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  • 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 :/

    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.

      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….

    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. 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.

      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.

      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.

      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.

    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.

      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.

      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.

      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.”

    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.

    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.

  • 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. 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.

      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).

    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.

  • 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.

    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.

    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*

        THIS. THIS THIS THIS.

        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.”

      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.

    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.)

  • 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.

      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.

      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

      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.

      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.

    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.

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!)

  • 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. 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.

  • 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. 🙂

  • 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. 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.

    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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

    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?

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

      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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 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.”

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 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.

        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.

  • 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.

  • Archaeopteryx*

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

    THIS

    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.

  • 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.

      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.

      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.

    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.

    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.

    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)

  • LadyRegister*

    THIS


    “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.

  • 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 . . . .

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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*.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 🙁

  • 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!)

  • 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. “

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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”.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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): http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/vocational-awe/.

    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 (https://www.amazon.com/Do-What-You-Love-Happiness/dp/1941393470).

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • Anne*

    Hoooooooooboy.

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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*

      Word.

      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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 needs.to.stop. My child is one of the casualties, despite my best attempts at guidance and the example of my own decently successful career.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 great. My father was self-employed because he had trouble with authority and liked to be his own boss, but also only did that PARTICULAR job because he happened to get an opportunity to learn it, and was good at it.

    I learned from both of them that it’s absolutely OK to have a job that you’re good at and that you don’t dislike, without it being a job that gives you some deep personal fulfillment. They worked hard at physically demanding jobs with pride, managing to neither give me a disdain for white collar work nor a horror of the blue collar jobs they did. Work was important, but work was just part of your life. My father was never a heart-to-heart kind of guy but I still remember being 16 years old and him telling me that he expected me to take a day off from a summer job to go to a friend’s graduation party. “Of course work says they need you. Work will ALWAYS say they need you. There will always be another day of work, this celebration only happens once.”

    So yeah, I took their example to heart. I didn’t follow my initial passion of fiction writing or ancient history, I went into the sciences and am firmly planted in a job as a mid-tier laboratory manager. I work hard and if the job takes some extra hours so be it- but I’ve never been afraid to leave work at work and take my vacation days. There will always be another day of work, but some things only happen once.

  • Late Bloomer*

    I’m definitely looking forward to reading this. I’m a late bloomer in the career field as I was at home for several years with my children. I am just now going back to school while working a full time job and I see it all too often in my line of work. We want to enjoy what we do but we also need to live. It is a delicate balance.

  • hbc*

    I think there are very, very few people who even have the psychology to have a Dream Job(TM). I mean, even if your passion is acting, you likely have to be okay with eating ramen and peanut butter six days a week, or you have to be okay with being supported by others, or if you really hit it big you have to deal with getting photographed and mocked because you dared to go out in comfy clothes. The “helping others” passion jobs are usually low paying (because lots of people feel good when helping) and have some pretty unpleasant elements. And I don’t know about anyone else, but once there’s a mandatory element to any of my pleasures, it takes the shine off right quick.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love a good success story and am happy for anyone who genuinely, unreservedly loves their work. But I bet Bill Gates isn’t all “Woohoo, another board meeting, this is exactly what I wanted when I got into programming!” and there are thousands more people who worked just as hard as him and aren’t kajillionaires. If anyone is operating on the idea that effort + passion = success, it’s a recipe for burnout and depression.

  • DillPickle*

    This book certainly sounds interesting! I can certainly relate to thinking you are doing everything “right” leading up throughout your education to then feel that disappointment of not landing the job you dreamed of that everyone said was the inevitable end to all your efforts. I feel like our culture also places so much judgement and emphasis on the question “so what do you do?”. You can see people instantly assess your worth based on your answer.

  • Fourth and Inches*

    I have what I like to call “Millennial Survivor’s Guilt”. I graduated my BA in 2008 and got a job right after. I’ve been gainfully employed ever since. I paid off all of my student loan debt, and I’m working in an industry I enjoy. I have a side hustle, but it’s something that I do because I enjoy it, not for an extra paycheck. Looking around at friends, peers, former classmates, and it’s hard to see what these wonderful people are doing to themselves to achieve a dream but always seem to be coming up short at the end. People have asked me how I was able to achieve so much stability but I don’t have any helpful answers. I just got lucky with a great job right before the economy tanked which has propelled my career steadily forward.

  • BeenThere*

    “For many of us, it took years in shitty jobs to understand ourselves as laborers, as workers, hungry for solidarity.”

    Yes, 1000 times yes. And this is what unions are for.

    I am not a Millennial. I am a Boomer who also got an education, worked hard, and paid my debts and dues. And–and–I was very, very lucky. One of those pieces of luck was being in an industry in which workers could join a union. I did, and it led to so much–mostly financial security, but also the knowledge that I could not be paid less than the men, could not get less vacation or other benefits than the men got, and could not be assigned horrible shifts unless we were all assigned them at some point. Of course, it wasn’t perfect, but it was so much better than without the union.

    I have been dismayed by the unwillingness of modern American workers to unionize. By their apparent belief in the anti-union propaganda that belonging to a union restricts their freedoms. Well, my experience is that it is the very rare worker who can, on their own, negotiate the kinds of pay and rights that I had as a union member.

    I know many will disagree with me. I know some unions are corrupt, and some spend more time and money on politics than negotiating for their workers. But that wasn’t true for me and the union I belonged to. And I will forever be grateful.

    1. RussianInTexas*

      I do not think it’s American workers who don’t want to unionize, not the majority.


      Companies do not want for the employees to have any kind of collective bargaining power.

  • Sarra N. Dipity*

    This ain’t just Millennials, too. Gen X here, and I’m seeing so much of this. I don’t do what I love, but I vaguely like what I do, at least.

  • Treading Water*

    I’ve been thinking about this so much lately and it’s really nice to know I’m not alone. I’ve been working the same entry level job in my dream industry for a decade now with no signs of ever moving up the later. Lately I’ve started considering a drastic career change but have really struggled with a sense of failure at the idea of quitting. I have another career path I’ve become interested in but it’s so different I worry that my lack of experience or applicable qualifications will lead to a similar situation, and going back to school at this point in my life feels like such a waste of time and money, not to mention a cliche.

  • NEK*

    As an owner and manager of a small business… how do I not let my people work like this? I’m a millennial too, so yep, all of this. But it feels like a rat race that everyone is on, and even if I as an employer don’t put the pressure on my employees (or myself!) to work to burnout, so much of our culture says this is how you work. I self-impose checking my emails after kids go to bed, or being constantly available via cell at all times. Its hard to turn off, when it seems like everyone else is working to burnout.

  • Millennial Lizard Person*

    This is fascinating. I’m a younger millennial, my “dream job” was engineering, and now I’m an engineer. My sibling’s “dream job” pays much, much less, and they love the work– but my job came with a 401k match, and they opened their own 401k after saving money for 6 years. I saved more money in my first year at work than they grossed. So my quality of life, for the rest of my life, will always be better. How is that fair?

    I’m winning the rat race right now — student loans paid off, own a house, career with benefits. And when I struggled at work recently, I had a mental breakdown, because I have no identity outside of “engineer.” Everything I’ve done for the past ~ 15 years (since early high school) has been to get into a good school, get the degree, get the job. Now I’m doing the job. I have no identity other than my “passion” for engineering. I have no hobbies. My job, along with getting my master’s, is exhausting. This is what winning looks like?

    I’m glad my parents were realistic about what colleges we could afford, but they’d been saving for my education since I was born. So that makes me lucky. And my passion gets me a lot of money, so that also makes me lucky. (Shoutout to all my friends whose passion is acting, and who are not lucky right now…) It’s all dumb luck.

  • Alexandra Thee Tired*

    Hello, I recently wrote about my own experience with burnout in nonprofits and I think it’s pretty relevant, and hopefully this piece will “count” as my comment- I’d love to win this book, she’s been one of my favorite writers for a long, long time and I also (due to the aforementioned work in nonprofits) probably can’t afford to purchase it!


    medium.com/@shellickybookey/confessions-of-a-non-profit-employee-8ee40dbf4e33

  • Absurda*

    I’m GenX and agree that “do what you love” is really a stupid expectation and one that’s setting people up for failure. Doing what you love is a luxury, IMO, and is largely unattainable for the vast majority of workers. I don’t remember this message much from growing up; though there were a lot of messages around success being measured by wealth alone and if you weren’t super wealthy and attending fabulous parties you weren’t successful (it was the 80’s). So, low paying jobs where you can barely make ends meet were A LOT more common than I expected when I first started out.

