Dr. Brian Lima on the Habits of Career Success

Photo from Brianlimamd.com

Most professionals face challenges in the attempt to reach their career goals. How you respond to these obstacles and the habits you practice determine whether or not you’ll succeed. In his new book, Heart to Beat, Dr. Brian Lima shares the lessons he learned as he built his own career, against the odds — growing up the child of immigrants and having to fight hard for every step he took up ladder.  His insights are universal and will apply whatever your professional goals. Read on for our Q & A with Dr. Lima.


You’ve dedicated your career to becoming a cardiac surgeon, and helped launch the first heart transplant program on Long Island, New York. Now you’ve written a book, Heart to Beat. Why did you choose to become an author? And why this particular book and this title? 

HEART TO BEAT is a call to arms told through my life story, a proof positive account that slow and steady still wins the race, and that success is achievable by anyone willing to put in the hard work, because just like Babe Ruth once said—it’s hard to beat someone who never quits. 

Beyond the objective measures of “success” in my field of heart surgery, such as academic productivity, medical article publications, and technical expertise, I’ve remained grounded, ever mindful of the journey, my trials and tribulations along the way, and the sacrifices made by my family on my behalf, to get me this far. 

I never take it for granted, because each day is a gift. I have the distinct privilege to be entrusted with the delicate lives of others and I’ll always continue striving to make the world a better place. That’s what compelled me to write, HEART TO BEAT, to inspire other to reach their full potential.

Throughout the book, you emphasize the importance of hard work and perseverance. Can hard work really beat smarts or personal connections? How?

Hard work and perseverance can definitely close the gap between those with natural talent and intelligence and those, like myself, who were quite deficient in that department. It’s what I call HEARTIFICIAL intelligence and what I describe in great detail in HEART TO BEAT. You don’t need to be the smartest or most talented person in the room to get ahead, just the one who works the hardest and stays at it the longest. It’s a bareknuckle strategy that has served me quite well along my journey, and indispensable to anyone striving for greatness and mastery.

In addition to hard work, you highlight the importance of personal branding. How can people build a competitive personal brand and stand out from others?

It’s somewhat naïve to think that your work alone will ‘speak for itself.’ Regardless of your field of interest or area of expertise, you must channel your inner entrepreneurial spirit to pinpoint what unmet needs exist, so you can focus your efforts on creating your ‘niche’ area to maximize the likelihood of success.  

To break into any market in any industry, your product (or brand) must offer some distinct advantage, cost benefit, or unique level of service relative to the competition. Think of the disruptive innovation Uber unleashed on the taxi industry or Netflix’s game-changing impact on cable television. And lastly, you can’t go wrong if you adopt the 3 AAA’s, or being Affable, Available, and Able. Translation—you’re likeable, easy to reach, and deliver the goods.

You earned a scholarship to the Ivy League. However, when you got to college you found yourself in an entirely different pool of people. Instead of being intimidated, you set out to learn from them. What did you learn? Is this a takeaway that others can use when they start new schools or new jobs?

Being a workhorse can only get you so far. Getting into medical school was my goal, but good grades alone are not enough. As I explain in HEART TO BEAT, you have to find the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), the archetype for success in your field, so that you can reverse engineer their approach into your own methodology. I learned from top flight upperclassmen what did and didn’t work when they applied to medical school, so avoided reinventing the wheel or repeating their mistakes. And these days, with so much information accessible online, this process is easier and available to virtually anyone inquisitive and persistent enough to find that ‘secret sauce’ ingredient that will enable the fulfillment of their quest.

One of the lessons you share in Heart to Beat is “no regrets allowed.” How can people avoid second-guessing themselves?

This comes down to wholeheartedly embracing a ‘growth mindset,’ and taking solace in the fact that no single failure or poor performance defines you. Never second-guess decisions you made along the way that seemed like the correct move at the time. The should’ve’s, would’ve’s, could’ve’s will drive you insane, if you let them. And, oftentimes, what may seem like a mistake or a wrong turn hasn’t had enough time to manifest positively in your life yet. 

It’s not to say you shouldn’t learn from past errors and failures, but dwelling on them to the point that you lose your edge is pointless and self-defeating. Always keep your head high, own your past, cherish the present, and never bank on the future.

No matter how bad things seem, you have to force yourself to remember that what’s done is done. The past is in the past. Discipline your thought process so you don’t keep reliving that awful or embarrassing moment. Focusing on the here and now when you’re still aching from the sting of whatever that misstep was is the way you move on, grow, and improve. 

It’s easy to become complacent when things are going well or when we attain a hard-fought goal, but you say that complacency is your biggest adversary. How can people avoid becoming complacent?

Think of our literal hearts, which never quit or stop beating no matter the circumstances, the ups and downs. This is the Heart Way of life I discuss in HEART TO BEAT — never quitting, never stopping your personal development. The sooner you come to grips with the fact that there is no finish line or ceiling to your potential, the better. 

Celebrate the wins along the way, but discipline yourself to reenter the fray ASAP. The journey for self-improvement and success is lifelong, we’re always a work in progress. I trained for a decade plus, but I still scour the medical literature and remain abreast of the latest technology and treatments because I owe it to myself and to the patients I serve.

The final chapter of Heart To Beat is devoted to heart health. What role does fitness play in career success?

The cascading benefits of health and fitness into every facet of our lives is undeniable. In HEART TO BEAT, I focus on summarizing some key lifestyle modifications to maximize your heart health. The healthier and more fit you are, the happier you will be overall, and the better quality of life you will have with improved mental sharpness and productivity. Believe it or not, health correlates with improved energy levels and self-esteem.  This ties back in with the positive impact of being affable. With improved health, energy levels, and overall self-esteem, you become more likable and will achieve better work life balance.


HEART TO BEAT is available February 18, 2020. Pre-order here: Amazon | Barnes & Noble