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Millennial Meltdown: Quarter-Life Crises Are the New Mid-Life Crises

Bhavna Chadalavada
Bhavna Chadalavada

For years, the generational gap in Corporate America has been said to be widening.

As the Baby Boomers grow older, there are more and more positions open to be taken in leadership – and someone has to fill them. 

Enter: the "Millennials." Everyone is trying to figure us out – we are indeed the future, and the future is being impacted by us in this very instant. So what do the Baby Boomers need to know about our generation, and what are we still learning about ourselves?

For one, money is tight for Millennials – they are the first generation to be starting their lives poorer than their parents did. Many are saddled with debt by way of student loans.

Related Article: Who Are You Hiring? Meet the Millennials [INFOGRAPHIC]

The Increasing Cost of College

For Americans, heading off to college has traditionally been a rite of passage – however, this has grown more costly over time. Adjusted for inflation, costs have lept to more than $5,000 per year, while during the 1920s to the 1940s, tuition and fees averaged $1,429 per year.

Simultaneously, college attendance has increased steadily over the years. While only 46% of Baby Boomers went to college, about 61% of Millennials have attended. The increase in college attendees along with the increased cost of attendance has pushed student debt to all-time highs. Among Millennials, paying off student debt is listed as the number one financial concern.

Recent grads have turned to various means to help ay off staggering debt, like crowdfunding, while some companies are beginning to offer student loan repayment as a job benefit.

Student loan infographic

The Road to Home Ownership

Adding to the economic crunch is the rising price of owning a home. For many, owning a home has been an integral part of the American Dream. However, since the early 20th century, home prices have exponentially increased.

In 1930, the average price of a house was $3,845. By,1980, the average cost for a Baby Boomer was $72,400. In 2000, the average home price cracked the $200,000 mark, and by 2010 it hit $ 284,000. The statistics show that this has resulted in only 67% of Millennials living independently.

Some point to heavy student loan debt among Millennials as a roadblock to purchasing a home and getting married (while the majority of Millennials still believe marriage is an important institution, the average age to wed has risen to 28 for men and 26 for women – from 25 for men and 22 for women in the Baby Boomer era). 

Home ownership infographic

Related Article: 
Going Millennial: The Perks of Hiring Generation Y

Enter: The Quarter Life Crisis

These economic difficulties have in effect forced our generation to look inward. There are no cash cows waiting for us immediately, and we have been influenced by what we've seen in the Financial Crisis that just passed and the lifestyles/behavior of the 1%.

As a result, Millennials are largely turning to look for meaning and purpose out of their work. There are very few high paying jobs available for us, and our globally connected world has offered us opportunities to think outside of the box about what really moves us. While past generations lived most of their lives in relative economic comfort and put off the search for fulfillment until later (“midlife crisis”), many in our generation can attest to having had a “Quarter-Life Crisis.”

One in which they question what they really want out of life and out of work – before they commit to living their passion and building a life for themselves. Conversely, Boomers were well on their way to economic empowerment and stability when they started to wonder what they really wanted out of life.

Fueled by the economic crisis in 2008 as well as the rise of the internet and global connectivity, there has in effect been a “Great Reset” – an epoch in which new ways of living and working have come to the fore. It is one of those rare occasions when models and institutional systems of the past are transcended, and simultaneously, new geographic clusters of innovation and risk-taking develop. From The Atlantic

More and more people, and more and more places, realize that the key to the future no longer lies in waiting for a big company to take you under its wing, in flipping stocks (like Wall Street does), or flipping houses. The limits of a trading economy are there for all to see, manifest in the wreckage of the recent crisis. 

What’s surprising, though, is that entrepreneurs actually tend to be more risk-averse. More and more startups are being founded, but we can’t point to the reason being simply that people have become more entrepreneurial and willing to take risks. The fact of the matter is that startups and innovation are often the best option for Millennials and young Americans to take today.

More and more people are not dropping out of school or leaving jobs, but are actually taking calculated risks and founding companies on the side. So much so, that famed Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel actually thinks “we need fewer entrepreneurs, not more of them. He sees too many people pursuing their own ideas rather than trying to join an early-stage startup where somebody else has a brilliant idea and [others] can help make it great.”

Take Risks, But Be Smart

Thus, it seems that Millennials are taking calculated risks – because they are their best option – but perhaps are too focused on having the independence and freedom to pursue their passions and interests to dial into the best ideas and help create something enduring.

Relatedly, research has shown that in Silicon Valley when startups hire employees primarily for culture fit instead of their skills or potential, they have the highest odds of survival  – but the lowest growth rate once public.

Many startup employers focus on looking for people who fit their culture, rather than people who can do the best work – and Millennials are looking for a culture fit rather than a place where they can contribute their unique skills and talents to something potentially great.

The focus on cultivating culture is of prime importance, but diversity of backgrounds and experiences are key. Too many companies fall into the trap of looking for a prototype, while too many job seekers find themselves on a search for “the One” – that one company where they will fit in perfectly, their colleagues will be able to complete their sentences for them, and life will be breezy and fun.

Controlling culture to the point where growth decays is a serious risk – while values matter and fits in terms of background/skills and growth potential matter, Startup America risks churning out Sorority and Fraternity-like startup cultures that only let you in if you think and speak their way (isn't that the traditional model we left behind?). Millennials may accept a sense of belonging as a substitute for thriving economically, but there will come a time when they realize that’s not what they were looking for either.


In conclusion, the Millennial generation is still developing and pivoting, just as the world around us is. There are certain trends and truths about us that have emerged through factors of economic, social, and technological advancements or declines, but we are still in evolution.

The best way to keep up and to understand us is not to box us into a generational stereotype – but to have a knowledge of history, facts and data, context, and subtext... and to follow along for the ride. Help us become who we are meant to be by pushing us to be resilient and purposeful in all of our actions – not just in choosing a place to work. Allow us room to grow fully into our skills and capabilities, and don't use old school leadership styles to push us to do so.

Be aware of your latent tendencies and don't be quick to judge. Work with us, and we promise that we will work really well for you:


Image Credit: Fizkes / Getty Images
Bhavna Chadalavada
Bhavna Chadalavada Member
As a former D1 basketball player (one of the first Indian Americans to ever do so), an Ivy League graduate, a lifelong practitioner of yoga and meditation, and an alumnus of working in Finance on Wall Street, in Tech in Silicon Valley, and for global consulting firms, Bhavna has a unique perspective which has contributed to successful engagements as a Consultant, Coach, Writer and Speaker. She received her B.A. from Columbia University, where she studied History, Political Science, and Economics, among various assorted classes (A History of American Pop Culture, A History of Food, Gandhi's India, Major Texts of the Middle East & India, and a Tibetan Buddhist course called Women Visionaries to name a few!). Her favorite was a course called Executive Leadership, in which she wrote a research paper on John Mackey & his leadership with Whole Foods. She is lucky enough to have traveled around the world, and speaks 5 languages. She has practiced yoga and meditation under the tutelage of some of the world's masters since she was a child, and has studied the holy scriptures across cultures in order to gain mastery over their common threads - and ensuingly the ties that bind within the human spirit. The insights she has gained have allowed her to connect and collaborate with people from all walks of life at a highly effective level, through deep understanding and empathy. She is keenly interested in practices that unfold and advance human potentiality while developing consciousness, and brings this interest into her writing, work, and life.