At least once a week I experience the traditional young creative breakdown. I ask myself questions like “why am I doing all this?” and “should I just move to the seaside and live a boring corporate life with a dog?”. I know I’m not alone.
Furthermore, many people my age (early to mid twenties) experienced a career stunt while either just finishing or just leaving university because of a two year pandemic. To paint the picture clearer, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), people younger than 25 made up 58.5% of the decrease in payrolled employees from February 2020 to January 2021. Separate data from the ONS shows that redundancies have increased faster during the pandemic than during the 2008/2009 economic crisis, with research from the Resolution Foundation showing that young people and those from ethnic minorities were more likely to be made redundant after furlough.
The ONS also reports an increase in the overall unemployment rate between October and December 2020, with the average for graduates the highest at 6.3%. It reached a high of 12% between July and September.
While those lucky enough to have jobs in roles they enjoy are not immune to burnout or questioning their work, those on the outside looking in at their dream career or just starting on the path to said career can feel their ambition hitting a brick wall. The circumstances of working and surviving in the pandemic have slowed or entirely derailed people from that path, making the barriers to entering many industries all the more apparent.
The psychological impact of the pandemic weighs heavy too, as the amorphous force of ambition – the determination to reach the targets we set ourselves – has been tapped by the anxieties and stresses we are surrounded by. The boom of overnight success by means of social media and FOMO culture also add to the picture.
As young creatives we end up suffering from goal fatigue. This is where the ongoing pressures of living through this period in history rub up against one another, making it feel impossible or even futile to sit down and put in the work. The pandemic’s knock-on effect on mental health will only add to this: younger people and women who are more likely to have lost work or had their career derailed are also the most likely to experience depression, according to the ONS. The will to keep going in these conditions is hard to sustain.
More generally, ambition burnout points to an existential issue where our work and our careers are tied inextricably to our self-worth. As young people especially we are bombarded with pressure to achieve by a certain age. Kylie Jenner is a so-called ‘self-made’ billionaire at 21, childhood friends are marrying footballers by 25 and don’t get us started on Forbes 30 under 30. Understanding that this burnout is influenced by a wealth of factors – and that the fatigue at the heart of it is a legitimate phenomenon – can help alleviate the sense of failure and futility. This gives room for individuals to make choices that focus on their mental health in that moment and find ways to stay happy.
In regards to how to reduce ambition fatigue, many of us won’t like the answer. It’s to take a break. Breaks ironically allow for focus. Take a day where you walk in nature and draw up a moodboard in the park, a step by step focus ladder if you will. Breaks and breaths provide the opportunity to explore what is really important to us in life beyond specific goals, and to reframe our ambition to focus on something other than job titles or particular roles. So take a deep breath.