In recent years, a buzzy term has taken hold, particularly among millennials: self-care.
It’s a cry for help, says Anne Helen Petersen in her new book, “Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” Unlike earlier generations, who were able to earn more than their parents, millennials have been hit with two financial shocks a decade apart, on top of college debt that chains them to a punishing economic treadmill. Self-worth is measured by economic success and the identity that millennials present to others. What’s been lost, she argues, is a sense of true self.
“It really comes down to understanding ourselves as humans, with souls and minds, and not just as robots valued for our capacity to work,” says Ms. Petersen, a millennial herself, via email.
The author recommends activities divorced from career, screens, or pleasing peers. Go outside for aimless walks. Be your own companion. Her book borrows computer scientist Cal Newport’s definition of solitude as “the subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.” We can’t listen to our inner voice if we’re constantly trying to keep up with the Joneses – or Kardashians – on Instagram.
As for self-care? Be careful it isn’t self-centered.
“Spiritual practice means finding meaning in the world around you – and meaning that doesn’t extend uniquely from work,” says Ms. Petersen. “Things that allow us to look away from ourselves and think about and serve others almost always make us feel better in some way.”
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