The Burnout Generation
As I write this, I’m sitting with a deep sense of existential dread and weariness in my bones. I try to do an honest self evaluation of myself and self well being but I just feel tired. Tired mentally, tired physically, tired existentially, tired in all ways possible. I want to do absolutely nothing and just relax the knots of tension all over my body. I want to let myself go from the stress, the fast pace, and all the things that keep me wound tighter and tighter. I feel like a coiled spring winding tighter and tighter. A rope that’s fraying being pulled harder and harder.
I clasp my hands together tightly as if to prevent myself from typing. Constant doubts flood my mind, what if my friends find out, what if my family finds out, my reputation, the perception - what will people think of me? Yet another voice in me says you need to get back to work, you have a tech doc due, a demo for a director, it’s Saturday sure, but what the hell are you doing writing a pointless article on burnout.
Deep in my psyche exists the urge to always be productive. As I grew up, nothing was ever good enough. This problem is only exacerbated by social media. I’m not blaming my parents, family, friends, or anyone else - it’s just how the culture is.
It’s never just “Good work on x” but “Good work on x, but what’s next? Also why didn’t you think of y and do z”
As I grew up the problem just kept compounding. It’s not enough to get good grades, you have to do sports. It’s not enough to do that, you have to be involved with clubs, do leadership, get involved in community service, study for standardized testing, go to competitions, and the list goes on. It’s just an ever-growing laundry list of items to check off.
Then in college, it becomes even more. Get all A’s, study for interviews, maintain a social life (gotta network amongst college students yo), lead a club, have side projects, work a job, go to hackathons, maintain social media, network with professionals, interact with professors, and just be everywhere. See the pattern?
At first the goal is get into a good college. Then it’s get into a good job. Then it’s get promoted, become a manager, start your side gig, write a blog, speak at events, work on things worth talking about. It never ends.
That brings us to now. A coiled spring incapable of release. A frayed string that just continues fraying, incapable of relaxation and repair. Any moment not spent doing a “productive” task results in anxiety. Social media gives me the fear of missing out (FOMO) yet FOMO keeps me coming back to it in a vicious cycle. This results in a state of constant simulation, stress, and self-induced pressure.
Theoretically, I’m well off. I have an excellent opportunity, am growing fast in my career, and I don’t want for food, shelter, or basic necessities. I have interesting hobbies, amazing friends, and really cant complain. Yet I still feel a constant feeling of living in someone else’s skin. Maintaining this persona of a happy successful person. A person who has no cracks. One who has a solution for everything, one is confident in his skills. Someone who always has a plan, always knows what he’s doing.
I don’t know where the persona me begins and ends. Am I the person who confidently discusses strategies at work or the one who finds it harder and harder to get to work in the morning. Am I the one who laughs with his friends and makes easy conversation or the one that lies awake at night feeling lonely as if no one really knows him.
I guess the answer is both but it becomes harder and harder to reconcile both sides as they grow further and further apart. In the end I’m left chasing ideals that will cause me not satisfaction when achieved and expectations which will eventually only lead to disappointment. I’m left with a bone deep fear of failure and an equally large fear that someone will discover how I truly feel. I’m left with the feeling that I’m just a fraud. Some performer playing to the strings of society.
The thing is though, there’s no way out. Companies want a tireless worker who can do it all. Social media wants a well-rounded person who eats good food, travels, has interesting hobbies, and is living their best life. The culture I’m around promotes side gigs, blogs, and constant grinding.
The Asian-American Factor
I wrote the above as I had a burnout breakdown at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, flying back from a business trip. I quickly recovered as usual, but the questions stayed with me (perhaps due to writing it down). I thought, where did this start?
Ironically enough, I had written a paper on one of the causes of this roughly 4 years ago. The Asian-American factor. I will leave at reference to the paper which covers it in detail at the bottom, but to summarize, it talks about how Asian-American internalized oppression, culture, and stereotypes shape how we behave today. This is not to say that burnout is exclusive to Asian-Americans at all. Asian-Americans are simply more susceptible to burnout. The stereotype and cultural expectation of the model minority and obsessive focus on work and education lead to a natural proclivity towards burnout for us.
Recently, I decided not to pursue my online masters since there was little value in it due to my career trajectory and since I did not wish to work in the field that the masters was specialized in any longer. Also, I was super busy with reading technical books, work, side hustles, and content creation. I would have to make big sacrifices for this masters which I was not ready to make. I decided to tell my parents of this decision and they were mad. Mad that I had gone back on my word. Then they were disappointed, disappointed that I would not achieve my “potential”. Finally they were sad, sad that I would not fulfill their dreams and expectations for me. That I would not take the opportunity to do what they didn’t have the opportunity to do.
In the end, this is just another episode that results due to the culture. The comparisons part of the culture just plays into this (“Oh their children got masters, why don’t you”). At some point it stops becoming about what makes sense, what should be prioritized and that kind of thing, it just becomes do everything. You gotta look the best, gotta appear like you work the hardest, are the most educated, and just do the most. That’s where the validation comes from.
At some point though, it just becomes unsustainable though. No matter how much I accomplish, it’s never enough. Never enough for me nor my parents. This is naturally a good thing in that keeps me hungry and trying for more, but also a bad thing in that at some point one has to look back and have some measure of pride in what they accomplished. Otherwise it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of imposter syndrome and self-
To conclude though, I will say that I am working on recovery and reconditioning myself. Honestly, it’s been a thing I’ve been trying to do ever since I burnt out in college. Taking more times to appreciate what I’ve done, relax, be proud of myself for my own sake, and just be comfortable with where I am without feeling stressed to do more all the time. It’s something I have to mindfully do otherwise I just burn out and feel so undervalued, overworked, stressed, and just feel like what I do will never be enough.
I feel scared to publish this, especially as this is the first revision and 100% contains a ton of mistakes, but I wanted to share with some people so here it is. This is honestly me at one of my most vulnerable points because sharing this and breaking down some of this psyche is the antithesis of maintaining a strong, smart, image that is expected in the culture I was raised. Maintaining a facade of strength and intelligence is just something I’ve done my entire life and it’s difficult to share some of the feelings hidden inside.
Feel free to give some feedback and hit me up if you find this interesting!
Note: I am in a good place now for anyone wondering, these are just thoughts that I wanted to see up and share with some close friends :)