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Get The Balance Right

Learning to balance your business and personal lives

Sometimes you just want to hand it all over--throw every bit of your complicated life into someone else's lap and let them untangle the mess.

Martha Beck doesn't exactly untangle it for you--no self-respecting Ph.D. and former sociology and international business management professor would let you off that easy--but she does help you find the loose ends and gives you a few hints at where to pull. As a life coach, Beck helps her clients find their career direction and balance work with their families, personal lives and work styles.

"You can't consider your professional life and personal life separately. They're part of the same set of conditions you have to work with. The dichotomy between them, I've always thought, is false," says Beck, who's also an author, penning articles for magazines like Mademoiselle as well as a new book on this subject, Finding Your Own North Star (Crown Publishers), coming out in Spring 2001.

We've asked Beck to help you get your act together with some tips on how to balance the oft-psycho demands of entrepreneurship with your personal life.

  • Creativity matters: "Be very creative with not only your work life, but also your personal life," advises Beck. She recalls that as she was finishing her Ph.D. at Harvard University, she moved to Utah with her husband and her newborn son, who has Down's Syndrome, to be closer to her family. With one class to go, she used her husband's frequent-flyer miles (he's an international consultant) to go to class every week across the country. "It's that kind of creativity that allows you to achieve really big dreams. You have to think outside the rules, even more than your typical businessperson."
  • Blurring the lines: Beck reiterates that your work and personal lives do not have to be separate entities. "The whole idea that you have to separate these two spheres--you're not allowed to talk about your [family] at work and you're not allowed to bring work into the home-that's a mental prison that people have to break out of if they're really going to start a successful company and a family at the same time." Don't be afraid to take your work home, part time or full time; not only can you take an easy dinner break, but you can also share this part of your life with your family.
  • Let your unconscious be your guide: This is about disregarding the "shoulds" in favor of the "wants." "I really believe that at an unconscious level, we understand how to make things work in a far more sophisticated way than in our conscious minds," says Beck. "We're always trying to do what logically seems best, but if you tap into that intuitive side where your passion is, it will tell you how to prioritize." If your instincts say you like the owner of a three-person firm much more than your other prospect, the corporate bigwig, and you would rather meet with your fellow entrepreneur, Beck says nine times out of 10 that will turn out to be the best move.

But how do you learn to listen to your inner Jiminy Cricket? Beck tells her clients to listen to their bodies as they contemplate possible courses of action for an important decision. If they tense up or feel sick, they're intuitively feeling this decision is deeply wrong. Feeling relaxed? Your subconscious is happy, and all signs point to yes.

  • Work like a dog: Think of good ol' working Rover. His master may schedule him for crack-of-dawn sheep herding, duck hunting or drug sniffing, but if you think about it, usually Rover is the first one up and ready to go, absolutely dying to get to work. When was the last time you woke up so chipper to get on the job? Quite often, if you're in a business you're passionate about, says Beck.

"The other part of this is to play like a dog. [There are studies showing] that playfulness and the act of play increases productivity in fields that require a high degree of energy and creative input. You have to be ready to work and willing to play and you have to balance those two things. So if you want a boring life, a sort of mellow life, don't become an entrepreneur. If you want to become an entrepreneur, be prepared to live with a lot of passion and energy, both in work and play."

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