific income bracket.

  29. LadyRegister*

    “But you can only work as an “independent contractor” at a job paying minimum wage with no benefits… for so many years before realizing that something’s deeply wrong. ”
    It was so wrong. And while I used to feel ashamed, I find that with time (and therapy) it has shifted into fury. I was working for an *HR firm* that listed me as a 1099. They knew better. They literally knew it was illegal and they did it anyway because they safely reasoned that I was too young to know my rights. I didn’t start reading AAM until after the statute expired to report them to the IRS but I think of how much I could’ve used that tax money. How predatory it was to demand 50 and 60 hour work weeks from a new grad who didn’t know this wasn’t normal.

    But we had wine! And a cool office! The boss had a BBQ at her house! Bring your pet to work!

    Never again. “Fuck you, pay me” is the quote I’ve heard and agree with. No job is worth your health (mental or physical). We’re not a “family”. And unless you’re giving me equity, we’re not “partners” in the success of the firm.

  30. Tricksieses*

    I’m GenX and this still resonates for me. In general USA-culture focuses on the individual–like, success is all about how hard you work! pull up those bootstraps! work harder! be resilient and growth mindset-focused! what’s wrong with you? if you follow your passion, you’ll achieve your dream! And that obscures the systemic obstacles, the way the structure functions.

    1. Merci Dee*

      Fun fact . . . I recently learned that the phrase “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” wasn’t always meant as a euphemism for becoming successful by your own efforts without any outside intervention. It originally had a much different meaning.

      Link in a following comment . . . .

  31. I Love Llamas*

    Wow, powerful stuff. I don’t think it is jut millenials either. Gen X got short shift too. I am born in 1964, 6 months from being a Gen X and not really a Boomer at all. I think the nature of corporate America has undergone such a dramatic shift. I came into the job market during the late 80’s/early 90’s (think “Working Girl”). Women were seen as taking jobs from men. Now after the last recession (2008-2010), wages have not increased even when unemployment hit all times low (pre-pandemic). What does this tell us? Labor is disposable and easily replaced. How can elected officials (I refuse to call them leaders) believe that a living wage will ruin the economy? Argh. This put me up on my soapbox for the afternoon. Argh!!! Looking forward to the discussion.

    1. Elaine*

      It’s not just Gen X, either. I’m a younger Boomer and I also heard you can do anything or be anything. Get an undergraduate degree (undergraduate!) and you can have any job you want. There will be lots of money! You’ll want for nothing!

      It isn’t true now and it wasn’t true even then. The “follow your bliss” thing came along when I was still early in my career, but at least I recognized it immediately for the lie it was. It took a few years more to realize the rest of it wasn’t true, either. My parents didn’t criticize me, but I know they didn’t understand why it wasn’t practical to work my entire life for a single organization and feel loyalty to that employer. After about 10 years, I too came to the conclusion F* loyalty, just pay me.

  32. Sylvan*

    Yeah, I can relate to some of this.

    It reminds me of something I heard in school growing up. In middle and high school, our teachers warned us that we would ~end up flipping burgers~ if we didn’t study, get good grades, and go to college. The spooky scary restaurant job, or occasionally the spooky scary retail job, was used to spur us to work harder.

    We weren’t only supposed to work like hell and achieve great things, we were supposed to view certain jobs as shameful roles to be avoided. But by high school or college graduation, many people needed those jobs and some enjoyed them. It was like a setup for shame.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, exactly, and for those who graduated directly into the recession (class of ‘09!) the sudden competition for entry level jobs by people with years of experience, and the disillusionment that our magna cum laudes did not count for as much as our parents assured us they would, were accompanied by years of shame and embarrassment that we were somehow under achievers for having to work in retail or food service after college. As well as a subtle paranoia that we were the only one of our friends having to do so, but it was our fault, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        My parents spent the better part of the recession screaming at me that “we didn’t pay for you to go to college to work a crappy job,” and that it was all my fault for not looking hard enough, not looking in the right places, and not applying correctly (“None of this computer stuff send paper resumes!”). “You’re smart and you’re wasting all your potential, you are better than this!” At one point one of my extended relatives told my parents that I should be forced to move back home until I “buckle down and find an appropriate job.” This was 2008 if not 2009.

        Mind you I had a job that paid 20%, and then after my first year 60%, over minimum wage, with a stable schedule from month to month and a reasonable boss. It was a crappy job but it could have been so much worse.

        1. Stackson*

          This hits home. I’m sorry you also had to deal with the parents who screamed about your supposed “lack of potential”.

    2. voluptuousfire*

      I’m a Oregon Trail generation kid and went to a junior high full of teachers who essentially were counting the months until sumer vacation and the years to retirement. They just didn’t care.

      One of those teachers ended up making a big speech about one of the kids in the class who was a bit of a troublemaker. He ended up comparing him to a backwards cap-wearing, 80s Monte Carlo driving young man in his twenties who worked at the local supermarket that he knew. Basically the teacher warned the kid if he didn’t shape up, he’d end up like this guy–like it was fate worse than death.

      Looking back at it, the backwards cap wearing guy driving the Monte Carlo and had his job at the supermarket was working, paying his bills and had a car and was likely part of a union. He was a functioning member of society. How did this teacher have this idea that the guy was basically a waste case, a shameful POS we should look down upon? He really was a jerk, that teacher.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I shivered because I had these teachers as well.

      It left just enough of a chip on my shoulder and yet I still feel bad knowing that as that “good for nothing slacker who didn’t get to go to college right out of high school” I make more money than a lot of our public school teachers.

  33. Exhausted Librarian*

    As a librarian I can say that this field (which YES is incredibly difficult to get into in a sustainable way) has a serious vocational awe problem — the idea that because we are supposed to love what we do and serve a particular mission, we should accept being paid crap and being given no respect or opportunity for advancement. If you treat it as just a job, you aren’t dedicated or passionate enough which further hinders your advancement. I am so tired.

    1. Me Too*

      And, if you’re salaried, it’s assumed you’ll work long hours planning and carrying out amazing programming, etc, because you love it so much and spend your off time reading books you don’t really want to read for book club/reader’s advisory/professional development, bringing down your actual hourly rate substantially.

      1. heatherbelles*

        Heritage – Museums, Art Galleries etc are exactly the same . I love what I do (most of the time), but it does nor pay anywhere near what the ‘Glitz’ of the sector would have you believe

        (It was Ask a Curator over on Twitter last week, and there awas a whole strand on pay – it’s horrifying!).

        I’m one of the ‘lucky’ people with a (currently) permanent job – so much of our sector is contract based.

        And then they wonder why it’s over populated by certain classes – because they’re the only ones who can afford to live on the wages….

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yeah, I actively fight this both in myself and my staff. It’s so damaging to everyone. It’s a job. That’s all. A job I love and that pays me well (and I do get that for a lot of people it doesn’t), but it is just a job.

    3. Noxalas*

      Vocational awe and mission creep are definitely two of the biggest issues that nobody outside the field seems to talk about. I’m so glad that attention is finally being paid to these topics.

      1. Me Too*

        Annoyed Librarian used to talk about them a lot but they retired/got drummed out of town.

        Especially with mission creep, there’s a lot of “Oh you’re a bad, negative person” if you point out something shouldn’t be the job of librarians.

    4. CorruptedbyCoffee*

      I’m dealing with this right now at work. We’re being pressured to compromise on the safety protocols we implemented to deal with covid to “provide a better customer service experience” and “if you’re not passionate about helping people, you shouldn’t be here.” Being “passionate” about helping people doesn’t mean I want to stand a foot away from a maskless man spewing spittle everywhere. It doesn’t mean I want to get sick or die in the name of customer service. During the wildfire smoke, they kept saying “we can’t close curbside! This is the service we provide! The community loves us! Do it for the community” Meanwhile, the air quality was literally hazardous. Nobody needed their holds more than I needed my lungs.

      1. Me Too*

        Ugh. My last director was all customer service all the time which in practice meant we had to put up with any and all ish a patron decided to pull – we’re lucky no one ever got violent. I understand being friendly, welcoming and helpful but putting your life in danger so somebody can get their weekly romance novels is a step beyond.

    5. SentientAmoeba*

      A friend of mine was all about going into MLIS because it was her passion. I pointed out to her that there were jobs being posted locally that required an MLIS, paid $25k and offered no benefits. She assured me that was not going to be her fate because she was so passionate about it. She has struggled to find any kind of job in a library that isn’t unpaid.

    6. Talvi*

      As yet another librarian, I agree that this is huge.

      And why I am soooo glad I am getting out of public libraries. I just don’t have the temperament for it.

  34. SQL Coder Cat*

    They didn’t spoil us so much as destroy the likelihood of our ever obtaining what they had promised all that hard work was for.

    This may be the truest and most depressing thing I’ve ever read. While I’m not a millennial, I spent six years getting a bachelor and a master’s degree for a field I only ended up working in for two years. When I wasn’t able to find employment in that field, I got told getting a PhD would make me more competitive. No thank you. Switched fields to a career that only required a high school diploma, which was grueling and treated employees as disposable, but paid just enough to make ends meet. Used on the job training opportunities to get enough of background to move into my new field. I don’t love it, but it’s letting me pay down my debts and has good work life balance. It took me 25 years to get here and I doubt I will ever be able to afford to retire. Everyone I know has a similar story. Dream job? More like pipe smoke.

    1. Stackson*

      I think equally as depressing is watching all of the comments coming in of people who are living the same miserable work experience.

  35. LabRat*

    I felt a lot of the “job you love” pressure when going into undergrad, too. There were so many expectations around how much money I would make once I graduated, how choosing a major was VERY IMPORTANT so that I wasn’t unhappy for the rest of my life (like my parents), but also this major wasn’t forever so don’t sweat it if I didn’t like it. I…. didn’t cope well with any of that.

  36. LC*

    “But I no longer invest in work emotionally. It isn’t worth it. I learned that every single person is expendable. None of it is fair or based on passion or merit. I don’t have the bandwidth to play that game” – This is me in a nutshell.

    I have been working at the same nonprofit for years and I feel like I have nothing left to give. I am an older millennial and since working here I have been reminded multiple times that my passion for the mission isn’t coming through enough and just work a few more extra hours as it’s for the people that are passionate about our cause. Like maybe I just can’t pretend anymore because no matter what I do it’s never enough.

    It always makes me think about the movie Office Space…in particular the scene about “what would you do if you had a million dollars”….I would sit on my ass all day and do nothing. That’s kind of the dream and I’m not sure how to turn that into money to live off of. :)

    The best part of it all is my org thinks they are super accommodating. We have unlimited PTO, but really it depends on your department and the ability to say yes when asked “well is all your work completed done”. I have worked 37 consecutive days because it’s our busy season (on salary with no overtime), but can’t take a day because “there’s nobody to cover my work”. I took more PTO when we had limited days.

    1. Dani L*

      My brain is struggling to comprehend how unlimited PTO can even be a thing? Obviously it isn’t working for you here since you can’t take it if your work isn’t finished, but like…could you presumably finish all of your work, and then just walk off the job??

      1. Grumbles*

        As I understand it, unlimited PTO is set up so they don’t have to pay it out to you if you don’t use it. So not only can they avoid paying the remainder to you if you quit/get fired, they also don’t have to worry about choosing between letting you have time off and paying out if you don’t use it. They can hype it up a ton during job interviews, but then turn around and treat you like crap for actually using it.

  37. Meg Danger*

    I would love to read more of this book. I entered the job market in 2007-08 and it took me over a decade to realize how much those early career options have hobbled my lifetime opportunities for career and economic growth.

  38. Not in US*

    I’m technically a Gen X by like a year which in reality makes me not a Gen X or a Millennial, but something in between. I can relate to some of this. I was taught to constantly try to prove myself, to be a people pleaser, to always work harder – and I did it for a time and then I realized I couldn’t do it all or have it all – all at once. I now have a parent-tracked job (really Mommy tracked but it would be nice if it wasn’t so true) and I work more reasonable hours and I have a family. I’m old enough that I did manage to get some financial stability…and I’m still often overwhelmed. I still try to do too much, I still don’t have a clue how to really make it all work. It’s kind of held together with duct tape and a hope and a prayer.

  39. mcfizzle*

    I am an “older” millennial and wonder if the book will also address how technology has accelerated burnout. I used to be a trainer traveling the nation, and it was wonderful that I basically “couldn’t” work once I got to the airport. Then they added wifi. Then to the plane itself, etc, etc. Cell phones that require work email. Basically, technology has made it so we almost cannot unplug. 9-5 mostly doesn’t exist anymore.

    1. LPUK*

      Yes, I relate to this. I still make a point of not working while travelling, but now I am self-employed so I can do that with no consequences. That couple of hours, detached from technology in the air or on a train is such valuable thinking time for me

  40. MeganR*

    I hear this loud and clear. 36 years old, working in offices since I was 18, including a career shift at 28 after complete industry burnout.

    Every single person I work with (particularly the under 40 folks) are barely dragging through their days. Overtasked, under compensated, never a “good time ” to take a vacation.

  41. DEJ*

    “I no longer invest in work emotionally. It isn’t worth it. I learned that every single person is expendable. None of it is fair or based on passion or merit.”

    I was laid off during all of this from my sought-after dream job (which was in a hard-hit industry) and had to learn this the hard way. In changing entire careers, I got a raise and go from regularly working nights/weekends to a 9-5 job. I’m still struggling some mentally with the situation because I put 18 years into my previous career and being laid off in general is difficult to deal with, but I’m working on focusing on the benefits of what I hope life will look like moving forward.

