There’s was a job on Seek this week that appeared to have been posted by a 28-year-old ‘entrepreneur’ detailing some rather outrageous requirements for his future part-time assistant.
It tells would-be candidates that, “if you want to clock in and clock out of your job — this isn’t for you.” The successful applicant can expect to work after hours and take weekend calls. And job seekers are also offered the reminder that “high performers work until their tasks are done, NOT just until the clock runs out.”
The would-be boss is described as “adventurous” and “passionate” and “chaotic” but still “easy going”. The job is positioned as a chance to “learn his personality and voice and ultimately manage the majority of his day to day activities.”
Wow, what a career opportunity!
The job ad inspired multiple news reports, although it looks like the creator or Seek has since taken it offline. Thankfully, there’s a screengrab available here. (Update, the Melbourne job that was posted on Seek but since deleted appears to have had text lifted from one posted in California by Easy Pay Direct, which also has services in Australia).
Seeing news reports on this job ad took me back to one of my weekend reads, a longform essay written by Anne Helen Peterson for BuzzFeed declaring how millennials became the burnout generation.
I could relate to much of Peterson’s essay including, embarrassingly, the fact that I continue to place straightforward tasks on my to-do list that I still struggle to get done – despite being highly productive in other areas of my day. Like the author writes about those dull, life-admin errands that come up and consequently get put off, “They are seemingly high-effort, low-reward tasks, and they paralyse me.”
Part of this paralysis comes down to constantly feeling burned out.
For many millennials, the author writes, burnout is the base line of being. We’ve internalised the idea that we should be working all the time – something that has been reinforced to us in different ways for years as we’ve been pushed to constantly ‘optimise’ ourselves for the workplace and to pursue careers and opportunities we’re “passionate about” (which is usually a possibility only reserved for privileged people). And if we’re not feeling the passion, then social media is telling us we’re doing it all wrong and should be searching – training, learning, optimising, reaching – for something else. Often while continuing on with our existing, necessary work and then possibly also on top of raising kids, caring for others and of course somehow managing our own health.
I’m at the older end of the millennial generation and believe the term is used to describe a very wide and disparate group that’s actually grown up in varying ways. I now have young kids, run a business and am in no position to work a traditional work week although put in enough hours flexibly to make up for it (thanks to tech, but also meaning I’m always ‘on’). My previous experience entering full-time work post graduation would be very different to what a 22-year-old ‘millennial’ might experience. I started when accessing an employer’s server from home was awkward and clunky and not really done, when emails weren’t available on my phone, and when there was no expectation to build a ‘personal brand’ on social media.
And the ‘always on’, always working and constantly optimising is not a millennial-only affliction, it’s just that those born from the early eighties to the mid nineties who have grown up online have often known little else.
Many of us, no matter what our age, have now come to expect answers, immediately (as I did at 2am last night, Googling why my five-year-old won’t listen to me). We’ll search for the right-this-moment things we can do that help us self improve, whether as parents, or employees, business owners, gym junkies or something else. We’ll look at the lives of others and wonder why we can’t match up to the edit they have carefully provided online. We’ll find ways to think about work constantly, often because work is so easily available, right there on our phones along with a mass of self-improvement information, the lives of others and everything else. It’s exhausting work and it’s easy to see why it leads to burnout — and why the holiday break some of us just took over Christmas hasn’t made it go away.
Technology has enabled the ‘always on’ generation, along with the self-improvement industry and the push to seek something better, constantly. Tech’s been both a curse and a blessing. It’s made switching off more difficult than ever and burnout more common, but it’s also enabled flexibility, as well as the ability for parents (mostly mothers) to stay connected to their careers and continue on with work and businesses after having children.
Overnight a friend shared a photo she had only just developed from her trip to Machu Picchu back in 2005. The stunning photo featured her and a friend, hugging after completing a climb. She shared how precious every shot was when you had a 24 photo film. You couldn’t afford multiple takes nor experiment with trying to get the perfect selfie — but then there was also no pressure or desire to post the perfect edit of your trip to social media. You took the picture then hoped for the best when you returned home and got the film developed – in this case 14 years later. Some of us remember those times and the freedom of being truly disconnected, whether fondly or not. Others will never know them.
These days, people will pay good money to be switched off from their ‘always on’ careers and lives — often in locations that are just hours from their home, rather than halfway across the world. They’ll pay to collect just a couple of memories to be stored for themselves only, rather than to jam their feeds with endless comments and photos about everyday life. These escapes and digital detoxes are another stream of the multi-billion dollar self-improvement industry that usually spends most of its time aiming to keep you connected to your phones through aspirational social media, online courses, videos and other channels, rather than helping you switch off.
In South Korea, people are paying to go to a faux jail — to actually be locked up — just to escape the demands of every day life, according to Reuters. No talking, no clocks, no phones. Just a prison uniform, pen and paper, yoga mat and tea set, and a couple of very simple meals. The fake prison’s already had more than 2000 fake prisoners, all seeking to escape their everyday lives for a 24 to 48 hour period. Many such prisoners leave, says the owner, declaring they have realised that the real prison is actually on the outside.
Which brings me back to the mystery CEO and the job ad posted on Seek aiming to find the perfect, ‘always on’ personal assistant. Perhaps he too is suffering from burnout and believes the solution is to simply find someone to share the burnout burden with (he’s unlikely to be successful in such a search, unless he actually wants and is prepared to pay for a co-CEO). Maybe a trip with an analogue camera and a 24 photo film would be more beneficial. Or even a stint in South Korea’s fake prison.