134: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder with John O'Leary
Today’s guest is John O’Leary. John is an inspirational speaker, blogger, and podcaster, as well as the author of On Fire, a national bestseller. At the age of nine, John survived a fire that burned 100% of his body and left him with a one-percent chance to live. He fought extraordinary odds, won, and now lives his life driven to help others live more inspired lives.
In his new book, In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy, he invites us to return to the joy of navigating life like a child by reconnecting with the five senses children innately possess.
I first saw John speak in 2019. He gave one of the most impactful, inspirational, and meaningful presentations I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been looking forward to having him on the podcast ever since.
Today, he joins me for a conversation about why his childhood experience is one of triumph and not tragedy — and what we can all do right now to shift our mindset, embrace positivity, and stay open-minded as we age.
In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
- Why we have to experience adversity to rediscover what actually matters – and how you can safely share this message with your children.
- How to stop being ruled by fear – and why it’s hard for John to be ruled by negativity, even after losing 94% of his future revenue on March 10th.
- The difference between meaning and purpose in life – and how our search for these things evolves over lifetimes.
- How John walks his clients through the processes of evaluating what really matters in their lives, breaking bad habits, and making meaningful change.
- What we can do right now to shift our mindset, embrace positivity, and stay open-minded as we age.
- “Meaning is the willingness to pull back, breathe, and look at what you’ve got, and give thanks for it.” – John O’Leary
- “What your purpose and meaning are currently, ought to be radically different in a few years than what it is right now.” – John O’Leary
Casey Weade: John, welcome to the podcast.
John O’Leary: Casey, thank you for having me on, man.
Casey Weade: I am so excited to have you on. I’ve been looking forward to this interview for months, but I’ve been looking forward to being able to have a conversation with you for over a year now. I had the opportunity to see you actually speak here at January 2019 and I was sitting in the audience with my best friend, Marshal Johnson, or Vice President here at Howard Bailey and I look over at him. I’m wiping the tears away from my eyes. I look over at him and he’s there and they’re just pouring and he looks at me and he chuckles because it was just such an impactful moment for us. It was such an impactful conversation. It was so inspirational, so meaningful, especially for two guys that had young kids, right? We’ve got young kids and we couldn’t imagine them experiencing what you experienced. And one of the things that really got me excited when I saw you speak from stage, one of the things that stuck with me ever since was this quote that you spoke.
John O’Leary: Oh, man. That’s awesome.
Casey Weade: “I love you and there’s nothing that you can do about it.” For other people that are listening, I feel like everybody should have heard John O’Leary’s message, but there’s probably some that are tuning in that have said, “Yeah, who is this guy?” Well, can you explain? And I know you’ve told the story over and over again but it needs to be heard. It needs to be spread. Can you just talk about what this quote means? Why you put it on a shirt?
John O’Leary: So, when I saw your T-shirt, I assumed you were either an Ohio State man, a Hoosier, or maybe a Cardinal fan but to know that you are a fan of love is far greater than the other three. The quote is, “I love you. There’s nothing you can do about it.” And where the quote originated actually is the first time I met my wife’s grandfather, tough guy, depression-era kid, grew up in a tougher neighborhood, all the attributes that you would attribute to that kind of upbringing. And the very first time I met him, he said, “John, do you know what I do when I meet someone for the very first time?” And I said, “No. I’m sorry, sir. I don’t.” He goes, “Well, the very first thing I do is I turn sideways, I make a fist in my right hand. That way, if they swing at me, I can duck, counterpunch, and drop them. And there’s nothing they can do about it.” And then he took a bite out of the cookie in his other hand.
So, this is my very first introduction into this beautiful man who I would fall in love with as I dated his granddaughter and then married his granddaughter. Great guy. But the very first time I met him, he said, “Turn sideways, make a fist, get ready to punch, throw it down.” And so, that always stuck with me because I wonder if there’s a contrasting way to greet people and I think it’s the way we are called to greet people not only as we move for retirement and beyond, but as we move through life, and it is with love and it’s not about us. It’s not about what we can get from them, but it’s about how in the way we meet them and the way we greet them and the way we look into their eyes and love them. It’s going to change not only the way they feel about us, but the way they feel about themselves, and the way we do life together afterwards. So, the quote on the T-shirt reflects a quote that I use in every interaction every single day in my life, “I love you. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
Casey Weade: I love that. My mom saw it for the first time this morning when I was dropping off the kids and, and she said, “Ooh, I like that. That one’s for you,” and she said, “Can I write Casey and Chelsea on that shirt?” Because it means a lot and I think people really quickly understand what that quote is all about. And when you were speaking from stage, it kind emits the launch of On Fire, which was your first number one national best-selling book and that title, On Fire, people wouldn’t know unless they may be watching the video or know kind of your story, why you would call a book, On Fire. Can you tell us where the title came from and kind of share that backstory? Of course, I know it but it needs to spread. And as we get into this discussion, there are some people that are joining us on Facebook live stream right now as we do this interview.
And John has a second book that we’re going to get to in just a minute. It’s called In Awe and we are going to be giving away signed copies of In Awe so this is the only place you’re going to get that signed copy at no cost and all of the proceeds John is going to be donating to Big Brothers Big Sisters. All that you have to do is go ahead and tag someone in the comments or start a watch party right now. People need to hear this message. It needs to be spread. If you know somebody that needs inspiration, share this now. So, John, On Fire.
John O’Leary: So, it’s a double meaning, of course, and the broader meaning is this, when you see something that is amazing, when you see someone performing at a high level, when you have a terrific day, it’s frequently described as like, “Man, he was on fire. The game was on fire. The sunset was on fire. Life is on fire.” And so, this really beautiful descriptive term that elevates the way you perceive what’s taking place right in front of you, or within you. And for me, that title has a double meaning because, at age nine, I was burned in a house fire. I quite literally was on fire. I was burned, as you know, Casey, now your listeners and viewers know, on 100% of my body, 87% of those burns were third degree, spent five months in the hospital, years of surgery and therapy, a very terrifically challenging story, a tragedy. And yet, upon reflecting on it, we recognize now decades of 2020 vision into it, that it’s actually a story. Not a tragedy but of triumph. The story itself is on fire and even as those who have read the book or might read it later on in life, look at the cover.
The original cover of On Fire was a picture of me with my arms crossed looking very stoically at the reader. And I’m like, “Did you guys read this book? The book is not about me.” It’s not about me. And so, they redid the title and now it’s a picture of the words On Fire, but they’re in smoky red, orange, beautiful, brilliant letters that actually reflect. If you look closely at it, it reflects the reader space back at them because we want them to recognize it’s they who are called to be on fire, not only for themselves and their retirement and their success and their 401(k), all the things that make them great, but ultimately on how they can give what they received back to those who so desperately needed. So, that’s the origin story of the book On Fire.
