Saturday, November 11th, 2:33PM
I’ve been struggling to blog lately. Not out of writers’ block–I truly always want to write, but mostly because the positive things I want to write seem to take too much effort or energy, and the rest of the things that come easily are mostly Internet Venting, which I often feel like is a) a little depressing, and also b) not very interesting to read. So today, I thought I’d try my best to just tell you, honestly, how I feel. I stopped fighting my own mood to try and write a peppy post about personalities (which is still on the way for a better day, because it’s still a good idea lol) but maintain the self-control to only let the emotional floodgates open a little. I apologize in advance by how meandering and rambl-y this post is about to be.
Last night, I was reading some articles from “The Cut”, a section of New York Magazine. I came across this one, titled “The Ambition Collision” by Lisa Miller. It’s one of The Cut’s most read articles, and describes how a generation of professional millennial women face a strange, unexplainable burnout. They seem to lose their motivation and desire after a few years in the workforce, or at once on entering it. The author ties this burnout to a sense of motionlessness, that progress for women in the workplace overall “has flatlined”–we’ve stopped closing the wage gap, and even though there are 1 or 2 women in every male-dominated field or rank of position now, that number remains the same–1 or 2. The “flatlining” of that progress, creates a ceiling of satisfaction for working women that they can’t seem to reach past, just as there was that ceiling for older generations of women who were confined to domestic life.
But (for once) I’m actually not interested in discussing feminism today. (well, at least not directly…)
What intrigued me about the article is what the author said after describing this problem, which is that, while those external struggles exist, there’s still a deeply personal perspective problem that everyone has. I’ll let the article explain itself here:
“The lesson of The Feminine Mystique was not that every woman should quit the ‘burbs and go to work, but that no woman should be expected to find all her happiness in one place — in kitchen appliances, for example. And the lesson for my discontented friends is not that they should ditch their professional responsibilities but that they should stop looking to work, as their mothers looked to husbands, as the answer to the big questions they have about their lives. “I think possibly work has replaced ‘and they got married and lived happily ever after,’ and that is a false promise,” says Ellen Galinsky, co-founder of the Families and Work Institute. “Everyone needs to have more than one thing in their life. We find people who are dual-centric to be most satisfied. If people put an equivalent stress on their life outside of their job they get further ahead and are more satisfied at their job.””
Though this insight was shared through the lens of writing about women’s issues, I think it’s a useful thing to think about for everyone. After graduating high school and moving into college, I graduated in a lot of other ways too. Some were expected–I reached new levels of independence and capability. Some were unexpected, like new reaching new levels of confidence, or weird, like a new level of defining myself and understanding the depth of my identity. And somehow, I seemed to reach a new level of sadness or discomfort too. Adult feelings somehow are more complicated than kid feelings, and I still haven’t figured out why. It’s not that I feel more or less happy than when I was child (although probably it’s a little bit less, lol) but it’s that, as a child you at least always know why you’re unhappy–denial of ice cream, the onset of sleepiness, a little brother that destroys your things. Unhappiness is for the most part temporary and usually defined by a single moment.
Adult unhappiness has seemed to involve many more themes, where the same feelings always worm their way into whatever sadness I’m feeling that day, even if they have nothing to do with why I’m sad in that moment. It feels a little more chronic. Maybe it’s because of passage of time, and accumulating many more things to be unhappy about over the years. Sometimes sadness is unexplainable, like those women in The Cut article, just a strange listlessness that I can never articulate very well.
Sometimes coming to MIT feels a little bit like hitting a ceiling too. At least in my case, MIT was a goal I worked on for a full 7 years (I first started reading the blogs in middle school, lol). A sentence from this article stands out to me: “It’s as if the women have cleared spaces in their lives for meteoric careers, and then those careers have been less gratifying, or harder won, or more shrunken than they’d imagined.”
MIT was certainly hard won. And I had known, at least superficially, that what I was doing was kind of insane–I worked really hard to get into a place where I would have to work even harder. I think what I hadn’t prepared for was just how dissatisfying it can be to have hard work feel fully wasted. Freshmen year there was a lot of studying for days to barely pass, rather than studying for days to at least get a decent grade. But now that’s mostly over–my classes are in the field I most enjoy, they’re interesting, and though they’ve certainly required hard work, my academic life is a little more balanced. So why does that feeling of burnout, dissatisfaction, listlessness still hit? (it’s always in November or February….)
Maybe it’s because as a student, life is still pretty centered around work. But things outside of work aren’t always great either. Sometime last weekend my friend/sorority sister/housemate mentioned, “this year in particular it just seems like everyone is sad. I don’t know why.” We explored possibilities. Was it Trump-era aggressive political rhetoric, maybe, or the unsatisfying state of the global order that seeps into the consciousness of ambitious young women. Was it mass shootings or environmental degradation, or just our age and the uncertainty of post-college life. Is it all these things, put together. It reminded me of a quote from another sorority sister of mine who graduated, “since it’s technically impossible to know when my ‘mid-life’ is, I’ve decided to have an on-going crisis”.
Maybe you were expecting me to have an answer by the end of this document, or an insight. The truth is that I don’t know, why sadness or burnout or all of those things seem to only get more potent and more complicated as I’ve grown up. I’m not sure how to solve it, or if it’s even solvable “The Cut” way, by focusing on the “life” side of work-life balance. But maybe the best thing I’ve learned is sometimes, you just have to let yourself be. Eating enough and sleeping doesn’t hurt. Sometimes, instead of stressing out about stressing out, or following the guilty rabbit hole of but-I’m-so-privileged-I-don’t-deserve-to-be-sad, I just take a nap, and usually it’s a little better when I wake up. I take part in hedonistic pleasures, like nachos, or purchasing a sweater. I call my mom. I write a blog post. And if I’m feeling a bit better, I get back to work.