    For me, the burnout didn’t come from unreasonable societal expectations but from being ground up in the corporate machine. In the US most people can be let go at any time for any reason, so there’s a lot of fear and instability which companies take advantage of.

    I spent a lot of my younger years in shitty jobs to earn a paycheck or doing under compensated work I hated with tons of overtime to rise, prove my worth, “pay my dues”, “be a team player” and all that. Meanwhile I was still constantly under the fear of being let go at any time no matter how hard I worked. Now, I just have nothing left.

  • league**

    I’m a young Gen Xer, but I’m also the oldest in my family and I relate to the Millennials a lot. I have had jobs where I put 200% into it, work 12 hours a day, etc. and I always end up getting sick from the stress/reduced immunity. Sucks. I’m now mid-career and C-suite, and have found a balance, but I know a lot of it is the privilege of my position as well as the fact that I don’t want to advance further (have been a CEO and hated it). If I were a couple levels down, I’d be burnt out like I see from my reports. I do what I can to make sure they’re working reasonable numbers of hours, but I also get where they’re coming from with wanting to demonstrate their passion.

  • Do what makes you not miserable*

    I’m an older millennial, graduated college in 2006 and did the “dream job” gauntlet in a competitive field for five years until the constant industry volatility and layoffs, low pay, and need to work a second job to live in the area burned me out and became unsustainable. I successfully changed careers and industries while using the same core creative skill and, after a couple bad jobs and worse bosses, am now at a director level at a great company. I work hard but for reasonable hours, it pays well (I paid off my student loans last year!), leaves me time and energy to have a life, and lets me sleep well at night for giving my time and skill to company that does work I’m proud of. Yet I’ve been called a “sellout” or told it “must be nice” by peers still running on the hamster wheel or scraping by with their “creative integrity” intact while paying the bills with unrelated jobs or spousal support. It’s seriously backwards that in this culture I still sometimes feel like a failure and almost ashamed of my job for not being “dreamy” enough.

  • Tones*

    I have been very fortunate but I’ve definitely seen the suffering with my peers. To basically wake up in your late 20’s-early 30’s and see that you have been hookwinked, it’s big wake up call.

  • casual librarian*

    Millennials need to be looked at both within the context of their history and social changes they went through together (9/11, Great Recession, emerging surveillance and privacy issues in an online world) and as a general age demographic (24–39). This book, I think, will really focus on the first of those by looking at how millennials were raised and the timing of their lives and how that is reflected in labor markets like low-wage jobs right out of the recession, the gig economy, and more.


    Burnout for millennials is so much about feeling like the passion they were told to have is no longer enough and a questioning of identity during an already harried time of life. I really look forward to reading this book.

    1. Have dragon, will quest in exchange for hummus*

      To add to what you’re saying, in the latter portion (“questioning of identity during an already harried time of life”), I think one could add “watching everything completely crash and burn and have absolutely no way out.” Certainly within the last few years, but it definitely started in the recession and has only slowly marched onward from there. I’m resigned to living out my days on a sinking ship at this point. There really is no bloody point left to life.

    2. Have dragon, will quest in exchange for hummus*

      The other really infuriating thing is: even if everyone admits this is an actual problem, almost nobody (at least in the US) is going to give any thought to strengthening the safety net. I mean, crushing student debt doesn’t happen in Germany, Denmark, etc. Gee, I wonder why…

      …no, no, let’s just tell the kids they didn’t work hard enough. And if they point out that other countries do economics better than us, then they just want free stuff! Yeah, that’s it! Free stuff so they don’t have to work hard! They’re lazy! They’re communists!

      …I find the general American lack of common sense disturbing.

      1. Have dragon, will quest in exchange for hummus*

        I’m sorry I replied twice to your comment; this was meant to be its own comment, but it probably fits here anyway. Plus it’s not everyday that you get to repurpose a line from Darth Vader.

  • Sloan Kittering*

    Even though my freelancing career is only going so-so financially, I think the major advantage has just been getting to take a break from burnout in my career. If I end up having to go back and deal with the same BS at least I hope this year or two off from the grind has made some kind of difference in my ability to tolerate it. At least I love being my own boss and skipping a lot of the BS.

  • Luke G*

    The most cutting way I’ve seen the millenial situation phrased was on some random humor site (Cracked, maybe?):

    Millenials spent their whole youth getting told “work hard, get good grades, go to college, or you’ll end up flipping burgers.” Now that we’re out of school and there’s not enough career-track jobs to go around, those same people are sneering at us “oh, look who’s too good to flip burgers!”

    1. Ray Gillette*

      And when we applied for the burger-flipping jobs anyway, we got told we were overqualified because we went to college, so obviously we’d leave as soon as something better came along.

      I’m one of the lucky ones in that I have full-time employment that pays reasonably well for the cost of living in my area, and provides health insurance. But I’m just as burned out as everyone else and it’s damaging my health.

  • ClandestineGosling*

    I think we do students of all ages a disservice when we fail to acknowledge that sometimes you are going to be bored. What do teachers hear? “Little Timmy isn’t making A’s because he is bored in class. The work isn’t hard enough.”*

    Not every moment of every day in a job, or in life, is going to be fun and stimulating. I have seen individuals jump from job to job because the one they were doing wasn’t fun enough.

    *I acknowledge that there are instances where this is true or times when other issues are at play.

    1. Have dragon, will quest in exchange for hummus*

      I mean, sometimes people jump around because their employers don’t pay them enough. Arguing from the Just World Fallacy isn’t exactly helpful.

    2. That Girl from Quinn’s House*

      My husband said this is a HUGE problem he’s seen with graduate students he’s worked with who ultimately fail academically. They only want to do SCIENCE!!!!! and they don’t want to spend the four weeks debugging a glitchy script to process data only to get a mediocre result.

  • Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    I’m a youngish Millennial (early 90s baby), my parents are youngish Boomers (1959 and 1960) and my dad is an immigrant. I think my parents had a similar trajectory to Millennials now: they went to college and grad school with the expectation that they’d have solid careers, ended up outside their fields making way less money than they expected, are forced to work overtime and past retirement (including my dad’s multiple side hustles) to pay off all their debt, and also have three kids who also have debt.

    I think that, because of this, my parents were never quite “go to school to do whatever you want” or “college will guarantee a good job.” It was always clear that I needed a day job regardless of what I wanted to do, that passions were for rich people who didn’t need to work, and that there was no backup plan if I failed.

    So, I escaped the cultural messaging that I’d succeed no matter what, so long as I had passion and drive, and as a result my trajectory has been very practical and opportunistic instead of whimsical. And yet I’m 27 and a lawyer, and I don’t have the funds to buy a car, let alone a house or kids, and if I were to get laid off or have a disabling accident or otherwise have an unexpected financial setback, I’d be SOL. It doesn’t matter that I got a “useful” degree and a “skilled” job: the whole system is broken even if you do everything right!

  • Betsy S*

    Yep I’m an “older GenX’er /younger Boomer” and I have most of the exact same issues as she describes in the article. I think it’s our times and not a generational thing, although I’m sure it’s a thousand times harder with student loans and trying to get initial career traction.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think there’s a way to talk about the changing nature of work (at least white collar work, which from what I can tell is what she’s talking about in the book) without making it specific to a generation. I don’t see how gen X or young Boomers don’t have the same issues.

  • Kelsey*

    I’m really looking forward to reading this and the anecdote here really resonates with me.