Casey Weade: Well, it’s a story about adversity, I think, and overcoming adversity and finding inspiration in difficult times. Can you share with us kind of what that – a lot of us are experiencing adversity right now and it’s coronavirus impact on our lives and for you, what was the first thought that went through your head? Am I in trouble? Dad came in and saw you. Can you just kind of share what your first thoughts were, what their first thoughts were, and then how that transitioned into inspiration?
John O’Leary: So, at age nine, you’re old enough to have your own memories. This isn’t like this happened to me at three and I was told by someone. Everything I’m telling you about that day is absolutely my memory and it’s been backed up by my mom and dad’s perspective of what they saw. And so, coming through the flames and fire and we could talk about that if you’d like but I think what you’re really asking is, “John, when you were laying in that emergency room, when you are by yourself and as your father’s approaching, what are you thinking?” And for me, what I remember without any doubt at all was the only thought I had was, “Oh my gosh, my dad, the old man is going to kill me.” He’s going to find out that I played with fire and gasoline. He’s going to find out that I blew up his garage. He’s going to find doubt that the entire house was burning down when the ambulance swept me away. My dad is going to kill me.”
So, that’s all I thought as he approached me. As he moved closer, his face kind of softens. The very first thing he ever said to me was, “Hey there, you little monkey. What happened to you?” But he said it was like this joyful exuberance of just pure love. And then he said a little bit more seriously, “John, look at me.” So, I did and then he goes, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” Casey, I remember looking away from my dad’s glance and thinking, “Oh my gosh, nobody told my dad what happened.” You know, the old man is uninformed. And then my next thought is a total like, fallen person was I wonder if I can get away with this. Maybe my brother’s painting the garage right now. Who knows? And yet what he was showing me that day, it’s just called grace. It’s grace and love and forgiveness and it was the first most important step along the journey toward recovery.
Casey Weade: I think that’s an important lesson is to give grace and to find that in others. I guess when I hear this story, it also kind of makes me think about raising kids in the conversation my wife and I had here. You know, it’s been an ongoing conversation especially with what’s going on in coronavirus. Now, we’re homeschooling, right? Everybody’s homeschooling. And so, I guess, selfishly I wanted to ask something that we’ve been pondering and that is we want to protect our kids from adversity. We want to protect them from getting bullied at school and having to have some difficult social interactions at school and trying to put them around all the best people, right? However, when we look back at our lives, you know, growing up in public school and how hard that was, we wondered did we need to experience that difficulty in our lives? Did we need to go through that adversity to be the people that we are today or could we shelter our kids from that, and could they still come out inspired and willing and ready to overcome obstacles? And you have an extreme example of that. You experienced extreme adversity and look at who you are today. And I think we have this idea that, well, you have to experience some hard times. You got to get knocked down sometimes in order to learn how to get back up. What are your thoughts around that?
John O’Leary: So, my thoughts are, number one, it suggests to me that you are a phenomenal father just thinking of your kids and trying to protect them from hardship, which is what any seemingly loving mother or father would, of course, want for their child. And yet in the exact next breath, I think you answered your question. Am I over protecting them from these experiences that made me form or shaped me into the man I am and into the woman that my wife is? So, what I would say to all of us, myself included is when you protect your children overly so from experiencing adversity or stealing from them the possibility of growing in resiliency, the possibility of really understanding what matters, how tough they can be, the importance of faith, the ideas around grit, and ultimately the foundation of gratitude. Because when you’re protected from the worst, you also don’t recognize how good it is. And so, either by getting burned in a fire in one way or another, that can happen in a million different ways or by spending life with those who are. It can happen in either way but either way, our kids and we as adults must continually experience adversity to rediscover what actually matters.
Casey Weade: So, we’re probably not going to be giving our kids gasoline and a match or experience adversity.
John O’Leary: There’s probably other ways.
Casey Weade: There’s better ways to encounter this.
John O’Leary: Soup kitchens and service opportunities in normal life, the ups and downs of normal life breathe ed adversity, and then the opportunity to be redeemed through it.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, I want to get I think your book, In Awe, has a lot to do with how we should be thinking about not just ourselves, but raising children and grandchildren. So, I want to get in that in just a moment but as I was thinking about what a lot of families are experiencing right now, especially when I think about business owners or really business owners, employees, anybody that’s going through a difficult time right now, but I guess, as a business owner myself, I think there’s a lot of us that are just trying to get by or just trying to make it. We’re playing it day by day and it’s difficult to even think about getting it inspired and setting huge goals. If we’re going through these difficult times, how are we supposed to find inspiration?
John O’Leary: So, I mean, that’s a great question. I believe it’s almost like three-fold. One is with the vision of where you want to go. I think we give way too much credibility and attention to the news of the day and I’m not saying that as a political commentary. Right now, the Republicans are nodding their heads saying, “Those darn liberals,” and the liberals are nodding their heads saying, “That darn Trump.” So, I’m not being political here. I’m just being factual. They are paid to share fear and tell you to stick around for the two minutes of commercials that they’re selling you so that you will pay attention to the next round of fear that they’re sending your way. And this is nothing new. Harvard did a study on this back in 2018, when the stock market was an all-time high, unemployment at an all-time low, 94.5% of new stories were negative. So, if you think it’s just the COVID-19, that’s why it’s so bad. Whoa, man, this has been going on not only for years but decades and generations. There’s nothing new under the sun. It’s a 2,700-year-old quote and it still plays today. Nothing new under the sun. So, the media just keeps stirring the pot of negativity and death.
So, number one, stop paying attention to that. Start looking forward to where you still can go. The foundation of your life remains firm. You live for the majority of us in the freest society in the history of the world. Anywhere that your listeners are tuning in from today, whether it’s Australia, England, Ireland, Canada, just about anywhere else in the world including our own backyard of the United States, the foundation is firm. So, where do you want to go? Number one is vision. Secondly, getting present with the moment. When we are living with fear, you’re not living with a rational belief of what’s happening right now. You’re living with what might happen next, what Trump might tweet up, what the coronavirus might do, what the economy might do, what might happen tomorrow with the markets. We don’t know but it could go bad. That’s just called fear. You don’t have any control over it, but you’re spending your efforts right now on it.