  42. EasyCheesy*

    I’ve spent my whole adult life working as hard as I can only to get crumbs in return, while the money gets funneled to the straight white Boomer dudes at the top of the food chain. I’m now making 10k less than I was 10 years ago, and my benefits cost more and offer less. The idea of workers existing to be exploited and create wealth for those at the top has permeated every corner of American business. It all feels so hopeless.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I’m pretty much at the point where my primary requirement for a job is “Can I go to the bathroom when I need to (within reason, obviously)” just because I’ve had so many where I had to wait hours for breaks.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        “Allowed to eat” is also a good bar for jobs to clear. I have a stupidly fast metabolism and certain jobs can push me over the edge into ‘malnourished’ very, very quickly. People think it’s ‘lucky’ because of our culture’s stupid focus on being skinny. It’s not. It’s really, really not. (And now I’m famous at work for eating a whole tray of leftover chocolate soufflés after not having been able to take lunch.)

        1. Grumbles*

          One of my family members is in college to work in a medical setting and it was so validating to hear that people metabolize glucose differently solely based on genetics. Some people can go all day without food with no problem, but others will have a blood sugar drop if they don’t eat every few hours. It’s a relief to know that my constant cravings and severe hunger symptoms (feeling faint and shaky) aren’t due to a lack of willpower, but because of genetics.

          I dread the day I have to explain to some judgmental boss why I need to eat an actual meal, not just a handful of nuts, every 3-4 hours.

  43. Cordoba*

    I find it helpful to remind myself what work is and why I do it. For me it’s pretty straightforward:
    1) Get paid
    2) Help people solve problems
    3) Learn things and make connections that will better enable me to do (1) and (2) in the future

    Anything that’s not on this list (vaguely-defined status, pursuing my passions, being “special”) is not something that I need to get from work. Sure, maybe I’ll get these things from work *too* but if I don’t it’s not worth stressing over; and certainly not worth sacrificing my income or health over.

  44. CK*

    Oh my god, YES to all of this.

    I have found this “do what you love” mindset especially toxic in my field of social work. Yes, I love (most of) what I do. Yes, I care deeply about my clients. No, that doesn’t change the fact that I cannot afford the loan payments for my undergraduate and graduate (!) degrees necessary to enter a field that pays so far below local living wages and completely overworks me every single day. It’s exhausting and demoralizing and completely unsustainable. I have no idea what to do about it, honestly, and I’m only a few years into my post-graduate career.

  45. JustHereToRead*

    This sounds like a great book. I am at the tail end of the Millennial generation and am somehow caught between being in the same financial situation as many others in my generation and facing the terrifying reality that it might never be much better.

  46. Emi.*

    I really appreciate Petersen’s response to the “entitled millennial” meme — as a younger millennial I think I didn’t start with as much “passion and hard work cure everything” baggage, at least because I was in high school for the 2008 crash so I had an idea of how precarious things can be. But that idea was still going strong in college, frankly, just with higher expectations for filling your resume.

  47. Kat*

    I love AHP (and already have the book so dont pick me). I’m not a millennial (young x-er, b. 1978) but so much of this resonates for me and also with my worries for my gen z children!

  48. Bryce with a Y*

    One bad effect of the whole “follow your passion and work hard and you’ll be successful” mantra is that it’s so individualistically focused on MY passion, MY work ethic, MY education, MY skills, MY “personal branding” (I can’t stand that term!). It distracts us from the fact that not succeeding can be due to factors that have nothing to do with us, and that in reality, none of us is as capable as all of us. I also think that it keeps us from seeing ourselves and each other as workers and joining together in solidarity to fix a lot of problems at work and society and advocate for ourselves with the strength that comes from banding together in groups.

    While I’m not advocating a return to the days of Jimmy Hoffa, I would like to see workers of all stripes advocating for political, social, and economic changes that would make like better for us all — on and off the job.

    Acknowledging the problems are the first step toward fixing them. Your post and this book do just that, so thank you.

    1. mf*

      Good point on how this thinking is so “me” focused. Ironically I think some of the more successful people I know are really good at marketing themselves to employers/clients/colleagues by communicating what they can do for *you*.

  49. NewYork*

    It is funny, my grandmother told me that her mom told her if she wanted them to pay for college, she had to study to be a teacher or a nurse. My mom told me her mom strongly encouraged her to major in accounting. Too many people have been led to believe that there are tons of great jobs out there. There aren’t Both my mom and grandmother had jobs that paid decently and gave them flexibility.

    1. ShanShan*

      Those jobs pay decently because there aren’t a million new graduates fighting for them. I promise you that if we all went into accounting, wages would’ve plummet. It happened to professors and lawyers and many other formerly well-paying fields.

      This might be a solution for a few people, but not for everyone.

      1. My Soapbox*

        As much as we want to think otherwise, another huge factor in entire professions being downgraded to low-paying fields is the influx of women into those roles. Teaching was once a well paying field, when women teachers appeared in lower level schools wages dropped. As women have moved their way into higher education, it is happening again. The same happened with bank tellers and store clerks, as more women moved into the position the “respect” for those jobs lowered along with wages. It is the same mentality that leads to “respectable” woman dominated fields being low-pay, like social work.

        1. Grumbles*

          I wish we could figure out exactly how that works and how to stop it. It’s obviously sexism, of course, but knowing that doesn’t help us fix it.

  50. Kate*

    This sounds like such an interesting read! I definitely struggle with outside pressures that I should “love” or be “passionate” about what I do when in reality I have a decent job that I can do well and that pays well and for the most part can leave behind at the end of the day to enjoy the rest of my life. And then I worry about being a “lazy millennial” because my life goals aren’t tied to my career.

  51. JK*

    I am far from a millennial, but my husband and I have talked a lot lately about how work should not be the “thing” that drives us. We are shifting our thinking as we are approaching an empty nest (5 years away, but still), that work should serve a purpose to allow us to pursue the things that mean something to us. Would love to read this – it should help in my role in HR too.

  52. Forensic13*

    I’m a millennial teaching Gen Z college students, and there’s a fascinating outgrowth of this attitude into the next generation. Most of my students are convinced that their generation is all lazy, entitled, etc. . . except for themselves. So they’ll talk about how all “people their age” just want a hand-out, while themselves working and going to school and doing extracurriculars at the same time. When I ask them to think about the logic of that, they are usually really surprised to realize that it doesn’t make sense. They’ve been trained to be the perfect “capitalistic fodder,” in a lot of ways. It’s very sad to see. A lot of them are going to get REALLY exploited in the working world.

    1. ShanShan*

      Yeah, I’ve had to literally threaten to take points off for self-loathing to get my students to stop flagellating their generation. I wish I was joking. It creeps the hell out of me.

  53. Shannon*

    Gen X here, on probably my 3rd career. I’ve played around the “do what you love” advice but honestly when it becomes a job it becomes a chore. I deeply resent anything that wants to suck the joy out of my hobbies.

    So, good job that I don’t hate that pays me well enough to live comfortably? Yep! And I’m pretty happy to have it. It meets a lot of other things I like, such as working with smart and kind people, using my problem solving skills, and giving me the flexibility to work wherever I choose to.

    1. Cookie Monster Rug*

      Agreed about not wanting the joy sucked out of hobbies. I majored in an art field, knowing that I was never going to use the major after graduation (2004) as my money-making career but wanting the knowledge for myself. Somehow at 18 I already knew that I’m too anxious to have something so subjective and personally meaningful to me tied to being able to live comfortably. Now I’m at a job that uses the skills I built through learning that art but it’s far enough removed from where my passion truly is that I’m not burnt out when I do want to make art. I’m also very protective of my lunches, evenings, weekends, and vacations so I’ve got time for that hobby. And it doesn’t mean the product is any less meaningful to me just because I’m not living off it.

    2. yup yup*

      I’m very similar in age, experience, and outlook. I do not love my job at all and probably never will, but it’s got a decent work/life balance, it pays decently, and there aren’t too many jerks.

      1. Penny Hartz*

        Yes to every single one of you. I have a job that pays pretty well, is pretty easy to do, and I get to do it with nice coworkers at a company that is successful and a good place to work. I don’t LOVE any of it, never will. Will not read every blog regarding my industry. Will not “network” or speak at conferences. Will never become VP. Perfectly okay with that.

  54. Miss Muffet*

    ” But as boomers were cultivating and optimizing their children for work, they were also further disassembling the sort of societal, economic, and workplace protections that could have made that life possible. ”
    That really resonated with me. I’m a GenXer with a high school aged kid who very likely won’t be following a traditional college path. My mother keeps talking about how it used to be kids could learn trades and get good jobs and I keep having to say, yes, but there were unions then that protected those kinds of jobs and let them be middle-class earning jobs. Many people w/o degrees now will never be able to break into that level of comfort and financial security. Those trade jobs are just too precarious.

    1. triplehiccup*

      My wife is a metalworker/fabricator who has also dabbled in construction, race car maintenance/track support, and a few other odd labor jobs, and it is infuriating to me when people present the trades as an economic panacea. While the overall demand for skills like plumbing will always be strong (or for as long as we have toilets, anyway), and the trades are truly the right occupational fit for many people, they’re not necessarily sustainable for a 40-year career.

      Purely on a physical level – by the time my wife was 30, she had tinnitus/partial hearing impairment, a rib that randomly dislocates making it impossible for her to sleep, and painful tendon/ligament injuries in her wrists that our very skilled PT confirmed were incurable and barely treatable. She’s always worked in small shops and never had benefits, so she’s lucky that her boss paid the few times she had to get metal bits drilled out of her eyes. She’s been electrocuted a few times – like thrown down to the floor where she lay twitching for a while after, not a little zing to the fingertips. Who knows what will come of all the chemical exposure. And she is extraordinarily careful as far as health and safety precautions at work – much more so than any of her other coworkers.

      Nor is she unusual. I know stonemasons who could barely grip a soda can in their 50s because their hands were destroyed. Plumber’s knee and carpenter’s elbow are real things. I talked to a guy at a bar once who did deep-sea welding on gas lines – he had just come back from a stint where a coworker had broken his arm and had to wait through the 5-day decompression process without any treatment or pain relief.

      That doesn’t even get into industry shifts beyond your control. What happens when the big plant in town closes, when regulations change, when the President starts a trade war with China and the company stock bottoms out (what killed my wife’s last job, the best she’d ever had, the least strenuous and closest she ever came to benefits), when technology changes and your skill set becomes obsolete? Etc. etc.

      tl;dr – The trades are like every other field in that being the boss (at least the manager, if not the owner) is the only semi-guaranteed way to have a long, stable, and lucrative career that actually carries you and your flesh prison safely to any kind of retirement, and even if there were room for everyone to be the boss, not everyone has the capital or the aptitude for it.

      1. Grumbles*

        And unless they’re just an overseer, they get hurt a lot more, too. There’s a reason so many blue collar boomers wanted their kids to go to college.

  55. Lizy*

    It took me YEARS, including one very demoralizing performance review (my performance was great; I had asked for a promotion and hearing aids and used all the Allison Tool Box tools and was met with a huge, resounding “NO”, with really crappy reasons), for me to come to terms with the fact that doing what I love and working hard doesn’t mean squat. “Work hard and you’ll get what you deserve/want” is a load of crap. Sure, you can’t get what you earn if you DON’T work hard, but just working hard isn’t enough, and that’s a super hard lesson to learn. I’m getting sad/angry/annoyed just typing this and realizing it again. :(

  56. NoSleepTillHippo*

    Oof, this hits so hard – especially the part about blaming ourselves when these magical opportunities failed to materialize. I’ve been in the workforce for 20 years – since I was 15 – and only in the last 5 or so have I worked in anything that wasn’t food service or retail. I was told to get “any job” for experience, and then I’d be able to work my way up to a better job along the way. I have so many regrets about the choices I made – was forced to make! – in my teens and early twenties. It really feels like I’m doing at 35 all the things I was supposed to do at 20. And I still can’t afford a house.

    It’s hard not to feel like it was on purpose; like our generation was groomed to accept abusive workplaces and inadequate pay while destroying all the protections that would have enabled us to reach for anything better. To say Millennials are lazy and entitled is nothing short of victim-blaming. We weren’t the ones insisting on participation trophies: that would be our parents. (No one would have listened to us – we were kids!)

    1. LPUK*

      IT WAS on purpose – that’s the whole point of late capitalism: it’s a giant ponzi scheme where all the benefits accrue to the people at the top of the pyramid. Working people need to be vigilant all the time and never stop working to protect their rights ( and VOTING for people who will protect their rights). Yet time and again history shows us that it takes some violent upheaval, a revolution , a world war, a financial crisis for workers to get those rights and protections, followed by decades of capitalism and corporate money chipping those rights away slowly but consistently – first it’s legislation ‘that just adds bureaucracy’ ( AKA legislation that makes corporations liable for the damage they cause!), then it’s workers rights, then it’s environmental protections. We really need to get wise to this and accept that we will ALWAYS need to fight for our rights and ability to make a safe living – we can never just relax and assume our goverments will act in our best interests

    2. Ina*

      Oh man, what you said about taking “any job” really resonated with me. I did the same – hospitality and retail. It feels like a millstone having those jobs on my resume still. I think people in my field look down on them in a way, but that’s the work experience I have. I was told those jobs would give me valuable skills still, and I do think that’s true, but I can’t think of anyone hiring in my field who actually believes it themselves. I would have been better off temping, or interning for free.

