“We come into this world head first and go out feet first; in between, it is all a matter of balance.” – Paul Boese

People ask me all the time how I run a $25,000,000 company, raise three small children, travel all around the world, AND manage a household. Essentially, they want to know how I create and maintain balance in my life.

In my experience, the answer is three-fold. It’s extremely simple, and something you have total control over. You just need to (1) have the right attitude, (2) make smart choices, and (3) develop positive relationships.

Step #1 to a Balanced Life: Having the Right Attitude

Charles Swindoll is famous for his writings about attitude. One of the things he talks about is the fact that attitude can make or break a company, a church, a home. And that we have a choice, every day, regarding the attitude we will embrace.

MJ, one of the acquaintances I’ve made in our info-publishing world, runs a nice little consulting company and has two beautiful, healthy little boys and a wonderful husband.

You would think she considers herself to be extremely fortunate. Yet every time I see MJ at an industry function and ask about her family, she starts in about how hard it is to run a company and raise two children. Not only that, she complains about how much more successful she would be if she did not have to take the kids to school and to soccer practice and to play dates.

I have never looked at my children as a hardship. It is a privilege for me (and my husband) to raise them and build our lives together. I am so much better at everything I do because of them. I am a better leader, a better manager, a better multi-tasker, and a better negotiator.

But this positive attitude is not something that magically happened to me.

Early in my career, I was asked to interview for a management position at Forbes – and the competition was fierce. All the candidates had a good education and work experience. Finally, they narrowed their choices down to two of us: me and Natalie.

Natalie had graduated from Harvard, had an MBA from Columbia, and had a reputation for being tough as nails. And seven years later, she still bragged about her perfect SAT scores.

It was finally the day of reckoning – the day of our last interview. But this was not just any old interview. We were both meeting with Steve Forbes himself.

The HR director made it very clear that Mr. Forbes was a busy man. That he would ask the questions and we would answer them. That he would spend no more than 10 minutes with each of us, and that a final decision would be made shortly after he met with us both.

Now Forbes being the intensely competitive place that it is, Natalie and I both wound up sitting outside of Steve Forbes’ office at the same time. As I looked over at her, sitting there confidently in her St. John suit, I remember thinking, “I know as much as she does. I can do this.”

They called her in first. I heard Mr. Forbes’ muffled voice through the door. I heard her muffled reply. This went on for a while, and then I heard laughter. I thought, “How could that be? She was just supposed to answer some questions.”

Thirty-five minutes later, Natalie swaggered out, shooting me a grin that said “Don’t even bother.”

Then it was my turn. I went in. I answered Mr. Forbes’ questions. After five minutes, he thanked me and I left.

There was no laughter. No pleasant conversation.

As I opened the door to my Columbus Avenue apartment that I could not really afford, my phone was ringing. You guessed it. It was Forbes. They were calling to offer me the job!

After I’d been there a few months, I mustered up the courage to ask my boss how they made the decision to choose me over Natalie. Her answer rings true in my head more than 20 years later: “Mr. Forbes liked your attitude.”

That single experience helped me understand what is really important and what is not. It helped me learn not to sweat the small stuff and not to get upset about things I have no control over. And that brings me to my next point…

Step #2 to a Balanced Life: Making the Right Choices

We all have to make hundreds of choices every day. It starts first thing in the morning. Do you eat your healthy high-fiber cereal with blueberries and skim milk? Or do you eat a chocolate chip muffin with a Starbucks specialty loaded with whipped cream?

As the day goes along, our decisions generally get more complicated and difficult to make.

Last summer, a friend in the industry sent out invitations for a huge networking party he was having at his home in Texas. I was honored to have been invited. Everyone who is anyone in our industry was going to be there. My friend Rich Schefren commented that this was the event of the year, the one that everyone who was lucky enough to be invited should attend.

I immediately RSVP’d, memorized the entire guest list, and thought about all the deals I could make that would benefit ETR. (You may remember the article I wrote recently about the importance of meeting everyone you do business with in person… and how cultivating those relationships can facilitate your deal making.)

That evening, while going over my travel dates with my husband, he pointed out that this networking event was being held on the first day of the new school year.

My husband encouraged me to go on the trip. He assured me that he could handle the kids that day. And, of course, I knew he could. But that was not the point. I told him that my daughter was only going to have one first day of fourth grade. And my son was only going to have one first day of first grade. And I wanted to be there for those once-in-a-lifetime occasions.

He told me to think about it for a few days to make sure I was making the right decision. So I did. I thought about what would happen if I missed the kids’ first day of school. I also thought about the business consequences of missing the event.

To help make this decision, I applied my two-two-two rule. I asked myself, “What will be the impact on both sides two weeks from now, two months from now, and two years from now?”

If I missed their first day of school, would my kids still be upset in two weeks? Would they still be upset in two months? And would the disappointment continue to echo in all of our hearts and minds in two years? I knew the answer was yes.

But I couldn’t just blow off the networking event. So I went through the same process. I figured that most of the people at the event would remember I had been there after two weeks. But I also figured that the majority of them would not remember I had been there after two months… and that none of them would remember I had been there after two years.

Guess what I decided to do? I skipped the networking event and took the kids to school. And four months later, my son still laughs about how I almost hit his new teacher’s car in the parking lot that day.

Of course, I did not just blow off the networking event. ETR’s Internet Marketing Director, Patrick Coffey, went and represented ETR proudly. He brought back tons of useful information, and I have since spoken with or met with everyone I would have seen that day.

This dovetails nicely with my final point on creating and maintaining a balanced life…

Step #3 to a Balanced Life: Developing the Right Relationships.

I was fortunate to have someone like Patrick to send to the networking event I missed. Someone who would represent me and ETR, our core values and our policies. I knew Patrick would see it as an opportunity for him – and that is exactly what happened. Many of the people he met there told me what a great job he did.

Now had I not cultivated my relationship with Patrick over the last 19 months, this would have been a lost opportunity for both of us, instead of a win-win situation. Patrick knew exactly what I expected of him, and he over-delivered.

It’s funny. Many high-level executives think that if they cannot be at an important business function, they would rather miss out completely than send a substitute. In fact, one sign of a good leader is that his or her business runs smoothly even when they are not present.

I pride myself on hiring and mentoring people who have as much potential as I do (if not more).

It is the same with my personal relationships.

I have a mother’s helper that my kids love… and she loves my kids. And though my friends and family know how happy this makes me, every once in a while someone asks me: “Doesn’t it bother you that your kids love Nora so much?” My answer: “Hell no!”

I want people in my life who are good for me. Patrick and Nora are two examples. These are positive relationships.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not Super Woman. And I have days at home and at the office that are more challenging than others. Sometimes, the only reason I can accomplish as much as I do is because I have a spouse who is my biggest fan, a spouse who never puts his career before mine.

We decided a long time ago that we could accomplish anything as long as we were in it together, as long as our goals were in alignment, and as long as our philosophies regarding success were the same.

As Michael Masterson has said, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. So when people tell me there is no way they can maintain balance between their business life and their personal life because they have soooo much work to do, I simply don’t buy it.

Everyone can have a balanced life. You just need to want it… and act to achieve it.

[Ed. Note: Discover more strategies for accomplishing all your goals with ETR’s Total Success Achievement Program. You’ll learn specific goal-setting techniques that can help you get out of debt… lose 10 pounds… start a profitable business… and blast through any obstacle along the way.]

Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO’s Edge and WorkingMomsOnly.com.