So, in getting laser-focused in where you are and what actually matters right now, out my office window, there’s this gorgeous magnolia tree that is blooming. Right upstairs, there are four kids that are learning and probably spending more time playing. My beautiful wife is walking around going person-to-person trying to keep them in their lane. If I can just get laser-focused on what is right in front of me, I recognize how good this is. This is the day that the Lord has made. This is good. It’s enough. So, the second part is getting present. And then the third one piece which is equally important as the other two, history. Man, you’re a financial guy. Over the last 65 years, we’ve had 12 corrections of greater than 20% and the average drop has been 30. So, you sum up all the horrible news, average drop is 30%. In the next six months that follow, that horrible drop, when the world was falling, everybody was dying, and more 10, more 10.
In the six months that followed that negativity, we had an average return of 26%. Meaning if you could just shut up and enjoy the grandeur, the majesty of this moment, and wake up six months later, you would see a net loss of 4% on your portfolio. So, we get really wrapped up on what’s happening today and what happened yesterday could happen tomorrow, rather than just say, “Man, history reminds us that what goes up, what goes down typically bounces forward.” FDR, it’s one of my favorite addresses and I’ll mess this up a little bit but in his fourth and final address to the nation on his inauguration. So, apparently, FDR was the king of the United States for a generation or so. Four times, he was our president. He made his way to the podium and during that 23 years of polio, these metal straps on his legs, and looked out at the nation who was still awash amidst the great global war, World War II, and he reminded this population longing for hope, that if you could draw a line right between the peaks and the valleys over the course of the centuries, that line always trends up.
The media tells it always trends down and they will tell you more about it at 10. Your neighbor tells you on social media, that it’s all bad, except for the wine they had last night and then now they ran out. Everybody’s tendering and sharing the bad news but history reminds us the line points up, the line points up. And maybe the fourth and I wasn’t going to share this, but I think I should. My faith reminds me that the line trends up. In my own faith [inaudible – 16:56]. So, all this negativity around well, gosh, I could lose a percentage point or basis points of my portfolio. Man, if I have an eternal glance of what actually matters in life, I realized that this too shall pass. And the best days for me and for my family remain in front of us. So, I think looking forward, in your business, in our economy, in our lives, being present, grown from history, history reminds us what will happen going forward, and then having an eternal lens of where ultimately this thing goes. It’s hard for me to be overly negative right now. There’s a lot wrong, but rather than complaining about it or watching it, we want to move toward the problem and fix it.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, you said four things. They are vision, presence, history, faith, just to reiterate, and the one to me that really stands out is presence. We have an opportunity now in Dr. Sachin Patel’s words, “To be human beings.” Quite often we’re human doings. We’re just constantly doing and we have the opportunity to actually just be and be present right now and learn from that. And I know I’ve grown through this and sometimes others will see somebody like you, someone that’s truly inspirational that’s always positive. And they say, “He doesn’t have the same problems that I do. He’s already figured this out. He knows how to stay positive through anything.” But I know this still had a big impact on you and your financial life, your business life. I mean, you’ve probably had dozens of speaking engagements canceled, I would presume. You’ve got a major national book launch that is going live here May 5, and I know what that entails. I know all the speaking engagements that are around that and you’ve got bookstores that are shut down. You’re not able to get it into Barnes & Noble. So, what do you do when you get in a slump? What should be our first reaction, our first step?
John O’Leary: So, I’ll answer your question if you give me 23 seconds to step into it sideways. I think it’s important for your listeners and viewers to know that John O’Leary wakes up in physical pain every single day. And it’s not something I almost ever share. My own wife doesn’t know that and my kids have never heard me utter those words but that is the truth. I don’t have fingers. I struggle holding a pen, let alone a cup of coffee or a suitcase as I travel through airports. Physically, I struggled. You mentioned, “I bet you’ve gone through some adversity yourself.” Yes, I also I’m trying to move toward retirement. Our portfolio, believe it or not, lost a little bit of value but much more than that, in my own case, 94% of our future revenues were destroyed on March 10 or so this year because I’m an international speaker. So, I’ve had to this point, 44 presentations cancel this year and next, 44 presentations. We have a team of seven that we support through that revenue.
This has been a crisis for us financially and yet it’s also been this wild opportunity to pivot in a direction that we would have never gone otherwise, to be home, to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, to wake up every single morning with them, to tuck my girl in. Her name is Grace. She’s eight years old. Fifty-four nights as we record this, never happened in her entire life her daddy has tucked her in, and tomorrow is going to be 55. And I have a feeling by the time this is all said and done, it’s going to be in the hundreds with her daddy tucking her in every single night. So, I’m seeing the gifts even within the storm. We’re seeing the opportunity to pivot in a new direction, to build the business in a direction could not have gone if we were just busy doing the same old thing going forward into 2020. So, we see opportunity in this storm. You can, if you choose, return to the safe harbor and that’s the popular thing. Build the fence around yourself, man. Pour cement around that, build that high and keep yourself safe. We don’t want to do that. We want to create a church model. We want to build out for others who are, of course, struggling right now. We want to raise a sale into this wind and go in a new direction to such a degree.
I mentioned this to you in the earlier comments. We’re giving away 100% of the profits from the book for the first week, which is the majority of the sales for a book into an organization that I love called Big Brothers Big Sisters. We see an opportunity right now not just to talk inspiration, and to say, “Hey, guys, it’s going to be okay. We’re in this together,” but to model this and not only to model it for my organization, but to model for my kids. They’re watching. They’re watching daddy come home from work a little tired, a little stressed, but they’re also watching how daddy is trying to navigate these new waters. So, I want to give them an example that is worthy of being remembered long after I’m gone. The final thing I’ll say to your simple question is this, gratitude. If you can have gratitude for the headwind, for the storm, for the fire, for the Parkinson’s disease, for the upheaval in your life, it will remind you that the foundation of your life does, in fact, remain firm. So, what I try to do as I go through any crisis is I begin that journey forward not with what’s wrong, but with what is right.
Casey Weade: Well, and I think the thing that I hear you say there, you get struck with, I mean, in this instance, financial adversity, and you give even more. You give even more when it’s harder to give than when it was easy.
John O’Leary: So, I think it’s cool to give when you’re on top of the mountain. You’re like, “Here’s $5. Enjoy.” It’s radical generosity, though, to give when you feel like you’re buried by it. The experience and kind of would form this, Casey. Years ago, I came home from a speaking event and a bookselling event where I had sold a ton of books and was paid in cash for all of them. And speakers don’t keep that cash. Books cost us money too like it already goes back to the publishing company but I had a wad of cash in my wallet. And we’re in church on a Sunday morning and my little boy, Patrick, he’s probably seven at the time. Big old brown eyes, full of life. We give digitally online on the front side of the year to the church and it just seeds it week after week, but I also want the kids to see that give. I think that’s powerful. So, I always pull up the wallet, give them all a little bit of money, encourage them to bring their own.