  57. mf*

    Millennial here. I totally agree that the whole “be passionate” and “do what you love” thing is a racket. One thing I’ve learned over the past several years (while job hunting) is that success often has little to do what my actions. It’s often something I have no control over. I’ve gone into interviews for jobs I was 100% qualified for, did a good job in the interview, and didn’t get offered the job. I’ve also been offered jobs and promotions that I was underqualified for. There’s no real logic here–it’s just luck, it’s just a question of how much the manager liked me or was impressed by me.

    1. CanYouJustNot*

      Yes, this so much. I’m also feeling down watching mediocre white males garner accolades and promotions more easily than myself and my female/POC colleagues because they have the “look” of a leader and know how to golf.

      1. RC Rascal*

        Yes. They have “ executive presence”.

        Which is corporate speak for “look and act the part in the way we want it played. “

  58. Christina*

    Man, this explains something I never really thought of when I was growing up (I’m at the top end of the millenials). When my sisters and I were kids, any time we would get interested in something – playing music is the one that most immediately comes to mind, but even more recently when I was writing a food blog as an adult as a way to do something other than the job I hated – my dad would suggest ways we could make it profitable. Music? Here’s a book on songwriting and publishing. Food blogging? Here’s how to monetize your blog and photography. My vegetable garden? Keep track of what you planted this year so you can optimize what you grow next year! I just want to do it because it’s fun!

    And when I did get that job that was basically everything I dreamed of (managing a nonprofit cooking school), there were days I felt like I was going to throw up because it was so badly managed otherwise and I kept trying to “fix” it because wasn’t this what I wanted? When I got laid off, it was a blessing and now I’m in a job that I like, is challenging, but I’m not so invested in the mission. And in my free time, I do things for fun and don’t worry if I’m not “making” something off of them.

    1. KnitsOnZoomCalls*

      My parents were more, “Oh… just remember you can’t make any money doing that.” whenever I would show them my art. They were surprised when I stopping drawing. Well, they had basically told me that what I was doing wasn’t valuable if it wasn’t profitable.

      1. Christina*

        The funny thing is both of my sisters are now artists – one a jeweler (currently running her own business, but also trying to get hired by a company for a bit more stability), the other a photographer/digital retoucher. Both of my parents were happy they each found something they’re passionate about and always supported anything we were interested in. I’m the only one of my siblings with a “normal” 9-5 job.

        The more I think about this in relation to my parents, the more interesting it is. From my dad’s perspective (who grew up on a farm with a dad who farmed and worked in a factory), he went to a great college and was an engineer, but always hated working “for” someone/”management” and always wanted us to be able to work for ourselves. I think that’s always where his drive to get us to make our hobbies profitable came from – you can do something you love on your own – though we never really got to the question of when you work for yourself, you’re accountable to your clients or the insane challenges of running your own business.

        For my mom (who was in management, surprised my parents got divorced?), she is extremely driven and worked her ass off (long hours, weekends, evenings, half the month on the other side of the country) and achieved a lot in her career both in terms of title/responsibility and money. We kind of laugh now that my sisters and I don’t want to work that hard to get to where she was – which makes us sound lazy, but I like having my weekends free to do what I want! I’m sad I’ll never have a vacation home (and I was only able to afford my current home because of my parents help), but I’m mostly ok with that trade-off. And I always have to be careful when I complain about work to her because the response is often that I should be working harder/I shouldn’t have a problem bringing my laptop home on vacation/shouldn’t complain about work contacting me in off time).

        1. Christina*

          One more thing (hi, I’ve apparently turned this into my journal, sorry!) – my mom, and to some degree my dad, both agree that they benefitted enormously off of the systems that were in place in their careers and that young people now are at a huge disadvantage because of how many of the people in their generation have destroyed the systems behind them. So at least they are aware enough to acknowledge and agree with the challenges we’re facing.

  59. Kate*

    What a great topic, I’d love to read more!

    I’m a millennial who has yo-yo’ed between the non-profit and for-profit worlds, and see the same challenges play out amongst my colleagues, regardless of whether or not we’re in a “mission based” environment.

  60. Kate Ward*

    I’ve enjoyed her newsletter series on burnout in specific careers. The clergy one today was eye-opening in terms of the “love” rhetoric. I couldn’t read the academic one because…well, I am an academic and it’s too close to home.

  61. HR Bee*

    “We were told that college would be the way to a middle-class job. That wasn’t true.”

    This hits soooo close to home. My first job out of college in 2014 paid me $27,000 a year. I made more bartending part-time while still in college. I make much better money now, but it took time (and more money and another degree and certifications…. and and and, you get the point).

    We need to stop with the college end all be all. And for the love of everything, get rid of “General Education Credits!” Why did I need four semesters of Latin or three Math courses or Chemistry?! Two years of college, tens of thousands of dollars wasted on work that meant and means absolutely nothing to Human Resources.

  62. Coenobita*

    Oof! I decided to refresh AAM before going over to a new tab where I am checking for therapists who take my insurance for virtual visits, because I am tired and unable to concentrate and struggling deeply with my inability to make change in this broken world. So seeing “you’re exhausted and burned out because work is terrible” at the top of the page was strangely validating!

    1. The Vulture*

      “tired and unable to concentrate and struggling deeply with my inability to make change in this broken world” W.O.W I’m literally going to take that whole sentence to MY therapist because THIS. IS. IT.

      I’m pretty worked up already, this is validating but doesn’t go far enough, because this late-stage-capitalism is not working. Look at how wide the inequality is in our country, tell me that makes sense, tell me we should be allowing Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk to be profiting THIS MUCH off of OUR labor, to be profiting as people die, specifically thir workers who are risking their lives to make ends meet so that Bezos can get richer and richer, and then we get to thank them for their philanthropic efforts? They get to decide whether they want to donate it to feed the workers they don’t pay enough, or maybe they’ll fund a trip into space for Brad Pitt to film a space movie, which is fine, because obviously Jeff Bezos just works 157x harder than his warehouse employees, and thus deserves to decide what is worth spending money on.

  63. Beth*

    I’ve sounded off plenty of times here about getting trapped in a Dream Job doing Creative Things for terrible wages, so I won’t add my voice to that chorus of acclaim. What I’ll flag is this:

    “But as boomers were cultivating and optimizing their children for work, they were also further disassembling the sort of societal, economic, and workplace protections that could have made that life possible. They didn’t spoil us so much as destroy the likelihood of our ever obtaining what they had promised all that hard work was for.”

    Oh dear Bob, YES. I’m remembering an argument I had years ago, with a woman twenty years older than I am, where I was trying to tell her that the social support system that had been there for her was not going to be there for her kids — specifically, the existence of jobs with decent health and retirement benefits — and she became very snarky at me for “thinking it mattered”. Because she hadn’t needed any of that herself (wrong), and her kids wouldn’t need it either (wrong), or if they did, it was their fault for not working hard anough (WRONG WRONG WRONG).

    And she was talking about HER OWN KIDS here.

    1. CanYouJustNot*

      She’s going to have a rude wake-up call when she’s stuck in a crumbling, moldy nursing home that reeks of urine someday, and surprisingly none of her kids visit or call.

  64. Ex-Teacher's Wife*

    Did someone write about my life and change my name? I feel all of this soo much. I definitely would do things differently if I could go back ten years. I’m afraid the next generation isn’t going to have it much better. Maybe at least they will have a more realistic view and not the fantastical view we were brought up on. I need to get this book.

  65. physics_teacher*

    Reminds me of my old field of environmental science. I jumped ship in 2016 on the basis that the funding crunch was about to get worse, and I’m not too sad I did.

    I miss the research, and I miss the field work, but at least I can have the same job for a few years. Short contract work is super interesting, but exhausting.

  66. Rachel McIntyre*

    “… or at least a sustainable job where we are valued.”

    Ohhh, this. It seems like the tradeoff between sustainability and personal fulfillment is always a choice I am forced to make, over and over. Definitely buying this book!

  67. PerpetuaIndecsivia*

    I’m definitely on the older side of millennial, but a lot of this rings very true. I went and got my masters and was promised going in it’d be the way to a career in my field or directly adjacent–by the time I graduated with my masters I had a much better understanding that my field was incredibly difficult to get into, dying in terms of ft employment (similar to information sciences), and that my degree was basically useless in terms of helping me get any better job of any kind. I think it was done with the best of intentions, but the idea I remember being fed as a kid at school and culturally at-large was, “You can be anything you want and succeed financially–and if you don’t clearly you’ve failed at passion/dedication/etc.” It’s hard to get over those feelings of shame at not having succeeded at what you set out to do as a do-what-you-love career–especially when your career is still middling and you’re not doing what you love.

    I do know millennials that have taken the “Oh, woe is me” bit way too far (just like every other generation has its complainers), most are hardworking and trying to work with changing expectations, a glut of college grads and the devaluation of college degrees, and shifting from what they were told to what the world is actually like.

  68. Lindsay Weir*

    I love this. I am an “older millennial”. I am settled into a role that I quite like. However, I did not get here by following my passion. I worked for 5 years in jobs I hated to get here. I also landed in this role with a mixture of luck and skill.
    I think the whole “do what you love and people will pay you” missed the point that most people who do that come from privileged backgrounds. For many people you just have to pay the bills and that’s ok. You don’t have to love every moment of your job and you are not a failure if you don’t

  69. Amy*

    As a member of Gen X (the invisible generation), I deeply relate to what the author says here. I have worked hard all my life, followed all the rules, took all the classes…and I cannot grasp the stability, financial security, or satisfaction in work that seemed to be attainable to my parents’ generation. I have put my all into jobs at the expense of my health and family life — and for so little real payout. I try to manage my expectations about these things and keep a clearer separation between home and work life, but that’s an ongoing effort because it takes time to undo all the programming from the last 40+ years.

  70. New Job So Much Better*

    I’m the very last of the Boomers, and know plenty of Millennials who work at the same company. I see a wide variety of personalities/situations that mirror all of these comments. Fascinating topic.

  71. Anonymous271*

    It reminds me of something that I read recently.. a comment that Millenials are the first generation that really puts in as much effort as they are being paid for. You paying me $7.50 an hour? I’ll give $7.50 an hour’s worth of effort. And I think that is very true, especially for those of us that have been through the burnout already.

    Why should I care more about your business and how it’s seen by customers than you care about keeping me happy as an employee?

    1. Roz*

      This resonates with me. When I started my career I landed my “dream job” right out of undergrad and I was so happy to have a job that I was willing to put in ALL THE EFFORT to provide that I was worth the 40K I was being paid (in Ontario). Well 4 years later I was so competent that I was doing the job of someone 2 levels above me and being told I should be grateful for a 1% increase each year. That’s when I realized, I was giving them effort for someone making twice as much. Either I leave and find a job that pays me the effort I was putting in, or I ratchet down my effort to the level of my salary. I did both. Ratchetted down while job searching, and landing a job that pumped my pay 40%.

      I never forgot when I was checking emails on vacation my husband saying, “unless you are making your worth, stop giving them your all and enjoy you time off”. He was soooo right.

    2. RussianInTexas*

      My company gives low pay, crappy benefits (we get 9 days PTO total per year (yes, TOTAL), 5 paid holidays, you only start getting paid anything after a year of employment. Your raises are limited to 1-3% per year, no COL raises. You can’t get any reviews or promotions.
      They complain about high turnover and disloyal employees, and I am like “lol wut”.

    3. Bear Shark*

      Yes! I had an interviewer once act astonished that I wasn’t willing to be on (un-paid) call 24/7 for $12 an hour.

  72. Autumnheart*

    The bottom line is that the vast majority of those industries hired people who were extremely productive, did fantastic jobs, were very well-qualified for those roles, and made truly incomprehensible amounts of money…for wealthy investors.

    When the propaganda campaign against labor began a few decades ago, telling people their work had no value and that’s why they have to fund their own retirement, pay for their own health care, pay for their own tuition, and work longer hours with increasing workloads, that’s when we started to see wages disassociate from productivity, and real employment and quality of life disassociate from economic performance. Look at today. 40% unemployment and the stock market is supposedly doing just fine? How is that remotely logical? Oh, because the only lives we’re measuring is whether the richest people in the entire world are gettting richer. Nobody else.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      The stock market is doing just fine at 40% unemployment because the C-suite is saving all that money on labor costs!!

      It’s revolting.

    2. Lisa*

      So I generally strongly agree with you here, except the stock market bit. I’ve been confused by this exact anti-stock market rant I’ve been seeing a lot lately.

      Something like 80% of companies in the US have fewer than 100 employees and are obviously not publicly traded – your local restaurants, the hardware store, the doggie day care, etc. The economy is not the stock market and the stock market has always been disconnected from “main street”.

      Also, I and many other average folks have our retirement money invested in the stock market, so it’s not like only rich people are investing (refer back to your comment about “funding your own retirement). It seems like people forget that part when going off on the stock market?

      But generally, the “chief business of the American people is business” attitude has been around a long time and it will take a lot to change it. Universal basic income would be a great starting point, because then even doing what you loved might be enough to live on!

  73. beancat*

    “Do what you love” has messed me up so badly that I don’t even know what I love anymore.

    I thought I loved teaching. I was fed all sorts of dressed up words about teaching, only to get slapped by the differing reality when I hit my first post-college school job. My professors had prepared us for a sanitized environment without teaching us anything about behavior management, and it quickly led to burnout.

    And yet I felt like I was the only one who had failed. I was ashamed I “wasted” my time in college to do something I “loved” that I now have zero desire to pick back up. I’m almost thirty and I don’t know how to dream, or what I love to do. “Do what you love” isn’t always the best way to look for work, but it’s been repeated so often I sometimes can’t help but fall back on it. But I barely even know what I’m good at thanks to so many other mental health factors, let alone what I love.

