I'm Shelby Barnes. A communication strategist with more than 20 years of experience helping business leaders create and tell stories with impact. Mile 23 Strategies is my consulting company.

When We Lose Heart

We’ve all been there. Either we’ve stayed in a job too long or it was never the right job for us in the first place. We think we’re fooling ourselves and everyone else by showing up day after day and maybe even excelling at what we’re doing. The truth is, however, going through the motions successfully isn’t the same as showing up with your heart.

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons, Royal Navy official photographer, Imperial War Museum.)

Recently, I attended a pro boxing match and this difference was so apparent to me. I knew one of the fighters from his amateur days. He was always filled with the boxer’s bravado and sass, and he backed it up with amazing technical skills. He was committed to becoming a champion, and he was beautiful to watch in the ring. It seemed that no one could take him down.

Sadly, that wasn’t the same person I watched fight. Something was notably different in his whole affect. Gone were the creative punch combinations and light-footed boxer’s shuffle. In their place was irony: heaviness heaped with emptiness. He got into the ring without his heart.

In the boxing ring, heart is everything. Heart is a boxer’s reason. It’s fuel and confidence. Much like a firefighter, boxers are trained to move into the danger: they possess an inner bravery most of us don’t have.

Unlike a firefighter, however, the only person the boxer needs to save is him or herself. When fighters lose heart, they still move into the danger, but there doesn’t seem to be any driving will to survive from within.

In the end, they will likely save themselves out of conditioned response, but that grit and determination that got them there seems to be missing. They’re no longer fun to watch. Instead of a plan to win it appears they’ve just chosen a plan to see it through.

Watching my friend lose round after round, made me think of times in my own life where I showed up out of virtue and acted with a conditioned response and a firm commitment just to see it through. Even though I did what I was paid to do and excelled, I wasn’t performing in a way that was fun to watch. I was going through the motions. I was getting my ass kicked more and more. I walked around feeling defeated even though I fought my best. I had lost my heart.

Eventually, I had to step off my path, press pause and find my heart again. It has been scary, but I have met others who have done the same and am inspired by their stories. As he moves through his days, I hope my friend will find the bravery to do the same.

Have you ever shown up without your heart? How did others experience you, and how did you get it back?