image via mikutas

Handshakes, Facebook friend requests, LinkedIn invitations, book clubs, office happy hours, sweat working (?!), Instagram likes, conferences, workshops, webinars…

Last month, I found myself dreading attending yet another holiday party with a friend. I’d spent the season saying “yes” to everything from mixers to outings with coworkers to multiple happy hours in a day. I’d carried on conversations with industry leaders about everything from the best Smiths songs to the American obsession with foie gras. I’d explained what Career Contessa was in countless ways to countless people and exchanged business cards and numbers.

But that morning, I was still in bed and contemplating shooting off a lying text. Something about a seasonal cold. “So sorry, can’t make it tonight. Bummed!”

I’m someone who loves meeting new people — usually. But right then, I could hardly bear the thought of dragging myself into the office that morning, let alone to a party afterward. The last thing I wanted was to talk to anyone.

image via collage vintage

We’re living in an age where “networking” has gone too far.

Most articles you read about millennials cite the fact that we’re “always on.” The Digital Age means that we’re hyper-connected and we are socializing constantly. In a 2014 Nielsen survey, 54% of millennials (that’s people born between 1977 and 1995, technically) said that all the technology helps us feel “closer to our family and friends.”

Consider your average day. If you’re like most of us, you probably start it by checking your Instagram feed in bed, texting your friends about last night while brushing your teeth, and going through work emails as you brew coffee.

But that constant existence of a social network comes at a cost: you feel as though you’re always performing under a sort of digital microscope and eventually, that feeling gets to be too much. And then, something even worse happens: not only do we tire of our social calendar, we burn out entirely.

image by nicki sebastian via a cup of jo

How networking burnout leads to just… burnout

People love citing an article from Forbes about why millennial women are burning out faster than men and often before 30. The idea is simple: we don’t know when to stop. We’re used to working long hours, constantly checking work email, and taking on side projects at night. And the perceived competition means that we feel the urge to work harder, no matter how hard we’re already working.

One woman told Forbes, “You can’t see the end of the tunnel because there are so many twists and turns. It’s hard to look just three to four years in the future. They don’t know what they are striving for, which makes it really hard to move forward.”

And networking is at the root of all this career-driven madness. We’re taught that the best way to grow your career is to network. It’s not about you, it’s about who you know. But how do we know which social connections are the ones that will matter?

And so we say yes to every meeting, every informational interview, and every opportunity to collaborate. Too often, we agree to do extra work for free or help others on a project because it will help us make new connections. We attend happy hours because one of those acquaintances might know someone who knows someone. We worry that we don’t comment enough on other people’s Instagrams and use our number of likes to see how well we’re faring socially.

And somewhere down the line, we find ourselves in bed wishing we could phone in sick.

image by winnie au via refinery 29

So we feel an entire culture’s worth of pressure — now what?

What can be done?

If we’re always socializing, how can we find the time to process what we’ve learned and why it matters? The key to avoiding networking burnout is surprisingly simple: you have to stop. But like most things, a simple solution can prove almost impossible. Here’s what we suggest.

1. Commit to being more selective.

It’s time to start saying “no.” Not every event will benefit your career, but they all require energy and time. Start by thinking of social activities in three categories:

  • events that benefit your work
  • events that inspire you
  • events that expand knowledge

Events that benefit your work are obvious — things like grabbing lunch with your mentor or attending an official networking event. Events that inspire are typically friends-related and include going to parties where you know there will be thought-provoking conversation or on a date with your significant other to a movie you’re desperate to see. Events that expand knowledge? Classes, lectures, that sort of thing.

Each time you consider committing to an event, plan, or date, ask yourself which category it would fit in. Then see if you can explain how it benefits you. If you can’t, or if the reason seems less valid than the amount of time and energy you’d have to put into it, skip it. Selectivity is your best friend.

Driving through two hours of traffic to go to an event where you might meet someone who might be interesting probably isn’t worth it. But, if you’re actively job searching and there’s an event specific to your industry — that drive actually might be. Get it?

image via banana republic

2. When you’re there, really be there.

One of my favorite podcasts, Help Me Be Me, recently covered the topic “How to Be There.” In it, the host talks about how often we spend time with friends while constantly checking our phones or worrying about other things. When you do commit to networking in any form, commit to doing it fully.