    I really want to read more about this.

    1. Hey, me too!*

      I relate to this, although I didn’t persue teaching (hilariously, my dad wanted me to be a teacher because he thought it was a secure, well-paying job). I stumbled my way through my education and then jobs, working just below full time jobs in my field suplimed with side jobs to make ends meet so I wouldn’t feel like I was failing by not doing what I went to school for. A year and a half ago, I got my first full-time salried position in my field…and it was awful. I didn’t understand why I was unhappy and I thought it had to be my fault. Realistically, it was just a shitty, shitty job where people kept rage quitting and getting fired and instead of hiring people to replace them, they would move the tasks around. By the time I left, I was doing 2 or 3 poorly defined jobs.

      Now I’m 34 and a boring person. I’m adjusting my attitude towards work but also towards everything, as I’ve realized I don’t know what I love, what I want or who I am. I had to drop a lot of what I used to like about myself (hobbies, passions, aspects of my personality and self-confidence) just to get by. I’m still techinally in my (non-profit) field but working in a business admin-focused position that hopefully will allow me to be in the same job for more than two years and develop transferable skills and experience.

      You are not alone.

  74. xennial archivist*

    This is so timely, especially in light of the pandemic’s impact on the economy. As another information science professional, it’s been heartbreaking to see an already abysmal job market contract even further. This post also brings to mind Ettarh’s concept of Vocational Awe (conceived of in a library context, but more widely applicable):

    I’m really looking forward to digging into this new book (one way or another). It reminds me of “Do What You Love: And Other Lies About Success & Happiness” (Tokumitsu, 2015), which along with this blog, was my first introduction to this line of thinking (

    1. Ryan Howard's White Suit*

      Thank you for the Tokumitsu recommendation! Just got it for $1 as a Kindle book and am looking forward to reading it.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Thanks for linking to Ettarh’s article, which is so true it’s painful. It doesn’t help that our professional association markets itself as an advocate for libraries, rather than librarians.

      1. #CiteBlackWomen*

        Which is something that trickles down to the libraries too — I hear so much at mine about what “the library” can do for patrons, which disregards that it’s library workers who are doing the work and providing the services. And often being asked to “do more with less.”

    3. #CiteBlackWomen*

      Oops, I just wrote a comment that went into mediation b/c of this citing Ettarh and including this link, so, now, lots of coverage! Petersen is drawing on Ettarh’s work and I’m assuming/hoping that she cites her as well — I’ve seen her credit Ettarh on Twitter, so, hopefully.

  75. WMG*

    Wow…this is accurate to what I feel! I work in a non-profit and love the work I do, but it’s hard to not feel burn tout…and then guilty for feeling that at my “dream job” while I help save the world.

  76. Lygeia*

    I work because it’s necessary in the society we live so I can have a good quality of life. I don’t find meaning in it, but there is such an expectation to be defined by your professional life. I am feeling the burnout these days, but I can’t really do anything about it (I take time off, but it is such a temporary fix).

  77. Okumura Haru*

    I’m also a millennial librarian. This excerpt hit hard.

    Especially the part about boomers dismantling the regulations that would make careers better for everyone. Millennials have been hit hard, but it’s just getting worse as time goes on. I’m really concerned about how this generation of kids is going to get by.

    I don’t want to be all doom and gloom about this. It’s just very difficult for me to imagine this changing anytime soon. Outside of a complete systematic change about how the American people view the government and how it should work, there isn’t a clear path to improvement.

    1. LPUK*

      Sorry to go on but its starts with voting! Vote even if you’re not enthused by the offerings because at least you’ve made it clear that your vote is in play and then there’s at least a chance that politicians or parties will try and get that vote by focusing on something you care for. If you DON’T vote, because you don’t think your vote makes any difference or all politicians are the same, then that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because politicians have no incentive to wake the sleeping dragon – apathy is their friend. And join a union. There’s a reason why businesses don’t like them!

      When I get disheartened, I think of the famous quote by Margaret Mead, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’

  78. 867-5309*

    Older millennial here – right on the cusp of of Gen X.

    This tech era ushered in “hustle” and “don’t stop”, alongside constant news cycles from which there is no escape and mobile phones that mean we’re technically “always on.” Combine this even further with glossy social media images and it’s no wonder.

    Today, recent grads in my field (I graduated university 18 years ago) earn the same or (MAYBE) $5k more than I did as a marketing professional.

    For most people… and by most I mean 99%… you work for a paycheck. Hopefully you like it well enough but this idea that we have to bring our “whole selves to work” and that companies want “fierce passion and loyalty” is insane because as Petersen notes, their loyalty to you end the moment it must or they want it to, for any reason at all.

  79. Chris Fe*

    “One of the pernicious assumptions of “Do what you love” is that everyone who’s made it in America is doing what they love — and conversely, everyone who’s doing what they love has made it. If you haven’t made it, you’re doing it wrong”

    Stupid puritan ethic.

    Seriously though, this is all very spot on. I’m right at the end of Gen X and struggled for years to find a job that “fit” me. I would quit a job every 1.5-2 years and thought it was own personal failings. Fortunately, I found a field that works for me but I know I’m in the minority.

  80. TallTeapot*

    I love AHP–she’s super sharp and really insightful. That said, work is work–it is labor. When I talk to college students about their post-grad plans and preparing for work, I encourage them to think about the conditions of work that are a good fit for them–their work style, their priorities (at this point in time, knowing that these things change as life changes). Fields that they have an interest in or are passionate about–that is important, but so is paying the bills. Some are interested in this, and others are really very resistant to this message–fed by dreams that are based in a ‘fantasy’ understanding of the work world –often from parents who shielded them from reality, telling them they were special, and were destined for greatness.

    1. kathjnc*

      There are so many things in life where this is true – the day-to-day details are as much or more important than the big glamorous things in what ultimately makes for a happy and satisfied life. Jobs, where you live, relationships.

  81. Elenia*

    I’m Gen X. so I hope it’s ok I put my two cents in here, but man do I feel this. I am at the midpoint of my career, I have a decent job, with decent pay, but it’s hard to motivated some days. I work in a nfp so I feel my job is important and useful but this is what I gotta do, every day, for the rest of my life? There’s no point where I can chill? Retirement, maybe, but by then I am old. And I thought my current job was as close to my dream job as it could be, but I work so I can eat, and take my three weeks’ vacation every year, and my coworkers even work on their vacation! I’m constantly having to push back at the expectation that my time is my own.

  82. ABK*

    Amazing. I’m a millennial who has managed to do quite well, with a lot of luck and pragmatism. But there’s always pressure to be more ambitious, be better settled financially, and maintain a healthy skepticism of my job security. (Plus, buy a house in an inflated market, pay $500 for sucky health insurance, fund an HSA for said sucky health insurance, pay off remaining $45K in student debt, save for my kids’ college, save for retirement, pay for childcare, etc etc). Exhausted.

  83. Apocalypse How*

    I wonder if the book will go into the fact that the forces of history are hitting Millennials hard. I am a Millennial, born in the mid-80’s, and I have now officially been through two “once-in-a-century” economic collapses since I graduated college in 2007. Many young professionals were hobbled in our professional development in a way that we still haven’t recovered from–and that was just from the 2008 recession. Now that we are becoming parents, and after a childhood being told that women could be just as successful as men, working mothers are having to quit their jobs en masse because the government has made it clear that in this pandemic you can have a child or a job, but not both. That doesn’t cover some industries changing so drastically that many people can no longer make a living from them, like journalism.

  84. Not Too Short or Too Sweet*

    I am also a librarian (lots of librarians here) and a millennial. Getting my MLIS degree was my second career choice, and thankfully it did work out well for me mainly because I was lucky enough to get a library job at 17 and work my way up the organization. I was actually very passionate about psychology and wanted to be a clinical psychologist. No one in undergrad told me it was impossible to get into grad school unless you had already been published or presented at conferences. I was working full-time while trying to get my BA to keep a roof over my head and food on the table, so I had no time for any of that. The pressure to always be doing more/extra is one of the biggest causes of millennial burnout. In my field, there is such pressure to be innovative, present at conferences, serve on various boards, etc. Sometimes the only thing I can do is get through the workday and I feel like such a failure compared to many of my colleagues.

  85. coffeeandpearls*

    I’m surrounded by people who are exhausted and think that if you aren’t always busy, you aren’t working. People are afraid to take their vacation time for fear of being behind. COVID adds another layer to this. I do hear leaders asking for employees to take care of themselves, but they don’t carve out actual space in schedules for employees to do that. I do feel the pressure of keeping pace, and have to keep reminding myself that no matter how much you give to your job, it’s never going to love you back the same way.

  86. Fortune500 robot*

    Oh gosh, how timely! I’m struggling right now. Management is pushing me into stretch assignments so I can reach “the next level” and I’m slowly but surely burning. Nobody has asked me if I even want to move up. If that next level means I’ll be this miserable, I’m happy with where I am. However, in my org this seems like it’s not really an option. Either you are promotable or you’re out. :( It makes me sad.

  87. WestOfTheRiver*

    I do think it’s truly incredible how the expectations foisted upon people around my age (currently 28) have been leveraged against us–we’re apparently the generation that demands “participation trophies,” but I never asked for one. I never would have thought to. The few I did get growing up were never by my request, but chosen as awards from those above me (also, the idea that people shouldn’t be recognized for trying their best has all its own issues).

    But that’s beside the point. I think regardless of generation (although it’s been remarkably important for the people in generations that set the stage for my own), there’s a tendency to believe “if it worked for me, it’ll work for others” and to not think critically about how the world has changed. We see it in bad advice from parents (my first job applications were followed up with daily “just checking on my application” calls as suggested by my mom–I definitely wouldn’t do that now that I read AAM) to general societal expectations (the weird incompatible logic of “everyone should get a college degree because a college degree is what makes you stand out from everyone”).

    This book sounds amazing and I’d love to read more insight!

    1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      The participation trophy thing was me too, I wasn’t excited to receive them (maybe the first one but it got old quickly), but my parents invested the time to drive me to those ceremonies. The trophies were almost a physical signal that their time and financial investment yielded results.

    2. Stackson*

      “We see it in bad advice from parents (my first job applications were followed up with daily “just checking on my application” calls as suggested by my mom)”

      YES. I cringe to think about the employers I turned off with my gumption right out of college. My mom lost it and screamed at me one night that I was wasting my life because I couldn’t find a job (in the middle of a recession) and told me I should just join the military–as an out lesbian, before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

      Now, over a decade later, I’m giving her job advice and directing her to read AAM to learn about today’s working norms as she looks for a job to try and make ends meet in the midst of yet another financial crisis.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      OMFG “Participation trophy” quips prove that people don’t understand much of what’s going on.

      Hi, our parents, who are YOUR GENERATION, created those things. Most of us could easily accept “You didn’t win, Nancy. Better luck next time”

      Most of us who played sports never got those trophies they speak of? That’s some COMMUNITY SPORTS level stuff that happens because they are working with DISADVANTAGED YOUTH who need to have that pick-me up and the last thing they need to tell a kid with special needs that they’re “losers”.

      Funny I hear this also slam against the protestors…like people are straight up claiming they’re not racist but are openly mocking anti-racism rallies and movements *blinks* Okay, Karen, sounds like you learned a lot in that big fancy school you attended…

  88. Aimee McDermott*

    I’m between Gen X and Millennial (born in 1976), and can identify strongly with the passage here. I chose (2!) careers that have changed considerably since I got my undergraduate degree in 1998: publishing and library/information science. I had a nearly perfect GPA, did unpaid internships, and funded my Master’s (MLIS) with loans.

    Fortunately school was less expensive and I went to state schools, and am just about paid off on my loans. Nonetheless, due to the constriction of the publishing industry, a lack of a career path in libraries (seems jobs were either clerical or high-level, nothing in-between), I’ve finally settled on administrative work for a steady, non-gig paycheck.

    I’m well-organized, resourceful, and can write thoughtfully and clearly. Did I need a Master’s degree for that? No. Am I still considered a “secretary” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) by the faculty and executives I work with? Yes. Am I wrapped up in any way with this being my “identity?” Nope. They have to pay me to be there, and I’m not killing myself on a salaried hamster wheel.

    1. Autumnheart*

      1976 is definitely Gen X. Gen X is typically recognized as 1964-79, with “Xennial” blurring around 1980-81.

  89. CowWhisperer*

    I am one of the oldest Millennials.

    I don’t really remember getting the “Do Something You Love” spiel as much as “College may let you slog away at a job that is more interesting than otherwise”. This is probably because my family straddled the blue-collar/white collar divide. My dad taught, enjoyed teaching – but was clear it was a ton of work as well. My mom, on the other hand, didn’t have a college degree and spent 15 years working her way up out of a retail store into a corporate position that someone with a college degree could have landed right out of school.

    I taught for 8 years then started graduate school for a Master’s. I liked the process of graduate school – but the faculty was completely out of touch with the job market for anyone. I remember hearing two tenured professors worrying about the future of graduate students who didn’t make it into a top-notch Ph.D. program with “How are they going to support themselves without a Ph.D?” My reply of “The same way over 98% of American adults do in the absence of a professional degree: they get a non-academic job” caused them to look confused.

    I’ve never made a ton of money; teaching is notorious for long hours and crappy pay. I knew that going in. Currently, I work at a DIY retailer for home improvement. The pay is still crappy, but my off-hours are my own to do as I please. Since my kid has some developmental issues, no one blinks an eye when I explain that retail offers more shift flexibility to fit around therapist and doctor appointments than teaching does.