    I’m a millenial (29) and went to college for journalism. I felt lucky to get a job in my field right out of college (lucky making under $20K and working multiple jobs to support myself, meanwhile deferring loans). I moved on to a higher-level job at another news organization, where I was classified as an independent contractor. I couldn’t afford healthcare and was still making around $20K. But, I still felt lucky to be “doing what I loved” and thought it was worth it to get experience. In addition to my full-time job, I freelanced on the side consistently. I couldn’t really afford to do internships (all unpaid in my field) during college. This year, I moved to a larger city right before the pandemic and despite my experience, I got maybe 4 interviews in my field and no job offers. I sent out at least a hundred applications. However, through a recruiting company, I was fortunate to get a job right before things started shutting down. This job is not really in my field and is a lot less stressful, yet I’m making a great salary. So now I’m feeling guilt that I’m not in my passion field, but I’m also grateful that I can now afford healthcare and have the ability to start saving for retirement and pay off debt. And honestly, feeling job secure at a good company for the first time is really refreshing.

    But here I am, I’m 29, I’ve worked consistently since I was 14. I haven’t been able to afford to see a doctor or dentist since leaving my parent’s health plan in college. I rent and was just able to afford getting a car for the first time this year, with my partner. So I do feel the burn out, and I also feel guilt for not sticking it out in my field despite all of my work.

  • RobotWithHumanHair*

    I’m 41 and up until April, I had been pretty much working consistently since I was 15. Now, I’ve been unemployed for the longest period of my life. Work gave me absolutely nothing in the end and if anything, it stole passion and joy from me. Dream jobs are a myth and I’m fairly certain that I’m going to end up stuck in a low-paying, back-breaking job until the day I die, just to make sure my kids have a future.

  • Silicon Valley Girl*

    This started long before the Millennials. The ‘Do What You Love, the Money Will Follow’ book came out in 1989 & was totally pushed on me & my college-age peers as we graduated, & before that ‘What Color Is Your Parachute?’ came out in 1970 & was constantly re-released, it was a staple at every college career counseling center! I think it was the Boomers who first pushed the idea of ‘dream jobs’ & ‘doing what you love’ because they were rejecting the grey-flannel suit / Mad Men work style of their parents. Every subsequent generation has piled on their expectations, & the idea has become more ridiculous & unattainable.

    Exchanging labor for money is never about personal satisfaction. It’s a capitalist exchange, an economic bargain that we make to live in this society. It sucks that we have to spend so much time at work & not enjoy that time, but honestly, that consideration is at the tippy-top of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs 🙁

  • Me Too*

    It’s interesting this is being framed as Millenial-specific. I wonder if her publisher made her wedge in that angle to make the book more marketable. This seems more like the universal American white collar worker experience in the 21st century.

    1. Jules the Goblin*

      Based on some of the other comments, it definitely seems like specifically a privileged-people mindset (mostly white people) that developed in the past 40 – 50 years. As someone said above, for much of human history the paradigm was just “do whatever your parents did”.

      (sings from In the Heights)


      “My father was a farmer,


      His father was a farmer,


      And you will be a farmer…”

    2. JustKnope*

      As Alison notes in her introduction, there are a few generational culture factors that do play into this more specifically for Millennials right now, but it is still very relevant for all workers, as you said. We were the generation that was coming of age as these concepts were being introduced – everyone got exposed to them, but Millennials may have been hit harder with the issues/messages because of when we graduated and started working.

  • Annie Hanson*

    Ironically, I finally found my passion in April of 2017, when I was assigned to oversee leaves of absence (principally FMLA-related) at my previous employer. I am now the Leave Management Coordinator at my current employer and I absolutely love what I am doing!

    My biggest regret is that I obtained my master’s degree at a private university because I am up to my ears in loan debt (over $90K for a 2 and half year program!!!). The school persuaded my former husband and I at the time that it was a great investment and we would have many employment opportunities. It took me over two YEARS to find a job in human resources, even at entry level, with both a BA and an MA! Not to mention I am also fluent in Spanish!

    On the plus side, I am working in the public sector (state government), so after I make 120 qualifying payments (and thank goodness the forbearance months under the CARES act count towards eligibility!), I can apply for the Public Student Loan Forgiveness program!

    I am a little on the precursor to the millennial generation (born in 1979) but agree they did receive some terrible advice on education, work, career paths and emotional investment. I feel fortunate I’ll never earn a lot of money but I have found a passion!

  • Alpaca Clinician*

    I find it interesting – and depressing – how pervasive this mindset is even outside of North America. I had a resident-mate (veterinary medicine) from Europe who came to North America for her surgery residency, and from the looks of it is (happily?) working herself into an early burnout in her academic position in Europe. Multiple times she encouraged me to apply for jobs at prestigious universities rather than stay working at the smaller institution where we were residents. Maybe I’m lucky that I’m inherently lazy and realized how much actual work would go into becoming a super-famous person who diseases get named after; I realized at the end of my residency that I’d much rather have a quiet job in a slightly boring place if it means I get to spend more time with my dogs, and maybe have a garden, and go camping. It helps too that the COL where I am is low so I can pay off my 14+ years of post-secondary education faster…

  • STEM isn’t the answer*

    I’m an “old” millennial, I grew up on a farm, I went into engineering and I still think this resonates. Luckily, at least with my degree and being a white, native English speaker, there were lots of scholarship opportunities so I don’t have student loans. But I’ve been burned out. I’m questioned my worth and direction. I wish I knew how to detach my career from my identity.

  • Have dragon, will quest in exchange for hummus*

    This is probably a sign of my own life-in-general burnout, but… I mean, we’ve (30yo here) been talking about this again and again and again, and each time we get slapped down and told we’re spoiled brats… and it’s only now that people are starting to realize, “Hey wait, maybe the kids were right after all.”*

    Christ, no fucking shit. Really?

    If this reckoning had come five years ago, I might’ve cared. I just can’t even bring up an ounce of sympathy for elders who are starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t all our fault. I am getting bitter, bloody vindication out of the fact that pretty much everybody is going to be screwed in this recession, so y’know, at least I can tell everyone that I told them so.

    *I know that this isn’t the author’s position, but I have a feeling that this is where the discourse is going.

  • Littorally*

    Older millennial here, and boy does this resonate. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the gap between the jobs that are seen as desirable and passion-inducing, versus the jobs that pay well, versus the jobs that society needs in order to keep functioning — how sharp the divide is between the three, and how terribly mismatched social priorities are between desirability, remuneration, and necessity. The pandemic has really brought this to the fore lately with the “essential” workers in jobs that are poorly compensated and seen as low-status.

  • CanadianUniversityStudent*

    I’m in the process of job hunting and I’m thinking a lot about the concept of the dream job. It’s hard dealing with reality versus the expectations.

  • Roz*

    I am a mid-80s millennial. I was fed the same story about working hard, but the difference was I paid attention to the adults around me and noticed that those working their tails off to serve others were getting taken advantage of and those who set boundaries were not punished in the way one would expect. Instead they seemed to be having nice balanced lives, and I wanted that. I wanted stability. I worked my way through school and it paid off, with me getting a great job in 2010 right after undergrad. But then the pressure to “do what you love” was instilled in me and the first years of my career I burned out hard for someone else’s cause. Honestly I got tired of fighting for others and not taking care of myself (I worked in advocacy at a health charity).

    So I re-examined things and decided I didn’t need to love what I did, but I did need to do work that was meaningful to me and to society. That is a broad area and so I lifted my head, looked around and took a leap to a stretch role that has really paid off.

    15 years later and compared to my friends who went the “do what you love route” I’m doing great! And yet there is still that nagging voice saying… it’s not your calling. But I can pay my bills, comfortably live, travel, and be there for the people I love. It’s worth it. Setting boundaries putting my wellbeing first worked for me. But I’m so very concerned that to social safety net that allowed my single mother to raise me with access to supports and social community are being eroded in the interest of profit. My situation isn’t the norm, but it should be! A strong social safety net helps make it more of a reality for those of us not boarn into stable, well-resourced homes.

  • OregonTrailed*

    Oh, the feels. I’m an elder millennial who found out the hard way that passion doesn’t pay bills, and who’s now working a steady job that pays bill but I have to talk myself out of quitting on a daily basis. The worst is always goal setting. “What skills would you like to learn?”, they ask. Whatever keeps me employed and gives me raises a little better than inflation…

  • DCer*

    I ordered a copy and will enjoy looking at it on my coffee table when I try to find time to read it between my full-time job (averaging 55 hours a week, which is down from the 60 hour weeks I regularly had in my 20s), the masters program I’m in (5 hour course load this semester) and raising my 5-month-old — but its probably all true and accurate. I’ll sleep when I’m dead, I like to say. At 35, they may not be far off.