The best way to ensure you get the most out of it is to make sure you’re actively conversing and listening. Put away your phone, look up from your food, and make eye contact with everyone you meet. Ask questions. Listen thoughtfully. It does make a difference.

Really, stop thinking about how you should be “networking.” By shifting your perspective from “I need to make a good impression on this person because they can help me” to “I want to learn more about this person because they’re interesting,” you’ll cultivate better relationships anyway.

3. Journal

It can be hard to see progress in this millennial world of ours. Journaling is the single best way to make sure you don’t forget interactions and how they made you feel. After you do anything social, make sure to write down what you liked or didn’t like about it. How did those people make you feel?

image via spin dizzy fall

4. Schedule non-networking time

It can be easy to overcommit. Suddenly, you wake up one morning and realize you haven’t had a night at home in two weeks. Assign that “me time” the same value you give to other social engagements. Whether that means you decide that every Wednesday night you stay home and read or you promise to dedicate one weekend morning to a solitary hike, you need to start making time for yourself. Those breaks between social periods make all the difference.

What have your experiences been with burnout? Do you think you’re more affected as a millennial?

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Comments (12)
  1. 1
    Monique | WritingMonique February 8, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I loved reading this! 🙂 So relatable, and great tips! Thank you! <3

  2. 2
    Jennifer Rose Smith February 8, 2017 at 10:03 am

    This is so fascinating, Lauren. Great topic. I would consider myself right on the edge of two generations — my younger friends are most definitely millennials, my older friends most decidedly Gen X. Your article really mirrors my observations. Compulsive phone-checking and documenting really seems to deteriorate quality time and experiences. If you try and do everything at once, you’re (ironically) missing out on real life. I think the best strategy is to compartmentalize. Deal with instagram at a set time each day. Check your email the same way. The key to beating burnout is balance, which takes self-discipline.

  3. 3
    Faz February 8, 2017 at 11:44 am

    This was such a wonderful post! I think I honestly identify with everything you outlined & I think I will definitely try some of your tips! It’s so important to be a part of the human experience. Yes, social media/ networking really does help make connections with incredible people, but sometimes you just need to take a step back. After all, people survived before all this, so why can’t we do it now? Or at least, try to…
    Bisous, Faz

  4. 4
    Samantha Lee February 8, 2017 at 2:11 pm

    This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I’ve been feeling so overwhelmed lately and feeling like I’m being pulled into too many different directions. It’s so important to take a step back and prioritize your life – and sometimes, yes, that means setting aside a night at home for pizza and a good Netflix binge. I’m an introvert by nature but love hanging out with friends – I have to remind myself to slow my roll every once in a while. Really committing to the present moment helps me tremendously when I’m feeling stressed.

  5. 5
    npharney February 8, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    I agree with so much of this, especially as an introvert the constant need to be on and networking is just too much and I find myself cancelling plans and hiding inside just because I need to recharge

    – Natalie

    • taniamareec February 20, 2017 at 6:02 am

      Being an introvert, I really feel the tug and pull of constantly having to socialise. Some weekends I avoid going out at all just to recharge! Thanks for the article Lauren.

  6. 6
    Diana Maria February 8, 2017 at 5:27 pm

    Committing to be more selective- I love that one! This post rang true to me in every way and I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s so true, there’s so much to do, so many events, and we just want to be busy, busy, busy! I definitely try to take the time off to recharge. Your photography in this post is beautiful, thank you for sharing!

  7. 7
    Ted February 9, 2017 at 2:54 am

    Being a intro social media and events are very draining. I must be more selective. Thank you !

  8. 8
    petiteelliee February 9, 2017 at 4:16 am

    Loved this post! I feel like its so important to let yourself off to recharge

    Ellie xx

  9. 9
    Madilyn McCarthy February 21, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Amazing article!!! Thank you SO much!!! This is seriously important for millennials. WE DO ENOUGH.

  10. 10
    Jacque Brown February 22, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    YES YES YES! I have read this 3 times already just to soak it all in. I completely agree. Recently, I have felt so exhausted and couldn’t figure out why. This explains exactly how I feel. Thank you for writing this! Feeling encouraged to schedule some me time, and only take on events that are inspirational or help me gain knowledge 🙂

  11. 11
    dianacechova September 15, 2017 at 8:18 am

    This so me. I had a burnout couple of years ago and then again and again and again… then I finally got into looking up for what has caused it and why do I see it more and more often every now and then between my friends – millenials. You are super right. Thanks for sharing.