    I hope more people look at the value of their lives as being more than how much money they make. I will never be rich – but I’ve helped a lot of first-generation students make it to college. My job isn’t sexy – but I prevent a few people a week from mixing two chemicals that might kill them. I’ve also listened to plenty of lonely older people who really need someone to talk to and passed on tips about how to get a kid the services they need – and that matters more to me than making a million bucks.

  90. just a small town girl*

    I’m a cusper(zoomer?) born smack in the middle of the 90s, and everything is honestly pretty depressing. I have a dream job that’s pretty far out there(think, president or astronaut) and I’m busting butt to get to it, but the older I get the more I realize that I can work my absolute hardest and it still might not happen thanks to things I could have never done anything about(childhood, educational opportunities, family dynamics, health, etc.). Without that dream job and the push for it, though, I really don’t know what I would do with myself. So I keep taking classes and working as best as I can and…so it goes.

    1. Cedrus Libani*

      Just keep an eye on your exit routes. I had a dream job that I chased with everything I had, from age 7 to nearly 30. I ultimately had to admit that it wasn’t going to happen, and I’d be happier and healthier if I let it go. So I did. But it wasn’t a waste; I got to live part of my dream, I enjoyed the ride, and I came away with transferable skills and a record of achievement.

  91. MrsFillmore*

    I’m an older millennial and have had a 10-year career of progressively higher responsibilities, challenge, and pay in the non-profit sector. In my experience, working significantly more than 40 hours a week has been a necessary but not sufficient requirement for advancement at every step and stage. To a degree, I’ve also come to condone that type of workload on teams that I manage or less directly oversee. I wonder how different my life and the loves f my colleagues would be if we all put in our best effort for 40 hours a week and then signed off.

  92. Librarian*

    As a librarian who was lucky to make it and get the elusive full-time professional gig, the lies about salary and job prospects that MLS programs tell people to get them to apply and complete their degrees are criminal. Also, it’s a good job if you find a good library system but not all sunshine and rainbows.

    1. uncivil servant*

      I want to SCREAM when I hear library schools promoting the “it’s such a flexible degree” nonsense. If you want to be a business analyst, get a business degree. If you want to really work with technology, study that. An MLIS is a strange mishmash of a little bit of everything – which all adds up to teach you the varied skills required to work in a library! But the fact that you take one database class and one program evaluation class does not make it an IT and public admin degree rolled up into one.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      As someone who hires and reads library grads resumes, the lack of guidance on how to get a job and how to write a resume in library school is also criminal. Seriously, the things I have seen on resumes would make you cry. For goodness sakes, this is a professional training program. Teach people how to present themselves.

      1. Librarian*

        I have been on many hiring teams and totally agree. MLS programs in general need an overhaul. I came to librarianship from business management and the management class they teach in library school is laughable. Which may be the reason so many librarians make terrible managers, or maybe that’s just my experience coming through. :)

  93. TotesMaGoats*

    I’m “attending” a virtual global conference for my field this week. The keynote yesterday was about vitality and resilience. There was definitely interesting research but the thing that stuck out was that we need to prepare for 50+ year careers. And the thought of that was honestly terrifying. I don’t want to work for 50+ years. I love what I do. I love the people I work with. I am, without a doubt, fulfilling my purpose. I just don’t want to do that indefinitely. I’m planning to retire in…2044. Yes, that’s another 24 years from now. But I have things I want to do that aren’t work. Mostly I want to do be exhausted all the time from work. (I’m a part of the Oregon Trail generation, to give you an idea of how long I’ve already worked.) I wasn’t helicoptered at all.

  94. STLBlues*

    My husband and I recently had a conversation very similar to this (we’re mid-30s, so very mid-millennial). We were told since HS that we had to do the right things and everything would go according to plan. We killed ourselves in HS (honestly, looking back, when did I sleep?), got into great colleges, and got jobs. And, to be honest, we do have good jobs! Money is not our main concern, thankfully. But do we like them? Are we passionate about what we do? Do we find satisfaction in our jobs? No. It feels like we poured so much into getting where we are and doing well at what we each do, but it’s all consuming. We work ALL THE TIME. Still. When does the “killing yourselves to deserve it” part end?

    We were lucky about the nuts and bolts (got jobs, got paid), but we were sold a bill of goods about the purpose/passion/payoff relationship.

  95. Sarah*

    This resonates. I’m applying to a job in a new sector. When I mentioned it to a friend, she worried I’d be bored. I didn’t say , but I thought – I’ll happily be bored for twice my salary and less of the day-to-day grind of my current job. I feel the non-profit sector has all of the above times 100. Passion and low pay and burnout in spades!

    1. LPUK*

      Yup. When I was working in corporate I had a fairly stressful job that was very well-paid. My Mum was always saying that I should take a lower level job to decrease the stress and it was hard to explain to her ( even though she worked in local government in a pretty stressy job herself) that lower pay did not equate to lower stress and it was a worse stress – being surrounded by failing systems and incompetent managers, whereas my stress was more about achievement and self-directed work. Also the money I earned gave me the ability to just throw money at many of the stresses in my personal life ( cleaning services, auto bill payment, time-saving gadgets, lovely weekend breaks etc)

      1. My Soapbox*

        Oh, I like this point about worse stress. There is a big difference between the stress that comes from you and the stress that gets placed on you by others/circumstances. Often the stress that CEO or business owners face is trotted out as justification for their wages being so much more than their employees, but the stress of not being able to cover your rent this month is so much worse than the stress of the company stock price falling $0.50.

  96. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

    Thank you for this. I’ve always been baffled by the “do what you love, and love what you do, and your life will be ” and other such mantras.

    I’m 50 and didn’t grow up with the idea of “following your passion”. The point of work was to make a living, in a sensible and stable field.

    I actually do love my work, which I’ve being doing for about 10 years. I didn’t land up in my field because I was passionate about it, or worked harder than anyone else. I was honestly just lucky, and I know I’m in the minority.

    My kids are in their early teens and I don’t know how to advise them about choosing a field of study/work. I don’t want to discourage them from choosing a field that they feel a genuine interest in, but at the same time they need to understand that “following your dreams” doesn’t lead to a life of financial comfort or even stability for many people. And sometimes not even job satisfaction.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I think it needs to be somewhere between their natural aptitude at things they can do for a job and what is actually needed in the job market. Like don’t become a scientist if you can’t do math, but realize that as an English major odds are high that you will end up as a white collar office lady.

  97. CoastEast*

    How could we not be burned out when many millennials have been working since 15 and have been holding the stress of work, school, socoal progress, and been infantalized/blamed for destroying industries we cannot afford to be consumers at? This sounds like one of the few sympathetic reads on workplace millennials I’ve seen.

  98. Ms. Stemba*

    I would like to read more! As someone who went back to school for my MBA after starting in a low-paying science career, this resonates. Also the burnout of always working full time, plus school for 3 years, plus kids, plus now feeling like I need a side hustle, plus a global pandemic, …. I’m getting tired.
    I don’t know that it’s a generational thing or just the way having a career works these days.

  99. CanWeJustNot*

    I can’t agree enough with that excerpt. One thing that has got me really discouraged is realizing how much everyone downplays the circumstances in success that are out of your control, like gender, race, economic status, family status, connections, etc. I went to a private high school and we were continuously told how we had to “work hard to succeed” and now, when I look on LinkedIn and see my classmates who are now C-suite or partners or miles above my lowly individual contributor role, I realize that many who have obtained that level of success were already rich and had family and political connections. Very few of my fellow “scholarship” classmates who were lower on the socioeconomic ladder have obtained high-level titles. It’s crushing to realize that you can jump through all of the hoops and hurdles that are put in front of you but there’s nothing that can put you in the shoes of someone born on third base.

    1. JohannaCabal*

      It’s only recently that I’ve realized that factors outside my control limited my career options. I’m only tangentially in a field related to my college major. I moved from a rural, lower income part of my state to a major metropolitan city and unfortunately to thrive in my major you really need a connection to break in. I didn’t have that and I think it’s held me back in many ways.

      I don’t know what the answer is. Not that I want to see dreams crushed but the reality is that connections carry more weight than high GPAs and quality classwork.

    2. LPUK*

      I get this. From the outside my career looks reasonably impressive and I have worked hard and am very good at what i do…. but i can go through the early stages of my life and point out all the advantages I had, from the family I was born into ( curious, interested in ideas and self-education even though they both left school at 16), a primary teacher who recognised my potential and gave me the type of teaching that best benefited me( who was gone when my sister arrived in the same class two years later), born at a time when the government offered scholarships, free university education and even housing benefit, without which I could not have afforded to get a degree; graduating into a tight job market ( seriously, I applied for three jobs after college and got all three, in my first company I used to get unexpected COL rises more than annually), worked in a low COL city so bought my first house at 26, was pretty enough to get the career advantage of being attractive, but not so pretty I attracted undue attention from male colleagues or claims of sleeping my way into promotions etc etc. When younger people ask me about my career I always emphasise the role of luck, circumstances and timing – yes I worked hard, but nowhere near as hard as a nurse working back to back shifts or a services worker juggling two jobs to get enough money to live. And I have been happy to pay higher rate taxes to give other people some of the benefits I had – other peoples money helped me to succeed after all. Wish more people recognised this about themselves

      1. DireRaven*

        I think people who have had successful lives and careers (in general) find it uncomfortable to think that if something out of their control was different, they might not have ended up where they were — so they chalk it up to their hard work and disregard the effects of luck of the circumstances being in the right place at the right time – that the right doors were open at the right time – at the time they were prepared for them.

  100. Patrice*

    I too love Anne Helen Petersen’s Classic Hollywood series from The Hairpin! Her style of writing is intelligent and concise. The excerpt provided today could have had a picture of my face beside it–spot on for this (somewhat) elder millenial’s last 15 years in the college/grad school/work/college for practical field/back to work cycle of exhaustion.

    I’d love to win AHP’s book, but I just wanted to say that I love the Ask A Manager blog in general; it has provided me so many practical and helpful pieces of advice over the years. Thank you!

  101. Anne*


    I put off grad school straight out of undergrad to join a consumer tech startup, also run by millennials, and they told me they wanted me for at least two years. I was laid off after one. The next three years were a hell of temping and struggling to make the minimum payments on the debt I’d accumulated while unemployed. I’m in a much better place now, thanks in no small part to my family stepping up and helping me with my debt after a massive mental breakdown, but I’m very aware that I’m very lucky.

    I’m in grad school now, for social work. The idea of passion leads to profit, or hard work leads to stability, is so flawed it’s laughable–because the alternative to laughing is rage. I’m also really grateful for gen z, because they’re still showing that idealism and conviction that the world can and should be a better place, when all my fellow millennials (that I know) are universally exhausted by the current struggle of being a functional human being.

    I know that following my passion will lock me into a specific wage range for a long time, and I’m okay with that, because I don’t have words for how fulfilling even just my classes are.
    But I am also very, very much one of the lucky ones to have a drive that matches an existing field that’s continually expanding.

  102. Merci Dee*

    I read an article several years ago that I think kind of dove-tails into this excerpt. The article was talking about how Baby Boomers are the richest generation in history, and that, instead of retiring and enjoying the wealth they’ve accumulated, they’re holding on to their jobs for longer and longer. So this is creating job stagnation throughout the economy, as Gen X’ers can’t move into upper management because there are no jobs freed up by retiring Boomers, and Gen Y’ers can’t move up into middle management because there are no jobs freed up by promoted X’ers, and Millenials can’t move up out of entry level jobs because there are no jobs freed up by promoted Y’ers. So, basically, a situation has been created where upward mobility across a wide swath of industries had been all but halted as more people are working into their older age. But we still have more and more young people graduating high school or college and needing to join the work force to pay for things like basic life needs. Which ultimately led to the creation of the gig economy, etc.

    How do you reconcile that, though? People should be able to work as long as they feel able to do so, but hanging around 10 or 15 years past typical retirement age is putting unbelievable pressure on the groups of younger people below as they watch their own chances for retirement eroding before their eyes because they don’t have the same opportunities for wealth accumulation through their jobs and investment. And nobody at the bottom of the ladder should be stuck in an entry-level job for 10+ years just because there’s nowhere further up the ladder for them to go.

    I guess I feel kind of lucky in some regards. And my parents always told me, “Finding a job you enjoy is a good thing, but remember that you work to live, and you don’t live to work.” I’ve tried to take that to heart.

    1. my name is she-devil*

      as a Zillennial (born mid 90s) I don’t think the Boomers who are hanging onto their jobs way past retirement age are necessarily the same Boomers who are the richest generation in history. Inequality hits all generations, but younger people get hit especially hard when older people (understandably!) don’t want to give up their own ability to have enough money to live

  103. Quinalla*

    Yup, I’m on the tail end of GenX where the prevailing wisdom was still go to college in something that will make you money if you want a secure future, do what you love as a hobby or if you are already wealthy. And no one was talking about “dream jobs”. Still not always true, but much more realistic advice than what most Millennials were fed which is precisely this. Of course they had this expectation, why wouldn’t they when everyone told them they should have it? And yes, so many more jobs are now temp/contractor/etc.

  104. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Exhausted and burned out…sounds like me and I’m Gen X. Also sounds like my Zoomer teen. I’m curious.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      For what it’s worth, we are in the minority actually doing better simply because we cannot over-schedule ourselves.

  105. Accountant by day, musician by night/weekend/holiday*

    Yes! To me, now, a dream job is one that allows me time for hobbies, friends, family, etc. outside of it.

