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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Your Ambition's Admirable, But It's Probably Also Destroying You Slowly

Millennials are ambitious: They’re driven and passionate about finding work that fits both their skill set and their personality. So, it’s not surprising that career is at the front and center. As more and more urbanites (especially) delay marriage and children in favor of professional advancement, stress increases and the notion of being well rounded—or, having a life outside of the office—is lost. The result of this work obsession, in spite of the fact that Millennials are more or less putting the pressure on themselves, is a lack of contentment. Rather than being entrenched in their work and the better for it, this group is actually overly stressed and angsty.

A recent study by Harvard Business Review decided to examine just why Millennials are struggling in this notable way. When they looked at what the group values, almost everything was tied to career: “‘positive interactions with colleagues,’ ‘having a low-stress commute,’ ‘getting a new job,’ ‘being satisfied with an existing job.’” The ones that weren’t related to the professional life involved recovery from career stress: “sleeping” and “relaxing in bed.”

There’s nothing about family, or friends, or spiritual journeys, or travel opportunities, or other non-work interests. This group’s working hard so they can, what? Sleep in on weekends? Relax all day every Sunday until Monday arrives and it’s time to take a deep dive into the stress pool again?

The group cited reducing stressors as a long-term goal, so at least there’s that. They’re self-aware enough to recognize the problem, but are they doing anything about it? Some are taking to the gym or the yoga studio, citing making time for fitness as also important. As an avid runner myself, I applaud the incorporation of working out in one’s life, but I’ve got to agree with the author depicting the study, who says, “one cannot help wondering if spiritual life and social life are not the missing ingredients that could make Millennials happier.”

Since stress is such an issue—and again, one that the age group knows is problematic—it would seem that a simple shift in mindset and then, consequently, behavior is all that’s needed. Of course, that’s easier said than done, particularly for a generation who’s been told to focus on career now, relationships and everything else later. Still, it’s obvious that a change is needed.

While it’s normal to feel a little stress in your life, if your levels are at such a high as to make the only reprieve a long jog in the park or 10 hours of sleep on a Saturday night, it’s a sad state of affairs for your current and future self.

If you find yourself nodding along to this, you can start small by vowing not to check work email after a certain time of night, by making standing dinner dates with friends, and by setting reasonable boundaries with your boss. These tiny changes to your routine can go a long way when it comes to preventing feeling so overwhelmed that you are running to yoga at the end of the week.

And once the small stuff becomes second nature, looking at big-picture items can come next: taking regular vacations and unplugging, reflecting on what you really want five, 10, or 15 years from now, placing priority on non-professional activities. Nowhere does it say that becoming an adult means you need to abandon hobbies and interests and friendships and even just crazy, fun nights on the town.

Burnout is real, and it’s hard, and it makes moving forward and ahead extremely difficult. Avoiding it should be on your list of goals. It’s great to love your job—but, frame your whole life around your career and you’ll probably regret it. If you can take little steps today to combat this stress and refuse to place all of your attention and energy on your 9-to-5, you’ll probably be a much happier person.

Photo of stressed out man courtesy of Hinterhaus Productions/Getty Images.