A businesswoman we know once said, “Success looks like I thought it would look, but it sure doesn’t feel like I thought it would feel.”

We can relate. It wasn’t so long ago that we were both certified slaves to our own businesses. The hamster-wheel hours, the sky-high stress levels, the “secretarial spread” across the chair—the whole unsatisfying, self-employed enchilada. And we were bummed. What the heck were we working so hard for, if this was the payoff?

According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, the main reason women start a business is to gain more freedom and independence in their lives. And the biggest complaint of self-employed women? They feel their businesses are taking over their lives, that they have less freedom than ever.

How did we get here? It has a lot to do with what we focus on.

Ask any ambitious woman about her career goals and she’ll have an answer for you. But ask this same intelligent, focused woman exactly what she wants her ideal life to look like, and she’ll probably be short on details. Most women aren’t clear on an exact picture of where they’re headed. They’re too focused on getting there to think about it.

We create what we focus on. If you don’t take time to focus on that great lifestyle you’re creating for yourself, it’ll never happen. It doesn’t matter how much money you make, or how many opportunities you discover, unless you have a well-rounded life to support it.

1. Create a Blueprint of Your Ideal Lifestyle

Getting clear on what your ideal lifestyle looks like is the first step to getting there. Take some time to sit with a blank page and start listing ideas. What would make your life richer and more fulfilling? How would you spend your time off? How often would you like to take a vacation?

After you’ve brainstormed this, write up a detailed description of your ideal lifestyle. Write it in the present tense, as if it is already a reality:

“I am thrilled to take time to work out every day. It feels exhilarating to be taking such good care of my body, and I feel completely energized and vibrant. I am also excited about taking my Fridays off to connect with my kids. I love my date nights with my partner and totally enjoy our romantic dinners and special nights out.”

Post this description where you will see it every day. Remember, what you focus on, you create.

2. Commit to Living It Now

This step may seem tougher, but it’s even more important than the first step. Make a commitment to start living your ideal life right now.

Choose two or three simple things you can do every week that will help you live more of your ideal life. Be realistic, but take steps that count. Maybe you don’t have the time to get to the gym five times a week, but how about two or three times? You may not be able to fly off to Europe for a month, but how about spending an afternoon each week to do something special with your family? Taking even small steps to live a more ideal lifestyle will empower you to keep moving.

3. Get Support

Old habits can be hard to break. Ask your spouse, family and friends to help keep you on track. You might get support from a coach, mastermind group or colleague. Surround yourself with people who will help you focus on your most important priorities first.

Put Yourself First—Then People, Then Results

As you follow these three simple steps to help create your ideal life, remember that it won’t happen unless you make it your top priority!

As women, we’re hardwired to take care of everyone else. So where does “taking care of me” rank on your list of priorities? If you’re like most self-employed women, especially those who juggle family and business, you’re not even in the top ten—and that’s a serious problem.

Why? Because everything in your business begins with you. How can you expect yourself to constantly give your best, if you have nothing left to give? If you keep putting results ahead of your own well-being, you’ll end up frazzled, overwhelmed and burned out. It’s not a question of if, but of when.

Challenge yourself to shift your perspective and try on a new way of doing things. Start looking for ways in which you compromise your own well-being, and more importantly, look for ways to make your well-being a higher priority than your professional results.

It takes a leap of faith and might feel a little scary at first. “Quit work at 5:00? I couldn’t possibly!” But we promise, your business won’t fall apart at the seams if you relax on the weekends or catch a movie on Friday night.

When you reorient your priorities, putting yourself first and only then focusing on empowering other people, the results have a way of taking care of themselves. Well-cared-for people produce superior results—and they do it with a smile.

Remember that you are your business. The better you feel, the better leader you become and the better results you can create. When you consistently fill up your gas tank, you’ll make much faster progress on the road to personal and professional success.

are professional coaches and coauthors of
Sassy and Savvy Self-Employed Women: The Ultimate Coaching
Guide to Leverage Your Business and Love Your Life.