Book Notes: Can't Even

Can't Even by Anne Helen Petersen
Read Aug 25, 2021 - Sep 9, 2021

I thought Can’t Even, subtitled “How Millenials Became the Burnout Generation”, would be an account of what drives people to burnout from an individual perspective. It turned out to be so much better than that: a survey of the ways in which US society has trended towards more precarity, fewer safety nets, and more anxiety.

The changes that Anne Helen Petersen traces through the last half-century in the States echo some of my own journey. Raised in a culture without a term for “work ethic”, I began to absorb this slice of the American ethos as I became a Very Online person in the 90s. With an immersion in US-dominated online culture came the idea of “productivity”, the cult of efficiency, the imperative to always do more, to “achieve”, and, eventually, burnout. My own disappointment and process of unlearning mirrors the arc of Can’t Even, which Petersen closes with a call for systemic changes towards a more sustainable and sustaining society.

Can’t Even is a good complement to Burnout, which focuses more narrowly on what we can do as individuals about our own burnout. Petersen’s analysis is readable and compelling, despite offering no simple answers.

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