In A Heartbeat

I didn’t know what true happiness was, until we heard a heartbeat.

Happiness has always been a big driver of my life and the focus point for my career. If you’ve followed what I’ve written throughout my career, my happiness, or rather, my journey to find happiness has been centered on jobs I hold and have held. If you and I have ever spoken about life and work, the first question I always lead with is, “What makes you happy in life? Not just in your career. In life”.

For me, the meaning of happiness has always evolved. At one point it was centered on self confidence and minimizing anxiety, which then evolved into establishing a career, then success in that career, which then led me down a path of ego, belongings, etc, only to find myself reevaluating what success should mean, and ultimately how do I make true happiness a primary focus?

It’s always evolved for me, which is a good thing. It’s rightfully changed with every phase of my life in small but very meaningful ways.

But my entire belief of what happiness could and should be was forever altered in a heartbeat.

Actually, it changed with a heartbeat.

I didn’t know what true happiness was, until I saw a heartbeat.

A flicker of lights on a screen, and the most calming beautiful sound I’ve ever heard through the speakers of a computer. I remember thinking it sounded like rain, and that it blanketed the entire room. I remember the sound hugged every corner of that room, and in a second I could feel my own heart racing to pace with it. No sound of ventilation, no hum of the equipment, not even the sound my own breath. A single beautiful heartbeat was all we could hear.

It was in this moment that I realized everything outside of this room would be viewed differently.

The days that followed I felt myself change. I was more positive, optimistic, and empathetic.

Everything that used to stress me out? My job or how others view me — no longer a thought.

Couldn’t care less.

I felt myself change as a husband and partner to Elyssa. She became so much more than the love of my life, she became more than everything. Everything plus one. Everything plus a million. It’s hard to describe, but she became more beautiful than I could ever imagine.

This heartbeat changed everything about her. A brand new light shined on her, a light that accentuated everything about her in ways I can’t even begin to explain. I found myself wanting to hear her voice more, her hugs and kisses were electrified, and almost every day I caught myself falling more in love with her.

The sound of the heartbeat was the sound of change in the both of us, and every time I heard the heartbeat I knew I could feel myself becoming a better man. As crazy as it sounds, the heartbeat was changing my dreams. I imagined myself carrying them, laughing with them, hanging on every Steph Curry three with them (#splash), and I remember in a dream teaching them that “…Penny is a dog and not a toy, so remember to treat him with love”. I was overwhelmed with joy because of that heartbeat. I looked forward to each time we got to hear it because I knew that I’d dream about our new life with them that evening. The loads of laughter, love, and hope that would eventually fill our home.

The heartbeat that was part Elyssa and part me, became my favorite thing in the world.

I didn’t know what true happiness was, until we lost the heartbeat.

As a society we tend to move fast, getting lost in the daydream of what will be, what could be, and what should be.

It’s very rare when we actually embrace the present, let it consume you, and soak in how great right now is.

I’ve never been one to consider that, ever, that is until our little heartbeat left us two days before my 32nd birthday.

That new definition of happiness was gone, and it was replaced with a period of darkness. The heartbreak took me to the darkest place I’ve ever been, and I made one of the biggest regrets of my life. I was silent. I chose to not speak about it, and forced a smile on my face. I kept it all in because I was afraid of the world we live in; a world of constant talking, opinions, speculation, and criticism. With everyone connected, everyone viewing, everyone tends to feel an obligation to have a point of view (I’m sure by this point, you already have an opinion) Whether it’s my professional life, my social life, the (many, many, many) flaws in my personality, or even down to how I speak — no one has ever been shy about their opinion, so I feared the worst and I bottled it up.

That was my mistake.

The thoughts of darkness and pain consumed my life quickly, perhaps just as quickly as the happiness did. The heartbreak shifted to anger each time I replayed the heartbeat in my memory. I felt myself blaming everything on me. Things I did wrong. I was torturing myself.

The quiet moments were the worst. Absolute worst. Every time I caught myself listening to the sound of my breath, I could hear the memory of the heartbeat, and that memory jogged the now fleeting moments of happiness. I was torturing myself with my own memory. And I didn’t tell a soul.