  • EngineerMom*

    I’m very interested in reading this book, as an “older” Millennial.

    I crashed and burned early in my career (and by that term I mean “period of time when I was getting paid for work”) because of the unreasonable expectations of how “fulfilling” my job should be, and what role it should actually play in my life.

    It was only after spending 6 years as a stay-at-home mom and working in hourly jobs for a period of time before and after that I finally got a better perspective on the role a job should play in my life.

    Basically, it’s not my life. It’s what I do to support the things I enjoy doing – spending time with my family, traveling, not having to worry day-to-day about money or pinch every penny, support my children’s education, etc.

  • Ravine*

    Hmm, I can’t say I relate much to this, personally. I am a Millennial who studied liberal arts, got lucky, and landed a full-time government job with benefits within a year of graduating. Eight years later, I find that my colleagues are all super invested in their work and in each other, whereas I can barely find the motivation to do the basic tasks of my job, even after getting promoted. So I can’t really complain if I don’t get anywhere. The problem is definitely me.

    I feel like I’m unfairly occupying a spot that belongs to one of these driven, hard-working Millennials I keep hearing about. I’d love to give it to them, but then what will I do? I honestly wouldn’t mind doing something repetitive and low-paid, or working part-time, but the cost of living keeps rising while wages stagnate, so that doesn’t seem viable. And then there’s retirement to think about…

  • LadyHope*

    Oooh this sounds great! I liked this quote: “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.”

  • Parker Wiseman*

    This is so great to hear from someone else. I keep thinking I’m acting too entitled by entertaining these same thoughts. Thank you for sharing.

  • char*

    This reminds me a lot of my mixed feelings toward my alma mater. On the one hand, part of me loves that school and all of the amazing professors and classes there. But on the other hand, I resent that I spent all this time and money and effort there in return for a useless degree that has done me zero good in the job market. I pushed myself to the point of burnout to graduate, and for what? A fancy piece of paper to hang on my wall and some fake plastic laurels?

    The worst part is that I actually feel guilty for being resentful. It’s a liberal arts college, and everyone there always emphasized the intrinsic value of knowledge and education. Shouldn’t I just be grateful for the breadth of knowledge I received there? Isn’t it crass for me to judge my education on such utilitarian, capitalist concerns as how much money it helped me make?

    But in a world where I had to spend $45k per year for the privilege of earning this education – a world where I’m still paying off that debt a decade later – I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wish that I’d gotten some more tangible value out of it.

  • Jennifer Cranston*

    What’s really sad is when you work in a care/ public service industry: teaching, nursing, social work. In business, it’s: work hard enough and have enough passion, and you will get rewarded. (Leading to shame if you’re not seeing the rewards.) In caring, it’s: why would rewards be a part of the discussion? Don’t you love your clients/ patients/ students enough to work hard for them?

  • beckley*

    Ask me how I feel in this first week of students back-in person but most still learning virtually, with a hybrid schedule of at work & at home and just constantly on Zoom no matter where I am, advising seniors about their college choices, as if we know anything at all about how their investment will pay off down the road… For this older millennial, this excerpt is super timely.

  • peggy*

    I absolutely love AHP’s writing and if I don’t win the book, I’ll be buying it anyway. I’m the eldest of the millenials, the youngest of the gen-xers, definitely a xennial if you believe in mini-generations for cuspers.

    AHP’s writing about life, work, and career is generally very aligned with the way I think about my life, work, and career so I’m looking forward to reading the book. I’m part of her FB page and FB group and she talked a lot about her research and process for writing it.

    2020 has radicalized me politically (I moved from left of center to ALL THE WAY LEFT this year) and I think it’s really interesting to think about our capitalist society where we’re forced to basically grind ourselves to death to survive and how terrible that is, alongside all of the generational expectations and assumptions about millenials. Anyway I haven’t really fleshed out that comment but it’s something I think about a lot.

  • Batgirl*

    You’ve got to admit; as a con it’s a work of art. Make the minions think it’s their own idea to work long hours for free, and to get paid in experience and exposure. My mum, who started work in the 70s got a very different message at school along the lines of “you’re factory fodder, you’re not smart, you’re work horses” but she and my dad worked skilled, well-paid, unionised jobs. “You could tell the boss to do one and have another job by lunch over the road”. She struggles with feeling stupid to this day, but she has a house paid off in full.


    I’m overeducated and will never have her security.


    Just when the unions were gaining strength the script flipped entirely. It’s got to be a con. How hard can it be to get the balance right between inspiring kids and giving them practical advice?

  • Quill*

    I’m one of the youngest millennials and honestly. The whole thing has only continued to get worse. I feel pretty glad that I went into STEM because it’s always hiring, but it’s always hiring because it uses temps like kleenex.

  • Elder Millenial*

    It’s refreshing to see some research and writing about the systemic issues instead of just blaming millenials for their own collective plight. Who raised us? Who shaped the economy we inherited? You can’t impress “do what you love” upon us, while making the healthcare system inextricably linked to the limited benefits of your particular workplace and their plan choice for any given year. “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.”

  • Ryan Howard’s White Suit*

    Oh, wow, this hit home for me. I’m an older millennial (made it by 3 months), but I went to college because I was supposed to, picked my major because it was something I was interested in, and assumed I’d need to get a graduate degree if I wanted to work in the field (history). By chance a few years later I stumbled into a new field and have stuck with that one–definitely a “dream” field for many–for the past 15 years (with a few years as a SAHM) and got a Masters along the way.

    And I’m sitting here now, desperately applying for any job I’m qualified for, because my loyalty to that field–to the idea that the work I did had to have some ideological meaning, while in reality most of what I did for years would be labeled a BS job–has ended with me losing my job due to a grant not being renewed and not getting jobs for which I’ve interviewed because I don’t have the specific experience people want for those particular positions. The kicker is that for 2 of the 3 job interviews where I’ve made it past the initial interview(s), the experience I lack is experience I would have gotten if I had accepted job offers that would have taken me out of my niche field (I should also acknowledge that I am very geographically limited). I’ve always tried to go above and beyond, be an enthusiastic employee, volunteer when something is needed, lend a hand to colleagues, etc, and it turns out none of it has mattered at all.

  • Science Leige*

    Boy does this hit home. I have a STEM degree, which I got instead of something I was “passionate” (although I do enjoy science) because I was pushed to choose something that would give me financial security. I feel burned out because our job security is constantly held over our heads and we have to do more more more more to not be the next person to be laid off. I’m fine with my job being something that just provides a living to let me have a life, but I feel like I never get to clock out.


    On top of that, my starting wage when I entered the workforce was about the same (in actual dollars) as what my dad made when he entered the workforce about 25 years prior to me. There’s no way that’s not messed up.

    1. Quill*

      *clinks glass with you*

      Ah, STEM. I too followed the “go into STEM, young woman!” advice and discovered that there’s no work in my major because *points at the united states’ environmental policy* that anything I am qualified for that’s a long term position after a bs either pays too little to live or is physically prohibitive, and that everything else is a string of corporate temp jobs.

      and the terrible thing is that comparatively, I’ve been lucky, because I’ve been able to crash on my parents all the damn time. Most people my age don’t have parents that are willing and able to support them.

  • Is it me?*

    This hit home:

    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?”

    For the past decade, I’ve experienced what the author was writing about. It hurts. I went to college with a plan and a dream and that went to hell in a hand basket when I graduated during the recession and just as I was thinking about trying to get into my chosen field again, covid hit. It’s so disheartening and frustrating.

  • I edit everything*

    I’m not a Millennial (Gen X, rather). But a lot of this rings true for me, as well. We were told in school that our generation would be the first not to exceed our parents in the conventional measures of success: earnings, position, education. And it’s true. I do what I love, but I’m only able to because of my spouse’s job. If I were single, I’d have to give it up and find a full-time job doing something I wouldn’t like.

