In 1997 I lost my heart.
Still don’t know where it went. Might have misplaced it in my other pants pocket. Maybe I left it in San Francisco, or maybe in Abilene with some other lady. But I found I could no longer write.
Didn’t have the heart for it.
For me, this was a particularly rough time. I wrote for a living, and when I felt I couldn’t do it any more, that left me with three courses of action:
a) Go through the motions, and maybe fake it until I find my heart again.
b) Tequila myself into a stand-up fossil.
c) Do something else.
Hey, I didn’t say these courses of action were necessarily good ones, now did I?
Anyway, I chose Option C. The way I’m wired, that was the only real option. I’m not a good enough BS artist to get away with Option A for very long, and I’m too cantankerous for B. So I did something else for a while, and more than a decade later I rediscovered my heart for writing.
That heart thing is important. More important than knowledge or skills. It’s that place where my dreams and passions hang out, as well as all the dragons and other beasties that wish to take me out of action. It’s an amazing place, and so crucial for the creative and the leader.
Like the physical ticker that’s in my chest, the heart has so much to do with my health. And like the physical heart, I need to guard it. I must be mindful of what goes in, because that’ll have a direct bearing on what comes out. If it gets gunked up, the results will show directly.
With a bad heart I get distant and aloof. Maybe demanding. Definitely whiny. Always critical. It’s one of those things that affects my mental health. With a good heart I’m more fully engaged in what I’m doing, connecting more with people, feeling more in my zone. Good things happen. The condition of my heart definitely affects my mental health.
This heart thing isn’t just a factor with individuals, but organizations as well. Which makes sense; organizations are made up of people. But the last full-time job I had working for someone else had a really strange culture. Everyone was afraid of making mistakes. When a problem developed, the emphasis was on which idiot screwed up this time, not what can be done about it.
See? Bad heart. Everyone clocked in, did the absolute minimum required to stay employed, clocked out, cashed the paycheck, went home to do it again. Everyone there worked without any heart in it. Since that’s not in my nature, I felt enormous pressure to get with the program. For me, this was a really toxic place to work.
You’ve gotta have heart
I’ve always liked athletes who played with heart. I’m thinking of David Eckstein, the runty little shortstop who played with the Angels and later the Cardinals a few years ago. He wasn’t big enough to fight or run a foot race. He had no talent to speak of. But he played with heart. Left something of himself on the field every game.
For a no-talent kid who looked about 12 years old, he had himself a great career. Ignited the 2002 Angels on their way to a World Series title. Did the same thing for the Cardinals a few years later, and got named the most valuable player of that series. Even if he went 0-for-4, he still helped his team win.
Eckstein was the epitome of heart. He was all in, every game, even if he looked like he doesn’t shave yet.
Have a heart, buddy!
It’s so easy to lose heart in this squirrel-cage world, which is why I have to watch mine. Partly because I’m so all-in all the time, burnout is always a threat with me. That’s why rest is so important.
But that’s a juggling act. Being self-employed and working at home — plus having a mind that’s going all the time — I need to be more careful of my on-times and my off-times. Ideally, when I work I work, and when I knock off I knock off, but that’s not always possible. But I do make sure I get a good seven hours of sleep every night, and stick with the same schedule every day. I try to do regular brain dumps and get all the stray thoughts down on paper, preferably written down with the first step to get things started.
I try to shut down one day a week, but I’m not there yet. The best thing is to have all electronics shut off, give my online connection a rest, and just chill. But too often I’m using that day off to scratch out a rough draft. But I’ll start my alleged day off by going over the week I just had, reflecting on what I got done, planning out the next week, and writing in my journal.
For the record I did take off with a few friends for a camping trip last weekend. My phone was shut off almost the whole time (did have some email to take care of although that really could have waited), I sketched out a few story ideas in pencil by the campfire, but mostly relaxed.
Separating my work time from the rest of my life is one of those things I must do to guard my heart.
Getting to the heart of the matter
But probably the biggest thing for me, and the best way to keep my heart in things, is to revisit the “why.”
I try to remind myself why I’m doing what I do, and why it matters anyway.
Yeah, there’s a paycheck involved there somewhere, but that’s not the whole of it. I do it because … well, because this is what I do.
Because I like sharing my thoughts.
Because I like to encourage people.
Because I like to tell a good story.
That’s what keeps me going. The other things I mentioned keep my physically and mentally healthy, but the “why” is the thing that gets me standing and locked at my computer at 9 a.m. That’s the thing that drives me to getting my words out every day, with or without help from The Muse. It’s what makes the difference between wishing I was a writer and being a writer.
In 1997, I lost track of the “why.”
The heart went soon after that.
Connection? I think so.
Things like getting proper rest and recreation, reflection time, and building relationships are good ways to monitor my heart. But probably the best one is for me to keep the “why” in mind.