    I spent most of my 20s training for a career that I thought would be everything to me, because when I was young, I thought that was what I wanted. (Not music, despite my handle — I decided not to go the conservatory route for undergrad, thinking I was making the smart choice, but went into a field that turned out to be just as fickle and crappy-job-market-tastic. Perhaps even more so.) So I ended up retraining as an accountant.

    That’s what I like about my current situation: I basically just rent out my ample brainpower for several hours a day and am then free to do what I want with myself. I don’t feel guilty that accounting is not MY ENTIRE LIFE — identifying so strongly with my professional career ended up being pretty miserable for me before, and I think I’ve yet to meet anyone for whom accounting is their life!

    1. Merci Dee*


      I graduated with an accounting degree in 2000. I’ve done a solid 20 years of work with this degree, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to find jobs when I needed them. But (other than that unfortunate 2 years that I worked in public accounting right out of college and worked crazy hours during tax season) when 5:00 rolls around, I’m done with accounting and don’t pick it up again until 8:00 on the next work day.

  106. HMM*

    While there are downsides to being a first generation child of immigrants, the upside is this: you see through societal fictions quickly because they’re not often fictions crafted with you in mind. I am a deeply practical person because my parents had to be deeply practical to survive and there’s an inherited legacy? trauma? in that. On my most cynical days, it presents itself as irritation at those who even had the hope of getting to pursue their passions. On my best days, it presents itself as gratitude because, while I’m not doing what I love, my skills align with marketplace needs that provides me a very comfortable life.

    While I agree with what Peterson writes, my advice to my fellow millennials is simple: get comfortable seeing reality for what it is and use that to make your decisions – not your hopes and dreams and whatever crap society feeds us. So much stress and anxiety is due to a mismatch of expectations between what you want and what your reality can actually provide. Minimize that mismatch and you’ll be in a better position to see what is actually possible out there for you. This is the agency you will always have, no matter what happens to you that is outside your control. Do not fall into the comparison trap. All you have is YOU and YOUR circumstances at any given time, warts and all.

    1. TootsNYC*

      So much stress and anxiety is due to a mismatch of expectations between what you want and what your reality can actually provide.

      This is so wise–and it applies way beyond work.

      Family relationships, especially. Have a crappy mom? A huge part of that pain is a mismatch of expectations between what you want and what your reality can provide. (that’s why people trying to talk you off the ledge urge you to accept “that’s just the way she is”–stop wasting the energy and emotion on wishing for something that can’t happen, and truly see your mom as the flawed person she is, and figure out how to live with that reality)
      I have a brother who doesn’t seem to particularly like me, or to invest energy in family relationships. I am so much happier now that I don’t keep expecting him to be the way I think he ought to be. He is who he is, and I figure out how to navigate around that, and how to downgrade my expectations to something that can be met. Oh, I still have the disappointment, and the disapproval, and the sadness–but I don’t have the expectations.

      1. HMM*

        Yes! I think you touched on what my own comment lacked; there are still the emotions. I’m sure I came across as cold, but I feel the same disappointment, disapproval, guilt, sadness, whatever about the hard realities I see in my life. But I just do my best to process them, make the best choices I can make at the time, and move on. Then process them again when it comes up in another package. It’s the dwelling on the injustice of it all that keeps me stuck right where I am.

    2. CamJansen*

      “Minimize that mismatch and you’ll be in a better position to see what is actually possible out there for you.”

      Sound advice. I did this when I graduated in 09. Took a while to come to terms with it, but it was the best thing I could have done for myself.

  107. TootsNYC*

    When someone says millennials are lazy, I want to ask them: Which millennials? When someone says we’re entitled, I do ask them: Who taught us we should be able to do work that we love? We were told that college would be the way to a middle-class job. That wasn’t true.

    Actually, I always wonder, “which millennials?” too, but I think of my niece, who is a millennial and couldn’t attend college, so she works at a car dealership, or her friends, who also didn’t go to college but work as caregivers for mentally disabled youths, or work at a daycare.

    They work their asses off!
    So much of the handwringing over and analysis of millennials completely leaves out the lower socio-economic class.

    1. Jules the Goblin*

      Gosh, I just want to open up the whole can of worms here about “skilled” versus “unskilled” labor… It’s absolute BS that daycare (among many other things) is considered “unskilled labor”. There’s no unskilled labor, it all takes physical and/or emotional and/or mental labor, It’s BS.

        1. Jules the Goblin*

          I KNOW RIGHT. I can’t imagine chasing kids around all day, I’d be in a constant state of panic. Like you said, it takes a lot of strategy and skill!

        2. Foila*

          Absolutely – if we’re defining work by its value to society, daycare workers tend the future of the world, the most precious and fragile beings, who will get into the bleach if you leave them alone for an entire second.
          And we pay those people minimum wage.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I know a daycare owner and their coursework, regulations and all that jazz are intense. I deal with regulations of my own and they’re cake compared to being a daycare provider. All her workers have to be certified and they get random checks, etc. I can’t believe that anyone would say that’s unskilled labor just because it LOOKS like you “play with babies all day long!”

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Which millennials, indeed.

      The ones who graduated with staggering student debt, only to enter a workforce during the worst economic recession since the Great Depression? The ones reliant on gig and contract work to cobble together enough to pay necessities? The ones still renting because of the lack of affordable houses for sale? The ones who are nearing the midcareer point and still have little to no savings, investments, or assets accumulated? And are now facing another economic crisis?

      I’m sure it’s all just a “personal problem.”

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I love the old “They need to move out of their parents house!” crowd the best!

      If I hadn’t lived at home for a long time [by choice, I could have afforded to leave but I like my parents and we had a fine living arrangement!], my parents would have possibly lost their home when my dad was forced into retirement early. I mean thank God he was only a few years away from 62 to draw early social security [and lose that 30% of it because of the early draw], he was on unemployment for almost 2 years until that SS came through and he could draw his early pension not too far afterwards.

      I worked and I paid my portion of the mortgage and bills because I’m NOT entitled and I understood that paying bills was part of life. I wasn’t not moving out not to pay bills, I wasn’t moving out because it was more comfortable and affordable to assist my aging parents with their expenses!

      My dad quietly told me that he was relieved I was still there and so fast to pay rent as soon as I had a regular job at 19 yrs old. Even when I was working PT originally, I paid my own insurance and phone, taking that off my parents plate immediately, paid all my own expenses they had been shouldering when I was in high school. And then when I went FT, I started paying 1/3 of the mortgage and utilities. Therefore my parents have a safety net in place, instead of devastating it!

  108. AllerDerm*

    For me, as a millennial in my late 20s, I feel pretty cheated. I see people in my parent’s generation and older who started at a company in their early 20s and rose their way up the ladder by working hard and now make a generous living and can go on yearly (or even twice yearly) vacations if they wish. My Step dad works such a job. That’s just not a thing that happens anymore. Companies don’t have that kind of loyalty anymore. They don’t grant raises for working hard. You’re lucky if you get a cost of living raise, and even when you do it’s something laughable like 25 cents. Gee thanks for the extra $2 per day, that’s enough for half a coffee. The only way to get raises is to keep moving. As a woman in my late 20s I really the need to keep moving every few years so I can maximize my earning potential because I know that once I hit my late 30s, early 40s that I’m stuck. Trying to catch up with that wage gap is like a hamster running on a wheel. I’m getting tired and burnt out while going nowhere.

    My parents bought a house when they were younger than me. By comparison, my fiance and I are nowhere near that level of income. It feels like a pipe dream. We decided we’re going to really start socking money away after our wedding next year with the running joke being that maybe afford a down payment by the time we retire. Millennials were promised a life of “if you put in hard work and go to college it’ll be worth it and you’ll easily slide into the middle class”. To be frank, that was bullshit. Nobody I know that went to college in this century makes anything close to putting them in a solid middle class lifestyle, myself included. We just want the same opportunities that generations before us had, nothing more nothing less. But now the cost of education has risen sharply , the cost of living is soaring, and our wages are stagnating. And now the older generations chastise us for our avocado toast while we’re one bad month away from being homeless.

    1. Carmen*

      I want to buy a home so badly it is an ache in my soul. But even though I make enough to always pay rent for the past 10 years my student loan makes my debit to income ratio to high so I can’t get a home loan. At this rate (as cold as it sounds) I will only be able to own a home when my dad passes away and wills the house he’s had for almost 40 years.

      1. AllerDerm*

        Seriously. Inheriting a house seems to be the only path to home ownership on our horizon as well. I just want to feel like maybe one day we can start a family but it never feels like a good time. Not even a good time, just a reasonable time where we won’t be completely broke and have a baby living in our bedroom. Sigh, maybe someday.

    2. Luke G*

      I’ve been lucky enough to land in a company that’s had regular chances for promotions as well as annual COLA raises. But even there, most of the promotion chances come when they suddenly realize “oh no, all our 23 year olds are leaving for better opportunities” and create a new job tier to retain people. Then they realize “we’ve grown so much we literally can’t meet all these deadlines” and hastily add a working group, pushing someone up to manage it.

      Only just lately, after nearly a decade establishing myself, have I felt that the company had particular loyalty to me, or a desire to keep me here. At lower levels there’s still a sense of “let them quit, there’s new college grads ready to take their place at any time.”

      1. AllerDerm*

        It’s sad that it takes a “oh shit” moment to get their butts in gear and take care of their people.

        1. Luke G*

          I’m slow to want to make major changes, which has led me to joking that I’ve advanced here mostly because they realize I probably should have already left so they promote me before I realize it too. LUCKILY they seem to be (agonizingly slowly) starting to care more.

    3. introverted af*

      “As a woman in my late 20s I really the need to keep moving every few years so I can maximize my earning potential because I know that once I hit my late 30s, early 40s that I’m stuck. Trying to catch up with that wage gap is like a hamster running on a wheel.”

      But how dare you only be at a job for a few years, you look flighty… ugh

  109. abg*

    I’m a middle-of-the-pack (I think? Born in the late 80s) and I often get depressed because I did “everything right” went to a competitive, college prep high school and did extra-curriculars I didn’t necessarily want to to boost my college applications, went to an expensive private college where taking six classes a semester was the norm for upperclass students, and went to graduate school. I’m currently an Master’s educated, underpaid entry level employee making just as much as my coworker who graduated college a year ago, all because I changed paths from academics to communications over 5 years ago. I often get into a “if I had only made different choices” spiral and I think this book would help me banish that thought once and for all.

    1. NeonFireworks*

      Same age. The only person I know making a huge amount of money is the one who dropped out of college in 2007, started a company, and had a bit of luck. My parents once literally raised their eyebrows at me just for reading a book in which a character dropped out.

  110. Shannon M Stanley*

    This resonates so much with me – especially the part about how the generation before built up our expectations while simultaneously tearing down the support systems that might allow us to fulfill those expectations. I’m somewhat fortunate (ironically) in that my mom (a single parent) changed careers when I was young – from a well-paying job that she hated to a low-paying job that fulfilled her passions. So I saw first-hand that a) doing what you love is not always going to be the most lucrative choice, and b) doing what you love isn’t a magic bullet for having a “perfect life” or being 100% happy with your career at all times. Growing up poor sucked, but I consider myself lucky that I always knew that choosing to do what I love probably wasn’t going to result in being highly paid.

    But the other side of that coin is my husband, who has a degree in the sciences and is one of the smartest people I know, but who does manual labor for an hourly wage. I don’t mean to denigrate manual labor (quite the opposite). My husband works 1,000 times harder than I do and makes a fraction of what I make – and I’m in education, so I’m not particularly well-paid. And he most certainly does not love his job. When we first started dating, he assured me that he would be able to get a really well-paying job in his field, because that’s he was told by his advisors and career counselors. His job is tangentially related to his field, but it amounts to someone going to culinary school and getting a job as a school cafeteria worker. Many of his co-workers didn’t go to college at all. Meanwhile we’re paying a ton for his student loans that are doing him basically no good. It’s very frustrating.

  111. cjsoup*

    My friends and I have talked about this. It seems like in the past you worked your a$$ off to get ahead. Now it seems like you have to work yourself to death just to get by, if you’re lucky. Working 50 hour weeks on-site during a pandemic as a single mom is killing me.

  112. Jacki*

    This resonates so MUCH! My husband and I are both firm millennials, college educated but still live mostly paycheck to paycheck. During the pandemic we are lucky enough to both be able to work from home, but I am terrified to think what would happen if that changed for one or both of us. He has student loans (enough for the both of us) – working on getting those paid back through the public service forgiveness, but still the thought that we are working so hard to just barely break even is depressing. Even if we wanted to find something else – now is NOT the time.

  113. Khatul Madame*

    As a parent of a millennial, I really appreciate the author raising this. The pursuit of “passion” as a necessary component to earning a living My child is one of the casualties, despite my best attempts at guidance and the example of my own decently successful career.

  114. Millennial healthcare burnout*

    I feel this so hard. Graduated high school in 2004 during what I like to call Peak Oprah. Get a degree in what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! Did that, recession hit, went back to school for something marketable in healthcare. Studied my ass off, worked hard, starting with jobs I was over-qualified for, had a baby, interviewed for a promotion my first day back from maternity leave. Got it, became regional safety officer for my department last October then COVID hit a few months later.

    The burnout is real.

  115. GenXsusan*

    This really resonates as in the last few years I have really focused on doing my job well, but investing in family, friends and quality of life.