But on this day, I’m letting Patrick choose what to give. And I say, “Hey, Patrick,” because the church is quiet, “Hey, Patrick, how much should we give?” And then he responds looking at my wallet jacked with cash, man, he yells out in church, “Daddy, give it all. Give it all.” That’s how he is. Live, man. “It’s not yours anyway, dad. Give it all.” And so, listen, I’m not telling you to give yourself into bankruptcy but very infrequently do we become poor through generosity. I don’t see a whole lot of successful people who became poor by being kind, by loving, by being generous. So, listeners and viewers, man, I challenge you. You don’t have to give your entire net savings away or the entire first heavy book sales away. But can you do something? Can you give something? Can you reach across the fence line and say, “Man, you’re not alone?” Can you make a dinner for someone you know is struggling? Can you quietly put a $50 bill in someone’s mailbox and walk away? Because you know they’re struggling more than you are right now. And so, I do believe there’s an opportunity right now in this season to be radical and in doing so you quite literally may save someone’s life.
Casey Weade: I think value in many people’s lives is giving to others and if we’re psychologically going through a difficult time and adversity, we need to create more meaning in our lives. We need to elevate that purpose and that might be giving. Giving can help give back to yourself, so tenfold, right? But just giving away during those difficult times. And to you, it sounds like that is creating meaning in your life and it has something to do with purpose as well. We talk about purpose and meaning a lot here on the Retire With Purpose Podcast. And so, I’m wondering from you, how do you differentiate between meaning and purpose? And where does that fit in in your life?
John O’Leary: So, meaning to me seems like the rationale behind why we do all the things that we do and purpose seems to be more of a true north that we are pulled toward, or fueled by. And when I think of purpose, look, my purpose statement is this. Today, I’m tired right now, to be honest, like I’m just wiped physically but this morning, I got up before the sun was up and I went out to the screen porch with a cup of coffee. I love to watch it rise, man, whether it’s an overcast day and you barely see it, you still see darkness turn to cloud. That’s powerful. But on a day like today in St. Louis, Missouri, I watched darkness turn the light and I watched God, sun kiss off the heavens, and it was majestic. And I made a list of things that I was grateful for today. Part of the reason why I get up early, part of the reason I stay up late, and part of the reason why I have this goofy grin on my face, and for those of you listening, hopefully in my voice, and I hope even as you listen, you’re hearing that dude is happy about something, I think he’s been drinking too much coffee, or whatever else is in that mug. Well, the guiding light for me my purpose statement is I choose to thrive because it’s personal for me, God demands it, my family deserves it, and the world is starved for it. So, let’s go.
I choose to thrive because God demands it, my family deserves it, the world is staved for it. Let’s go. Let’s go. So, that’s my purpose. But the meaning is the reason why I do all the things in the first place. The meaning is why we are called to take Sabbath and slow down from time to time throughout the day, throughout the week, and occasionally throughout life to look back to recognize why we have been doing what we’ve been doing in the first place. If you ask yourself, why did God stop to rest? I don’t think he was tired. I think it is to look back and really take inventory of what he created. But even more than that, to be an example for the rest of us, to follow suit, to slow down. And so, meaning is when we’re able to look back and realize, “Wow, look at these kids. Oh my gosh, I’m so blessed.” Like I’m over. Honestly, when I think about it, I’m overwhelmed by my life. I look at my wife. She’s like, red wine, man. She gets prettier every single day. I look old radish. We’ve been married 17 years and she blows me away. Her heart’s awesome but if I was racing through life, I’d see none of it. Meaning is the willingness to pull back, breathe, and look at what you’ve got, and give thanks for it.
Casey Weade: How do you feel that that evolves, that relationship between ourselves, our purpose, meaning in our lives? How does that evolve through the phases or stages of our life?
John O’Leary: So, what your purpose and meaning are currently, ought to be radically different in a few years than what it is right now. As you age from grade school to middle school, life changes. Middle school to high school, life changes. And we think as we age like we’ve made it. We almost look back at a girl like right now a lot of kids are missing out on graduation and prom and we almost look at them with this day and like, “Don’t they realize how insignificant this is?” But I challenge those of us who view that way, was it insignificant when you were at prom, or when you weren’t invited to prom, or when you graduated? Was it insignificant then? Because probably not. And so, what that might remind us also as the things that we think, we think we’ve made it to the climax of life where we are right now. Yeah, we’re always evolving. We’re always growing. We’re always hopefully becoming far better, wiser versions of ourselves. And likewise, our meaning and our purpose ought to change a bit with it.
So, I know you work with individuals and organizations help them set goals and where they ultimately want to go. You want to revisit those probably every six to 12 months and say, “Gosh, is that still what retirement looks like for you? You want to retire at 49?” You said, “Well, now you’re 53. Are you sure you still want to retire at 49 because that’s four years ago?” You said you wanted to retire at 65 with X amount of dollars, is that still what it looks like? And so, we ought to be always looking deeply in the mirror not only to add makeup and fix our hair but to really discover who we really are and what ultimately really matters.
Casey Weade: I think to a lot of folks that the word purpose is kind of intimidating. I know in our visits, our first visit with families we work with it’s a discussion around purpose, and it can be a little scary, it can be a little intimidating, and quite often we’ll hear, “Well, I never really thought about it before. I don’t feel like I have a purpose.” If you’re working with someone, how do you get them started on defining what that purpose is in their life? What kind of questions should they be asking themselves?
John O’Leary: So, I’m only smart enough to keep things really simple. So, I only have one question to get me down there but to lead into it, I would always empathize and say, “You know what, you are not alone.” The vast majority of people have no purpose. They have drive maybe for something but frequently, once they get there, they realize, “Wow, that wasn’t it. So, what’s next? What’s the next summit? Let’s keep going, people. Maybe if it’s more followers on Facebook, maybe if it’s more dollars in the bank account, maybe that’s what’s driving me.” And then they get both, “Dang, that’s hollow too.” So, they’re not alone. Begin with compassion and grace, not only for them but also for all of us. And then the one question, I think guide you toward discovering purpose is you ask the question, “Who cares?” And you begin the answer, “So, who cares? Why do you care about this?” And the answer begins with I choose to thrive because like, for me, thrive is its continual growth.
