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Big Ideas

99U Conference Speaker Spotlight: BuzzFeed Writer and Burnout Expert Anne Helen Petersen

The senior culture writer at BuzzFeed News on finding her creative streak through journalism and the eternal search for work/life balance.


What does it mean to be a creative? This year’s Adobe 99U Conference is an examination of “The Creative Self.” When we set about curating speakers, we looked to people taking an individualistic approach to their work and careers. Ahead of the event, we’re asking them how they nurture their own creative selves.

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Anne Helen Petersen’s viral article on millennial burnout struck a nerve with all those feeling overwhelmed by the pressures of today’s “always-on” lifestyle and high-stress workplace. She made the leap from academia to journalism after a PhD and almost ten years of teaching experience, and brings her keen analytical instincts to everything from celebrity gossip to cultural phenomena. As the senior culture writer at BuzzFeed News, she delves deep into the contradictions, frustrations, and quirks of the modern world. 

 

Q. When do you feel most purposeful?

A. To feel purposeful is to have a clear understanding of purpose, and I don’t know if I have that. Sometimes it feels like my purpose is just trying to articulate something broadly for a lot of people, sometimes it feels like it’s adding nuance to an un-nuanced discussion. It was a lot easier when I was an academic, and the purpose was “imparting knowledge.” Now, as a journalist, it’s that, but also “maintaining the integrity of the fourth estate” and so much more.

 

Q. How would you describe your creative voice?

A. A mix of historical rooting (to understand this, we have to understand what came before) + curious (but why is this the way that it is?) + flip (it doesn’t have to be this way).

 

Q. What are your most important work/life boundaries?

A. I have none, which is part of what my current work and research is about! Cultivating boundaries in the current work landscape is pretty impossible—but why?

 

Q. What is your ideal creative environment? What are the circumstances that let you thrive and do your best work?

A. A clean table with a good view surrounded by all the books I need.

 

Q. Describe a creative breakthrough that’s had a lasting impact on how you think about your life and work.

A. It’s so fascinating to think of my work through the lens of creativity, which is not something usually associated with journalism. But I do think that writing about my own burnout—and the burnout of the larger millennial generation—was a creative breakthrough for me, which allowed me to think through so many phenomena on the macro and micro level in a new way.

 

Q. For this year’s 99U Conference, we have invented a menagerie of “creative specimens”, each with a unique personality. Which one do you identify with the most?

A. Multis Taskum!

[Ed. Note: The rare Multis Taskum is known for its ability to gracefully and simultaneously handle a wide range of tasks, but risks burnout early in its career span.]

Hear from Anne Helen Petersen and more creative specimens at the 12th Annual Adobe 99U Conference, June 3-5, 2020 in New York City.


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