Urban Meyer Has a Message For You, Doctor

It’s hard to find time to pay attention to all the messages I receive. There are voicemails, e-mails (work, blog, and personal), and the nonstop notifications from Facebook and Twitter. Post-it notes on the desk and the refrigerator. I am bombarded with messages.

Contract DiagnosticsUrban Meyer, head coach of The Ohio State football team, doesn’t have a lot of time to leave messages. Right now, he’s gearing up for a likely bid in the College Football Playoff after a stunning and controversial double OT win over Michigan.

He didn’t have much time late this last summer when called upon for a feature story in Bleacher Report, but he scheduled a 30-minute interview with journalist Brandon Sneed because he had a message to get out. The coach spent well over an hour discussing life, achievement, stress, anxiety, family, and balance.

 

What is his message?

 

The coach is familiar with success. His teams have been winners, from Bowling Green to Utah, Florida, and now Ohio State. He has coached the latter two to the ultimate prize, winning two national championships with the Gators, and another with the Buckeyes.

He also knows the price of success. After his second national championship with Florida in 2008, he should have been floating above the clouds.

 

Urban Meyer Message

 

He wasn’t. The sting of one loss could not be overcome by ten victories. He wasn’t sleeping well; he was working constantly. He was losing weight, and feeling a heaviness in his chest. A downward spiral landed him in the hospital.

It wasn’t his heart.

It was anxiety. It was esophageal spasm. It was the feeling that he wasn’t doing his best, and needed to work harder. It was trying to meet ludicrous expectations he had set for himself, and not knowing how to accept what only he and a few crazed fans could consider failure.

One year after his last championship season with the Gators, he resigned and took a year off from coaching. At the urging of his wife Shelley, a psychiatric nurse, he got help and he got right. Urban Meyer restructured his life and made priorities before accepting another coaching job.

His message is for you, the doctor. It’s also for the police officer, the teacher, parent, and soldier, and others in “all consuming jobs.” So many of us focus our energies on our jobs, our pupils, our players, and our patients.

The message is simple. Amidst everything else, remember to do one more thing. “Take Care of Yourself.”

Balance

 

What Urban Meyer was experiencing was burnout. He didn’t find time to exercise. He struggled to find time for his own family when his second family, the young men who played for him, demanded so much time. When his football team wasn’t flawless, there was so much work to be done, and so little time to do it all. Sleep? Four hours, max.

After his health scare, and before he signed a contract with Ohio State, he signed a contract with his family listing ten items.

  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.

 

What do you think of this contract? Would yours look similar? Do you wish you could make similar promises? I would love to sleep with my cell phone (and pager) on silent, but sometimes (every 5th night, on average), the patients must come first.

Urban now sees reflections of his old self in those of us who devote so much of themselves to their vocation. He wants you to know that if you are feeling maxed out, you are not alone in your struggle, and help is available.

 

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Taking a step back, forcing himself to make time for his health and his family, has made him a happier and better person.

Has his work suffered? With one Waterford Crystal Sears trophy under his belt since his return to coaching, and a likely shot at another this January, the answer is a crystal-clear “No.”

 

A football coach is not a doctor.

 

True.

A football coach doesn’t deal much with life and death, and doesn’t carry that responsibility as a physician must. A football coach doesn’t have an extensive education requirement, or long list of credentials to maintain. A football coach isn’t likely to face a lawsuit for doing his job to the best of his abilities.

Instead, a football coach, particularly at Urban Meyer’s level, has to meet the expectations of millions of fans. When he loses and is down on himself, he’s got dozens of talking heads and thousands of angry fans loudly criticizing his every move. They talk about how worthless and dumb he is. Death threats are not unheard of. He’s on call for his student-athletes at all hours of the night, and he’s always at risk for being fired despite doing his job to the best of his abilities.

These are demanding, stressful jobs, and that is the parallel that Urban Meyer was making. In positions like these, we are often the last to see what we are doing to ourselves, or not doing for ourselves, that is contributing to our decline.

Burnout is common and very real. Mental illness, particularly depression, is highly prevalent in our profession. Substance abuse often develops as the easiest escape that doesn’t carry a label or ICD.10 code, at least not before it’s detected. And the best case scenario is that it is detected while something can still be done to treat it.

 

Take care of your patients. Take care of your family. Take care of your friend who focuses all of her energy on others. And always take care of yourself.

