On Writing

What Breaks Your Heart?

I read an article yesterday in the Harvard Business Review titled How to Have a Year That Matters.  While the HBR seems  an unlikely place to find inspiration,  this piece hit home.

In it, the reader is encouraged to bypass the humdrum to explore meaningful questions like “what’s your true north?” – broken heartthe belief system that points you towards your true values.  For example,  the author speculates that Lance Armstrong’s true north was winning trophies rather than championships.

Of all the questions, the one that stopped me cold was  “What Breaks Your Heart?”  He writes  “If you want to find your passion, surrender to your heartbreak. Your heartbreak points towards a truer north.”

I was stunned. While I write many books and articles on the craft of writing as well as topics ranging from computers to photography, nothing in those fields “breaks my heart”.   What does?

  • disappearing nature
  • conformity
  • a rapidly diminishing connection to the past – both individually and collectively
  • greed valued over humanity
  • lack of critical thinking
  • not comprehending that you stand on the shoulders of those who came before

What happens next? I’m  going to spend time over the next several days seeing where these heartbreaks lead – and if the course of my own work is in for a drastic departure from what is.

So, my writing friends . . . what breaks your heart?  Would love to read your comments.


  • Norma Rickman

    Settling on an ordinary life when an extraordinary one is within grasp.
    Being so afraid of success that self-sabotage is preferable.
    Not telling someone you love them when you had the chance.
    Knowing in your heart that you must leave someone behind in order to move forward.
    Saying good-bye when with all your heart you want to stay.
    The lonely lives so many elderly folks experience.
    Giving up on your dreams too soon.

  • Alison Cross

    What a brilliant question – what breaks your heart? Off the top of my head:

    Disappearing nature – just like you. I could weep every time I hear about logging, poaching….

    Cruelty – to anything – children, animals, elderly, disabled


    I want to spend some time with this question, because I think that you’re absolutely right – it points to your true north.

    Ali x

  • Lisa

    social injustice
    someone you love telling you they don’t love you anymore
    and the list goes on….

  • Jessica Macbeth

    what we are doing to our children
    what we are doing to our Earthmama
    the way both subtle and blatant violence and greed are eroding our humanity

    I think all the rest would be healed if we could rediscover compassion, kindness, and integrity as real values in our society and find both small and large ways to practicing. It starts with saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘may I help you?’ and ends with a compassionate, educated society on all levels.

  • Jessica Macbeth

    O, and I have to say that after years of soul-searching trying to find what I should be working on, this question answered itself immediately. It lit a bright fire in me — something I’ll always be grateful for. Thank you so much, Nancy!

  • Alicia

    Brilliant question. My answer would be the sinister side of humanity:
    Abuse of the powerless be it children, animals, or the elderly.
    A dream, talent, or hope snuffed from a person’s life due to limited education, circumstance, or freedom.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for your comment Alicia. I totally agree especially when someone can’t pursue a dream due to circumstance.


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