Dr. Brian Lima: “Heart Act to Follow: Learning from the Best”

The main take home message from my book is that success is not preordained for a select few. Success is earned, not bestowed, by anyone willing to grind it out, through the ups and downs, and keep at it. We all possess amazing potential but far too many of us are preoccupied with finding the […]

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The main take home message from my book is that success is not preordained for a select few. Success is earned, not bestowed, by anyone willing to grind it out, through the ups and downs, and keep at it. We all possess amazing potential but far too many of us are preoccupied with finding the shortcut, the fast track, or life hack. We’ve become accustomed to having the ease and convenience of virtually every want and need being just one mouse-click or finger swipe away. But we are meant for so much more, for living a life of purpose, and leaving the world a better place. If you’re willing to forego the distracting allure of easy street, and weather the inevitable storms along the heart way, success will eventually become habitual and you’ll surpass even your wildest expectations. “Trust me, I’m a doctor!”

Ihad the pleasure interviewing Dr. Brian Lima.

Dr. Brian Lima is a cardiac surgeon, associate professor of surgery, and recognized authority in advanced heart failure. He has published over 80 articles in peer-reviewed medical journals and presented at numerous national and international medical conferences. As the surgical director of heart transplantation at North Shore University Hospital, Dr. Lima helped launch the first and only heart transplant program on Long Island. Dr. Lima completed his undergraduate studies at Cornell University and was awarded a Dean’s Full Tuition scholarship to attend Duke University School of Cure. During medical school, Dr. Lima spent a year at Harvard Medical School’s Transplantation Biology Research Center as a Stanley Sarnoff cardiovascular research fellow. He then completed his general surgery residency training at Duke University Medical Center, and subsequent heart surgery training at The Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Lima is also the author of the new bestselling book Heart to Beat: A Cardiac Surgeon’s Inspiring Story of Success and Overcoming Adversity―The Heart Way.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

My father’s struggles with heart disease had an enormous impact on me and from a very early age I set my sights on pursuing a career in Cure. I was only 10 years old when he suffered a major heart attack that sent shockwaves through my family. He survived, but I was never the same — I vowed that I wanted to help other families overcome that feeling of helplessness and fear my family struggled with when grappling with a deadly illness. It wasn’t until I actually watched a surgical procedure that I became utterly convinced and fixated on becoming a heart surgeon. There’s just something magical about watching a heart instinctively “come back to life” during a transplant that never ever gets old — it’s an exhilarating feeling that makes all the stress and sleepless nights worthwhile.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

Being an author was never part of my original plan. Sure, I had written a lot of research articles related to my field of Cure, but that was a far cry from writing an entire book about my life and lessons learned during my quest for success — or so I thought. When I finally emerged from my grueling decade of surgical training and rejoined civilian life, I could finally pause and reflect on how incredibly far my journey had taken me. As I describe in Heart to Beat, this culminated one fateful night when I was abruptly awakened “with a flood of ideas that I feverishly scribbled out onto a notepad on my nightstand. The more I wrote, the more I kept dredging up, as though I had serendipitously tapped into some endless stream of consciousness.”

It felt like there was some subconscious force compelling me to download all this information to share with the world. Alternatively, perhaps my brain was just making room inside its limited space to accommodate the anticipated reams of data I would need to master in this next phase of my career. Whatever the reason, it became abundantly clear that somehow, some way, I needed to disseminate the important takeaways of my improbable rise from a working class Cuban immigrant family to the upper echelon of academia and medical expertise. To put it bluntly, there’s nothing inherently special about what I did; if I could reach these heights, so could anyone else with a relentless work ethic and commitment to excellence. That message needed to get out there, one way or another, so why not from me?

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

Getting my book written took nearly 6 years — much longer than it should have — and I have no one else to blame for that time lag except myself. I kept finding excuses to procrastinate and I failed to make it a top priority. When I finally set my mind to it and declared that enough was enough, I sat down and wrote the book in just 3 months. At the root of my reluctance to fully commit and get the job done over the years was fear — fear of failure, to be exact. “What if it’s a flop? What are my colleagues in Cure going to think? What about past/future patients of mine? What if my credibility as a physician is compromised?” These were the self-limiting thoughts that kept my book project on the perpetual backburner until I finally got over myself and resolved to practice what I preach in Heart to Beat. I freely admit I’m not a self-help guru, but as I voraciously read other books in this genre, I felt increasingly inspired and emboldened to ignore the naysayers and share my motivational message. One book in particular, “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins, which I quote often in my book, helped seal the deal for me and nudge me towards the finish line.