 



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40 comments

  • I watched that game on Saturday. I had physical signs of anxiety just from being a fan and watching a tense game; I can only imagine how Urban Meyer felt.
    Burnout feels way too real for me right now, and the scariest thing that I haven’t even properly started my career yet. I have been through many tactics to deal with it and to not be constantly thinking of a way out.
    I love the idea of making a contract with my family – I will give that a shot.
    Something else that has helped me tremendously was the concept of mindfulness. It took me a few years to truly understand it and I am by no means an expert.. But the general idea is to know your body, your emotions, the physical signs of any anxiety, stress, fear, embarrassment.. The simple knowledge of how you feel and why you feel that way make dealing with stressful situations slightly more doable.

    • I hear you, Dr. MT. You might find the burnout lifts when you finish residency and move close to the mountains. It won’t hurt to see your income quadruple or more, either.

      I’ve never been one to feel overly anxious or worry a whole lot, but I’ve come to realize I manifest my stress with physical symptoms. GI distress, tight and sore neck, aphthous ulcers, etc… I’m that good at bottling up my emotions.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Solid advice PoF. People can actually die from overwork!

    I personally need to start getting more sleep. 3-4 hours a night (on a good night) just doesn’t cut it.

  • Great advice PoF. Right out of b-school and with two young kids at home, I was running and gunning pretty hard at the office many years ago wits of travel on top. Luckily, I downshifted into a new role about six years ago now and life is much better. Lost 10 lbs, sleep more and lots more time with the wife and kids. Performance at the office is still top notch (if I do say so myself!).

    It’s all about mindset, priorities and not letting life pass you by. Oh, and it also helps if you bust your butt for 5-10 years to establish yourself first…lol!

    • Glad you’ve got it figured out, Jon.

      Many of us “high achievers” have a time in our lives / career where we have no choice but to bust our butts. At some point, it’s wise to scale back before we’re truly busted.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Arkad

    Great advice. So simple but so often ignored. I learned this lesson after second semester in med school. Went on a trip with some friends to warm weather and went for a swim and could barely do a lap. That day I promised I wouldn’t forget to take care of myself again just so I could study. I have had to remind myself of that promise a few times over the years but haven’t forgotten it.

  • Great advice so often forgotten. I’ve often heard an old addage, “at 80 no one looks back and wishes they’d worked more, they wish they’d spent more time with family and friends”. Add in the health aspects of needing to actually make it to 80.

  • When I left my full-time school administrator role in 2012, the stress was high (and my husband hadn’t retired from being a cop then ). I took a tenure-track job as a professor at a college and had trouble downshifting and giving up the stress. But when I did – it was amazing! After 4 years of that, I left to “semi-retire” – and now ended up temporarily back in my old school administrator role – same desk even. I never wrote it down – but looking at that contract, I totally am using a “mental contract” now that puts me first. I still think I do a great job (actually better I think) because I take care of me first. I am now trying to help “reign in” the younger admins I work with (who all have little kids). Great post!

  • Burnout and stress is all too common in the legal field. Probably not all that different from in the medical field. Very important to remember to take care of yourself. I see too many lawyers who let themselves go and neglect their families and health.

  • We should all have a list like this. Mine includes not working on Fridays so I can make it to family night, and not working shifts scheduled to end after midnight.
    I also do some sort of exercise, stretching, or walking 10K steps on every day off and choosing three things for which I’m grateful every night before bed.
    They’re small steps, but they make a huge difference.

  • I was just asked to speak for a group of moms about finding rest. As the mom of 5 littles (2 of whom don’t sleep through the night), I know how hard it can be to take care of ourselves. But in mothering, I really believe that the very best gift we can give our kids is a parent who is rested, calm, emotionally available and loving. And you can only get there by taking care of yourself.

    • I find that my burn out increased with having 1 kid…i can’t imagine 5. We had a good work-life-relationship balance before, but once our son was born he became all encompassing. We are trying to get back to a new normal and get momma more sleep so we made some moves like joining a gym and getting a part time nanny. It does not get us to our financial goals sooner, but my wife’s current mental health trumps a few more years at work for me….

      • Amen to that! Sleep and exercise are the two things that keep us sane. There are only two things that I will stay up past 9pm for. And netflix is NOT one of them. =) Nothing is worth staying up past 10pm.

        Kudos to you for keeping the most important things first. And the kid thing will get easier. Ours are 9-1 years old. The workload difference between a 1 year old and 9 year old is huge.

  • I remember days of old when I put work first and what a toll that took. My wife and I have dates every other week and we date the kids on the other weeks. I just took a coaching job and am already missing work-outs so need to figure a way to get those in and still get sleep. It is so hard to find balance.

    Thanks for the great post and that is a great contract.
    cd :O)

    • The date nights are a great idea. Both for you two and with the kids.

      We don’t do it as often as we should, but we’re not too many years away from being able to leave the wild ones home alone for at least a little while — long enough to grab a beer?

