Is Feeling Like a Burned Out Failure Just the Norm Now?

My neck muscles are tensed up and my throat feels like someone is ever-so-slightly choking me… but from the inside, almost like what’s trying to suffocate me is my own throat.

It’s a sort of panicky feeling under the surface ready to erupt.

Of all the problems living in the digital age presents, what if one of the weightiest ones is becoming more keenly aware of how much is possible, and therefore, the constant nagging feeling that you’re failing yourself?

When I read an article in early 2019 that described “burnout” as the “base temperature” of millenials – our “background music”, I sighed with relief, feeling somewhat validated in my tension.

I was amused to discover I wasn’t the only one who found really silly things extremely burdensome.

Take checking out books from the library, for example – it’s an almost surefire way for me to waste money.

If it was just me, I’d most likely get them back on time. But then, if it was just me, I probably wouldn’t bother checking out physical books in the first place. It’s extremely inconvenient.

And then, asking me to take something to the post office? Sure, why don’t I just stop at the moon on my way. Oh, that sounds ridiculous? Humorously, it doesn’t feel particularly ridiculous to me because it involves special planning and completely disrupting what feels like an otherwise productive day.

Like the author of the afore-mentioned article explains “Many of the tasks millennials find paralyzing are ones that are impossible to optimize for efficiency, either because they remain stubbornly analog (the post office) or because companies have optimized themselves, and their labor, so as to make the experience as arduous as possible for the user (anything to do with insurance, or bills, or filing a complaint).

On the surface, it sounds weak and childish, maybe even bratty – just suck it up and “adult”, for pity sake.

But the reality is that we’re all living in a time of transition, and in most ways it’s on a grander scale than ever before in history.

Why you might feel burned out with “no good reason”

feeling overwhelmed and burned out? this might be the underlying reason...

It’s not just millennials who feel burned out, and I believe there are a few reasons for this.

The first is pretty simple – decision fatigue.

Willpower is actually like a muscle, with each decision you make acting like a rep in your daily workout. Although different kinds of decisions may be weighted differently, they still add up.

In an age where our options continue to expand at an ever-compounding rate and our awareness of what’s possible is like an internal voice set to “nagging mother”, many of us are experiencing levels of expectations that have risen to drowning heights.

For much of human history, people were largely focused on surviving. And yes, of course that’s incredibly weighty and exhausting.

In contrast, many people today could be considered weak and incapable. The knee-jerk reaction is that we have it easy – that we don’t really have the right to feel overwhelmed or tired.

Beyond one’s life or that of a loved one being literally at stake, however, survival mode is a state of mind rooted in comparison.

People who don’t know any “better” can lead quite happy and content lives with next to nothing. There is always someone who could be considered to have it harder or perceived to have it better than you.

Our perception creates our experience of reality, and I propose that most people are still in a type of survival mode.

Our souls are in danger of suffocating…

Our ancestors dreamed of and fought for a better life, and so are we – the digital age has just expanded our awareness of what that can look like.

What it means to be a good parent, a good spouse, a successful person, etc today has grown a lot from what it was even 30 years ago.

We know more, better, about all areas of life than we did 10 years ago, let alone than our parents did when they were raising us. And that’s no shade to our parents – we now have access to virtually anything we need to know in our back pocket!

It’s been said social media shows us the highlight reel of people’s lives.

All those highlight reels create an amalgamation of the perfect life, perfect mom/wife/body, you name it… in our subconscious.

While that can clearly be damaging, I think it can also simply be awareness of possibility, if we’re consuming the information consciously.

The problem with all this information is that you have to decide what to do with it.

Beyond holding ourselves to higher standards, we also have so much
more to weed through, evaluate, and prioritize from all angles of life…

When there are political and financial agendas to be considered and even “science” changing all the time, the inundation of information can feel quite weighty.

Although probably not everyone feels the same pressure to research – it’s probably somewhat of a personality thing? (Whatever the thing is, I’ve got it.)

No one can deny, however, that while life has gotten more and more convenience-based, for better or worse, daily life has also become fuller.

We may not have to wash laundry or churn butter by hand anymore, but a million other little things have been added to the space those chores used to occupy in our mental capacity.

Have you really stopped to consider how much MORE of everything we’re taking in and dealing with than in pre-digital days, let alone pre-PINTEREST???

Admittedly, this might be a much bigger issue for spaghetti-noodle-processing tendencies than waffle-processors. (many things all at once, weaving together vs more neatly compartmentalized – often stereo-typically related to female and male ways of thinking, respectively)

However, I can’t help but think we’re ALL affected to some extent and just haven’t really recognized it for the most part.

Weddings, birthday parties, interior design, learning potential, health, relationships… heck, even self-care! It’s all on a much grander scale than the recent past.

There’s a focus on efficiency and multi-tasking. Many jobs, particularly for those who work from home, have blurred lines between work and personal time.

There’s also a greater focus on meaning and quality time.

