Book Review: Can’t Even

You’ve heard the stereotypes about millennials: we’re entitled and we don’t work all that hard. Wait wait wait. The truth is we’re working so hard we’re burning out. And, yeah, we may be entitled, but let’s examine how we came to feel that we could and should achieve whatever we set our sights on: ahem, our parents.

I read Anne Helen Petersen’s previous book, Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud, and enjoyed it. This one was better. I think I particularly liked this one because, as a millennial, I could really relate. I was new to the job market around the recession, I grew up in a home and community where getting into a prestigious college was THE thing, and I am well aware of how the current gig economy has impacted salaries, job availability, and expectations. There were so many moments where I was screaming “UGH YES!” while reading this book. Like the need to take out student loans to graduate from the kind of school that will get you hired by a company that won’t pay you enough to pay back those loans. Or how our willingness to get a side hustle to help pay off those student loans allows employers to hire fewer people and pay them less because they can now outsource freelancers to the point that certain industries (journalism, livery) have been completely changed/demolished as career paths. Or how the prevalence of tools meant to streamline work (Slack, elimination of work phones) actually chains us to our work even more with the added bonus of increasing anxiety due to the dissipation of boundaries. These are things our parents did not have to deal with in quite the same way.

The one thing I wish the book discussed was how lifestyle – as it relates to work, specifically – has shifted over the last few decades as a result of social media. Our generation is particularly in tune with social media – in fact, we literally invented the most prominent platforms – and we now see everybody’s everything. There is an increased desire and pressure to keep up with the Joneses because we can see everything the Joneses are doing plastered over tv and our phone screens. I have no stats to back this theory up, but I believe people were satisfied with less before. When we didn’t see the must-have Gucci bag in a continuous Instagram loop, we didn’t feel that we would absolutely die without it. There were fewer opportunities to compare ourselves to others. Before, sprawling mansions belonged to celebrities and it felt reasonable that we didn’t all live like that. Now we see Rachel Parcell – a “normal” girl’s – home on Instagram and think we haven’t reached our full potential if we can’t also afford 10,000 square feet. But to be able to live like that, we must work harder, longer, and marry someone who also works more to earn more. Petersen does have a chapter devoted to how the curation of Instagram and the resulting self-comparison results in emotional exhaustion/burnout; however, I also think there’s a pressure to own more, as propagated by the social media comparison engine, that fuels our desire to work until we hit burnout status. This is just my two cents and, if nothing else, simply confirms the hamster wheel feeling Petersen discusses throughout the book.

4.75 out of 5 stars for a book that affirmed all the things I’d been suspecting.

Pair with: A microbrew with some funky flavor, like Two Villains’ “All The Vibes” creamsicle DIPA