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I would love to comment on burnout here – especially considering this is a very rare day on which I have chosen not to go to work for precisely that reason! – but I am distracted by the fact that your Amazon ads now include glassware for alcoholic beverages and Ohio State panties. The tone has really changed around here!

  • The key to managing stress is to seek help before it gets out of control. And that is the hard part, admitting to yourself that things are becoming too much, rather than trying to battle through it and hoping it will fix itself. In my experience with work related stress ( I could write a book on the damned stuff, I think..! ), it rarely does. It’s very easy to let work take control of life and before you know it an age has passed and you wonder WTF was I doing.

    As you know, we had to take a pause from blogging as we were not paying enough attention to our kids at the weekends while trying to write posts. It was a fairly easy decision as both myself and Mrs. PIE had the same feelings and levels of angst related to blog writing. So the stress self awareness became easy to talk about and take action on.

    Such “experience” is a great leveler. It is also said that it is what you get when you don’t get what you want……

    • It is interesting that you said blogging can be a stressor Mr. Pie. I read your posts and they were quite good. I have found that blogging is taking up more time then expected. That is why I am trying to be 2 weeks ahead of schedule, because my weeks are so unpredictable and I can’t be doing this stuff while at work. Hang in there and I hope you return in the near future!

    • The blog does consume some serious time. I used to waste a lot of time jumping from the Facebook feed to ESPN to CNN and back to Facebook. I know I have more “screen time” than I used to, but it is much more rewarding and productive than the random news and nonsense that I used to spend so much time on.

      We do miss you though, Dr. PIE. I wish you the best in these next couple years as you complete your FIRE goals in a more private fashion.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I rarely feel stressed out (is there a gene for this? If so I inherited this from my father, a doctor who has always worked crazy hours but who just never seems stressed). However, when it does happen it isn’t good and this also goes back to both upbringing and culture. I was raised in a ‘stress is for wussies’ environment. The general tone that I grew up around was that stress was a luxury for rich folks, for everyone else it was just Life. So now, when I do get stressed, my instinct is to suppress it, to man up, to get over it. My instincts need to be hit over the head with a blunt object.

    • That culture you describe is quite prevalent among us Scandinavians up north. Just a bunch of straight-faced stoics.

      The concept of work-life balance seems to be a relatively new thing among doctors. From what I hear, practicing medicine used to be more rewarding and enjoyable, with fewer roadblocks and frustrations. Or maybe our generation is just a bunch of wussies that need to man up. 😉

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Seriously, I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. I feel like I’m making great strides with my family, my finances and my career, however the one thing that’s taken a major backseat is taking care of my health. Heartburn is bothering me quite a bit these days and so is my back. I’m trying to meditate more which has helped, but I often forget to take of the physical side of my well-being too. I have to remember that FI & Financial Freedom are great, and the reason I’m seeking them is to spend more time with family & friends, but what’s it all for if I’m not healthy enough to enjoy that time.

  • OSU Panties here, too. I guess that’s one way to distract yourself away from stress…..

    Great article, and a great reminder to all of us to take care of ourselves, first. I love the “contract with the family”, and the fact he’s still crushing it after making the change.

    Inspiring stuff, Doc.

    • And how many pairs did you order?

      It is fascinating to see that he’s still getting great results on the gridiron. I’m going to assume he’s still sticking to the plan. The interview was from August of this year, so it’s been more than about six years since he signed the family contract.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Great article on an important topic. The senior leaders in my organization are largely a stressed out, anxious, overweight, under-exercised miserable lot. I decided to abort my “leadership track” that was heading me in that direction. I dropped a lot of committees and am selective about meetings. Sometimes I walk on my treadmill and dial in to the conference line instead of sitting in the meeting. Little changes can help a lot. I start the day with meditation, reading, stretching, planning, and exercise. The “hour of power” as Anthony Robbins calls it is key for me.
    Thanks for the wisdom. I’m impressed that anyone living in MI could quote the OSU coach after U. of M. lost!

  • Great advice, PoF. As docs, sometimes we can get caught up in giving so much to our patients and our jobs that we don’t have enough left over to give to ourselves or our families/loved ones. My wife and I are very aware of that, but that doesn’t prevent it from happening from time to time. In the end, we both try to strive for a good work-life balance and help each other out in that regard as much as we can. I do like the idea of a family contract, though.

  • Balance.

    That’s the key, isn’t it?

    Exercise, make time for family, and don’t whine about the refs unless you want to be the first B1G Ten since Bo Pelini to get a $10,000 fine for your antics. #GivingTuesday

    Cheers!
    -PoF

  • Very good message indeed! I specially take public transit to work to get at least a mile walk in every day during the week. (also saves $$) Thanks Doc!

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