It feels like we could use an upgrade for our mental ram and processors to handle the bigger, faster, more numerous programs life is running, but how do we get it?

This is the second reason I believe we’re well-acquainted with the feeling of burnout.

We’re aware of so much more we can do, and therefore subconsciously, should do… or at least many of us want to.

It’s not even necessarily about feeling more pressure to do better at XYZ, though that station can be deafening if you tune in to it.

For me, and I think many others, it’s that we want to be the best version of ourselves, living the best version of our lives. Deep down, I think our souls have been awakened to the notion that they want to thrive.

And there’s this aching feeling that what we’re doing ain’t it, Chief. It feels like I’m not “allowed” to do what I was created to do until I check all the boxes on a never-ending to-do list.

When I’m being pulled in a million directions, the inside ‘me’ feels like it isn’t allowed to just be, just breathe… and I know in that breathing, the exhaling is a creative energy… but it’s like I’m being forced to hold my breath and my creative lungs are burning… desperate for air.

It’s no wonder minimalism and voluntary simplicity have become meaningful to so many people – it’s literally about removing everything that’s suffocating our souls… it’s making us feel like we can breathe again.

What does the minimalist movement have the potential of getting wrong, though?

There’s certainly an impulse to purge, and maybe even revert to the “good old days”. In the early days of electricity, there were those who felt it would ruin society/their lives, and it did without a doubt change everything!

As this article points out, though, now electricity is just a background function that I daresay few of us find to be a detriment.

There is no question we need to be intentional about creating enough mental white space for reflection. Constant input almost surely equals less meaningful processing.

But it’s too easy for the pendulum to swing toward pessimism and resistance toward technology and “change” in general…

While going Amish is a valid decision for those who might be inclined, there will come a time when “digital” will be just a background function like electricity is now.

Sure, we can live very meaningful, rich lives without technology.

However, that tension many of us feel is an opportunity for growth.

When people go on fasts from social media or technology of some sort, I believe what they’re really trying to do is find themselves… get connected to deeper meaning.

Ironically, I believe a big part of our awareness and drive toward deeper things is because of technology.

There are many ways technology can actually strengthen our connection to meaning and increase our appreciation for little things.

  • How crazy is it that we can easily know how many steps we took in a day…?
  • We can come across an interesting bug and immediately look up facts about it…
  • A picture of what we were doing a year, 2 years, 7 years ago can pop up in our notifications, making us more aware of the present moment…

Suggested Read: 7 Ways Technology Actually Helps Us Be More Present

An academic Instagram study found that taking a picture of a moment can actually enhance our enjoyment of that moment.

I know personally as someone who has always experienced life with aphantasia, I identify very much with that. I’ve never been able to understand when people say you should just put away the camera and enjoy the moment by taking a mental picture because I rely on real pictures and videos – my mental scrapbook is completely blank.

Beyond that, before the glut of technology we have now, people, by and large, were NOT somehow more connected or more spiritual or “more deep“.

I think perhaps there was an illusion of being more connected or more spiritual because our only options for relating were more “natural” and more of life was based around religious activities.

People may have had more time for contemplation, but with a smaller horizon and more limited understanding of many things, I would argue depth of thought was harder for most to reach.

Of course there is still something to be said for being capable of independence from technology, the ability to relate well face-to-face, and being versed in the art of reflection.

So how can we successfully navigate this transitional time we find ourselves in?

A huge side benefit of technological advancements is that they’ve made us more aware of the need to be purposeful.

In a time when options were fewer, people used to largely make choices based on what was possible and what was just the “normal” thing to do.

As horizons and possibilities continue to expand, we have to dig deeper – we need a different filter to make decisions.

The digital age has given us the luxury of “why” like never before.

To be a gourmet of technology is to make choices about what you’re going to use, and how you’re going to use it.

Cory Doctorow

Just like any other tool, technology can only bring out what is already there.

We can resist the speed at which things are changing, but that blocks us from recognizing or experiencing the benefits the future is bringing us.

If we look at our lives and see fruit we don’t like, it’s time to plant different seeds.

Realistically, it’s probably just time to intentionally plant seeds.

As we move forward in a digital age, it’s time to stop the guilty mental fragmentation of “real life” vs “digital life”. Worthwhile aspects of life exist in both spaces.

In considering the mental and subconscious merging of those spaces, it’s helpful to remember that we are responsible for the meaning and value we assign to things. Further, we’re responsible for the meaning and value we bring to things.

The best moments are when who we are and what we do and what we’re feeling all sync up…

Pamela Pavliscak

Let’s allow ourselves to embrace the future and move into it as a more intentional version of ourselves.

feeling like a failure
real life vs digital life quote
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the not-so-obvious reason you feel like a failure
About the communicator
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Tico & Tina

David & Christina are recovering "lack" addicts who share tidbits of their minimalist, digital nomadic life at The Liberation Collective.