Can’t Even Book Summary By Anne Helen Petersen

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Can't Even is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the millennial generation.

This book offers an honest, thorough explanation of this much-maligned group and defends them against accusations of laziness or entitlement.

Author Anne Helen Petersen explores how their exhaustion is a natural consequence stemming from the realities they inherited as they came of age.

Petersen's comprehensive look into the life of millennials paints a vivid picture that will leave you both understanding and sympathizing with this important demographic.

Can't Even Book Summary

Book Name: Can't Even (How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation)

Author(s): Anne Helen Petersen

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Health & Nutrition

Author Bio

Anne Helen Petersen is a well-known American writer, journalist and author based in Missoula, Montana.

She has worked as a senior culture writer for Buzzfeed and is the author of two insightful books - 'Scandals of Classic Hollywood' and 'Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman'.

Her latest book, 'Can't Even', offers an incisive look at why millennials are struggling to thrive despite all the opportunities they've been given by their predecessors.

Through careful examination and personal anecdotes, she explores the generational divide between Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials – how it influences our view of success and failure today.

Millennials Aren’t Just Whiny: Investigating Their Burnout And Unfair Deals In Life


Millennials are getting a lot of criticism for what is perceived to be laziness and entitlement.

However, there could be much more than meets the eye with this generation.

It’s possible that millennials are actually feeling burned out from an unfair world that has dealt them a bad hand.

By delving into sociology, economics, and current events in Can’t Even, readers can discover what might be causing this millennial burnout.

The book examines why pursuing passions may not always lead to success, how housewives in the 1970s shaped the world of work, and why there often aren’t any free snacks when you expect one.

Ultimately, the book holds society accountable for forcing unreasonable expectations on millennials that it would never dare ask of other generations.

Millennials Are The Product Of An Over-Supervised And Restrictive Childhood

Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1996 – grew up with childhoods that were much more heavily structured and supervised than children from the past.

This tight control can be traced back to rising income inequality in the late twentieth century, as parents became increasingly anxious about their kids’ future prospects and tried to give them every academic and extra-curricular advantage possible.

This shift in parenting had serious implications for millennials’ adult lives.

Childhood suddenly became a time to focus on accomplishment rather than enjoyment, leading many millennials to be overly obsessed with self-improvement and productivity as adults.

Additionally, fears about child abductions prompted parents to keep their kids safe by drastically limiting their freedom, creating a generation of adults who found it difficult to exhibit self-reliance.

The result is burnt out millennials struggling with ‘adulting’.

It seems that micromanaged childhoods have laid the foundations for millennial burnout – and it’s something that lots of young people are familiar with today.

Millennials Pursue College Degrees Despite Unfulfilled Promises Of Professional Success

For many millennials, the idea that college was a sure path to success was debunked when they became adults.

They had been told by teachers, parents and guidance counselors that higher education would be their ticket to financial security but this didn’t always turn out to be the case.

With a much higher number of students seeking education at universities than ever before, employers began to focus more on where someone went instead of just having a degree.

This meant those without degrees from elite colleges were not seeing the same opportunities as before and so needed something else to set themselves apart in order to find jobs – like further study or graduate degrees.

While this worked for some, it led to an accumulation of even more debt in the case of those who still struggled to land work afterwards.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though – there are plenty of well-paying jobs available which do not require degrees at all.

In addition, one realisation has come out of this unfortunate situation – hard work alone does not necessarily equate success, and millennials are realising they may need to take other measures too become successful.

Don’T Fall For The Millennial Trap That Work Should Be A “Passion”


Millennials are increasingly under the impression that their work should be a “passion”, which is making them vulnerable to exploitation by employers.

The idea that work should be about fulfilling our dreams and ambitions has been sold to us in recent years, and many of us have bought into it – despite generations before us merely using work as a means to an end.

What this mentality fails to take into account is just how difficult it can be to make money from a passion job; there’s stiff competition for these scarce jobs, meaning cutting benefits is becoming far easier for employers.

People have been told to look inward and drum up more enthusiasm – a condescending attitude evident in job listings like ‘coding ninjas’ and ‘customer service rockstars’.

It’s often indicative of a lower quality of working conditions.

Fortunately, millennials are starting to come around.

Instead of pursuing their passions at all costs, they’re showing wisdom by opting for secure and well-paid work that pays the bills – just like their ancestors did before them.

The Precarious Gig Economy Puts Job Security Beyond Millennials’ Reach

The job market for millennials can be a challenging one.

Now more than ever, employers are relying on freelancers and temporary workers to fill positions – a phenomenon that was foreshadowed by the “Kelly Girls” of the 1970s.

These Kelly Girls had the advantage of being employed without having the benefits and job security associated with traditional employees, opting instead only for an hourly wage rate.

This is reflective of today’s “gig economy”, where many workers’ job security has been diminished in place of precarious and irregular work that doesn’t come with any extra provisions beyond basic pay.

For millennials trying to make their way in the job market, this lack of job security and resources can limit their progress – alongside increased competition due to the sheer number of people looking for work.

In contrast, in the mid-twentieth century companies typically employed the majority of their workforce directly, providing greater assurance in terms of benefits, sick pay and even career progression opportunities.

It is this level of financial security which is sadly out of reach for many millennials caught up in an age where such stability has become a luxury just beyond reach.

The “Culture Of Overwork” Is Taking Its Toll On Millennials: Long Hours And Difficult Working Conditions Leave Little Room For Breaks Or Relaxation

Culture Of Overwork

Millennials are feeling the effects of an overworked culture in the modern workplace.

With many firms offering “playful perks” like ping pong tables, abundant snacks and free lunches, it’s difficult to escape the line blurring work with play.

The idea of living in the office has become normalized due to longer working hours than before and banks were one of the first places this culture truly flourished.

Investment bankers weren’t typically restricted by their job, they were rewarded with takeout at company expense or a cab ride home if they exceeded a 7:00 pm block in their day which could quite easily total fourteen hours.

This worked in favor financially as profits and bonuses directly followed.

However, not everyone is able to find success similarly when it comes to entering lengthy days at work often without being compensated for it and millennials are paying the price for this reality.

Millennials’ Overuse Of Technology Is Gradually Wearing Them Out

Millennials are facing the daily struggle of long, grueling hours of work.

After a full day, all they get is one single hour to enjoy some leisure time.

However, instead of opting for activities that can relax and restore their mental wellbeing, such as reading a book or playing an instrument, millennials are turning to technology – using their phones constantly and scrolling through Instagram pictures of apparently perfect lives.

Listening to an onslaught of bad news on a daily basis without being able to do anything about it also takes its toll mentally.

The overuse of technology by millennials is leaving them tired and worn out instead of providing the relaxation they need.

With precarious jobs and college debt in addition to the pressures placed upon them by social media, young people today do not have the luxury of taking care of their mental health through restful activities.

It’s time for millennials to take a step back from technology and invest those precious free hours into something more beneficial for their physical and mental wellbeing in order to stay healthy in our tech-driven age.

Wrap Up

The bottom line of Can’t Even is this: millennials are not entitled and incompetent, despite what some might say.

They are simply unlucky; due to a combination of misguided parenting, poor advice, obtuse policies, unstable economic conditions, and technology-related exhaustion.

All these factors contribute to the high levels of burnout amongst young people in today’s society.

Understanding this will shed light on why so many millennials feel like they can’t get ahead no matter how much hard work they put in.

With this knowledge, we can work towards building a more supportive and nurturing environment for our generation and all those that come after it.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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