Specializing in helping women find the balance between family, work and all the other competing demands in their lives, certified life-balance specialist and coach Lisa Gates has dedicated herself to helping people figure out what they want to do with their lives. The founder of Craving Balance sat down with Leslie Dinaberg to talk about how she manages her own life.

Leslie Dinaberg: How did you get started with Craving Balance?

Lisa Gates: It’s funny, I think of a particular client when I made that shift to Craving Balance. … I got this client who just started a book and she had twin 5-year-olds, she worked in the ER, her husband was always gone, and she kept saying, “Oh, I didn’t quite get to that” and “I didn’t quite get to this” and everything was a time struggle. I remember thinking how do I get people to see this as a balance point? What I say is make consistent choices that really honor what you value as opposed to stacking up crap into your schedule. So she was my poster child. … I really wanted to work with plate-spinning moms, executives, all of the people who consistently show up going “ah, ha, ha” and are overwhelmed.

LD: (Laughs) That’s a lot of people.

LG: I have one child; I don’t have to shuttle to two different soccer games and all of that. That’s kind of how it started. … Who consistently shows up are people who are building businesses and need to balance what they’re currently doing with what they’re building. Often they’re building a business and they’re also working at full-time jobs. … I started coaching in 2005 and Craving Balance started in 2007, so it was about two years after that.

… That’s kind of a typical pattern, too, that I see — either clients have just graduated college and are wondering what in the hell am I going to do with my life, or they are in their 40s and 50s saying the same thing.

To me it points to the same thing: that we haven’t in our culture really valued values. We haven’t been taught it, we don’t even know what it is to choose what we do every day according to what we value. So we have to learn, we have to learn for the first time and get back in touch with who am I. Really? Who am I? No I’m not that. You sort of do this sifting process.

LD: What kind of things do you work with people on?

LG: … A lot of people will say, “I need to match my health with my finances with my career,” and I say, “No, it isn’t about equilibrium, it’s about being the right quotient, the right balance for you.”

So you might be way over here on working out every day for two hours because you’re going to run a marathon, and down over here you’re spending less time with family and friends because you’re training. And your goals are temporary. You accomplish a goal and it’s done, so then the weight changes again. The balance changes again. Just be mindful about where you are going. Where are you headed and the goals you set to get there and what you can let go of in order to do that?

… I might be working on a project at work that takes me gazillions of hours to do, then that’s done and I can let things come back in that I let go. It’s a constant flux and the only way we can navigate that very well is to consult your inner guidance. Ask is this the right choice?

LD: How do you work with people to get them to even be aware of what their values are?

LG: That’s the beginning part of coaching. Actually in the workshop that I do a huge part of it is core-values discovery and then we tie that into the goal setting that they do.

… There are usually two kinds of balance seeking. There are the people who are not busy at all because they can’t make a choice. They cannot decide and so they are in this dither of inaction. … The other one is the cuckoo busy person.

So big core-values discovery doing the busy-ness journal and also perhaps some visualizations or some wondering about where you want to find yourself. Where is your right place?

Sometimes that happens with things like vision boards, but often it’s really a writing process. I’ll just talk them through a lot of questions all at once and ask them to go and write. … The first month of working is a lot of internal work, then to me it’s nothing unless you put that on the ground and put one foot after the other, see what happens, fall down, fail, fail big, get up and do it again. … You’ve just got to go ahead and make the wrong choice, make the right choice and keep going.

To me, it’s about deepening who you are and moving forward, it’s not coaching unless those are happening.

LD: I’ve interviewed a few other life coaches and it seems like sometimes people approach it almost from the other way, like “I want to get a promotion” or “I want to start a business,” as opposed to examining what they really want to do with their lives.

LG: Yes, what often happens is that’s what you present with. You know how doctors will say she presented with a cold and a fever? Well, coaches might in the same way have someone say, “I’ve got to get out of my job. I need a new job.” Then you kind of dig in and get underneath and find out your limiting beliefs, things that hold you back and what’s stopping you. What is it and be willing to tell the absolute truth so you can get there faster.

