Millennials don't own burn out: Why midlife women are falling apart.

“It had never occurred to me that Generation X got burnout,” she said. “You’re all so stoic.” 

I looked at my friend. A tightly-bound millennial bundle of achievement and ambition and perfectionism and anxiety, like many young women of my acquaintance.

And I smiled inside about how when I was 20 and 30 I thought my people had invented everything, too. That the ‘old’ people around me somehow hadn’t faced any of the complex and interesting and absorbing conundrums and issues and demands I was grappling with on the daily. How nice it must be for them to be so content and unquestioning, to have everything sorted out, to be so, you know, simple

LOL. As the millennials say.

While you're here watch Sarah Wilson on why women burnout, get tired and sick. Story continues below.

Video via Mamamia

The young don’t know the old(er). At least, maybe they know us but they don’t see us. Not beyond a surface blur of irritating Boomer stereotypes. Through that lens, we're always shouting at technology. Moaning at them to put their phones down while being constantly glued to ours (probably in a flip-case). Telling them to get out there and live life while also encouraging them to be afraid of... everything. And using ellipses, because my friend reliably informs me that only the over 40s do. That, and emoji. And saying ‘emoji’ as a singular plural. Only old people do that, too. 


But Gen X-ers don’t get burned out?


I think every over-40 woman I know is burnt out, right now. 

Our bodies flooded with adrenalin as the world gets tangibly worse around us and the dial ratchets up the risk to all those we're taking care of (children, yes, but also ageing parents, and vulnerable friends, and often, the people we might be paid to take care of, too, since over 40s women over-index in the caring professions). 

Accompanying the adrenalin flood is the estrogen drop, and all these chemical shenanigans are backed by the relentless drum pounding in Gen X women’s heads. You worked bloody hard to get here, don’t fuck it up now. 

The fourth quarter is important. The most important, perhaps. You can’t collapse now. 

Except you can. 

We were talking, my young friend and I, about an article in the UK Sunday Times written by former magazine editor Marianne Jones, called 'My Midlife Burnout: How The Job I Loved Nearly Killed Me'. In a brilliant essay, she explained how her commitment to her career - something she’d grafted away at for decades, striving for the respect of publishers and bosses, striving to beat her rivals to cover stars and exclusives, striving to prove she was better than the men, striving not to let her family life dent her reputation as a reliable, genius workhorse, and then striving to keep her team employed during Covid - saw her on the brink of chronic illness.


Jones' body got pissed off with her first. Blurred vision and heart palpitations and vertigo. Tests and hushed conversations in doctors' offices. A realisation that stress, long exposure to stress, had taken a permanent toll on her health. 

And then there was her decision to stop for a while, and the description of her standing in front of her late-teenage sons, telling them she was going to finally take that maternity leave she never took when they were babies. 

You see, we didn’t, really, Gen X. We didn’t want anyone to have an excuse to snatch away the jobs we were constantly told we were lucky to have, so we just worked through everything. And everything. And everything.

I used to have a boss in magazines who would tell us with proud glee of the time she went into labour while filing a story to deadline. Her waters broke on the newsroom floor. “But I filed!” She said. Of course she did. 

Those stories don’t impress Generations Y&Z. What ridiculous, empty martyrdom, they think, and they might be right about that, but here we are, with guilt whipping the backs of our work ethic and suddenly, a body protesting and everyone else’s needs placed well above our own.


The irony is that people like to tell you that your mid-years are about YOU. The kids, if there are kids, are bigger, most likely, and more independent. You know yourself better, apparently, and you give fewer shits. 

It's finally Me Time. 

Well, yes, but one look at the concerns of women over 45 will tell you that it might be all about you, but it's also all about you and... 

Your ageing parents.

Your complicated kids. 

Your debt, and your Super-stress and your reduced earning power, eroded by years of career breaks and part-time compromises. 

You and your divorce. 

You and your friends, and their complicated kids, and their debt, and their divorce. 

You and your flooding periods and your peaking anxiety and your night flushes and restless legs. 

Listen to Fill My Cup, On this episode, Allira Potter is joined by Sarah Davidson. They chat about the problem with burnout in the workplace, why it's so hard to manage and what you can do to prevent it. Post continues below.   


It's a little less 'Me time' and a little more "F**k me" time. 

Sounds fun, yes? 

Don't mistake me, there is plenty of strength and joy in mid-life. I wrote about it here, and said that age makes women stronger, not weaker. And it's true. We're (almost) indefatigable. 

But also, we're tired. There's been a lot going on for a very long time. 

And we didn't have the term burn-out at our fingertips when we were 30. We didn't have that shorthand for "we need a minute". We didn't recharge, or exercise self-care. God no, that might be seen as weakness.

Don't you want it all? All the things you've gained? Do you want it all to slip away from you, as you rest, weakened? 

So we do burn out, us Generation X-ers. But we also burn bright, because we're tough and smart and wily. 

We'll fall apart and find our way back. 

Because the fourth quarter is important. And we've seen things get worse and better again, and we've learned that nothing lasts forever. 

Maybe, we think, Me Time is right around the corner.  

PS: Yes, my 'friend' is my beloved young Mamamia Out Loud co-host Jessie Stephens. 

Feature Image: Instagram

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