Dissent in the Gen Y ranks – family or career?

Ryan Paugh’s recent thoughts on relationships and career are downright blasphemous. I state my opinion with the utmost respect for Paugh. We’re friends. But I disagree with him.

Paugh views long-term relationships and marriage as restrictions for young talent. Young leaders, he argues, are limiting themselves by searching for responsibility they don’t need yet.

Restrictions are what life is about. You should never throw away such opportunities, but embrace what limits you.

I studied design in college and found that given the chance to design anything at all in the whole wide world, the canvas will remain blank. Told to design something with a right angle, or without connecting any lines, or including three circles and your mind will turn on. Constraints make you creative. Creativity breeds success.

I had lunch today with a young twenty-something leader in marketing and public relations who was doing just that. We talked about his future plans and I asked if he would ever consider leaving Madison.

“I’d like to leave, but my wife wants to stay here and her family lives here as well, so I think we will stay,” he replied.

It’s a compromise for him to stay. That was clear. But he will go far because he does not see that as a boundary. Despite limitations, he is successful and is creating change.

Paugh, however, argues that “leaders who are emotionally committed to another person typically can’t hack it.” Ridiculous. The very definition of leadership is being emotionally available to others. Life is about helping other people. A relationship is the sincerest form of such sentiments. Even Oprah has Steadman.

Much of the confusion has to do with the fact that changing the world is not the rainbows and teddy bears we imagine in our heads. It’s dirty grotesque work. It is work that is often sleazy and hard and tiring. Paugh romanticizes that it’s something different entirely.

He talks about relaxing with his friends watching football one weekend and trips to Cape Cod the next – things that just wouldn’t be possible with the ball and chain. The message seems to be that you can’t have a life, and be in a relationship, and change the world all at the same time. “Imagine your potential for greatness if you choose to take a rain-check on the nuptials,” Paugh urges. The reality is that as a leader, you support others, and at the end of the day, you need someone to support you.

For the record, I’m single. I’ve been a serial monogamist and I’ve been a serial dater. I’m a hopeless romantic, but I have no desire to get married and start popping out babies anytime soon.

And yet, as a newly minted Gen-Y leader, there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I had someone to come home to, someone that would understand and support and be there for me. Someone to share the success. It’s hard to be a leader and not have personal support, even with wonderful friends and family.

It is, of course, a personal choice to choose a family or choose a career. Neither is right. On one side, the young and married stand, happiness glazed on their faces, what ifs tattooed in their eyes. On the other side the young and powerful march forward, heads turned backward, looking at what they’ve left behind.

The happy medium between the two consists of the very narcissism Paugh uses to substantiate his argument. You see, part of being independent, part of truly loving yourself, is that you can love another, and perhaps more importantly, that you can allow yourself to be loved in return. It’s the latter that’s hard. But when you can do that, that’s when you can really start to change the world. Because you understand something so powerful, that it can’t be put into words.

Walk the line.