When Brielle Asero used to think about her life after college graduation, she imagined that she might start her own business or work in a non-conventional schedule, one that gave her plenty of flexibility to both work and enjoy a healthy balance of friends and self-care. Instead, the first year after her college career has seen her in a new state, a new job, and with none of the time to enjoy any of it. But after the 2023 graduate went viral on TikTok and X (formerly Twitter) for sharing her problems with the average 9 to 5 lifestyle, she tells Rolling Stone a video she made to vent is being taken out of context and used by right-wing pundits to bash Gen-Z.
“I don’t even understand how this has turned into a political argument when all I was trying to do was open a conversation and be respectful towards people that work even longer hours than I do,” Asero tells Rolling Stone. “Different news stations picked up my video and painted post-grads as entitled and lazy which is far from the case.”
Last week, Asero posted a TikTok asking her followers how they manage their work-life balance with a 40-hour work week. “I don’t have time for anything and I’m so stressed out,” she said, in a video captioned “im also getting sick leave me alone im emotional ok i feel 12 and im scared of not having time to live.” At the time Asero posted the video, her comment section was filled with people commiserating with her, agreeing that her feelings were valid, and encouraging her that she wasn’t alone in her frustration. The video has over 900,000 views on TikTok alone. But when it was reposted by several meme accounts onto X (formerly Twitter) the conversation shifted into a conservative-backed hate fest, with thousands of accounts calling Asero lazy, entitled, and weak.
This isn’t the first time the so-called discourse has taken aim at young people surprised by the stress of entering the workforce — debates surrounding work schedules, payment, and capitalism happen often on social media, and can make people characters of the day for innocuous posts. But Asero tells Rolling Stone while it’s upsetting that so many people have mocked her video, she’s even more frustrated that people have been using the clip to make wild and untrue assumptions about her life, and other young adults in similar positions.
“I didn’t expect it to cause a media frenzy,” Asero says. “I was just trying to be relatable to my followers that also have to work a job with long hours. But haters have found my personal social media and been flooding [them] with horrible comments.”
While support for Asero has slowly built online, the initial wave of comments about her video assumed that Asero had family wealth, was complaining for no reason, and was simply not used to any kind of hard work. But behind the scenes, Asero tells Rolling Stone, has been the biggest transition of her life — one she’s still trying to adjust to. In October, she started her first job since graduation, in the field of marketing, after a five-month search and a plethora of unanswered applications.
“It took me until October to hear back considering the job market is so competitive right now,” Asero says. “My student debt would make me feel guilty for not using my degree right out of college. I knew the schedule would be tough for me to get used to since most of my college was online due to Covid, but once I was offered this job I took it to get my foot in the door and gain experience.”
The 21-year-old graduated from the University of South Carolina in May 2023, a year earlier than the rest of her class, in an effort to cut down the cost of tuition. She was overjoyed to finally have a job, but taking it meant moving away from her friends and family in South Carolina to New Jersey. She’s staying with a family friend to save money on rent but commutes almost two hours daily into Manhattan, which she feels leaves little time to meet new people or make friendships in a brand new place. Asero says she recognizes how lucky she is to have a job at all, which is something she also mentions in her viral video, but has been overlooked by pundits making fun of her.
“I love it here and I love being in the city but it worries me when I feel like I don’t have enough energy or time to spend socializing, when [this] is the time I need to really put myself out there,” she says. “I’m [lucky] to be employed and in a job in my field when there’s so many post-grads that have to search for years to find something.”
While Asero’s video has been the impetus for dozens of tweets, viral call-out posts, and hundreds of aggressive comments and direct messages, she tells Rolling Stone she hopes that people can channel their frustration into a genuine discussion on the unbalanced nature of the 9 to 5 work week, rather than cursing at her in her DMs.
“[Gen-Z] works just as hard as people before us, with lower salaries and higher costs of living,” Asero says. “When the standard work week [was implemented] people could afford to support a family with one spouse staying home and taking care of the mental load, food, and children. But that is hardly the case anymore. And most people who are mad at me are just taking out the anger they feel over the time they’ve lost working long hours. I just wanted to bring people together who feel this way to possibly incite a change.”