    I was talking about this with my son the other day, too, pointing out to him that some people love their work, and some people work so they can do what they love outside of their job. My mom lives with us, and she’s very much the “find a job you love, follow your passion” type. So I have to be deliberate about balancing that.

  • Jules the Goblin*

    Honestly I wish I could feel camaraderie but all of these “yep, same” comments just make me depressed. I’m constantly battling that feeling of “I’m not doing what I love, I’m not pursuing my passion, I’m unfulfilled”, and trying to just accept that this is my life — I don’t have to love it, I just have to work to live. But it’s something I’m still battling. It’s not easy to change 36 years of mental/emotional programming.

  • My Soapbox*

    As an Xennial, there are key points to this passage that I’m not sure I buy into.

    1. Colleges/Universities do not guarantee a full time job or starting salary after graduation. At least legitimate ones don’t. It may have been implied in some part but no one is promised a well paying job after graduation, whether it is a BA in basket weaving, a masters in information science, or a doctor of medicine. It is often the hubris of the millennial that believe it was promised that most are objecting to not a lack of work ethic or passion.

    2. Generation X, Xennials & Millennials alike are struggling with the wage stagnation brought about by the Boomers. Not that long ago I read a great article illustrating this point to perfection (sorry, no links or even publication I can cite). The article pointed out that as a group Generation X was just starting to see better financial prospects 30-40 years after entering the workforce. Someone who has spent 20+ years in an industry and is only making $42K a year is going to give the young graduate side eye for believing they should start out at $45K. It is not a reflection of millennials but an indication that as a society we need to fight to bring an end to wage stagnation,

    3. When I was in high school in the 90’s, my dad worked in a professional job with 20 years of experience and made $15/hr. You can bet he would object to fast food workers starting out at $15/hr because he wouldn’t have thought the 90’s was that long ago. There are people I work with who still firmly believe that $100K should buy you a nice house and $15K should buy you a luxury car. It is possible that older millennials are just starting to understand but most millennials and younger just do not have the life experience yet to understand how quickly time flies as you age. I’m just into my 40’s and constantly get knocked on my butt when I realize how long ago something was. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of 9/11!!!! In the workforce, this is reflected in a failure to keep up with the latest and greatest technologies/systems and pushback from the old guard because “we just updated our computers not too long ago”.

    4. Every generation is called lazy and unmotivated by the preceding generations. In 20 years you will be looking at the kids graduating high school and rolling your eyes when they go on and on and on about how hard they have it. It’s part of growth. Without it we would not have minimum wage, regulated work hours, lunch breaks, discrimination policies, child labor laws, etc. Don’t focus on what generation you are from. If we want to see changes, we need to focus on the problem we want fixed.

    I’ll step off my soapbox now.

    1. Quill*

      I’m still greeting computer systems that I hate with “no, I can work with it, this is basically a kindergarten classmate of mine (windows 94 era stuff is ODDLY prolific in ancient software in STEM) and watching people rapidly age as they do the math.

      I’m 28. My current work nemesis is a computer program that my grandboss insists that they bought 5 years ago, but I opened up the file to show that the internet browser it’s based on expired six years before that, so either my boss has zero idea when we got this, or they got ripped off. Time blindness is just a huge thing for some people, especially if they don’t have to look at the things that they think are “just like new.”

  • Danielle White*

    I’m an older millennial and this was so hard to read. I’m grateful for the experiences that I’ve had in college and throughout my career up to this point, but none of it has looked the way I was led to believe it would. My parents both went to community college type programs that promised they were on the path to accreditation, but never got there. For them, a “real” college degree was a golden ticket. My brother and I both went to college, ended up shuffling sideways into unexpected career paths due to the recession, and are now successful in fields that are unrelated to our degrees and don’t require a degree to enter in the first place. Go figure.

  • EnfysNest*

    I’m in a weird flip side of this, where I am making more money than most of my friends, and I’m living very comfortably money-wise and part of my struggle with my work is that I *don’t* feel like I worked hard to get here. I’m in a government position, so all my advancement and pay increases so far have been essentially automatic and I feel really weird accepting any praise for it because I don’t feel like I did anything to earn it.

    It’s also a very strange feeling because I’m paid more than some of my coworkers who do essentially the same job function but don’t have the same degree as me, but they have way more experience and my book/school knowledge doesn’t seem as useful as their real world knowledge half the time, so I feel like I don’t deserve to be paid more, which adds to the awkwardness of feeling like I haven’t earned my position.

    My dad congratulates me a lot and says he’s so proud of me for “doing so well”, but I feel like I haven’t really done anything special to get here, I’m just… here. It also makes me a little terrified to leave, because I’m constantly reminded by (older) family and friends how lucky I am to be in a government job and how safe and stable it is, which, combined with already feeling like I’ve sort of just glided into this position, makes me really afraid to job search even though I desperately want to be doing something else.

  • comrade mewtwo*

    Wow, I’m loving this AHP/AAM crossover! I’m a millenial with baby boomer parents and inlaws, and I definitely notice a difference in our understanding of these matters. They tend to have a very rosy view of the utility of hard work and the goodwill of employers that runs completely counter to my own experiences. It reminds me of the various AAM posts about well-meaning but bad career advice that parents sometimes give their children. I think it speaks not only to a disconnect with shifting career norms but also completely different paradigms related to labor and work.

  • Liminally Maple*

    This could be me as well. MLIS grad in 2007, got a full time corporate position with benefits and everything in 2008, laid off 6 months later. That 6 months is the highest salary I have ever managed. Since then it has been temp jobs, part time jobs, and contract jobs that I know won’t go anywhere, but at least pay better than the temp jobs. I have had my foot in multiple doors and have done a good enough job that supervisors from every job is willing to be a reference. Despite that though, they can’t keep me. I’ve always believed that luck is a portion of job success, but working hard and being good at what you do was also needed. It is just hard to demonstrate the latter if you can’t get a job in the first place.

  • Overdue Fees*

    And let’s not forget the “paying your dues” that Boomers are so insistent that everyone do… forever. I’ve been a working professional for 15 years, HOW many dues do I have to pay? When will the Boomer Gods of Ensuring Everyone *Sacrificed* Just Like They Did finally be satisfied?

    I’m sick of being poor and I’m sick of being lower middle management. I want the opportunity to apply for something bigger (financially and $$$ wise) but nothing ever seems to open up.

  • Public Health worker lol*

    I’m a younger millennial and I think that SO MUCH of this is the culmination of just rampant unregulated capitalism.

    1. Quill*

      Lol same.

      I did my bs in environmental science and literally everything I learned was “capitalism will wreck everything it touches given enough leeway, that’s just how the math works out on resource existence,” with a side of “can I eat this berry?”

    2. Have dragon, will quest in exchange for hummus*

      Yeah, that sums it up.

      The problem is, we’re all so used to unregulated capitalism that it became “just the way things are.” Meanwhile forgetting that we had good regulations up through Reagan, Clinton, and the two Bushes.

      And so instead of applying any sort of hindsight and critical thinking, the majority think that people like you and I need to suck it up. The sad thing is, if only they weren’t so stupid, we might have actually been able to avert disaster.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Really? You’re saying we had “good regulations” through Reagan? Except he was hard on regulation reform. Trickle-down-Economics is a shitshow.

        Did you miss the 2000’s where the banks went APE and housing bubble burst due to not having enough regulations and giving everyone who asked for a mortgage a balloon payment, where they then got their houses foreclosed on?

        NOBODY has done well in the regulations throughout history, everyone has rolled things back at some point. This isn’t a “Only the last 12 years” sort of shenanigans.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m an older millennial and thankfully come from hippie parents, who warned me of capitalism instead of telling me to dive face first! If only we listened to the rest of the world while we clung to this ratchet halfassed system we’re now having entire generations crushed under. “But it worked for us”, really, are you sure about that? As they’re threatening to take away their retirement funds and medical care in their 70s, after paying into that system for all that time. *face desk*

      I keep screaming at people “but Capitalism has rules or it will fail.” and nobody wants to listen to me, instead they don’t want to listen to “some communist.” Doh.

