“Wearing your heart on your sleeve” is the tendency of someone to express their emotions openly. In most professional settings, this is not a quality that is encouraged. We are tasked with analyzing issues objectively and performing our jobs in a logical manner, applying best engineering practices within the guidelines of the codes and standards we become intimate with over the course or our careers. Still, many of us feel the passion for the work we do. Sometimes this comes out during design collaboration when important decisions are being made. Other times, our passion comes out during the construction administration phase of a job when our designs are placed under a microscope. 

Project phases and professionalism

During design, we collect information and communicate what we need to one another to do our jobs. This commonly involves information about utilities and what types of connections various pieces of equipment need. The quality of our designs and the passion that we put into them comes from within. We owe it to ourselves to develop the skills required to put a set of construction documents together that we can be proud of. The engineer stamping the documents may set the tone for level of quality required but, if the project milestones are planned and communicated in a reasonable way, any passion during this phase should involve pride, creativity and collaboration. Sometimes, there is a feeling of frustration that we could not spend more time putting our best foot forward, but that feeling usually subsides when the project team collectively “kicks the can” down the road.

Construction administration (CA) is the phase of the project where the architect and engineer help administer the construction of the project by answering requests for information (RFIs), providing submittal reviews and sometimes reviewing change orders. You know thecan that was kicked down the road? CA is the moment when someone else picks it up and needs to make sense of it. When a job is in construction, the success of the project is tied to schedule, labor and materials.

The construction phase of a project is when real costs come into play and team members, including owners, may become impassioned. This is the phase of a project when professionalism is of the utmost importance. I had mentors early in my career who taught me about the importance of “contract language” and being as clear as possible when corresponding; referring directly to the contract documents and remembering that even emails you might casually send are part of the contract. As professional as we can be, sometimes pride (or an honest declaration of shortcoming) can lead us to “wear our heart on our sleeve.”

The tell

The best way to tell if you are “wearing your heart on your sleeve” is to check your blood pressure. Usually, when you let people know how you really feel, it results in a spike of anxiety and increased blood pressure. Somebody who has a background in therapy would probably say this is because we are allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

I have discovered why our blood pressure increases, and I would like to share it with you. The position of the myocardium, or cardiac muscle, within the human chest cavity is approximately 2/3 of your height. For me, that is 4 feet above grade. A healthy blood pressure reading is 120 mmHg systolic and 80 mmHg diastolic. For those of you who did not go to medical school, the systolic reading is the pressure against your arteries when the heart pumps. The way I like to think of systolic pressure is: “How much pressure does it take to get blood (and oxygen) to the top of my body where the brain is located?”

We can convert 120 mmHg to feet of head or inches of water column.

grossman equation 1

This sounds like a conservative amount of pressure to me. If the heart is 4 feet from the ground, and the top of my head is close to 6 feet up, that leaves 3.35 feet of head for friction loss through the circulatory system.

Now, if you happen to be overcome with emotion and find yourself with your heart on your sleeve, this will place your heart lower than where it normally operates and cause it to operate at a higher pressure in order to compensate. I took a measurement of my own shirt cuff and found it to be approximately 1 foot below my heart. If my heart were to lie there, this would add more distance and pressure to the work my heart would have to overcome.

In order to determine the rise in blood pressure, all we need to do is convert the added distance back to millimeters of Mercury (mmHg) and add it to our initial reading of 120.

grossman equation 2

Just as suspected, placing the heart on one’s sleeve, 1 foot below where it is usually located, will add 22 mmHg to your blood pressure. A healthy systolic blood pressure of 120 mmHg will increase to 142 mmHg. This might be OK for a short period of time, but you shouldn’t do it all the time.

One of the paradoxes of sharing your feelings, when you feel your heart pounding out of your chest, is that you sometimes feel better afterwards. Could the reason be that you are exercising the heart muscle itself?

It is important for us as professional designers and engineers to understand the process of design and construction. One of the rewards of what we do is to revel in our success, helping to create safe, comfortable spaces for people to occupy. It’s OK to “wear your heart on your sleeve” now and then. Let people know what you’re passionate about, and the project you are working on could be that much better for it.