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For Love And Money: The Ambition Factor

12/05/2011 11:48 am ET | Updated Feb 04, 2012

Judy wanted to go back to school. She was tired of the jobs she could get with just a high school diploma. She believed she could do better. Judy dreamed of having a challenging career, being able to buy a nicer house, traveling, and sending her kids to college. Gerry, her spouse, wasn't sure more schooling was a good idea. It would take years for Judy to graduate from college, going to school at night and on weekends. It would mean she wouldn't be home every evening to help with the kids' homework and make dinner. She wouldn't be able to make all of the Little League games. She would miss family events. If Judy pursued her education, it would require sacrifice. Gerry thought they were doing just fine. They didn't need more.

Sam worked a lot of hours. He often left the house at 5:30 a.m. and did not return until 8:00 p.m. or later. He worked weekends or at least Sunday afternoon, preparing for the next week. Sam had an important job and made a good living. He loved his work. He also loved providing a nice lifestyle for his family. Sam's work meant that Suzie, his spouse, could stay home and manage the house and kids. Suzie wasn't happy. She resented the extra hours that Sam spent at the office or traveling on business. She would have gladly traded the fancy house and vacations for more time as a family. She thought that a simpler life would be better -- they just didn't need all of the extras.

These two couples have a problem. Ultimately, each divorced. They had mismatched ambition factors. What is an ambition factor? Simply put: It's what you and your mate want to achieve in life, how hard you are willing to work, and what you are willing to sacrifice for it. Without alignment in this critical area, you can become resentful of your partner either holding you back or leaving you behind. If you are in business together, the ambition factor will be magnified.

If you have read our earlier posts, you know we are Doug and Polly White. We are business partners and married to each other. We spend 24/7 together and still are very much in love. How do we do it? We attribute part of our success to our matched ambition factor.

We want a lot from our life. We are not ashamed to say it and we are willing to work very hard to get it. What is a lot? We want a successful business, great friends, happy and independent children, to give to causes and organizations we believe in, to travel and enjoy good food and wine. There are other things, but you get our drift. You may want a lot out of your life but how hard are you willing to work for it? How long, and how much, are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals? Maybe more importantly, is your spouse and business partner committed to the same?

Doug gets up between four and five each morning. Polly starts her day between five and six. We work until late in the evening and on weekends. If one of us worked nine-to-five while the other worked a 15-hour day, it probably would not be too long before resentment started to damage the relationship. Both the one working the hours and the one waiting to spend time with his or her partner would be unhappy. We are not saying that everyone should work these hours. It may not be necessary to achieve your goals. Rather, you need to want the same things and be similarly committed in how hard and long you are willing to work. For a marriage and/or a business partnership to work, ambition factors need to match. Unmatched ambition often leads to resentment and a loss of respect.

This does not mean that levels of effort and energy can't vary occasionally. For example, Doug is a writing machine. It is almost creepy how he can just sit down and start typing. Polly needs to have the right muse (or a deadline) for inspiration. She sometimes slips away for an hour of therapeutic cello playing in the middle of the day. Does Doug object? No. He understands that Polly will return to her side of the partner desk refreshed and ready to work.

Our best advice is to talk to each other. Discuss your dreams. Just as importantly, discuss what you will do to turn dreams into reality. Make sure that before deciding to partner in life, business or both that you fully understand what you want to achieve, how hard you are willing to work, and what you are willing to sacrifice to reach your goals. Whether you will be working side-by-side or supporting each other in separate endeavors, the ambition factor matters -- for love and money!

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