      1. Quill*

        I finally hit the point where my mom doesn’t try to give me career advice because, approximately 5 years ago, I told her “no matter what the district says you’ll retire with now, they will steal it, claim it didn’t count, or reorganize it within five years. Don’t stay for the retirement or the medical benefits, they won’t give it to you, or at least they won’t let you keep it.”

        Sure enough… even without Covid this year would have been pretty dire for her district.

        1. Public Health worker lol*

          Lol I work for a state government and there’s a mandatory 10 PERCENT of my salary that goes into the retirement system and I am very about that

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          My parents never gave me much advice career wise because they know that their jobs aren’t in the same realm as mine is. They just told me to show up and don’t take people/jobs/etc for granted. They thankfully have a lot of faith in me and that I’d figure it out because I was the little girl teaching them things as I grew up. And they’re open to listen from the younger generations because they know that theirs DID NOT know everything and there’s more to learn at every turn! None of that “I’m older and therefore wiser, don’t try to teach me things, I’m only here to teach you!” stuff.

  • TKR*

    As a middle millennial, I have seen a lot of this “adjusting expectations”. If anything I think it has better prepared the age group for being in a pandemic because of all the practice.


    But before I graduated no one told me it would take me about 6 months to find a job in my field, but that’s how it worked for just about everyone I knew.


    Now in the software realm I am seeing that many younger people don’t understand the difference between (for example) a senior engineer and a mature engineer (to borrow language from this article https://www.kitchensoap.com/2012/10/25/on-being-a-senior-engineer/).


    Is it entitled in a start up that someone working there 5 years thinks they should be promoted to a senior level? Does that answer change when the company is only 6 years old?

  • The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m buying this for all my friends! I’m exhausted just watching them burn themselves out thanks to the load of crap they were fed by bad ideas that are fed to impressionable youth, now they’re crippled by student debt and lack of job prospects. My brilliant, passionate, artistic friends have really suffered despite them doing everything the world told them to.

    And I was just thinking of what book to get on Audible next, this sounds like I found it.

  • Kathryn*

    Can’t wait to read this! Also I recently noticed that Alison is an author on GoodReads and following her has been a great source of book recommendations in general (Alison, hope you’re okay with me mentioning that!)

  • Third or Nothing!*

    I’m an older Millenial, and I definitely heard all that “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” stuff. I’m probably a bit of an odd duck in my age bracket because I’m still in my first job out of college. I never loved it, but I also never hated it. It was just a way to pay the bills so I could pursue my real passions. For a while there I was pretty bummed about that, but as I get older I realize the value of having a decent job with good benefits far outweighs the occasional bout of ennui. I don’t struggle to pay bills, I have free health & life insurance, 3 weeks paid vacation, 2 weeks sick leave, flex time, 401k matching, my job doesn’t follow me home…that’s worth far more to me than feeling super energized every Monday morning to get back at the ol’ grind.

    I didn’t give up on my dream. I found a new one.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      Snap nevermind, I thought Millenials were younger than we really are. I’m a bit closer to the mid-range of Millenials at age 31.

      1. Quill*

        Millennials was the generation that never ended, I swear.

        And I say this as someone who should have been the tail end of the generation but allegedly it’s now everyone born between 1975 and the ubiquity of smartphones.

        The only reason anyone realizes that there’s a generation z is because people eventually realized that today’s tweens overwhelmingly have millennial or gen x parents. And millennials raising millennials broke something in the thinkpiece engine that thinks millennials are perpetually 23, and have remained 23 since 1995.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          For real, the way thinkpieces are written you’d think Millenials are all still in our 20s and maybe early 30s, but I did a quick Google search and apparently we’re everyone born between 1981-1996.

          With how quickly things have started changing in the last 50 years or so, you’d think we would have narrowed the age bracket a bit for each cohort. 23 year olds are cool peeps, but I really don’t have many big collective experiences in common with them since I vividly remember 9/11 and didn’t have Internet until I was in high school.

  • Susie Gardner*

    The idea of turning your “passion” into your work sounds great on the surface. But I can hardly think of a faster way to kill your passion, and disillusion yourself about the nature of work.

    The idea also totally falls apart if you apply it to the general population. Does anyone have passion for the necessary but unsexy jobs that keep our world functional? We need garbage men, plumbers, baristas, receptionists, that teenager that takes your ticket at the movies, people who do oil changes, bus drivers and a million more people willing to do jobs that are “just” jobs. If we all pursue our passion, who is left to do the laundry?

    Work is work, that’s why they have to pay you money to do it. To put it another way, passion is personal. Work rarely is. Mix with care.

  • Urn*

    “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.”

    Capitalism is the problem. The financialization of …everything? means that unalienated labor is nigh impossible to come by. I can’t think of more than a company or two whose goal is to continue to exist at a reasonable profit margin in a perpetual motion sort of way. It’s all about constant growth, cutting workers and increasing productivity so that you can sell the company to a new equity firm for a many millions a year after you bought it.

    Truly my one and only work goal, other than doing something not-evil that I don’t hate with people I mostly respect, it to be part of a worker owned cooperative. It’s the only way out of this mess that I can imagine.

  • CastIrony*

    I can’t find a way to break in to a job with art involved, and when I got a certificate for being a medical administrative assistant, I looked for all the administrative assistant jobs, where I got interviews, but never hired.

    All I got was my part-time job that I like and even left a job that became so damaging to my mental health because things were going downhill (and still are).

    I feel like I failed because I can’t even interview well, no matter how much I try, and dread job searching Again.

  • Quizzigal*

    I must have grown up in the wrong boomer cohort. My peers had no use for “the man” or “the system”, and the working world was The Man by definition. We all kind of knew that being broke was the price you had to pay if you opted out of the rat race and made your living at soul-satisfying work. We knew we couldn’t have it all, at least not on our terms.

    How on earth did we get from there to here?

  • Office Grunt*

    The idea of “fuck passion, pay me” reminds of the phrase that creative types use when dealing with “social media influencers” – passion and exposure/followers don’t put food in one’s mouth or pay the mortgage.

    If employers want workers to put in 100%, pay them like it, and don’t skimp on the benefits. It has to be a two-way street, despite the numerous attempts of bad employers (and the special interest groups paid big money by said employers) to try to take us back to the 19th century.

  • Lost In Paradise.*

    I’m a baby boomer. I’m totally burned out from work, the COVID-19, and life in general. I’ve been working 10 hour days. I only wish I could retire.

  • WindmillArms*

    If I had my life to live over, I would have chosen a trade instead of a liberal arts school. My parents and peers all looked down on trades, and thought that if you were “smart,” you’d go to university. It was a fun experience, but far too expensive for the return on it. I went back to school at 30 to learn a trade, and I wish I’d done it at 18 instead.

  • Casey*

    I’m technically a GenZ’er, I guess, and I simultaneously relate to this and don’t. My parents never pushed the “find your dream job!” narrative, because they both grew up super poor and couldn’t afford to figure out what their “dream jobs” were. I settled on my major because I’m decent at it, it pays well, and I wouldn’t hate it if the rest of my life was spent in this field. I definitely work to live, not live to work.


    Buuuuuuut….


    It feels like I’m the only one who doesn’t have a passion. I sometimes hate my field, but I don’t know what I’d want to do otherwise, even if money wasn’t an object. It feels like I never had time to find that — I had to be super busy in high school to get into college, and now I have to study all the time to pass my classes, and I have to spend any free time I have applying for jobs or just, recovering from it all. When I get a job, which in my field will probably be 40 hours a week but maybe occasionally will be 45 or 50, I have no earthly clue what I’ll do with the rest of my time. I never had free time before! I’m both looking forward to discovering who I am outside of work and terrified that maybe there’s just….. nothing. And since my identity isn’t completely tied up in my job (just my time!) like it feels it should be, I, like, don’t know who I’ll be once I graduate in May. Terrifying!

    1. Monica*

      your 20s isn’t too late to find your hobbies and passions! I am in my mid-30s and picked up tennis this month!

      I also find volunteering super rewarding. Even though I should be using that time in a second job in order to afford the mega-pricy DC area.

    2. Quill*

      Passion is not meant to be a long term state: a willingness to work at something, even if you’re bad at it, is overwhelmingly more stable.

