What we learn about work-life balance from Urban Meyer

Career success and family success. Can you have both?
We might as well ask if you can have your cake and eat it too. Surely, there are limits to this notion, you might be thinking. As the college football season approaches, let’s consider Urban Meyer, one of the most competitive coaches to ever walk the sidelines.

Few professions are more competitive and demanding than coaching college football. The scrutiny is nonstop—thanks to demanding athletic directors, critical media and delusional fans—and the margin for error can be (literally) a matter of inches. For the top programs, there’s a constant pressure to be preparing—for the next play, the next game, the next season. When not planning the Xs and Os, coaches are expected to acquire and develop top talent through hyper-competitive recruiting efforts (that often meander into the ridiculous).

The pressure is so high that Meyer, in his darkest hours, “thought things would fall apart or another school would get a leg up if he took 30 minutes to work out at lunch every day.” And considering the successes he had found to that point in his career—thanks to his never-stop approach—it can be easy to understand why Meyer felt this way. If keeping his foot on the gas pedal got him to the pinnacle of his profession, he couldn’t very well tap the breaks. Or could he?

Meyer’s Backstory

Known for quickly turning smaller programs into success stories, Meyer took one of the top coaching jobs in the nation in 2005 at the University of Florida. There, he yet again found instant success and went on to win national championships in 2006 and 2008.

However, shortly after those titles, Meyer’s drive to win pushed him too far. His health began failing in 2009 due to his over-competitive personality and poor choices; it turned out there are only so many hours in the day that you can (or should) work. By 2010, Meyer was simply burned-out. He had lost track of what really mattered to him, and his health and family life (i.e. his work-life balance) were in turmoil. So, immediately after the 2010 season, right smack in the peak of his career, Meyer walked away from coaching.

After spending a year off to recharge and rekindle relationships with his wife and kids, Ohio State University offered Meyer their head coach position in late 2011. Meyer, ever the competitor, was determined to give coaching another shot, but before he could accept the offer, he needed his family to approve.

He didn’t want to lose the newfound trust he had earned back during his hiatus. So they sat down as a family and agreed Urban would return to coaching, but within very specific parameters. His daughter Nicki wrote a family contract he had to sign in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Here’s the contract:

1. My family will always come first.
2. I will take care of myself and maintain good health.
3. I will go on a trip once a year with Nicki—MINIMUM.
4. I will not go more than nine hours a day at the office.
5. I will sleep with my cell phone on silent.
6. I will continue to communicate daily with my kids.
7. I will trust God’s plan and not be overanxious.
8. I will keep the lake house.
9. I will find a way to watch Nicki and Gigi play volleyball.
10. I will eat three meals a day.

Urban agreed to the terms and signed the contract. After having found work success at the expense of family, he decided to see if he could have both. So how did that contract work out? If you haven’t caught on yet, Urban Meyer is a winner . . .

The Result

Those who follow college football know that Meyer’s career is as good now as it has ever been. Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes enter the 2015 season as the defending national champions and favorites to win the title again this season. And even though nobody supposes Meyer has met the demands of the family contract with exactness, all indications are that he’s stayed true to its spirit.

To paraphrase a mantra we have here at BambooHR, Meyer works really really hard while at the office, but when it’s time to go home, he goes. He is winning just as much now as he ever has, but this time he is maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As a result, he’s enjoying the victories more now than he ever did before. He’s having his cake and eating too.

Can you have both career success and family success? Not only is the answer yes, but it appears the best way to enjoy career success is to shoot for a balance of both. That’s what we shoot for at BambooHR. Freeing people up to do the important things in life is at the forefront of everything we do—both in the software we create and in the way we treat our people. Now excuse me while I go cut myself another slice of cake.