Collegiate #PRofessionals: Millennial Burnout and Perfectionism

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Published on January 31, 2019, at 11:20 a.m.
by Julia Landon.

If there is one thing almost all college students struggle with today, it is burnout. Burnout is defined by Mayo Clinic as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” Unfortunately, so many public relations students are victims of what is further identified as “millennial burnout.”

Millennial burnout differs from typical burnout. Rather than the usual burnout that begins to rear its head later in one’s professional career, millennials can experience burnout within a few years of starting their careers or even before they enter the workforce.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

In a Buzzfeed News article, Anne Helen Petersen wrote, “Why am I burned out? Because I’ve internalized the idea that I should be working all the time.”

From when students take their first public relations class to their last, they are told that attention to detail is one of PR’s most important aspects. Without it, crises can occur. So in addition to the social pressure that students have to always be working for the next part of life, these students also struggle with the idea that everything they do has to be perfect.

Perfectionism is heavily tied to millennial burnout. A study published in 2017 noted, “Socially prescribed perfectionism is the most debilitating of the three dimensions of perfectionism. This is because the perceived expectations of others are experienced as excessive, uncontrollable, and unfair, making failure experiences and negative emotional states common.”

Beginning freshman year, students often face the question “what are you doing this summer?” PR students begin summer internship applications as early as December, and these applications are open until as late as April. During this time period, they are not only focused on excelling in their classes but are also focused on writing cover letters and perfecting their résumés. In addition, they are stressed over whether or not they will get an interview and wondering where they will be during the summer.

Photo by Wenni Zhou on Unsplash

All of these different aspects feed directly into worsening millennial burnout and encouraging perfectionism. While internships and attention to detail are pertinent in learning exactly how the public relations field operates in the real world, students need to be able to find the balance between learning and bettering themselves and allowing themselves to take a break to find what makes them happy outside of work.

Work/life balance doesn’t start once a student gets a job. It starts almost as soon as students begin looking forward to their careers. The public relations field may prefer students who know their way around, but there is no need to be a burnt-out #PRofessional.

Editor’s Note: For purposes of this article, the term “millennial” is used to describe students who are currently in college.

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