It’s a lifelong leadership. It’s becoming far better today than I was yesterday as a grandparent, as a daughter, as a student, as a financial advisor, as a retiree, as a person trying to contribute into a community that is longing for it these days. But not only these days, all days. Last year, 1.5 million Americans attempted suicide. So, if you think that coronavirus is what has made us feel despair, you’re wrong. It was last year when markets were at all-time highs and unemployment at all-time lows, 1.5 million of us attempted suicide. So, we need leaders, champions to come forward as torchbearer and say, “People follow me. We got this together.” And so, what is purpose? It’s answering the question, “Who cares?” with the statement, “I choose to thrive because…” and you heard my answer and it was an iteration. It’s been 11 years now in the making. At first, it was more of a to-do statement. You know, all the things I was going to do. Now, it fits me in any season. It fits me when I’ve being interviewed by my friend, Casey. It fits me when I’m speaking to an organization with 32,000 people in the audience. It fits me when I’m making burgers for my kids at home tonight or peanut butter and jellies for them at lunch. I choose to thrive because God demands it. My family deserves it. The world is starved for it. Let’s go. That’s my purpose.
Casey Weade: Well, I want to know how purpose and finding that purpose, finding meaning in your life fits in with your latest book, In Awe.
John O’Leary: I think it comes out most clearly halfway through in a section called Immersion. So, the idea of the book is what is it that children have that allows them to show up so joyfully, so gratefully, so optimistic, so goofily happy, so wildly passionately alive, that we have lost sight of? As we frown our way through the day, and during the mundane of whatever it is that we’re doing, work, relationships, retirement, life, the drudgery of it all, watching the news all the way up and down the line, what is it that kids have that we have lost sight of and how do we return to it? And so, I’ve unpacked within the book, through great research and a whole lot of interviews, five senses that children have that light them up for life, and one of them is immersion. They are all in for everything they’re doing all day long.
But the other side of that is not only in the moment like in real-time they don’t multitask. They color and then they play and then they nap and then they talk and then they hung and then they dance and then they color and then they go outside and look at like they do one thing really, really, really, really – you got three and a five-year-old, man. You are Exhibit A of this. Look around your house. They do one thing really well, color the walls with marker. They do one thing really, really well. But I had a conversation with a business owner years ago, in a hospital room. I was a hospital chaplain for a couple of years and this guy was at the end of his life. He had congestive heart failure. I walked into this room. I’d never met him before. The room is gray. It’s drab. The shades are drawn. There’s no flowers, there’s no cards, and we just started unpacking life together. And I remember, Casey, he said, “John, if you had seen me years ago, you would have seen a man on top of the world.” He talked about running a business with his family, his three kids.
And then he said, “And then in the pursuit of that success, I lost sight of the things that actually mattered.” He said, “I worked so hard that I lost my relationship with my wife, worked out so hard and so stressful that I turned to alcohol and other drugs to cope. I started smoking and the whole lot of other things, John, which then eventually affected not only my health but my relationship with my three daughters.” And he like looked out the window, looks back over to me and he says, “John, I’ve gotten to the very end of my life and I realized that I’ve climbed the ladder to the very tippy top, and I had the thing leaned against the wrong darn wall.” And I’ll never forget that. “John, I got to the end of my life, and I realized I had that ladder leaned against the wrong darn wall.” So, part of what I hope people will get from the book, In Awe, is how better to recognize what the foundation of their life is, what wall they want to lean it against, because it may not be the one they’re currently leaning that ladder against, and how to begin climbing. And like I love climbing. I run a business, I support businesses and grow top-line revenue and bottom-line profitability. I love climbing. But we want to make sure that we don’t get to the top and realize it was leaned against the wrong wall. The worst thing in life is to become successful in things that don’t matter. I think that, honestly, that’s worse than failing to become really highly successful in things that don’t matter at all. So, we want to make sure we unpack success in this book and unpack passion and purpose within the book as well.
Casey Weade: Well, there’s an addiction there, I think, that I see with especially my business owner, clients, the business owner clients that we work with and those are just very successful. Maybe they were lawyers or maybe they were successful CPAs. Whatever it was, those that were very successful in business really struggle with this transition into retirement. They really struggle once they find financial freedom and I was lucky enough to kind of experience that for myself where I said, “Well, I don’t need money anymore. I’ve got financial freedom. Well, now what? Why am I working? Do I keep working at this point? So, do I continue to work the way it was? Maybe I need to focus on my family and my friends.” How would you walk someone through that process? I guess first you got to wake them up, right? Wake them up to the reality that what they’re doing isn’t their purpose or they don’t need to work 15 hours a day. The money isn’t the goal anymore. How do you wake someone up? And how do you help them find that transition to get them to the top of that ladder?
John O’Leary: There’s a lot of ways. My mom always says a lot of roads lead to Rome. I don’t even exactly know what that means but I think it means this destination we have there’s a whole lot of ways to get there. And maybe the most profoundly powerful exercise that we do when we do like online coaching, I’ll just give this one away, so here is this class. We occasionally will have people create their current obituary. So, business owner, you pass away today, have the funeral. What are people saying about you? Let’s write it out there. My grandmother passed away on Friday morning. We had the service yesterday with nine people around during this COVID outbreak. You can’t have anything more than that at least where we are. And to hear the people who are gathered around this woman who was 98 years old when she passed away, and what they shared, “We buried yesterday a saintly woman.” And you know, everyone compliments people when they die, “What a great guy.” It’s not the same guy. I knew him, man. Like we all praise these people upon their death.
I mean, be honest about it. What are people really saying about you? What is your spouse saying? Or your ex-spouse, your children, your parents, your business partners, your employee, the guy who really knew you at the front desk? What are they saying about you? So that’s the first exercise because frequently you’re like, “Oh, man, I wish they would say something even better than that. I wish they would talk about me the way I talk about my grandmother. That would be cool.” So, then the next exercise is, okay, let’s do it again. You’re not dead. Your service was not yesterday, you have life in your lungs. Act like it. Where do you want to go? What does that obituary look like as you go forward? Now, let’s rewrite it. Pick the people that you want around your side. What are they saying to you? What have you done? What have you encouraged them? What have they done because of your investment in their life? And so, frequently that the race up the ladder is because of us like we want to grow. We want to become wealthy. We want to retire at some point for us. But as you grow from success to significance, you realize that’s not enough, man. Golf gets boring. I don’t want to get sunburned on another day out there in the park.
So, what is significance? It’s different frequently than success. And I would encourage those of us who are still running the business like you and I are, don’t wait for retirement, like start living it now. That’s why I’m on board of not-for-profits. That’s why my wife and I are already trying to be very charitable. We’re trying to model for the kids but we want to grow into this. We don’t want it to be like, this was the first half of my life and now it’s the second half. It’s all one life. You got one life. You’re not promised tomorrow. So, start living retirement if you will. Start living generosity today.