At the end of the day, you have to be you, unapologetically, and be willing to take risks because a life of certainty is, at best, a dull and unfulfilling one, devoid of the magic that happens when you continually push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In the months leading up to my book release, I took to diligently pitching endorsement requests for the book from a wide range of influential figures, including celebrities, professional athletes, prominent authors, etc. Many were individuals I quoted in the book or had sway over my intended target audience. In most instances, they were not directly reachable so I had to first contact their respective PR representative or administrative assistants and win them over with my charm. In my haste to secure as many ‘big name’ endorsements as possible, my attention to detail suffered and early on this led to a number of regrettable and unfortunate mistakes as I churned out countless email pitches and LinkedIn messages. This comedy of clerical errors included erroneously addressing someone as “Mr.” when they were in fact a “Ms.”, or copying & pasting the incorrect celebrity name altogether. I’ve learned that you can’t take yourself too seriously and it’s okay to laugh at yourself, especially when you commit bone-headed blunders of this magnitude. These embarrassing missteps undoubtedly cost me some major endorsements and certainly weren’t funny at the time. In retrospect, however, it helped me refocus and reminded me once again that “lackadaisical effort leads to lackluster results and lukewarm reception”, as I share in Heart to Beat.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Aside from my clinical practice in heart surgery which keeps me plenty busy as it is, I’m working on a number of exciting projects related to my book. Within the next couple of months, several short videos will be released that encapsulate themes from Heart to Beat. Working with the amazing team at ICON Media Productions, I hope these videos will be as impactful as the many videos they’ve helped create with other authors, entrepreneurs, and social media influencers. This, of course, is completely unchartered territory for me, but as I preach countless times in my book, you have to venture out into the unknown in order to really see what you’re made of and live life to the fullest. In addition, I’m working on the very preliminary stages of my next book, which will delve further into some of the aspects of the HEART WAY approach to success I discuss in Heart to Beat, such as urgency of purpose and overcoming fear of failure. The title, much like the book itself, is still a work in progress — stay tuned!

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The moment when I finally conceived a unifying theme for my book came right around Valentine’s Day 2018. I had been recruited to Northwell Health to lead the first and only heart transplant program on Long Island. After months of jumping through myriad regulatory hoops the moment finally came for our team to step up to the plate and perform our program’s very first heart transplant. This was by far the proudest moment of my career and quite possibly one of the most magical moments of my life. As I surgically removed the transplant recipient’s old heart, it continued to beat a few more times, spontaneously as I held it in my hands, before I passed it off the operative field. Everyone in the operating room that night stood there in complete awe of this amazing moment, and luckily it was also caught on camera. It seemed as though the old heart didn’t want to give up its job, even if by now it was clear that it couldn’t meet the demands of the body any longer and needed to be replaced. It suddenly hit me — what if we approached life’s challenges and setbacks like our own hearts continuously strive to meet the demands of our body — unrelenting, constant effort and action even in dire circumstances. Rather than shying away from obstacles, or dwelling on our mistakes and misfortunes, what if we just kept methodically moving forward, onwards and upwards, without skipping a beat, focusing on what lies ahead, and hell bent on conquering what we set out to accomplish? We could affectionately refer to this strategy as “the heart way” and that sums up what my book and my life is all about!

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

The main take home message from my book is that success is not preordained for a select few. Success is earned, not bestowed, by anyone willing to grind it out, through the ups and downs, and keep at it. We all possess amazing potential but far too many of us are preoccupied with finding the shortcut, the fast track, or life hack. We’ve become accustomed to having the ease and convenience of virtually every want and need being just one mouse-click or finger swipe away. But we are meant for so much more, for living a life of purpose, and leaving the world a better place. If you’re willing to forego the distracting allure of easy street, and weather the inevitable storms along the heart way, success will eventually become habitual and you’ll surpass even your wildest expectations. “Trust me, I’m a doctor!”

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

In Heart to Beat, I describe in great detail how my “H.E.A.R.T. Way” approach to life afforded me both personal and professional success, along with physical and psychological wellbeing. You have to put your heart in everything you do, and becoming a great author is certainly no exception.