  116. HR in the city*

    Holy smokes! A big thin i’ve seen is companies with the need to be connected 24/7! A big thing I’ve seen is the 21st century school where kids are given ipads- I filled out a survey where I said technology is good but what about teaching kids to also do things without the technology. When the robot overloads take over the world we will all be drone workers doing manual labor. Technology is good to an extent but we weren’t made to be working all the time or to have to respond to everyone all the time. I work for a job where its a lot of hard work, takes a lot of knowledge, requires good people skills but I never feel pressure to work more than 40 hours a week. Yes right now with the way things are due to COVID I have ended up working more than 40 hours but I still take the time to step away. The best vacation I ever had was camping in the woods with no cell service. I could literally see Canada from where I was but it was nice. This reminds me of the meme that is going around that says Europeans out of office “I am gone for the next three weeks, all emails will be immediately deleted.” Americans out of office “I got hit by a bus & have two broken legs- delay of up to 30 minutes can be expected. If you need immediate assistant I am at X hospital in the ER”. It’s funny but it really isn’t. Some companies expect this of their employees but would never show that type of loyalty back to an employee.

  117. JustKnope*

    I struggle with this so much right now, and I’m looking forward to reading the book. My husband loves his job, and is truly passionate about it. He will spend time researching and puzzling out issues on the weekends happily. He pursued a really hard certification because he loves it so much. Sure, his job has challenges and stresses like any other, but he really loves it (and does actually get paid for it). But I don’t have that. I tolerate my job, most days. I don’t know what my “dream job” would even be. I know I’m very smart, but I don’t feel like I’m pursuing a career, which makes me feel like a failure compared to my husband and the people around me. I really need to accept that it’s just work – it’s a transaction, and it doesn’t need to be a defining part of me. If I can divest emotionally, I think I’d have a lot easier of a time getting through things.

  118. Loudy McShouty*

    Absolutely- after watching my partner struggle to enter the special ed teaching world (that he has so much passion for), I’m just grateful to have a job I don’t hate that pays the bill while letting me save a little. I know I’m lucky to be in this position, but I’m also just so tired all the time. I’ve come to realize I’m never going to have a job I love and I;m slowly coming to grips with that.

  119. Was I ready for a career leap?*

    Just another data point here who can relate.

    The market (even before pandemic life, but especially now) is ultimately just a series of untenable choices. Go to school and incur debt for a degree that comes with no guarantees, or stunt your earning potential at the outset by shutting yourself entirely out of fields that require credentials? Live closer to work and throw money away on rent, or live further and throw it away (along with commute time) on vehicle maintenance/public transit? Pour yourself into your work to try to get ahead and develop stress-related health issues, or be blamed for your lack of initiative?

    I “had” my dream job in journalism, but it didn’t pay. So I went back to school to do something more practical, and now the billable hour haunts my life. I have a house and a wife and a kid — none of which seemed possible as a reporter — but I also have debt I will die with and concerns that I will never be able to afford to retire. When I’m being asked about the number of hours I’ve worked six months after taking just 4 days of parental leave, at the start of a global health emergency, I start thinking of unrealistic escape plans, like bartending or student counseling — both of which would have their own pay and/or barrier to entry issues. I’m a “winner” in this economy: I still have a job, and I have a “prestige” degree that gives me credibility — but on a day-to-day basis, what I have is the never-ending sense of treading water and just hoping it’s better for my son someday.

  120. aeldest*

    Definitely gonna have to read this.

    My husband and I (young Millennials) both really struggle with the “do what you love” messaging we grew up with.

    For him–he likes working on cars, so everyone tells him “be a mechanic!” Except he doesn’t like working on modern cars, and he already has back and joint issues–working under a car for decades probably just won’t be physically possible for him, or at best will make him physically miserable. Plus he likes working on gas engines, which are on their way out. He’s got a couple other “dream jobs” that just would not work for our lifestyle (ex. he likes the idea of being a submarine mechanic, but we don’t want to live on the coast, and he doesn’t want to be gone for months at a time).

    For me– I haven’t had a dream job since I was 9 and found out I was already too tall to be a jockey. I like the idea of working in the publishing industry (lol) or for the CIA (lol) but realistically, I just want to be an 1800s pioneer but with equal rights and the internet. I like gardening and sewing and building things, but not enough to want to do any one of them all the time.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, is that up until like 75 years ago (if not less), you kinda just did whatever your parents did and didn’t have much of a choice. Maybe if you were a scrawny son of a blacksmith and the candlemaker’s kid was brawny, you’d switch, but most of the time, farmers’ kids farmed and tailors’ kids tailored. Fulfilment through career is such a recent invention, and I’m not convinced it’s a good one. Obviously we’ve made many improvements to society since then–let’s not return to serfs and such–but maybe giving people a default career and not tying their worth to it would help people enjoy their hobbies and find joy in other parts of their lives.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      The mechanic bit really resonates. There’s so many people that followed that advice and realized that the hobby they loved is not their dream job! Like, I love to cook, but I couldn’t handle making it my career – working in stressful kitchens for low pay and crappy benefits, how physically demanding it is, the grueling schedules. I’d rather have a job I can handle, that gives me enough time and money to cook for fun on my own terms.

    2. LPUK*

      I think you have something here, My grandfather worked as a crane operator in a cement plant – hard dirty work – but at least he didn’t have to face into the tyranny of choices which so many millennials and younger have to. Its hard to make a decisons when were are so very many choices facing you (about 27k a day they reckon!) When I was younger, I used to dream about being 45 years old, because by then all my major life decisions would surely be made ( I’d be married or not, have kids or not, be successful or have come to terms with not being successful, be settled into a career, have bought a house… and life would be so much better because all my major decisions would all be behind me. But life just keeps moving the effing goalposts – with advances in medical technology I cud still have a baby now – some 10 years later, if I wanted…Sigh

    3. Annie*

      “I haven’t had a dream job since I was 9 and found out I was already too tall to be a jockey.”

      This made me laugh–I helped to train some racehorses over the summers when I was in college, and the breeder I worked for admired my ability to stay on their backs no matter what they did. He asked if I’d ever thought of becoming a jockey, and when I said yes, asked me how much I weighed. When I answered that, he responded with, “Great! You’d only have to lose about 20 lbs and you’d be perfect!”

      That was when I realized I was never going to be a jockey.

  121. Public Sector Manager*

    Gen X here. In high school, all I wanted to do is be a lawyer. I graduated law school in 1995 and the job market for lawyers was terrible. About 35%-40% of my class had no job lined up after graduation. I spent my first five years of practicing law getting tons of great experience for zero money. My first year I made $16,800 working for other attorneys as an independent contractor. During that 5th year I was exhausted, burnt out, and made a promise to myself either get out or apply for that one last job–public sector lawyer. I’m still in the public sector as a lawyer, and now have been practicing law for 25 years.

    Although I’m still practicing law, law hasn’t been my passion for many years. I should have learned a trade. I’m passionate about working with my hands. Welders and contractors are in short supply. It’s impossible to find a decent plumber or electrician. These are things I should have done!

  122. GGfluffypants*

    I realized at 18 that I did not want to attend college yet. I went into work as a manager of a small ice cream shop. I used my references from my 3 years as a stage manager for school plays at 2 different schools (in tandem, one semester here, another there, I was the only student I knew who took 7 classes instead of 6). By the time I graduated I was burnt out on theatre in all its aspects. I raised my store’s sales rate by 10% in a year, during which milk prices had doubled. We consistently had great customer satisfaction, and my “kids” or Scoopers, were all great at their jobs, cleaning and servicing.

    I started having panic attacks just I would touch the doorknob to leave for work. I had a team lead quit and I didn’t have time to hire anyone during our busiest season. I was working for less than minimum wage because I was on salary. I worked 22 days in a row, getting to work at 7am to make ice cream, and leaving after 7pm.

    I told the owner how I was feeling and how I needed a raise, he told me, “It’s just ice cream, it’s not that serious.”

    So I quit. I immediately found a much less stressful job at a bookstore. It eventually became a stressful job as slowly our employment dwindled and I was literally straightening the entire 46k sqft store myself 6 nights a week. They told me I had to train all the new hires who were making 25 cents more than me.

    So I quit.

    I found a fun, less stressful part time job, making more money, and I went to college. I was 22. I paid for it all myself. I was married but I still paid Bill’s and worked 30 hrs a week. This part-time job became more stressful when the company rearranged management (which I was) and no one could tell me if I still had a job. Over the 2 years I was there I had $2M in sales on the books. Never got a raise, and as a PT manager I wasn’t eligible for the bonuses that relied on my sales to reach goals.

    So I quit.

    I got a job as an Operations assistant for a furniture store. The sales people loved me and customers loved me. This was about the time of the Crash of 2007. My manager was let go and they asked me to work full-time. I refused because I was still in school. Never got a raise or even hired permanently (I worked for a temp agency) for over a year and they kept pushing responsibility onto me.

    So I quit and received a work-study grant and worked for my College in my Department.

    By the time I started my second career I was already tired. I continued to work both retail and my professional career for nearly 10 years after graduating. I stayed tired.

    I am currently 36, unemployed due to COVID, and doing volunteer work. It’s the happiest work time I’ve had. I never want to put up with racist, sexist managers ever again. I never want to be treated like I’m less of a worker for taking time off. I never want to feel like I have no value because I won’t drink *yet another* round of koolaid.

    I am beginning to feel like I am part of the “Oh Yeah? Make Me” generation.

  123. Vistaloopy*

    I’m not a millennial (I’m 40), but this still resonates. I went to college, then grad school, and I’m lucky that I have a good income, but I’m not passionate about my work. And I’m fine with that. I’m much happier working part time from home and raising my daughter (and incredibly fortunate that my husband’s income allows for this). My husband and I will never be able to pay off our student loans, and he works constantly. We want to raise our daughter differently – encourage her to go to vocational school, for example – so she doesn’t end up in this situation.

  124. Erika22*

    Oof, this definitely resonates. With a degree from a top university I felt like I needed to immediately get a “good” job, and it was really hard working two part time jobs for a year after graduating. I finally got an entry level office job, but I made less than my part time work. For the longest time I felt actual shame that my job title and function weren’t glamorous or cool. It wasn’t even whether I was passionate about my job or not, it was about seeming like I was successful and worrying that I wasn’t growing as quickly as my peers. I’m finally at a point where I enjoy my job (and yes have a title I’m happy with) but I still have to actively remind myself not to compare myself with my peers. I think that’s where most of my exhaustion comes from – feeling like I’m not where I should be, even though there’s no specific place I “should” be, I just am where I am.

    1. 30Something*

      You summed up my feelings so well: “feeling like I’m not where I should be, even though there’s no specific place I “should” be, I just am where I am.”

  125. Aggretsuko*

    I’m actually grateful I have a job I hate, but is useful and nonexpendable, now. I used to have a job I loved, and then of course lost it due to layoffs and budget cuts. If I was in a job I loved and was good at and fit what I wanted to do in life, I would be unemployed and screwed right now.
    They pay you to do work for a reason–you wouldn’t choose to do it on your own and a warm body is needed to do it.

    I recently read “A Song For A New Day” and the giant employer “Superwally” forces employees to put up “motivational” posters in their bedroom. One says “You are valued but replaceable.” Certainly the last one is true.

  126. Albatross*

    My brother managed to get a job doing what he loves after graduating college this May, and he’s making great money at it. The thing is, what he loves is computer programming, and he managed to sign the hiring contract in January of this year. His classmates who didn’t have ink on contracts by about mid-March are out of luck. You can hardly get hired as a waiter in this area right now. And outside the computer programming world (and, I suspect, outside Silicon Valley), he wouldn’t be making anything like this kind of money.

    He got lucky. He knows he got lucky. I cannot imagine I will get so lucky, when I graduate in about two years. I have the advantage of being able to take lower-than-livable pay for the area because I can live with my parents and get a break on rent. That may be what saves me, in the end.

  127. Carmen*

    I’m a Milennial and this is an argument I constantly have with my Milennial husband. I keep preaching to my son and others to get a job that pays and has good health insurance and that you don’t hate. Your family and hobbies can (and should to me) fill your soul not your job. My husabnd quit his well paying job 4 years ago because he hated it and decided to become an entrepreneur. Immediately we became a family with an income of $32,000, lost the cars, I lost my hair and health from stress, etc. Years later he still believes he’s doing the right thing because he loves his company even though it still can’t support a family- it couldn’t even support him alone if I didn’t stay at this job I dislike. That’s another thing my generation and younger are starting to tout- just start your own business! Completely ignoring the difficulty and looking down on those of us who don’t want to.
    There are days I feel like a failure- I over achieved in school. Got my bachelor’s then masters to get a better job. After all that I’m doing the exact same job I did before I got the degree- just with $100,000 of student loans now.

  128. RetailforLife*

    It seems to me the gateway to the “good” jobs with high pay and reasonable expectations is through burnout. The less you get paid the more that is expected of you. Entry level jobs require 5 years experience, 80 hours a week and a cure for cancer. And if you can get these entry level jobs the carrot (reasonable pay, retirement, health insurance, some stability) just keeps getting pushed further away.

  129. Work Smart Not Hard*

    Yeah, this whole business about feeling passion for your job is just another myth perpetuated by those who have an interest to squeeze out every last bit of blood and sweat for lousy pay. That and the myth that an expensive degree will guarantee you a job. It will mostly guarantee you that you will be in debt for a long time. Caveat: I don’t knock getting an education, I have two degrees but I got them as cheaply as possible. No one has ever cared.
    Bottom line is if you can find a job that you feel passionate about that pays you well and provides benefits, great. Otherwise, find your passion elsewhere. Get a job that doesn’t make you miserable, pays you a decent wage and allows you to have a good work life balance.