      Not that I’m saying you’re supposed to work, eat, sleep, die like many people of my generation were given the impression of, but you don’t necessarily have to have a single great passion. You can just try things out! You can do things just because you might like them! My recommendation is that you should, as soon as possible, find excuses to continue to connect with friends, because the post college scatter is still a problem for me, five years later.

  • Yes I Majored in That*

    I am doing what I love, I am in a field classically designated as hard to find work in, and I’m so, so grateful to the person who told me in high school to “do what I love and the money will follow.” I am a supposed “Xennial” or in the “Oregon Trail” mini-generation. It took me years to get to the point where I love my job and am paid fairly. I had to be really strategic and smart about it, take and work jobs I did not like or excel at or make particularly great money at but that got me closer, both in understanding what I wanted and building skills, to where I am now. And it’s true that I could have been strategic and smart and not have gotten the breaks I did, but I’d still be miserable if I had compromised early and never tried.

    All of the points in the above are valid, to be sure, but the idea of working out of passion and doing what you love doesn’t only mean what she’s written. My field is considered so hard to ‘make it’ in that people often advise folks not to study or pursue it, but do it on the side and pursue something ‘practical.’ Some of us are not made to do ‘something practical’ we don’t care that much about instead of something we’re good at and care about, especially not for the enormous amount of time and energy American jobs ask of us. The jobs I’ve held that were less in my wheelhouse of the meeting between passion and skill were grueling and exhausting. I might be busier now, but I’m not as burnt out because I do work that feeds me in multiple ways. Plus, many of the fields like mine that get categorized as ‘impractical’ are vital contributors to culture, society, and the world’s general well-being, and sometimes the difficulty of working in these fields is exaggerated or misrepresented (look up SNAAP for an example).

    I currently work with young people who are interested in pursuing our difficult field. Our job is to tell them, “Okay, you’re interested in this? this is what the world really looks like and means” so that they can make decisions about HOW they want to pursue their passion (or not) that work for them at a young age. Much of the criticism is not in people pursuing dream jobs, but in the acknowledgement of our education systems and job pipelines as needing to be more realistic in addressing and preparing folks.

    Many of these hard-to-get dream jobs are in the arts, culture, and academics, and we NEED to make sure that independently wealthy people are not the only people in those fields. These fields do exist, there are jobs in them however few, and someone will fill them–might as well be a diverse group of the people who care the most. I say that yes, take these points into consideration, but also really, really look into whether or not you can do what you love before you write it off.

  • Alex*

    I think one of the biggest problems with modern employment is most companies’ abandonment of TRAINING.

    Meaning, the willingness to take on new grads with a basic education and train them. Now all companies want you to be able to “hit the ground running”. They don’t want to invest in you.

    This leaves a bigger burden on the individual, who is left scrambling to pay for the ever-increasing costs of college while also having to work at internships (because an education isn’t enough anymore), all for the purpose of getting their foot into an “entry-level” job that requires at least three years of experience, for which their undying loyalty is expected, but not returned. The employee has paid for their own “training” by way of their expensive education and low-wage internship work, leaving the company free to reap the benefits of the employee’s debt burden without having to expend any resources of their own.

    I know at my own company, even INTERNS are expected to already have experience, because they are essentially used as cheap labor to replace actual full time employees. It’s ridiculous.

  • Justin*

    It’s funny because I really do find my job to be harmful (notably, most jobs are!), and I’m getting a doctorate part-time.

    I do know that “do what you love” and those sort of expectations are silly. I also know that it can be physically damaging to have to swallow your morals every day (again, not in the “I am underpaid” sense but in the “we really could be doing better by society” sense). I wonder if there are more (as in a larger number) harmful jobs these days than in past generations. It seems that the economic structure has become so exploitative that it’s far harder to not be part of what you feel is hurting people.

  • Jaded Millennial*

    I chose not to have children in part because our job system in America makes it insanely hard to support a family on a single salary, and we’re not even given a reasonable amount of guaranteed time off to spend with our children in their earliest weeks. I wish things were different.

  • Monica*

    I work at a university. My job is “university degree preferred” but not required (de facto required), so I don’t actually earn enough to even rent a studio with a roach infestation near work.

    It is demoralizing to work a full time job and have roommates in your 30s, to not have savings, and to have merit pay raises dwarfed by rising health insurance costs.

  • Liz*

    I’m possibly the inverse of this – I found something that I (sort of) love, not because I made a conscious choice between money OR passion, but because I don’t really understand how people end up with well paid jobs anyway! I spent years in a miserable, minimum wage service job and all I cared about was making working life bearable. I didn’t want a dream job, I just wanted to feel I had accomplished something!

    We live in a world where wages are being suppressed, hours cut, and stability is non existent. People with PhDs are stacking shelves and waiting tables. When I looked (very briefly) into teaching, I was strongly advised by the college, “don’t do this if it’s just for the money, the starting salary is only X”. Well, X was twice what I was earning at that time, so it was hard to get my head around why that was supposed to be bad!

    In the end, I was very lucky in that I was able to go back to college for a second degree and this time gain an actual career. My non profit employer pays a living wage at the lowest rung, and I’m able to pay my bills with a little left over too. I also maintain a healthy balance in that my “passion” for the work ends when my shift does. I do not take work home, neither literally nor psychologically, and my employer would not wish me to.

    I would absolutely coach against the idea of going for a “dream job”, but it is also an argument that gets trotted out to silence those of us who express dissatisfaction when our jobs are making us miserable. “We can’t all have our dream jobs!” I was once told, rather ironically, by somebody who HAD my dream job, to whom I had mentioned that my job was making me suicidal. Be wary of chasing the dream, sure, but it’s important to note that for many of us stuck in chronic under employment, that “stressful passion job with a terrible pay check” looks like “something I might enjoy with a decent wage and health insurance”. Sometimes, when you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to tell whether you are chasing a dream or just escaping the nightmare.

  • CJ*

    This resonated with me because I’m in this group. When I was young I was told I was good at math and science and should be an engineer. Throughout high school and college I graduated with that engineering degree. Right off the bat, I found it hard to find a job I thought would be enjoyable. That’s what everyone told me to do, so why am I not enjoying it? I learned quickly that my work was going to be just a means to make money and enjoy the other part of my life. So I have been working hard to try and get by, get raises, in order to enjoy that other half. I have been lucky that engineering can pay well enough for me to do that and I wish all jobs were like that, but I know others were told the same thing as kids, only to strive for a different career that isn’t as well paying. This excerpt really put into words what I’ve been feeling for the last 10 years.

  • IWentHojo*

    When I was looking for a job post-graduation, my boomer father (who I love and respect greatly) gave me this gem of advice, “Sometimes you just have to do the job you don’t want to do for a few years, and then you can move up and get the job you do want.” And I just remember thinking, “That is the dumbest piece of advice I have ever heard. Why would I spend years doing something I *know* I hate, on the off chance that I might get promoted into another position I don’t know anything about and might also not want?”

  • Garnet, Crystal Gem*

    Really enjoyed her essay on this topic and am looking forward to reading the book. I’m wondering if she’ll explore how this phenomena plays out for marginalized millennials. I really identified with the story shared in the excerpt, but have had employment experiences like that compounded with racism and sexism. I grew up being fed the mantra “you have to work twice as hard” and did this throughout school, and early in my career. Now 5 years out of undergrad, I still have nothing to show for it. I’ve experienced intense burnout 4-5 times now, tried to change fields to improve my circumstances, and have seen no improvement in terms of title or finances or status in my career. I’ve completely divested from the idea of professional fulfillment, and believe even less in inclusive or equitable workplace environments. All I care about now is being paid a decent wage to pursue the things I enjoy outside of work.

  • Hedgehog*

    “Fuck passion, pay me” is definitely the realization I came to. I literally worked myself sick (so sick I had to go on FMLA) three years ago when I was 27 in my so-called social work “dream job.” I quit that job without another one lined up, worked two part-time jobs for minimum wage afterwards, and eventually landed my current job (still with a major pay cut). Passion doesn’t pay the bills and the nonprofit sector is rife with orgs that blame the individual’s lack of passion or commitment to the cause if they complain about shitty pay, long hours, and unsafe or unethical corner-cutting.

