The Millennial Cultural Shock

Millennials feel a constant pressure to succeed. Most grew up in a household or culture where they were told, starting at a young age, how special they were. They were told that if they got a college education, a good job would surely follow.

But the world has changed. An education is no longer the ticket to a bright and successful future. The job market is bleak. And that education that they worked so hard for has now saddled them with student debts and loans. A majority don’t feel special like they were always told that they were, and are starting to realize that they cannot rely on “special” to give them confidence or get them a job. To thrive in this new reality post graduation, millennials need to own their destiny and create their own opportunities.

Millenials are the most educated generation in American history. But despite their level of education, they are expected to be less financially prosperous than their predecessors. Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 are earning less today (after adjustment for inflation) than the same age group did in previous generations. Between 2009 and 2013, millennials’ averaged earnings of $33,883 (in 2013 dollars). That was down 9.3 percent (after adjustment for inflation) in just a decade and is the lowest since 1980.

To cope with their financial challenges and job instability, more millennials are living at home with their families. In 2014, 14.7 percent of young Americans were living with their parents, the highest rate since the government began keeping track in 1960. Among men, the likelihood of living at home is even higher; 17.7 percent, which equates to 1 out of every six males, lives at home. This can be attributed to the slowly recovering economy, low wages and student loans. It is a common sentiment among millennials to not have the confidence in the economy or themselves to move out of their childhood homes and take the next steps in their lives and careers.

Poor job prospects, low salaries, and living at home affects millennials’ morale and seems to contradict everything that they grew up believing about life as a young adult. This is evident through some millennials’ sense of entitlement; they expect a level of respect and recognition that is not always aligned with their actual abilities and efforts. And, once again, they feel defeated.

Adding insult to injury, they have grown up in an open culture where A) what everyone does is shared with their social media followers, B) and most people present an inflated version of themselves, and C) the people who are the most vocal about their careers are usually the ones whose careers (or relationships) are going the best, while those who are struggling are less inclined to broadcast their situation. This exposure to other peoples’ lives can leave the less successful feeling even more frustrated about their lives.

Although this is a widely felt phenomenon among millennials, college seniors and recent graduates (21-24-year-old range group) are the ones who are the most affected by this. They are shaken by the life changes that they can no longer ignore and are uneasy because of all of the unknowns in their futures.

Here is a typical journey for a college student as they transition to adulthood:

College is the first time that young adults are really on their own, and it is a very formative period. It is an opportunity to try new things, meet new people and learn about themselves as well as further their education.

Freshmen year is a bit overwhelming: trying to find your friend group, figuring out classes and having a social life. There’s so much on a freshman’s plate that the last thing to be thinking about is the future; careers and life after college seem so far off anyways! Instead, freshmen are focused on the here and now—enjoying the first year away from home and going to parties—and share their new lives via social media. The newness of college is fun, and the newness of life is exhilarating.

And then the freshman becomes a sophomore, aka The Wise Fool. College isn’t as new anymore, but it’s still just as fun because they feel like they have everything figured out. They’re familiar with campus, have a group of friends, know the party scene and are more comfortable being on their own and away from home. Sophomores finally feel settled in, and their college campus begins to feel like home. There’s not much planning for the future in the sophomore year; they’re still young and just starting to feel like they’ve gotten the hang of college.

But junior year hits, and that’s when they realize that college doesn’t last forever. But hey, they’ve grown up hearing that a good college education and some hard work is enough to get them a job, so they should be fine… right? But the economy is different then when their parents grew up so their advice doesn’t seem as relevant, and the junior is starting to realize that as they get rejections for internships.

And then it’s senior year, graduation day. The new graduates walk away with student debts, grandiose ideas of their futures and the belief that their ambitions and education will land them a great job. But the job field is bleak and new graduates begin to feel frustrated and discouraged. They see some friends on social media posting pictures of “after work happy hour!” and think to themselves, “I’m ambitious, tech savvy and have an entrepreneurial spirit, so why isn’t that me?”

To be proactive in this new reality and to start out in this generationally unique socioeconomic world, they need to take a shot at anything because action is the foundational key to all success. A shot that takes chances and embraces risks, because rewards only come with taking risks and failing.

Millennials live in an era that is different than their predecessors’, which is both amazing and challenging at the same time—their parents’ beliefs and traditions might not be applicable in this changing landscape. And so, it’s time to break the tradition to make a place for themselves in this new generation.

Alberto Brea
About the author: 

Alberto Brea is the Executive Director, Engagement Planning at OgilvyOne Worldwide. He previously held Vice President roles in marketing and advertising with agencies such as RAPP, McCann Worldgroup, Grey and Digitas – and he was a Partner at Olgivy & Mather. Mr. Brea was honored this year with awards from both Ad Age and The Shorty Awards. He has MBAs from Northwestern University and Loyola University Chicago. Alberto has contributed several pieces to ExecutiveVine.com, and you are able to follow him on LinkedIn.