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Breaking Glass

On women, millennials and burnout

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I'm 26 and I'm tired.

I found myself nodding off while on the phone with a friend last night who was driving home from her executive assistant job at an agency in Los Angeles:

“Meg — tell me — why is it so hard? When did sitting at a desk for 10 hours become the norm? What are we doing with our lives?”

I couldn’t think of my usual mood-altering answer at the moment. 

So, naturally, I took to Google to answer why the daily struggle might be getting the best of us.

And I found this: Millennial Women are Burning Out at Work By 30 … and it’s great for business.

I’ll circle back to that — but the headline itself got me thinking about work discussions among my male and female friends.

Are we saying that women, specifically, are burning out by 30 just because they are more likely to vent about their jobs than men?

My co-worker Brett Johnson makes it seem so.

“I definitely have the ability to divorce my personal life from my professional one,” he said.

But co-worker Andrew Sheldon disagreed.

“I’m 26 and I’m burned out,” he said.

“But I also eat a lot of tofu, so my estrogen levels might be through the roof.”

I wasn’t sure how to measure that — but Sheldon also mentioned that the idea of getting older doesn’t stress him out as much as it does the women in his life.

“On a biological level, the idea of starting a family is so much more stressful for a woman than a man,” Sheldon said.

Was that it? Were my friend and I carrying around some physical burden lying in wait? Were we exhausting our brainpower by concerning ourselves with uncertain plans for the future?

Maybe — but maybe that sort of subconscious mental preparation for the years ahead is what’s also driving more women into the entrepreneurial workforce today.

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According to the American Express Open 2013 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, women-owned businesses increased 44 percent in the state of New Jersey between 1997 and 2013.

Over 223,000 New Jersey businesses were women-owned in 2013, generating $43 million in sales and employing about 258,000 people.

And while we’ve all read articles about the women and mothers who worked in corporate America into their 40s only to reinvent themselves and start their own business in order to accommodate their family life, not much has been said for the motivation of millennial women to do so earlier.

The article, however, made it very clear:

Millennial women have been raised to “do what they love, and success will follow.”

Trying to find available work that you love is a full-time job itself — add the pressure of being of child-bearing age and it’s easy to see why women may be, dare I say, hesitant to accept or go after higher executive positions.

Have we considered this when discussing the lack of women in executive roles?

According to the 2013 report, only 37 percent of mid-management positions and 26 percent of senior management positions were held by women.

“But what if that’s not a bad thing?” the article asks.

What if that very gap in the gender breakdown is what’s spurred the significant increase in women-owned startups?

What if being on a board or serving as CEO of a large corporation has just simply lost its appeal for millennial women?

In terms of responsibility levels, creating one’s own business often brings on more responsibility — but, there is often much more room for flexibility, creative control and compromises on one’s own terms — a lifestyle both male and female millennials desperately crave.

My friend and I did, in fact, discuss the notion of starting our own agency last night, as I boiled gluten-free mac and cheese and she munched on In N’ Out.

Clearly, we’ve got a long way to go — but that possibility did help us perk up a bit and make it seem as though time could slow down and our happiness be all that mattered.


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