    I talk to my parents about jobs and they’re often taken aback by my cynicism, bitterness, and skepticism of authority but I’ve seen enough to look past the politically-correct words to the often-problematic actions behind them.

  • Goldenrod*

    This part is so true:

    “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.”

    As Gen X, that resonates for me too (even though my parents weren’t boomers). It took me years and years and YEARS to finally realize that my parents had had opportunities that no longer existed for my generation.

    It’s so important to separate your identity from what you do for work to make money. They are not the same thing!

  • Working From Home*

    I love that the whole passion b.s is being talked about. I have an 4-year degree from a state school that took me ten years to complete. I waited tables for that whole ten years and you know what? That was my FAVORITE job EVER. I would say I had a passion for it. I made LOTS of cash, got a shift drink at the end, always got steps in, and had a whole community of like-minded friends that were easy to get along with, not uptight, and pretty much my finda family. And I loved reading customers and knowing exactly what they needed service-wise to give a large tip.

    But I was so embarrassed that I waited tables. Ashamed. My mom kept at me to get a real job and really didn’t want to tell her friends what I did for a living. I had no office work experience and it was really hard to make the leap. I ended up working at a national grocer in-store and worked my way up to the corporate offices. I like that I have weekends free, can work from home during the pandemic, and health insurance is nice too. But passion, no. Not there, never was there.

  • The answer is (probably) 42*

    Even reading just this small excerpt is so validating that I feel like I might cry.

    I actually want to show this book to my parents- not even as a “see, this is why I am how I am!” (although that’s part of it) but because I think it would be illuminating to them about how their own careers have progressed. I think they need to hear this because their own trajectories have burned them out. My parents are on the border between Boomer and Gen X, and right now despite nearing retirement age they’re nowhere near in a financial position to retire, and I am nowhere near being able to support them.

  • AutomaticPi*

    I’m an older millenial (late 30s) and my basic advice for anyone is “don’t follow my path.” I went to college to get better overall job prospects, but due to how dominoes fell, I ended up getting two graduate degrees before I found a steady job in one of my fields. As I gained more experience in the process of getting a job, I discovered that while taking the classes and accumulating the knowledge was important, networking did a lot more for me in getting a job than anything else. And, once I got the job, the on-the-job learning was far more useful to me than what I learned in classes – especially the expensive graduate-level classes.

    Growing up, I always wanted to work for a library, and started applying for page/shelving jobs from when I was 16 up to when I turned 27-28 and it no longer made sense to pursue. I wish libraries had a place for people like me who want to work there but don’t have library science degrees (and at this point in my life there’s no way I’m going back for yet another masters) and need to earn enough to live on.

    In general, the advice I’d give is mainly a)don’t go to grad school until you have field experience. And b) related to a common theme I’ve observed here, is don’t rely on college career services. Between my two masters degrees, I visited them for help getting a job in tech writing (my first field). The counselor I got was someone who I knew was an expert in the field because she’d visited some of my classes. After looking at my resume, she scoffed and said something to the effect of “I’d never hire you for a job in this field” citing my lack of experience. At that point I’d completed the masters program, done two internships, and worked two years in a job where I was writing print and web content for a university department. (Thankfully, due to those years, I graduated with very little in student loan debt, which makes up for it more than anything.)

    I hate to sound cynical, but it’s kind of been my experience overall. I’m grateful for what I have, but I feel like the path I took was anything but straightforward.

  • Nessun*

    My parents never said “do what you love”, so much as I heard “you’re good at X, you should be Y”. No one ever stopped to ask if Y was something I wanted to be, and I spent a lot of time studying for it because that’s …what I was told? Horrible reasoning, and if I could go back and shake some sense into myself, Younger Me would have been quicker to point out that this wasn’t my path at all. I loved my time at Uni, but I left without a degree; I paid my student debts but didn’t work in my “field of study”; the career I’ve got, I fell into unexpectedly while I was working retail, and it was more luck than skill (now it’s skill, but getting the job first and proving I deserved it second…yeah, I know, not normal!).

    If I’d had kids, I would have asked them what they enjoyed, sure – but I’d have done a lot of talking with them about how to incorporate joy in your life while paying the bills doing whatever job gives you the paycheque.

  • Mike Engle*

    Sometimes, passionately wanting enough to feed your family and keep the roof over your heads is plenty! I’m a lawyer, and I have a lot of sympathy for people who have a passion for an area of the law they don’t practice in yet. You’re stuck in a job, so you write so many articles trying to get into the other area…can be an exhausting catch-22 burnout cycle!

  • Aquawoman*

    I’m a Gen-X-er and I’ve been exceptionally fortunate in my work, IMO, but that doesn’t mean it’s my passion. I like it, it pays well with good benefits, a good culture, and good people.

    It is really an exception from the whole toxic capitalism culture, which is basically an institutionalized abusive relationship complete with gaslighting.

  • LTL*

    Younger millennial here. “Do what you love” and “you’re special” was culturally ingrained everywhere. Teachers said it, counselors said it, media reinforced it. I hope gen Z gets these messages less than we did.

  • Kristen*

    The story of the librarian in that article rang true with me. I got my MLS in 1996, and when I started in 1994, I was promised, “There will be so many jobs once the Baby Boomers retire.” No, not so much. When I am asked about being a librarian, I am very straightforward about how I love my career, but people should look very, very closely at the costs before committing.

  • Detective Rosa Diaz*

    This is very on point for me as a 39 year old millennial. I’ve never had a job where I didn’t also have to have a side job too and I am exhausted. I finally got a job that paid decently and lost it at the start of the pandemic because of layoffs. My dad suggested that I could always get a lower paying job and a side job and it’s like why am I not allowed to just have one job that meets my simple needs? I feel like everyone expects millennials to just be happy with the bad jobs we’re landing and worst of all, we have to be “passionate” about them!

    I would like to see a Boomer try and get by on a millennial salary without generational wealth, I really would.

  • Gina Linetti*

    I’m about 30 years too old to be called a millennial, born just at the tail-end of the “boomer” era. However, I’ve never really felt a part of that generation, either.

    No job I’ve had working for someone else ever did anything more than pay the bills. I’d spend all day staring at spreadsheets on a computer at work, while my bored-AF mind dreamed up stories. “If I could just stay home and write all day,” I’d tell myself, “that would be my dream job.”

    As it turned out, after coming into a small inheritance about 15 years ago, I decided to quit being an accountant (a job that bored me to tears) and try my hand at being a full-time writer. I told myself I could stay afloat with my inheritance until I started making real money at my writing.

    Yes, go ahead – laugh yourselves silly at my naivete. That’s what I should’ve done, instead of quitting my job. But at the time, it didn’t seem like such a reach. This was around 2008-09, right when Kindle Direct Publishing was booming. Independent writers making a decent living didn’t seem to far-fetched. Not back then, anyway.

    And for a few years, I was moderately successful. (I could tell you some stories about the publishers who ripped me off and not one, but two different writing partners, both of whom screwed me over as well, but I’d like to keep this brief.) Then Kindle Unlimited came along, cutting me – and pretty much every other independent author I know – off at the knees.

    There’s a big difference between making a 70% royalty on the outright sale of a $3.99 ebook and collecting a fraction of a penny per page read on the same ebook under the KU plan.

    I did not get into publishing to earn pennies per page.

    That’s not to say I didn’t try, but even so, my results were dismal. Basically, Kindle Unlimited became the only game in town. Anyone who didn’t sign up for it – in essence, agreeing to give away their work for pennies, while Jeff Bezos (aka, THE RICHEST MAN IN THE WORLD!!!) pocketed the rest – was signing their career’s death warrant.

    So, after thirty-odd published works, my voice went silent back in 2015. I haven’t published a word since.

    Oh, and now my inheritance is gone, and I’m 60 years old, and no one wants to hire me.

    Right now I’m just hoping the election goes the way I’m hoping, otherwise Social Security will probably be defunded and I’ll be left with no income at all. (I’m currently subsisting on survivor’s benefits, which would be cut off in 2023 if the current occupant of the White House gets his way.)

    I realize this is all somewhat off-topic, but just so you all know – it’s not just millennials who are suffering from burnout and existential dread.

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