Casey Weade: Yeah. That’s beautiful. I got to throw this out there and maybe I’ll digress for a moment that I left for the gym this morning. I come back and when I’m coming back home, you know, I’m thinking about our conversation we’re going to have this morning and I see in the window, there’s my five-year-old son looking out the window, right? He’s been waiting on dad to show up. And as soon as I pull in, he opens the door and he just runs up, gives me a big hug, says, “I love you, dad. Can we go play jump rope?” And my thought was, “Am I showing up like this for the people I love?” That was the childlike wonder I saw this morning. I said, “Am I doing that for my wife? Am I doing that for my kids? Am I doing that for the friends that I love and the team members that we have?
John O’Leary: Yes. And your honest questions of yourself should be asked by all of us. We as children want to jump rope, as if it’s the very first time we’ve ever jumped rope and, dang, it is fun to jump rope with dad. And the very first time, you know, to put forward 20 years or so to get married, and you watch him or her come towards you and you say the words “I do” it’s like, “Aw, this is happening.” But eventually, the words shift from “I do” to “I have to.” And what first time living and we unpack it in the book is really ultimately about is imagining every single time you experience anything, as if it is the very first time you are experiencing it. Part of the reason why children have such joy is because it’s the first time they jump rope. I mean, he’s like jump rope 13 times in his entire life with that. So, this is about the first time he’s ever jump rope. The first time you give him a hot chocolate with marshmallows, he doesn’t remember it. Four when he had it, “Holy, it is so good, dad. They float and they disappeared. It goes from brown to tan like this the coolest drink ever.” And by the time we have it, it’s kind of boring. We might drink it, but we’ve had 10,000 of them before.
So, whether you’re looking at your spouse or your children, or a jump rope, or a hot chocolate, or the market or a sunrise, or the reflection in the mirror, there’s a gift in seeing it as if it’s the very first time you’re experiencing this. Kids do this naturally but we can opt-in.
Casey Weade: And I feel like there’s two sides to this. One, how do we keep from growing numb to these things? And then once we have grown numb, how do we get out of it? How do we make the shift? And then how do we stay on the path? There’s really three phases to this and I think phase three probably has to do with daily practices, but you talked about the building of the senses along those lines that there’s different senses. We have our hearing, sight, smell, touch, taste, but you talk about different senses that become dull over time. So, can you just kind of talk us through what those senses are, why we lose touch with them, and how to get back that sense of childlike wonder?
John O’Leary: So, there are five. The third one is immersion and that’s the idea of being all in all day for whatever task you were doing in schools. You would remember this and your kids might remember this. When the bell rings, school starts, and then when it rings again, you go to the first class and then when it rings again, recess. Then when it rings again, back to science, then when it rings again, lunchtime. Then it rings again, it’s nappy time. Kids do one thing at a time. They may look out the window occasionally but there’s even healthy research around this, this idea of tall daydreaming. It’s actually really productive to occasionally happy busy. You said human doings. We’re not human doings. We’re human beings. Right? Right on. Well said. So, the third sense is immersion. It’s this idea of being completely engaged in the moment and it will change the moment and it will change your life thereafter. The first sense is the gift of the sense of wonder.
And I almost said a gift and it really is a gift but it’s this idea of not only experiencing the days as if it’s the very first time you’ve experienced it, whatever that day brings your way, a rainbow to sunshine to raindrops, very first time I’ve experienced this with awe but also a being inquisitive around it. For those of us with a three-year-old and a five-year-old like you have at home, Casey, you know that kids love to ask questions. And their favorite question always is why. You know go to bed. Why? Brush your teeth. Why? Take off your shoes. Why? Because I said so. Eventually, through parenting and mentorship and school, they actually stop asking questions, because teachers and you and I are part of this problem here have eventually instructed kids to recognize that there’s ultimately one answer to the question and those who get it right excel. Those who don’t, you go home with a red slip. You missed it again. He keeps asking questions. He won’t pay attention. So, we have begun to educate out of our little ones this natural inquisitiveness for life.
But those who do truly great things in all aspects of life are naturally curious Einstein. The dude wanted to know why, and what if? And who cares? And well, what’s next? And all these wonderful questions that lead to progress. All progress grows out of questions. Everything that has been invented today at one point did not exist. So, it’s important for us not just to look at the life that we have and say, “Well, that’s what it is. COVID-19 will always be here.” My marriage will always be lousy. I’ll always be single. I’ll never retire. All this kind of victimhood of just saying it’s always been this way, but to imagine what kind of life we could build for ourselves and our brothers and sisters going forward, questions guide us in that direction. So, the sense of wonder is a big one. The second sense is expectancy. Expectancy, crazily enough as this may seem is the ability to believe that what you think about enough will eventually become the life that you live which sounds a lot like a book called The Secret or a movement called like kind of New Age spiritualism that I actually don’t ascribe to.
I don’t believe if you shut your eyes and think of something, then it’s going to come to pass. But the cool thing about shutting your eyes and thinking about something is when your eyes are reopened, you live differently. You quite literally dream differently. You speak differently, you act differently, which ultimately means here’s the awesome part, the results are different. Pharmaceuticals are struggling with expectancy because there’s something called the placebo effect. Whether they give me a sugar pill or they give me the actual treatments, all research, all of it says dang it, patients are getting better regardless of what we give them to different degrees but all patients when they get pills, whether they are the real thing or the fake thing, worked. This is craziness. Because the very mindset of a patient will influence the results of that study. Markets operate not on reality. They operate on what we think is going to happen with oil with the news coming out of China tomorrow.
All market conditions are led by what we think might happen that day. It’s crazy, but it’s the reality of our life. And so, how do you harness the power of expectancy? That’s what we unpack in the book, In Awe. You heard about the third one. The fourth one might be my favorite. It’s called belonging. Oh, man, I mean, CYGNET ran a study three years ago, and it asked the question, how are you feeling about your life and do you feel connected with those around you? And more than 54% of us, the 54% I think 0.4% of us felt as if we were doing life by ourselves. We felt isolated. The vast majority of millennials, many of you might be millennials but if you have children or grandchildren who are millennials, the vast majority of them felt as if they had no one that they could honestly lean into and speak truth to. They have a ton of friends just follow their feed and they got friends all over the place. But the vast majority have no one that they can really lean into and say, “I’m struggling at home with my sense of self, with who I am, with what I’m supposed to do.”
The vast majority have no one that they can share life with at a deep level that should jar us awake. So, the sense of belonging is about to recognize, first, to look in the mirror. It’s where it’s got to start. And then secondly to reach out upward from there. And then the final sense is the gift of freedom. Kids, you have a three-year and a five-year-old, it’s possible your five-year-old was outside in his underpants. Unlike kids just don’t here.
