When Clay Nelson was growing up, his father owned a construction and remodeling company. “My dad's idea of vacation,” Nelson says, “was going to someone's house and remodeling it. All we knew was work, work, work. We loved him, but we didn't know who he was.” As an adult, Nelson ran his own remodeling company. It took 14 years before he realized that he was following his father's path. Nelson took a hard look at himself and dissolved his company. Eventually he began teaching others how “not to be used by the business.”

Overworking in the remodeling industry is a familiar story. Although there are no statistics on remodeler burnout and family trouble specifically, Nelson, who has been a business and life coach in the remodeling industry for the past 25 years, says that compared with other industries, remodelers seem to “consume themselves the quickest.”

Getting out from under — maintaining a good “work-life balance” in current parlance — is a matter not only of making some tough decisions but of turning those choices into habits.

It's OK to Work Hard Anyone starting a business knows that it's going to take an incredible amount of time and energy, and they're willing to suffer because the task is something that they love to do. “I had no husband, no kids. Eighty hours a week was a short week when I started,” says Janet Lasley, co-owner of Lasley Brahaney Architecture and Construction, Rocky Hill, N.J., who began her career, like so many other remodelers, as a solo carpenter.

“There's a blind side to work-life balance,” says Lonnie Pacelli, president of Leading on the Edge International, a leadership consulting and seminar firm. “You figure it's going to be 90 hours a week, and that's how it will be. That blind spot is acceptable for a short period of time.”

But it takes its toll, says Sharon O'Malley, publisher of the human resource newsletter Work/Life Today. “There are health risks and burnout, and at what point is it not going to be your passion? If you've been [in business] for 10 years, should you still be working around the clock?”

After two years of long work hours, Lasley cracked her spine. She was forced to hire helpers, and in many ways, she says, that was really the beginning of her business.

Yet work-life balance is not the same for everyone. “People talk about working hard as if it's a bad thing,” O'Malley says. “Anybody who has passion to start their own business is doing it because it's work they love to do. There's such a thing as a ‘happy workaholic.'” It's only when people lose their passion or they don't want to work that much anymore that it becomes an issue.

In fact, according to a recent Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index, small-business owners work an average of 52 hours per week, with 57% working at least six days a week, and more than 20% working all seven. Yet 65% of those surveyed said that they made time outside of work for things important to them, and 49% said that their personal life is rarely affected by stress from work. In other words, they work hard but they're happy with the way their lives are going.

Admit There's Trouble Work-life balance issues are easier when there is just one person; add a spouse and/or children into your life and your loyalties are divided. “It wasn't uncommon for Peggy to come by a jobsite at 10 o'clock at night,” says Bill Medina who was doing trim carpentry when he started Medina Construction, Salina, Kan., just out of high school in 1976. He married Peggy two years later, and in 1981 they had their first child. The scope of work had expanded to siding, additions, and basements, and Bill was working more and more. Peggy would bring their son to a job-site and stay with Bill in the evenings. He didn't hire employees until 1984.

By 1991 their marriage was shaky, in part because Peggy had gone to work for Bill in a job she was good at but didn't like and didn't get paid for. The business was consuming them.

The Medinas joined Business Networks, a peer review group, and say that helped them through initially. “We saw some tragedies in that peer group,” Bill says. “Several divorces, a lot of stress, one suicide. We learned from that and didn't want to be a casualty.”

Recognition is the first step toward making changes. “Your wife, your doctor, your kids tell you something, or your batteries are discharged: You cannot look at another concrete truck, cannot track another change order. You're at a point where you say, ‘This has to change,'” Nelson says. “That's when you ask, ‘Who am I, and what do I want?'”