SANTA CLARA -- Everyone with an ounce of courage finds their own personal high wire, a place or a status that fits their disposition and makes them feel whole. And once they find it, the opinions of others become irrelevant.
Jim Harbaugh's high wire is competition. The 49ers coach lives for the rush that comes with winning, particularly football games. There is nothing like it, hasn't been since he was a little boy following his dad and big brother, driven to someday make both proud.
So Harbaugh was back at work Friday, one day after undergoing a heart procedure at Stanford Medical Center that was recommended after he experienced chest pains Wednesday.
Not only was Harbaugh back on the job, full speed ahead, but he also simply shrugged off his time on the operating table.
"It's definitely good to be back," he said, as if he'd been gone for a month -- even though he visited the facility Thursday, shortly after leaving the hospital. "Driving over here (Thursday) and you're not here and the rest of the team's out here practicing, that's not a good feeling. It's like, I've had that dream before many times where it's like you're supposed to be taking a test, or the team's out there practicing and you're not out there ... so, just glad to be out here."
After being treated for an irregular heartbeat for the second time in his life -- the first came near the end of his 14-year career as an NFL quarterback -- Harbaugh, 48, does not seem especially concerned, but he was alarmed enough to sit still for an examination.
"And now they have a procedure, a cardiovert," he said. "It's amazing, gets the heart rate back to normal. So it's great that they have that technology to get that done. But, the atrial flutter is something that I've had for a while, probably pretty close to all my life."
Never once, however, has he considered walking away from football.
Football is, for most NFL coaches, more than a career. It's a lifestyle, a compulsion, an obsession. For Harbaugh, it's all that and more. It's an emotional necessity. He can't remember a time when the game wasn't part of his routine.
Jim's father, Jack, spent several decades coaching football, and his older brother, John, played and has made a career out of coaching. Jim could have chosen a different path, but he was mesmerized by the game, captivated by its challenges.
Football had this magnetic lure, he sprinted toward it, and he's still affixed to it.
So, no, even with a wife and three children -- one only 2 months old -- there was no thought of taking a day off, much less a week or two.
"I missed yesterday, basically, and tried to catch up on that last night at home and today," Harbaugh said, referring to his involvement in the game plan for the Chicago Bears on Monday night at Candlestick Park.
Harbaugh's players have gotten to know him pretty well. They can see and feel how much this team and these games mean to him. They aren't surprised he was back on the premises, darting about from one to the other, as if nothing of urgency had happened.
"When you have a heart procedure, I know some people aren't coming in for a good week or more -- maybe two," defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. "But coach Harbaugh is so dedicated to the game and to us ... he's a football guy. You can't keep him away."
Well, you could -- but not without a fight.
Yet Harbaugh seemed slightly less tightly wound Friday. He dutifully obliged the flurry of questions related to his procedure, whether there are any restrictions (no) and the status of his health (good) or whether any of this had, or will have, any effect on his approach to his job.
In a word: hardly.
"I feel like I've been real forthcoming, telling you exactly everything I know about this, even emotionally how it feels and whatnot," he said. "(I'm) just glad to be back at work, glad to be preparing for this ballgame."
Asked specifically if he'll attempt to project a more relaxed veneer, the high-strung coach said, "No, I don't feel like that'll happen."
He says he'll follow recommendations of his doctors and cut back on caffeine. That he'll eat better. That he'll take his aspirin and any other medication that might be prescribed. He's not going to be, in his words, "stubborn like a mule."
But he's going to be the Jim Harbaugh that we've all watched in recent years, driven and intense, directing the full measure of his energies toward building a better football team.
Harbaugh, like most football coaches, especially at the higher levels, tends to focus on the pursuit of excellence, sweating the details and living to solve. That's why losing devastates more than winning exhilarates.
Was there even a moment, perhaps while lying on the operating table, when Harbaugh allowed himself to reflect? Or to vow to take more time to "smell the roses?"
"Peel back the onion and get a little introspective? No, I really haven't," he said. "I really haven't. Just want to do what I'm supposed to do and get back to living."
In Harbaugh's mind, he is peeling back the onion and sniffing the roses. Only he calls it film study and game planning.
It's his personal haven, and it's unlike yours. He wouldn't have it any other way.