Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen - review by John Maier

John Maier

Workers & Twerkers

Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation


Chatto & Windus 304pp £14.99

An accepted principle in enlightened circles holds that it is morally wrong, or at least ill-mannered, to judge people according to crude or roughly drawn stereotypes. Luckily, this principle is not often extended to millennials, or the young generally, about whom some rich and largely helpful generalisations come readily to hand.

According to the most popular stereotype, millennials – usually defined as adults born between 1981 and 1996 – are lazy and entitled. They are excessively given to self-absorption and possess a weak or easily defeated work ethic. They also have, we are led to believe, some unattractive qualities. For instance, millennials are morally uncompromising: they have a possessive attitude towards their own virtue and will cling to a moral principle long after the imperatives of good manners, or conversational variety, should have moved things along. They are, in short, unworldly and insufficiently schooled in the unpleasant truths of life. Most absurdly, they remain committed to the fanciful notion that they are all as individuals in some way special or unique, in spite of the overwhelming counter-evidence that they are a dime a dozen. As Anne Helen Petersen points out, according to the popular stereotype, the millennial outlook achieves its apotheosis in the whimsical suggestion ‘that everyone should get a medal, no matter how poorly they did in the race’. Of course, this outlook simply won’t cut it in the real world, and there are – before some millennial asks – no prizes for guessing why.

Petersen rejects this popular view and attempts to give us a more charitable account of the millennials’ condition. Millennials, insofar as they constitute a distinctive class, are distinctly ‘burned out’, exhausted by an economic order that traps and exploits them. ‘Millennials’, Petersen claims, ‘have been denigrated and mischaracterized, blamed for

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