Casey Weade: Oh, he was.
John O’Leary: They are free, baby. Free indeed. And so, though I encourage you all to wear clothes all day long, like none of us have the bodies that allow us to be outside in our underwear anymore, so don’t do that but recognize in a way a child shows up naturally. They aren’t chained to ego. They aren’t chained to the mistakes of yesterday. They aren’t chained to a stock portfolio that drops 16% like they aren’t chained to the stuff around them. They live in the moment unencumbered by the stuff that weighs the majority of us down. So, those are the five senses we unpacked why we came upon them but also how to live into them in the book, In Awe.
Casey Weade: So, wonder, expectancy, belonging, freedom, that’s awesome. And, yeah, I came across this statistic this morning, which was a Pew survey, which showed that around 50% of Americans are pessimistic about the future and future of the country. You talk about asking questions. It’s not that we’re not asking questions. It’s not asking the right questions. So, how do we ask a good question to get our mindset in a positive place?
John O’Leary: Awesome. So, the study you’re citing, I think it’s six years consecutive now. We Americans have had a negative view of how we feel about ourselves, which is the first time in our history. It goes through two world global wars. It goes through depressions and recessions. First time in our American Dream history, we’ve had six consecutive years of saying, “Ugh, this administration will be the end of it.” And before you get Trump or say, “I hate O’Leary,” okay, fine. Hate me, fine. We were saying that while Obama was in office as well. So, this is not a Trump issue. It’s not a democrat issue. It’s now over party lines. It’s not a COVID issue, because it was long here five years before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. So, man, the first part of your answer is I think we got to view differently about ourselves and where we’re going. That’s expectancy. That’s really critical during not only a pandemic, but as we build the back up afterwards.
The greatest generation was the greatest generation, not because they survived bad times, but because they learned and then applied the lessons they got during those bad times. So, we’ve got some bad times going on right now. Are we becoming victims to them? Are we becoming far better because of them? That’s our choice. And it will define society going forward. So, I say let’s make this the next greatest generation. As far as the questions go, frequently, when we ask questions, we ask them to get the answer we already seek. So, as a Republican, when you are across the seat from a Democrat, you are asking questions to get them. You want to put them right into a corner, bring out the Billy club, and beat them down into submission so that he will come up on your side. As a liberal, we do the exact same thing. As a believer, we do the same thing for those who don’t believe what we do.
And so, the greatest teachers among us, I know your faith background, Jesus Christ, they ask questions, and they just let it hover out there. And in fact, one of the most beautiful things they do when they are asked a question, they frequently will follow with the question, not an answer, not indicting. You are all doomed. You fool, wrong. They frequently will then answer a question that’s trying to catch them with a life-giving question that then occasionally will send people walking away in the opposite direction, forever changed. So, when you ask a question, questions are easy to ask. That’s the reality. Kids don’t ask them to get the answer they thought they wanted. They are seeking having no idea what the answer is. It’s naivete, it’s beautiful, and it opens them up to optimism going forward.
Casey Weade: It’s open-mindedness, I think, and you talk in your book about how we become less flexible, we become less open-minded as we age. And so regardless of our stage, it sounds like we may have this risk. We might be 20 years old and in our transition to 30, we’re going to become more closed-minded, less flexible. In our transition from 60 to 80, the same thing can happen. Do you have any daily practices that you use to maintain that open-mindedness, that flexibility?
John O’Leary: So, yes, and let me back in by saying I met a 98-year-old business owner in San Diego, and I want to unpack the entire story unless you just demand it but a 98-year-old business owner in San Diego he reminds me, you don’t have to grow old. You just don’t have to. You don’t have to get crusty. You don’t have to rust out, man. You can wear out and you can live well until the end, whether that’s 33, whether it’s 19, or whether it’s 98, like we can live well until the end. We can stay open-minded. We can stay growth-oriented until the very end. So, what am I doing? Part of the joy of being burned on 100% of my body, and 87% third degree means I have scars from my neck to my toes. So, when I’m brushing the teeth in the morning with my shirt off, dude, I’m looking at brokenness. I’m like the worst version of it. I know in my heart of hearts, I ain’t that good, man. I see my crap body all day long. But in doing so, rather than being sad about it, I’m awakened by it.
I realized that this life is fleeting. It is a gift. It’s sacred treasure. I have royal blood coursing through my veins and I’m not going to waste this day. But I don’t think I’m that good. Like, I know God is. I know life is but I’m not. It also means I don’t think I have all the answers. So, though I feel very strong politically and faithfully, I don’t assume any single time that I have the answers. I’m a Christ-follower, man, but I love talking to my Muslim friends about their faith. I love hearing about Hindu. I love learning what my Jewish brothers and sisters have to bring to the table and I love my atheist friends who are challenging me. I love them. I feel very strongly politically, but I purposely listen to the other channel. Because if I can’t listen to them, how can I really believe in what I believe? And I think the majority of us, man, we tune in to the one channel, the one blog, the one station that is echoing in the echo chamber what we already believe to be true, which is a very, very, very, very dangerous thing to do, very dangerous, because it’s possible you might be wrong.
And it’s possible that we are better together. And it’s possible if we do life as a mosaic, that’s where we create the most beautiful artwork. So, I’m not trying to make everybody mad on the call. I think I’ve offended everybody who had any belief at all but I’ve always thought of if you really want to believe something, you got to believe it enough to be open-minded enough to those who have beliefs different than yours. And if you are not, if it makes you mad when someone tweets something else or when something posts within Facebook that you disagree with, and you unfriend them, it’s not an indictment on them. It’s an indictment on you.
Casey Weade: And you spoke about depression earlier and it seems to me that the possibility that those that are really experiencing depression are in a place where they’ve stopped asking good questions, and they don’t see the future. They’ve lost that open-mindedness. They’ve become inflexible to the future. And you know, there’s a statistic that says that the studies are showing that the risk of suffering from clinical depression and retirement increases by 60%. And I wonder if someone’s listening right now and I’ve been impacted personally, by those closest to me that have went through depression and you kind of become, you reach a point of loss. Whether you’re that person watching someone go through depression or you’re probably in depression, you feel like you’re at a loss. What would be your advice to someone that’s either in that position where they want to help someone or they’re experiencing depression?