For me it isn’t like making parts of your life wrong. I struggle with my weight, I struggle with working out, and I used to make myself wrong as a coach. Well, I’ve got to be walking the talk; I’ve got to be perfect. I’s not so. Can I embrace all that I am, work on it, and can I include it, rather than make it wrong?

A lot of times when people come wanting to make a career change, I’ll say, “Can you love it before you ditch it? Can you find a way to get along, do well, have great relationships while you are looking for another job? Because you’re going to carry everything forward to your next job. Just like a marriage, you know, a relationship.” So there is always something else underneath there.

LD: I know you do seminars, but do you also work with people one on one?

LG: Oh, yeah. I try to have no more than six to 10 clients at a time because I like to focus on them and be able to give them a lot of attention, not just when we’re working together but also in the off time. Maybe a question will occur to me. So that’s been the business reason for doing the workshops is that that’s what people can afford right now.

… I also do these one-shot clinics, they are on the phone, they are either as a group or solo, and I break down the work into little increments. Like somebody might want to just do core-values discovery so I just do only that. Typically, they come back and do more but that’s just a way of doing a piece of the work to start.

The other thing I’m really, really proud of that I love the most … this also came out of noticing what was happening with clients, is that they would be inclined, if they couldn’t afford it just to not do it, and they weren’t asking, “can you work with me, I can afford this much.” … So I decided to make that a formal part of my business. It’s called “set your own rate and donate.”

LD: I saw that on your Web site. That’s a really neat idea.

LG: It is so cool to do that. The conversations I get to have with people, just that negotiation is so hard for women to do. Most people do say, “I don’t know what to ask, what if it’s too low?” And I say, “ask for what you need. You know what your pocketbook looks like and if it’s not going to work for me based on do you want to work four times a month, two times a month, what do you want to do? If it’s not going to work for me I’m going to tell you. We’ll play with it.”

The other part that’s great about it is a lot of women now, especially in this economy, they’re not volunteering, they’re not giving back and they’re feeling guilty so it’s a way to do that. It’s a way to keep that in place and still get something for themselves.

LD: Do you mostly work with people in town?

LG: All over. … I pretty much focus it to between 10 and 2 so I can have a little time to myself in the morning for going to the gym or writing or whatever and on the other side of the day with my son.

LD: That’s very nice. Do you work exclusively with women?

LG: No, I will work with men. I hate to sound like this, but it’s been kind of a calculated decision about where the focus was, where the niche was, because the people who are waking up are women. Men have balance issues, totally. Are you kidding? But it’s more perceived as our job to solve that puzzle piece. Women want to bring transformation into the relationship, women want to suggest things, set things up … working with women, for me, I think give me access to changing the world. We’re the ones who will bring change. …

LD: Not to be sexist, but I think women tend to not necessarily do what they want to do, whereas men, in general, sort of find a way to do what they want to do.

LG: Yes, that’s right. We’re more built to be relationship-oriented, men are out there slaying the bison. Which is a good thing, it all works. But how long do you go at the expense of yourself? Where is your tipping point — you’re writing a book and you’re still expected to do the dirty socks and everything, right? It’s usually you who’s doing the adjusting, unless you get totally conscious about it and you start making requests and shifting the balance within your family to make it work for you. It’s like doing it consciously as opposed to reacting.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

LG: (Laughs) Tenacious. Compassionate and I think about what other people say, funny. If it’s not fun I don’t want to do it because pretty much everything has to have an element of fun. You also just asked me, those are core values. … It’s a good question for getting at core values.

Vital Stats: Lisa Gates

Born: April 24 in Newport Beach

Family: Husband Charlie Waldron and son Cole, 12

Civic Involvement: Offers a “Set Your Rate & Donate” program in which a portion of her fees go to support Women’s Economic Ventures, Love 146 and the Global Fund for Women

Professional Accomplishments: Award-winning actress; PR executive; education director at the Alzheimer’s Association; and owner of Craving Balance

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm GladwellLeadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute; and Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Little-Known Fact: Edited The Philosopher and the Frog, a historical nonfiction book by her father, Phil Gates

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at leslie@lesliedinaberg.com.