  130. Merry Rose*

    This resonates so deeply for me. I feel so misled about the value of my college education and I’m just glad that I didn’t accrue more debt getting it than I did. Even so, that debt has been with me like a shackle my entire adult life, limiting all my options.

  131. M&M*

    wow Emma could be me. 5 years post grad school with 2 1/2 spent either unemployed or underemployed. I’ve come to accept I will likely never have my “dream job” or even anything remotely close to it, and will probably just be underemployed forever.

  132. Little Mouse with Clogs On*

    Millennial reporting in. I’ve felt so guilty for having a “survival job” that took juuuuust enough time in a day that I couldn’t really fully commit to seeking the arts jobs that I spent three years training for, and now that the pandemic has made it impossible to perform I’m one of the few people in my arts community who isn’t struggling with unemployment and sudden poverty. But I still feel bad about myself, because said survival job doesn’t even pay well enough to buy a home in the area I live, so I sold out for … what, exactly?

  133. RT*

    I wonder if this book goes over the rip-off that ‘Salary Jobs’ are. I can’t even remember the last time I *only* worked 40hrs in a week. My base hours start at 50/wk and rise depending on what is currently on fire (super important, need to take care of this asap or we will lose it all etc).

    I’m obviously job hunting but it’s so hard to identify if a company plays this way in a few 30-60min interviews.

    1. Admin Always*

      I worked more hours, in a week, as a salaried employee than I ever did as an hourly. Salary—the expectation was 40 hours is the minimum and you’re just not committed. Our salaried staff were actually told to log at least 3,400 billable hours in the year and anything less was letting down our clients (the staff are US tax accountants).

      Hourly—I was made to understand that it really meant 38 hours was the maximum and I was stealing from the company if I logged more than that. Heaven forbid I worked any overtime.

      1. RT*

        Exactly.. all of a sudden time is worth something when overtime comes into play. Salaried employees get the short stick for sure, but when I was growing up, being a salaried employee meant that you ‘made it’ and were no longer blue collar minimum wage workers. It took me awhile to realize that I was just being taken advantage of in a different way.

  134. YES to all of it!*

    This book was already on my to-read list, and now I definitely want it to be one of the books I read sooner, not later! At 23, I’m already 1) so very confused about what my career interests are, or should be 2) dreading the possibility of putting in decades of work in a job that is not really the best fit for me. I know those older and wiser than me will say that’s normal, I don’t need to have it all figured out … and I agree, but it also makes work life nearly unbearable in the short term. I currently have a job that is the exact title that I’ve always told people I wanted, at the type of place I’ve always told people I want to work at. And I can’t say I’m very happy in my current situation. But I have no idea what my expectations are supposed to be at a job.

  135. MoreCoffeePlease*

    This is so timely for me, and so true (being burned out or close to it) for me and so many of my friends and acquaintances.

  136. Picard*

    Yes, YES, Y E S!
    I worked my passion for a number of years always wondering if I would have enough $ to buy groceries. I got tired of the uncertainty. Now I work a job that is traditional 9some might even say boring) but gosh darn it, I do love those steady paychecks and benefits. Those are NOT boring at all.

  137. Jake*

    I’m watching my older gen z siblings graduate high school and approach the work world, and it is fascinating.

    23 year old brother got his “passion” job at age 20 out of trade school for $15 bucks an hour with basically no opportunity to grow. It took 1 year for him to realize that he was gonna have to cut way back on his lifestyle to even survive. He quit and now drives a tow truck doing his trade work a little on the side making enough to support his desired standard of living.

    I hope that can be an example of how gen z can learn from millennial mistakes and not get caught in decade long cycles of burn out.

    Honestly, the track for millennials is set as a generation, and we (im 31) are going to be considered entitled and lazy from here on out, regardless of reality. Millennials ushered in a completely new way of working by bringing electronics into industries that never saw it before like construction, mostly because of all this education that was pushed on us. Then, instead of appreciating the obvious improvements over the existing systems, gen x and boomers decided that a reliance on technology was “laziness” and a desire to be recognized and compensate for innovation and improvement was “entitlement”.

    You know what, I AM lazy. Id rather create a system to do those calculations for me in a week than spend months cranking out computations. I AM entitled to recognition and compensation for taking a 3 month task for my boomer predecessor and creating a stem in a month that allows an intern to do it in a week whenever it needs done in the future instead of a mid level engineer for 3 months.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oh this is a twist, I know it’s too personal and don’t expect an answer but I’m curious what that trade is!

      I now hear boomers who don’t want to offer free education to the youth that you should just go to “trade school” because “it’s cheaper and we need those jobs so badly! and you get such good wages!”

      Everyone thinks that HVAC is a killer trade and makes BAAAAAANK but no, just because they charge you $125 an hour to do your system, they’re NOT paying that much in wages. They’re paying around $20 and the rest is because they have a fleet of vehicles and inventory to pay for.

        1. Jake*

          That said, I work a white collar job in construction and there really is bank to be made in trade work, you just have to be a really hard worker, be willing to live 12 months a year with 8 months of work and put your body at risk of injury.

  138. Admin Always*

    I tried to do what I love. I started the educational pathway to medicine and now I have an Anthropology degree and work as an EA. I make around 70k though after gaining ten years of experience at few different companies. I don’t do what I love but I try to find aspects of my job that give me fulfillment. The burnout is real. I have drastically changed how much I’m willing to put into a job and I still suffer from burnout and guilt that because I’m not a doctor my actual job holds no value in society—ie, it doesn’t fulfill me and it doesn’t make six figures so it’s insignificant. And what have I found myself doing? Studying computer programming to hit a pay scale and job title that is considered respectable enough to be shared by my mother to her friends (because “assistant” doesn’t cut it). Interacting with customers and de-escalating conflicts is a real skill but a paycheck is considered (in my personal experience) greater proof that you matter and are worthwhile.

  139. Princess Flying Hedgehog*

    This really resonates. I work in higher ed, and certain corners of higher ed are definitely painted with the “dream job” brush. Even if you’re not in one of those “dream job” units or positions, it still tends to attract people who are “passionate” about education and/or serving students. But, even before the pandemic, staff positions were getting cut and the remaining staff get saddled with more and more. I’m one of the lucky ones — my institution is doing relatively well (compared to others) and I didn’t get furloughed this summer. But — the workload keeps increasing for my unit and high level administration told us staff (to our faces) that our only option was to work harder and longer to get it all done. Everyone is exhausted and some of my coworkers (notably, the millennials in the group) are clearly burning out/burnt out.

  140. 30Something*

    I am a millennial, and I turned 30 this year. I feel more guilty than burnt out, but perhaps they are the same thing. I am probably better off than many others–I have a masters degree; I work in the field that I went to school for; I make a decent wage for my area ($57,000); I have some of the best health benefits in my province; my coworkers are great people; I work 9-5 and don’t take my work home with me. However, I feel constantly guilty about the fact that I don’t capital ‘L’ LOVE my job.

    My parents make very good money and are always working late, and I am guilty that my work life does not resemble theirs. My twisted logic tells me that working late and b*tching about how tough you have it equals hard work, dedication, and success. I look at their work lives, and I think I would absolutely hate doing what they are doing, yet I feel like such a failure because my life is not filled with deadlines and 24/7 late nights and a large salary figure. I just started seeing a counsellor about it (thanks health benefits!), so I am hoping that I can start to change this warped perspective on what it means to be successful/fulfilled.

  141. RussianInTexas*

    I missed being a Millennial by 2 years, and an immigrant as well. I moved to the US 20 years ago, meaning I did not grow up here.
    The whole “dream job”, “you are special”, “find your passion” are utterly foreign to me (so to speak), by the age group and my personal circumstances. My parents aren’t/weren’t the stereotypical immigrant families sometimes you see portrayed, and did not mandate that all their children must be lawyers or doctors, but it was always presume if you have some kind of artistic talent, or passion, that is for a HOBBY.
    A good job is something you don’t outright hate, can do, and that pays you well enough that you can support yourself and your family.
    I don’t love my job. Sometimes I hate it. It’s a low paying one with crappy benefits, so I am on the lookout, but that’s what it is. A job. I don’t expect to find some kind fulfillment from it.

    1. Asenath*

      I’m a boomer, I’m from Canada which is supposed to be but sometimes isn’t culturally similar to the US – and I grew up with much the same approach that you describe – your work is to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head. Pick something that seems to be likely to have openings that pay decently and you think you wouldn’t mind doing too much and can get the required education. If you like music or sports or, well, lots of things, there was a lot of talk about how practically no one makes a living at that, so wouldn’t it be best to keep it as a hobby? Life being what it is, I nevertheless bounced around a bit before I found a job I could settle at, after studying and quitting a couple other options, one of which I loved but was bad at and one that I thought would make a good second choice, but hated and was bad at. A sibling who insisted on studying something “impractical” beat the odds and is still working at it, and earning more than I ever will. I’m happy for her; she knows she’s fortunate as well as hardworking and good at what she does. I don’t have children, but I don’t think my friends’ children got advice that was much different from that. Certainly not many of my generation would seriously advise a child to follow their passion; they’d say “Well, I know you love it, but you should get a diploma in (much in demand occupation) first in case it doesn’t work out.” Maybe that’s a cultural as well as a generational difference.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        When I was growing up in Russia, during the turbulent 1990s, we simply did not have a middle class.
        The mentality of “you should follow your passion” is a mentality of privilege and comfort.

        1. Asenath*

          My life was much less turbulent than that in almost any period of Russian history I’ve read about! My family like most I knew had a foot in two camps – some members worked at unskilled work, many were fairly solidly middle class or aspiring, and the area itself was more working class than not. But not particularly turbulent.

          From what people are writing here, following your passion is not an approach that seems to work well for the middle classes either. I’ve often thought it was an impractical approach to life for most people – for anyone who wasn’t the one in a million who can beat the odds and actually earn a living at the sort of thing most people have a passion for. No one seems to have a passion for most in-demand skills that pay reasonably well, although many people find satisfaction to doing it well!

  142. AngryAngryAlice*

    Ok wait this is actually fate (maybe… maybe not) because I was hoping to read this book!! I love the angle she took on it, and I do appreciate her acknowledgement that the book is written from her own (white cishet woman) perspective. I think there was actually a really interesting piece in B*tch Media this week critiquing the lack of racially diverse perspectives in the book (or exploration of those perspectives beyond a surface level); that’s something I’m thinking about when I read this piece (and hopefully the book).

    Beyond that, though, this perspective REALLY speaks to me, and I feel very seen by her work. I’ve seen people ask why it’s valuable to classify this feeling as something unique to a specific generation when so many people of all ages feel burned out, but I think the fact that we all came of age in the 90s and 00s – a very specific political and social climate – has everything to do with why this is such a Millennial (TM) problem. So really I value her take on this topic.

  143. foolofgrace*

    It sounds like Boomers are being blamed for setting unrealistic expectations for Millennials. Yet I, a Boomer, was also raised with unrealistic expectations by my parents and society. Perhaps I misunderstood. Or perhaps this has been going on for generations in one form or another.

  144. VARecruits*

    This was a really interesting read so far. As another millennial on this thread, I won’t repeat what others have said, but wow do I feel this hard.

  145. Idigflowers*

    I think this is true no matter your age. I am a boomer and, as a teacher, I have always been expendable and, even when I love my job and students, paperwork and administration beats all of the love out of you.

  146. squidarms*

    Gee, I wonder why millennials might not feel passionate about their jobs when their employers make it obvious that they don’t give a single rat’s behind whether they quit. Pensions are a thing of the past. Merit raises aren’t a thing anymore and even standard cost-of-living raises are a rare thing these days. Health insurance is the cheapest, crappiest plan that the company can legally get away with offering. 401k matching? What’s a 401k? Any incentive to stay with a single employer has been removed.

    They don’t do this because high turnover produces better work. Somebody who’s been doing a task for ten years will almost always produce better work than someone just learning how to do it. They do this because it is cheaper in the short term to hire a new employee than it is to retain an existing one. Why would they bother trying to retain you, when there are 400 other unemployed millennials ready to take your place for less than you’re already being paid? Besides, everybody knows you can’t afford to quit because the mismatch between your rent and your paycheck ensures that you can’t accumulate any meaningful savings–paying you more would screw that all up. Back in your cubicle, and don’t you even dare think of complaining, entitled millennial brat. You should be grateful this company is magnanimous enough to pay you at all.

    The worst part is that I know nothing will change during my lifetime.

  147. analyst*

    This resonates. I was told that a good (expensive) college education would be worth it. I was told I could major in anything. No one explained the loans to me. Just a handwaving “if you want a good job you need a degree and if you want a degree, you need these loans.” I’m grateful to have a job I enjoy and a career that is going places but so many of my friends as well as my husband, are underemployed and swamped in debt that shows no sign of going away.

  148. caro*

    This is on point, can’t wait to read. My personal philosophy is that work will never fulfill me the way my hobbies/extracurricular passions will (even after having tried to translate one or two hobbies into work…feeling like I ‘have’ to do anything takes all the joy out)…I am pretty secure in this belief for myself, but I still get sucked into the perpetual millennial narrative of virtue & capital being on the same side of the coin.

  149. Luke G*

    I had the benefit of parents who fought against the “work robot” mindset, whether they did it consciously or not. My parents are a nurse and a self-employed flooring installer. My mother was always very open about not feeling any particular passion for her job- she decided to go to nursing school because her friends were going, and she stayed with the job because she was good at it, it had a regular schedule, and the benefits were gre