TL;DR: A 25-year-old woman shares her experience about being in the labour market and how it has affected her mental health, what obstacles she faced in overcoming burnout, and how oppressed she feels every time she shows up for her own good. She shares her doubts about being financially independent as a young feminist while knowing she might need to be dependent on others (particularly on men) to lead a financially-stable life.
Being Gen Z, my career took off in the middle of the pandemic. After working at a multinational company where I developed burnout in six months and quit, I was trying to find a job that would not suck the soul out of me. And it’s been hard, people, if not impossible.
In 2023 we are increasingly more aware of mental health issues, our rights, and the possibility of standing up for ourselves. While (male) corporate heads send out monthly mental health emails and urge us to post on Women’s Day as valued women in the workplace, many of us still find ourselves in a 40+-hour-per-week job to make ends meet, while often ignoring our well-being. Occasionally we even feel forced to fake laugh at misogynist or racist jokes without saying a word or to hide our neurodivergent traits to avoid being fired.
As a Gen Z woman who graduated a bit later than her peers, I had a clear (albeit idealistic) image in my head of where I would like to work and with what kind of people. A first-generation graduate, I was promised to be paid well and have a nice work-life balance in a hip office with a gym, a friendly community, and fruit Mondays. So when I was faced with the harsh reality of it, which not even Fruit Mondays could alleviate, I felt destroyed – which probably led to my burnout.
By deciding to quit, I said no to sacrificing my mental stability to an employer.
When I told my boss that I did not want to carry his heavy personal items to the post office and got fired, I refused to let myself be exploited further. When I said no to unrealistic expectations, unfair job conditions, working under the table, highly underpaid positions, or shady employees, I stood up for myself.
And what did I achieve with my self-empowering decisions? Nothing that could be defined in terms of money, thus nothing that is “rewarded” in capitalism. Nobody cared that I became more respectful towards myself regarding my needs and wants: any gains that were not financially profitable seemed to be almost worthless. So if the stress caused by the lack of a recurring salary wasn’t enough, my self-esteem plummeted as well.
We live in a world built for men. More precisely built for white, heterosexual, and wealthy men. They are over 90% of the CEOs in both Europe and globally, so you’ll most likely have to work for one, no matter what job you choose. Even if you establish a small business or a non-profit organisation, you are going to be vulnerable to them, one way or another.
Over time, I have realised the louder I am in my professional life, the harder I am oppressed.
This pill was hard to swallow and I couldn’t do it. There is a saying in Hungarian: either you get used to it or you flee. I chose the latter. But is it even possible to break out of this cycle? Is it even possible to have a job without burning out soon creeping up on you?
I haven’t found the answer. Yet.
I am lucky I managed to put aside some savings before, and I live in a country that provides fair unemployment benefits. And in the meantime, I actually found my dream job – but on a volunteer basis.
How can the world be so fucked up that I earn significantly more in a bullshit job than as a human and women’s rights activist? Why do I need money to live, I ask myself frequently. While trying to find a way to make ends meet, I often guilt-trip myself. Why did I quit my super unhealthy job that paid me significantly better and gave me some stability? At least it was something I could count on… It didn’t help that the unemployment office made these waves of anxiety worse as well.
On the hopeless days when I got rejected by companies for the third, fourth, or fifth time, I brainstormed tirelessly about how I could make some money. So I, an anticapitalist, was ready to monetise my hobbies or volunteer work as some kind of solution to my unemployment and the inner distress it caused. During this time, I had many spiralling thoughts, much of which I’m sure some of you can relate to:
When I want to help people, educate young girls, or share resonating content that brings us together, I cannot ask for money from people that are already in a vulnerable situation… I cannot ask for money from market giants as a content creator because it discredits me (nor do they want to pay me in the first place). I also cannot move back home and lean on my mom or brother; frankly, I don’t even want to, knowing the Hungarian healthcare system and the low average salaries for my profession. What can I do then? Hope that in the future I will somehow miraculously have a secure living situation? Or that my boyfriend may maintain both of our lives financially?
Can I, a hyper-independent girl, actually turn into a stay-at-home girlfriend, who does charity work to escape boredom like some 1950s suburban housewife? And all because I do not want to be overworked and perform four different positions for the salary of just one? To be subservient to some narcissistic asshole? Or to go “further and beyond” for a company that doesn’t even give a shit about me? Whose main focus is and will always be on profit?
In my thoughts, I have mostly ended up criticising the system instead of being too harsh on myself. And although this eased my guilt trips, it also made me feel powerless.
Finally, I have landed a job and now I am working in the social sector helping women in need.
Unsurprisingly I am noticeably much more collected and calm than I was during the seven and half months of my unemployment. No wonder, I am not seen as a burden to the country I live in, and I am not worthless from a capitalist point of view anymore, at least for a while. As a feminist activist, I am proud to be working for a more equal world together with others who also care, and still get some money in my bank account. But in the meantime, I, alone, cannot solve all social inequalities. And although I managed to find the most suitable way for my (feminist and anticapitalist) values within the system, I cannot stop being furious about how this very system is still failing women way less privileged than myself.
Check out the following recommendations for a deep dive into capitalism and burnout:
- Read Capitalist Realism by Mark Fisher
- Join the Anti-Work Movement (which is not the same as the abolition of work!)
- Support anticapitalist free spaces in Europe
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Written by Dorina Nagy.
Dorina is a Hungarian feminist activist living in Vienna, Austria. She likes spending time diving into topics of her current hyperfixations and experiencing her divine feminine side through spirituality and art. She started a TikTok account with the username @venuszlegycsapoja to educate young Hungarian girls about feminism and works at a non-profit organisation supporting sex workers.
Illustrated by Nóra Csendes.
Nora is an illustrator newbie based in Budapest, Hungary. Graduated as a Product Designer at MOME Budapest, by day she works at Digital Musketeers as a UI illustrator, by night she’s attending an illustration course at MOME. Her main interests are story-telling, female roles and environmentalism (and flowers in all quantities). She’s still experimenting and trying to find her voice, visit her Instagram account (@nora.csendes) if you are interested in her journey!