As a man I felt as if I had to contain my pain because you’re not supposed to talk about this subject, because I’ve been trained to think “how weak a man is when he talks about his misfortunes, his emotions, and how its affected him?”

Do I speak to someone about this? What if they don’t understand?

What if I cry?

What do I expect them to say to me?

“I’m sorry”?

As I slid deeper into that very dark place, the containment of my pain became unbearable. I cried in every conference room at work — yeah — wonderful, right? When a meeting would end, I stayed in the room and tried to replay the heartbeat in my head again, forcing myself into a quiet moment, in turn only causing me to breakdown. I was so desperate to feel the happiness again, so I can feel hopeful again — but it was fleeting, and it wasn’t real.

I slid further through everyday conversations. Things people would say would make the pain even worse:

“So, when are you going to make a baby?”

“Are you pregnant yet?”

“What are you waiting for?”

Even pregnancy announcements sharing just how easy it was, “it only took a month! It was so crazy how easy it was!” or “we sneezed and got pregnant!”- dug a deeper, heartbeat-less hole into my mind. Even as I’m writing this, I still am not sure people actually understand how destructive comments like these are. I am not sure people are aware of others struggles. What people should know is that comments like these create a level of expectation for hopeful parents that it should be easy. That they should be pregnant by now. And if they’re not, what’s wrong with them? A socially manufactured destructive anxiety brought on by a lack of awareness — it’s unfair and hurtful.

Combine those comments with passive- aggressive questions and commentary from coworkers when things outside of work, like an urgent doctors appointment, pull you away from the job:

“If you leave right now your culture fit should be questioned”

“Do you not care about the company?”

Sure, they didn’t know and normally this wouldn’t have effected me, but this behavior illustrates how quickly everyday ignorance can compound onto your own pain if you don’t manage it.

So that’s why I wrote this.

I’m wrote this because not talking was a big mistake, one that caused pain, darkness, and anger. Not talking stripped levels of happiness from me. The unfortunate truth of all of this is, some of you reading this have lived through something similar and have stayed silent. You felt the same pain I did by keeping it in, and I hope my story helps you in knowing you aren’t alone. Sharing what hurt us, in an effort to bring light to behaviors and insensitivities so those in the future don’t feel the hurt caused by ignorance.

I wrote this because people struggle. In an age of portraying a perfect life, an age of strength with no vulnerability, and an age of infinite opinions, we all have struggles. The problem is that we tend to not acknowledge that, so we say things that are hurtful. We become less empathetic, and ultimately never consider what type of damage we can cause if we don’t think before we speak. Everyone has a struggle in some way shape or form, and I’m sure I’m more guilty than most with this. I believe my experience with pain and darkness was my reminder, and a catalyst to reevaluate not just my happiness but my life.

When I finally spoke about it I realized that, yes, we will survive this — through survival we will eventually be better parents for it. By externalizing this it made me realize that there are things that I can control, and those that I can’t — and these things happen. By becoming more vulnerable I realized I’ve always strived for a level of happiness based on a career which didn’t create a lifestyle conducive to sustaining the new level of happiness I found with the heartbeat. A lifestyle of being a parent.

It wasn’t until I started speaking about it openly that it became more manageable. I wasn’t alone, and my pain subsided. The memory was still there, but it was now only a whisper. I realized, that just as Elyssa and I changed, so did my relationship with family and friends. They helped us heal.

I didn’t know what true happiness was, until a heartbeat changed me.

I was recently asked what is my ‘why’ and what is my ‘purpose’.

I used to only think of that question in the context of what was important to me; my career and my work. Now, it’s different. My life now has a real why, and a real purpose.

There’s not one day that I don’t hear that heartbeat. The quiet moments; before I go to sleep, when I run, or even when I catch myself listening to my own breath. It’s there. A reminder. A reminder of the dreams we lost. A reminder that we survived. A reminder that yes, there is happiness in career success, accolades, and awards but it’s family that brings me happiness. The happiness that I get from my growing family, is my ‘why’ and my ‘purpose’. Nothing else.

It took a little heartbeat to show us what true happiness was, and that it can be found again with a new one.

Your boy EToda.