High Performance and Time for Family? Be Like Darrell Green*

Darrell Green was an all-time great football player. While his teammates and coaches worked killer hours, Green kept “normal hours” to be with his family. His coaches and teammates didn’t mind. Here’s what we can learn from Green’s story.

Darrell Green hugs his son, Jared, 13, during a ceremony before his last game in 2002. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Darrell Green hugs his son, Jared, 13, during a ceremony before his last game in 2002. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

“I just lived a normal life”

I was reading this interesting ESPN.com article about how pro football players transition back into family life after the season ends. One of the recurring patterns of these athletes is that they work such incredibly long hours during training camp, pre-season and the season, often living apart from their families, and then suddenly find themselves home. Encouragingly, most rededicate themselves to being involved fathers as a way to make up for lost time.

But one anecdote stuck out to me:

Hall of Fame defensive back Darrell Green treated his job with the Washington Redskins as just that — a job. It was 9-to-5 to him. He left early during the season and was home in time for dinner. “I was already dealing with the kids [during the season],” said Green, who played for the Redskins from 1983 to 2002. “I couldn’t take them to school all the time, but I was still getting to the evening events. I was still going to the recitals in the evening. I was still home for dinner. I was just living a normal life.

“Maybe I’m the crazy one. I just lived a normal life. I didn’t see it as something that it wasn’t.”

How did Green get away with working “normal” hours when the rest of his peers spent far more time working out and preparing for the next game?

He was just that good.

Darrell Green played at a high level for 20 years, holds 11 NFL records, was a four-time All-Pro selection, was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, is a member of the NFL and NCAA Halls of Fame, was a key contributor to two Super Bowl winning teams, is considered one of the 100 greatest players of all time, and was even named NFL Man of the Year for his charity work.

Maybe at one point some coach or teammate resented that Green only worked “normal hours” to be with his family. But what were they going to do about it? Considering how great Green was, I bet most didn’t care very much and, after a while, stopped thinking about it.

So, what’s the lesson for us?

Once you prove your value, you can use your built-up credibility to act more in accordance with your personal priorities.

For Green, that meant maintaining family time during football season. For Sheryl Sandberg, it meant cutting her weekly hours down from 70 to 50 and essentially taking a sabbatical to write and promote her book. For Steve Jobs, his vision and genius meant he could get away with letting his id run wild (even if it revealed his ugly side). For Tyler Durden, it meant starting Fight Club and blowing up sections of downtown LA (but I digress).

For you and me, it may mean working more flexibly. In prior articles, I discussed how building a track record of excellent performance is the best way to enable ourselves to work more flexibly and to confidently negotiate with bosses over work arrangements. High performance also gives you credibility with clients and coworkers–credibility you can use to act more individually, outside of external expectations.

If you can maintain great performance, over time, people will care less and less about how, where and when you produce, just as long as you keep producing. Just like the Redskins did with Darrell Green.

“Be so good they can’t can ignore you”

My wife has an inspirational plaque on the desk in our office that reads “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” This is great advice for standing out among dozens of other fantastic singers/actresses vying for the same part, and, in Amy’s case, this mindset is one component of her success.

But let me twist this the other way. If, over time, you prove to be so good, you can earn more and more latitude in how you succeed at work and at home. Because your employer knows how valuable and reliable you are, now s/he can ignore you, leaving you alone to succeed your own way.

* I know this is easier said than done, depending on our jobs, employers, etc. After all, we all can’t be the NFL’s fastest man. Still, in almost any walk of life, being really good at what you do earns you perks others may not have access to. Be sure to earn credibility, and then use it!

What do you think about Darrell Green? About earning flexibility? Any experiences to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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5 thoughts on “High Performance and Time for Family? Be Like Darrell Green*

    • Hi Inge- Green’s is an extreme case, but wherever one works, one can usually earn more latitude in how one works- if you perform well and build up trustworthiness.

      Sometimes people fail to recognize situations in which they can work more flexibly and I hope this article makes them think about their existing or potential options.

      Thank you for reading and commenting! Sorry to make you despair!

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