  1. H: Hard Work — It all comes down to hard work. Whether you’re trying to do well in school, function at a high level in your profession, or write a great book, the common denominator is hard work. It’s foundational to all forms of success and therefore cannot be shortchanged. It wasn’t until I embraced this reality that I was actually able to crank out my book in a matter of 3 months — the one I’d been thinking about writing for years. The book won’t write itself and you’re stuck with carrying the load, like it or not. Once I got over the inertia of officially ‘starting’ to write, I had to force myself to sit in front of that computer screen, stare at that blank page, and just start typing, for hours on end. There were good days and there were also bad days. The reality is that those divine moments of inspired creative genius were few and far between. On the contrary, there were plenty of days where sticking to my 1000 words per day writing regimen felt more like a painful chore. It took every ounce of fortitude I could muster to power through those dull moments, but in the end it was well worth the pain and suffering.
  2. E: Eager — Be passionate, positive, and proactive about telling your story. It’s absolutely essential to have this optimistic growth mindset in order to be a successful author. Of course, not everyone you share your work with is going to embrace it with open arms, and some may not only be callously dismissive but downright vicious with their critique. That’s okay. Tune out all that negativity and focus on the task at hand — getting your book seen and read by as many people as possible. You’ll never please everyone and it takes courage to go out on a limb and do something as laborious and precarious as writing a book. As a first time author, I had little, if any, street cred in the book world. My book proposal was rejected outright by all the major publishers. It took forever for me to find a reputable PR representative to help with my book promotion, and my exhaustive search for a book agent — the kind that can get your book in front of a major publishers — was an exercise in a futility. I never let these setbacks get me down and just kept at it. And as I share in Heart to Beat, “whether this book becomes a best seller or no seller, I gave it my all, and I’m proud that I was able to pull it off — que sera sera.”
  3. A: Aligned — Stay true to yourself, to your purpose, and to your moral compass. If you’re writing a book for the right reasons, i.e., to have a genuinely positive impact on the people who read it, then critical and commercial success should and will come naturally. The impetus to write my book was derived from an inescapable sense of obligation to share my story and help others achieve their full potential in the process. Absent from my agenda was a scheme to garner fame and fortune. I poured my heart out in this book, and many critics applauded my sincerity and appreciated my willingness to be vulnerable, to share intimate details about my personal life, family, and upbringing, and how these shaped my identity. I said things that are unpopular to say in today’s PC culture, that no one is ‘special’, that being well-rounded is overrated, and that in the real world, winning does matter. Readers and critics alike were equally appreciative of my blunt take on these and other societal trends, lamenting they too shared these perspectives but never dared to share publicly for fear of being ‘called out’.
  4. R: Resolute — Your book won’t sell itself, so be relentless in promoting it and strategic in your approach. As a newbie author, I had no clue how much actually went in to book promotion, especially the pre-release phase. This is old hat for the big time publishing companies, and they typically have the media connections and juice to get your book reviewed, endorsed, and promoted several months before its actual release. In my case, I had to figure that part on my own, but I did my due diligence. Several months before my book was published, I created my author website, found a PR representative, and booked a photo session with a social media savvy photographer to generate post worthy pictures. It was a job in and of itself but I kept the pedal to the metal and left no stone unturned. I already shared my countless pitches to celebrities, influencers, and the like for endorsements and managed to eke out a few big names — my rejection rate was around 90%. I definitely had to plan ahead, and leveraged my modestly successful social media platform to help in all facets of my book promotional campaign.
  5. T: Thoughtfulness — Survey the field and be intimately aware of where and how “your story” fits. While everyone does have a story to tell, the key to becoming a successful author is to not only find your story, but also to decipher what unique spin will draw people in and be resoundingly impactful. Before writing even the first word of my book, I had already spent many months voraciously reading books about self-help, entrepreneurship, wellness, grit, mindfulness, stoicism, etc. Mind you, this was not intentional — it just so happened that I’m an avid reader and these were the books that I gravitated towards. One after another, these books seem to cover similar themes with direct relevancy to my own life journey. By reading these various books, I really had full command of the lay of the land, what worked and what didn’t, and what unclaimed niche my specific story could call home. This part came somewhat naturally to me because this is precisely what I’ve been doing for years each time I wrote up a clinical research manuscript. Each and every one had to provide an answer to a unique clinical question, one that had not been previously asked or one whose answers thus far remain fuzzy. In much the same way, as an author, you have to be mindful of why your story should matter to others, and write your book accordingly!

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

Like everything else I do, I went all in and never gave up on my dream of writing an impactful book, straight from the heart. I like to say that “if you’re not in it to win it, there’s plenty of room at the kids’ table”. For that reason, I’d have to say that my perseverance has been the most influential habit or trait that enabled me to get the job done. As you might imagine, being a heart surgeon doesn’t necessarily lend itself to much of a life outside of the hospital, especially when you’re on-call 24/7 for heart transplantation as I was then and still am now. I had to find time to write, a daunting task that would occur at largely random times, such as weekends or evenings, and much to the chagrin of my poor wife, at the expense of my limited free time. But I stuck with it, and gradually, one page of text became two, then one chapter became two, and so on. At every step, I would tediously proofread and wordsmith every sentence. It was an uphill battle to say the least, but my perseverance powered me through and I have no regrets.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I’m fascinated by reading works of celebrated authors and biographies of successful people. There’s a chapter in my book entitled, “Heart Act to Follow: Learning from the Best”, where I share my take on how to reverse engineer the greatness of those you revere into your own life and pursuit of success. So when I marvel at how a gifted writer masterfully crafts his flow of words, it inspires me to be a better writer. When I read ‘rags to riches’ stories about transcendent leaders, entrepreneurs, and record-setting athletes of our time, it inspires me to work harder, to persist, or to modify my approach and strategy. That’s how you get better, and life is a journey of continual development and self-improvement. We never cease being works in progress.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe with the upmost sincerity that my Heart Way approach to life can and will help others become the best version of themselves and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. It’s what my book Heart to Beat is all about, and it’s what I share with anyone willing to listen, be it an audience of one or a lecture hall full of hundreds students, colleagues, or people in the community. Medically speaking, far too many people die premature deaths related to heart disease and philosophically speaking, far too many people lead unfulfilled lives, barely ever scratching the surface of their true potential. My Heart Way movement would address both sides of that coin — the physical and metaphysical heart — providing concrete answers and effective strategies that could literally save millions of lives and drastically improve what each of us contributes to society as a whole.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: BrianLimaMD

Instagram: BrianLimaMD

LinkedIn: Brian Lima MD

Twitter: @BrianLimaMD

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