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Voices: Why can’t Gen Z cope with the real world? I’ll tell you why...

Voices: Why can’t Gen Z cope with the real world? I’ll tell you why...

Dolly Parton may have said it first (amen, sister) but now a college graduate has complained tearfully to TikTok about how much she is struggling with the transition from studying to the world of work – specifically, the chaos of holding down a 9 to 5.

Brielle posted a video with text across the screen that read: “QOTD (question of the day) in a 9-5 how do u have time for ur life.” She goes on to complain that since taking on her first full-time job after graduating college, she’s found she has little time for herself to cook or go to the gym, because of the daily commute (and grind), which sees her taking the train at 7.30am and getting home around 6.15pm – at the earliest.

“I don’t have time to do anything,” she sobs. “I want to shower, eat my dinner and go to sleep. I don’t have time or energy to cook my dinner either. I don’t have energy to work out, like, that’s out the window.”

Now I don’t want to go all millennial “in my day” or “you think you have it hard”, but Gen Z think they have it hard... because they do. And I won’t lie: it doesn’t get any better. Once you’re on the gravy train, you’re on it for good. I’m sorry. But it’s time for some tough love.

This is what I’d say to Brielle and others like her: for your own sanity, you have to make it work for you. You have little choice but to embrace the rat race; use your commute to read or think or catch up on all those WhatsApp messages you missed while you were staring blank-eyed and dribbling a bit at the latest season of Selling Sunset on Netflix in bed after work, until the inevitable shaming message from your own TV appeared in an attempt to stage an intervention: “Still watching?” (To which you press “OK”, you always press “OK”.)

There’s no way of getting around this stuff, so you just have to dive into it. Work out how to include a work-out (if that’s your thing, it certainly isn’t mine) into your day: stroll to the office, say; or get off the train a few stops earlier and jog the rest. Go for a run on your lunch break – maybe start a running club – rather than shovelling sushi into your mouth at your desk. Get out for a walk around the block (and breathe).

Use your weekends: trust me. But, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you must use them to exhaust yourself further if you don’t feel like it. If all you want to do is carry on watching Chrishell fight with Nicole, then amen to that (just try and pop a couple of loads of laundry in when you get up for snacks). Look after yourself – in whichever way feels best for you – because you’re a grown-up now, baby, and nobody is going to do that for you.

How do I know what it’s like for you? Sweet girl I know, and I can tell you what it’s like for me – if it’ll help. Half the work of feeling better is about feeling heard, and validated, and understood... so let me tell you, I understand.

I wake at 6.30am, fight off five alarms – and the tiny legs booting me in the face like a small and unwieldy wet Beckham. My bed is shared (forcibly) by a seven-year-old boy, who clambers in whenever he wakes: could be 10pm, could be two in the morning, or he could sleep all the way through until that abominable first (snoozed) ringtone. He’s usually wet his mattress, which is why he’s sprawled across mine – so I attend to that first. Then: drag my legs over the edge of my “pregnancy pillow” (I’m not pregnant, just feeling ancient and aching), fling my legs over the side of the bed, pause for a moment to collect the strands of dreams and inevitable dread.

I have to move – and I have to move fast.

Why? Because in less than an hour I must leave the house or I’ll be late for news conference. That means in the next 45 minutes or so I must: wash, dry and dress two children; wash, dry and dress myself; make packed lunches; collect miscellaneous artefacts like the precious remains of an archaeological dig: it’s Monday, so it’s P.E! Or Tuesday, so it’s forest school – only we’ve lost all the wellies, and a fox ran off with just one of the spares, so we’re using last year’s too-small school shoes as a final resort. The doorbell rings and I welcome the ex-husband, who drives the kids to breakfast club so I can hurtle onto the bus.

What’s been happening behind the scenes as we play this out (the bagel with crunchy Biscoff spread for one child, the chocolate chip brioche for the other, the making of Marmite sandwiches, the mainlining of coffee on a stomach that will stay empty until 3pm): frantic, fast reading of every national newspaper (and tangential social media gossip), a waft through Google trends.

All the while, reading, scrolling, listening to Nick Robinson on Radio 4. Brain whirring as I listen out for politicians saying unthinkable things, methodically identifying the key stories for that day, chatting (on slack and WhatsApp) to colleagues about what’s hot, what’s new, what’s Britney done this time? Immediately casting my mind out in scattered rays to writers who fit the bill (and checking on Twitter for those I might not have caught in my commissioning net, yet). Wishing people would do what I do: wake and see a trending story and send out a bid to be the first to write.

By the time I leave the house, I’ve spoken to five correspondents, WhatsApped trusted contacts who I know can turn a piece around in hours (or write it myself on the way into work, just like I’m doing now), slathered bright red lipstick on in the hallway mirror, kissed the kids, told them I love them, fed the cat, grabbed my work pass and slung it around my neck, taken a final sip of coffee and left the house, letting the door slam behind me as I run for the bus. I am late – I am always late. It is Monday. It is the start of the working week. It is only 7.30am.

It’s tough. “How do u have time for ur life?” I wish I had the answer, but in the interim, some advice: make it work for you. Leave the washing up. Put Selling Sunset on. Take what works and leave the rest (and trust me: you need a rest).