Paradox: Ambition v. Availability

the paradox

But the one Q&A that really caught my attention came about when the women were asked what traits they were looking for in men.  It was an obvious question, and so followed the obvious answers:  chemistry, intelligence, kindness, sense of humor, certain physical qualities, attentiveness, and so on.  But the one attribute they emphasized above all else was ambition.  Drive.  Motivation.  They wanted a man with a plan.

No big surprise there, but as a then-30-year-old, single, and severely ambitious guy, I jumped at the opportunity to ask the following:

“You say you want a man who’s ambitious.   You also want a man who’s attentive.  But with ambition comes sacrifice, especially with regard to time.  So what’s an ambitious guy to do if he can’t provide the quality time you need?”

[ ]  Well squirm they did, tip-toeing around the question for what seemed like forever.  Ultimately they settled on an answer in the vein of “finding a balance.”  That sounded like a fantastic idea in theory, but it didn’t really answer the question.  What IS that balance?

[ ]  The ambitious man thinks big and is willing to put in the extra time and effort to fulfill his goals.  He sees 24 usable hours in a day.  He may leave the office, but he never really clocks out.

Like many of you, I’ve always been ambitious and driven.  I studied into the wee hours to attend the right schools, networked feverishly to land the right jobs, and out-worked my company peers to advance on an accelerated path.  I wanted to win, and I always had a plan.

[ ]  It’s hard not to gravitate toward someone who’s hitting his or her stride.  The vast majority of people aren’t living out their dreams, and it’s inspiring to be around those who are.

[ ]  As quickly as the attention came, the downside became apparent to those I dated.  Late nights in the office, impromptu business dinners, and last-minute business trips led to many unreturned phone calls, late arrivals, and cancellations.  That “ambition” that had been such a sexy draw in the beginning quickly became a liability.  The work-related excuses got really old, really quickly, and I spent inordinate amounts of time half-heartedly apologizing.  While I did honestly feel remorseful for the cancellations, I thought the work-related reasons for doing so were not only acceptable, but applauded.  After all, didn’t I just overhear her bragging to her friends at a party about all of my international business travel?

Suffice it to say, most of these relationships didn’t last long, typically ending within 1-2 months and before anything got serious.  The “script” consisted of a strong start, followed by a slew of work-related bumps in the road, then the arguments, and finally a despondent me muttering, “I just can’t balance this leg of my career with a relationship right now.”  Rinse, repeat.  It was the dating equivalent of Groundhog Day.

One woman said something that really stuck with me at the end of one of these short-lived relationships.  When I gave my spiel about how I “wasn’t in a place” to maintain my career and a relationship simultaneously, she calmly said, “Don’t kid yourself.  If you were really into me, you’d see me as a support system to your career, not a hindrance.”  I fought the notion, mainly so she wouldn’t take the break-up personally, but she was absolutely, positively correct.  If you want to make it work, you’ll figure it out, come hell or high water.

[ ]  So let’s talk real solutions to this ambition vs. availability dilemma.

[ ]  But in the right relationship, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of its parts.  I live with my girlfriend here in Manhattan.  I’m an entrepreneur; she’s a graduate student.  We’re both on shoestring budgets and live in quite possibly the least affordable city on Earth.  We’re as busy as the day is long.  And yet, we’re thriving.  Why?  Well, there’s that whole “being in love” thing – that certainly helps.  Then there’s the empathy; we’ve both left the rat race and are involved in creative pursuits, so we understand one another’s plight.  Next up:  communication.  Ours is fluid and frequent, as we keep each other looped in with each scheduling twist and turn.  Finally, we actively involve one another in our professional lives.  She helps beta-test my websites; I read her scripts.  Tomorrow she’ll act as my one-person audience as I rehearse a stand-up comedy routine.  Indeed, she’s got the patience of a saint.

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