If you are among the millions claiming to want work-life balance, here are three essential steps you have to take to really make progress towards that goal:

1. Find a Guide– Rather than just complain to friends or co-workers about the lack of balance in your life, go find someone who has achieved it and pick his/her brain for advice.  My very first boss out of law school, who has been my mentor throughout my career, is a shining example of someone who always made time for his family and kept his priorities straight.  His partners shared the same philosophy, and along the way I came to know a few others that shared this view (mainly those that left big firms and opened their own shops), and it is through these contacts that I found it possible to create a life that works for me.

2.  Learn to Say No– If you want to enjoy life, you need to stop being a people pleaser.  There are way too many takers in this world wanting to claim your time and/or energy, so you have to learn to set your own boundaries and be able to say “no I can’t stay late for this client,” or “no I can’t take on another volunteer/committee project.”  Even your family needs to hear you say “no, I just can’t make every event, but I’ll try my best to be there for the important ones.”

3. Define Your Own Success– You cannot compare yourself to others.  Over the years, I’ve come to accept that by not working at a big firm, I will make half what my colleagues there earn, and yet by not being a full time, stay at home mom, I am not able to do everything that those other moms can do for their kids.  So guess what?  It doesn’t matter at all as long as you can live with the choices you have made for yourself.

The past 10 years, it has not been easy to juggle being a single mom while running my own law firm in DC, but the point is it can be done, and I have no regrets because the funny thing that many don’t realize is that those first 10 years with your children are precious.  As they become pre-teens and teenagers, their peers become more important, and they just spend less time with their parents.  If you want to create a lasting bond, you need to be around during those first ten years.  Just think of it this way:  you can always make more money, but you can’t go back and recapture time.

Even for those that don’t have children, or those that now find themselves as empty-nesters, work-life balance is an important goal to achieve for each person’s own health and sanity.  Many of my friends without kids still want to make time to travel, build on their personal relationships with others, and/or explore other interests, and these are all worthwhile pursuits that can be accomplished if you set your mind to it and follow the 3 simple steps set forth above.

By Regina A. DeMeo, Esq.