John O’Leary: So, I would begin by saying I really believe there’s like hundreds of different forms of depression, but one is like clinical depression, when you really need professional help. And it ain’t John O’Leary, I’ll tell you that. It is a real expert who can guide you through this process to remind you that there’s reason for hope and that the best days are in front of you and there may be some treatment, there may be some medicine involved in this. There may be a whole lot of steps to take to get out of this darkness. I’ve never experienced that. But in my family, we dealt with it and my wife’s family, we’ve dealt with it. In every single relationship of people that I really get to know in their families, they’ve dealt with it. So, for those of us who are there right now, and you are not alone and there is hope. So, I would strongly encourage them to reach out to an expert to get information far greater than what you’re getting from generally right now regarding clinical depression.
But when I hear you say, John, I’ve learned that 60% of people who retire become depressed, I would suggest that’s not clinical depression. That is behavior-based depression. That is when our whole life was a sprint, we were doing it, we were rocking. We would play golf on Thursdays and toast how great we were on Friday afternoons. And now we don’t have that. And now my life has lost meaning. That’s not clinical depression. That’s because this is what I signed up for. This wasn’t the life I longed for. Where’s my meaning? And so, for those folks, it’s a different deal. I think I would remind them that you do not have to be defined negatively by retirement. You don’t have to wake up at 10 o’clock, read the morning news. It’s already behind us, by the way. It’s looking back at what happened yesterday. You don’t have to live that life. You don’t have to go to coffee every single day and boredly ask the question, “Well, what should we do?” You can be like my 98-year-old friend who touched lives literally until the last breath he took.
And that doesn’t have to be as a business owner in San Diego. You can start a campaign where every single day you write a letter to one person who influenced you in your life and hand-deliver it. And as reading it say, “You know what, while you’re in front of me, I thought, ‘How can I read this to you, just so you can hear my heart around this?’” Hand it to them and say, “I love you.” Hug them. Go home. Wash. Repeat. Do it again. If you’re depressed, you try doing that for 10 days. Try it for a month. And I’m talking to the people who feel like my life doesn’t have meaning. You go around and you think everybody who loved you well, who guided you forward, you think you’re going to encourage that their life has meaning. A short little example this on Sunday, this past week, my kids were just kind of barking about how bad this is. Just this kind of stay homeschool. Mom, where are my friends?
And so, what we did is we wrote letters to kids in the neighborhood and, I mean, beyond our neighborhood who we know our struggling. So, I had them all pick one kid who they knew was really struggling. Wrote to all the Big Brothers Big Sisters. We wrote them all letters, love letters. We colored them pictures. We told them why they mattered. Why we respected them and then we talked a little bit of a little bit of love in the form of cash inside these envelopes. We stapled all the way around, drove around to all these houses around our community, rang the doorbell, ran back out to the car, and then just wait, and just wait. When you see these kids, Casey, who have never in their entire life seen $100 bill, open up a love letter to themselves with pictures drawn by kids they respect and then that in front of it, changed not only the kid we were giving to. It changed the four kids in the back of my minivan. Okay. So, like listen, I get the behavioral aspect of depression. When you’re just kind of done and it just kind of – this isn’t what I signed up. My body aches all the time. You don’t have to stay there. My dad has Parkinson’s disease for 32 years. He cannot move, he now cannot speak, he cannot earn. His retirement sticks in the ways that we have defined what a great retirement looks like. And he is the most content, most joyful, most peaceful, most alive guy that I know.
And so, if we’re moving toward behaviorally-based depression, it’s a choice. You’re making it right now. And if you’re making it right now, there’s way to pivot forward to make a completely different choice going forward. I beg you to make it before it’s too late. So, that’s one piece I would say. For those of us who realize, man, I see someone around me in my neighborhood struggling, show up for them. Don’t underestimate the power of presence. Not your words, not your dollars, not your cash, not your greatness, your physicality, your being, your love, your smile, your willingness to let someone else know they’re not alone. They are loved. It can keep someone alive and that person might be you.
Casey Weade: Well, you’ve got a whole new spin on ding-dong ditch. We might have to get after that this weekend. That sounds like a lot of fun. John, as you talk about this, I just hear you telling story after story from your life and telling your story to others to inspire them. And I’m sure you’ve seen this, you recognize the legacy that you’re leaving behind with your kids, their kids, their kids after them. There’s true impact in sharing your story. If someone’s listening, they’re a grandparent and they want to make that multi-generational impact, that legacy, the legacy that you’ve been creating, what’s the power in sharing your story? How should they go about sharing your story?
John O’Leary: Well, I’ve never answered your question in this way but as I think through yesterday, I buried my grandmother. Three days ago, I lost her. She’s just amazing. So, as you’re asking the question, I’m thinking, “What would have been cool if my grandmother did with me?” So, what I’m thinking is what if for those of us at that stage, whether it’s the grandchild or a daughter, or a cool little neighbor kid who was right down the street, what if once a week we got together and had tea, coffee, Coke, water, milk, milkshakes, pick your favorite, wine, pick your favorite flavor of the day, and all you did is during that one visit you asked each person one question? And while the little one was answering, you were taking notes. And while grandma, grandpa retiree was answering, they were taking notes. And you began to create a life book of experiences together.
Man, if I had had the opportunity to hear about my grandmother when her dad went off to look for work in California when they were severed during the Depression and he never came back, I wish I would have heard that story. I think there’s something there I can borrow from right now. To learn what it was like to say I do to her sweetheart. to hop on a train the following day go to Galveston, Texas, kiss him as he got on ship and then went away for three years. She takes a train by herself as a newlywed and lives with her in-laws for three years. What’s that like, grandma? Man, I wish I would have heard those stories. I also wish you would have heard the stories of when I met Beth for the first time, when I saw on her, what it was like when this girl took my hand. “Grandma, oh, man, it was so good.” I was always afraid that no one would take my hand and she took it and she’s the prettiest girl in the room. I wish she would have experienced that same wonder. So, I think it would be really cool for you to do what Casey and I are doing right now, which is to sit down and have a little conversation together.
Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, and that’s the neat thing. We don’t have to physically be there. You can hop on Zoom.
John O’Leary: Absolutely.
Casey Weade: So, John, I know we’re running out of time. I just want to wrap up with one philosophical question if you have a minute. And that would be what is and I’ve never actually asked this question of a guest but you’ve got so many cool days in your life. I want to know what is the best day of your life?
John O’Leary: So, the lame answer would be today. And I won’t do that to you.
Casey Weade: I knew you wouldn’t do that to me. That’s why I asked you.
John O’Leary: I mean, to be honest, man, screen porch coffee this morning, sunrise, gratitude journal, prayer reflection, little scripture. Go back inside, do about an hour of work, pitter-patter down the hall, down the steps, Grace walks in with glasses. She’s already brushed her hair. She’s got a dress on. An eight-year-old. Ten minutes later, as she and I are having Cheerios together, my bride walks down. We go outside, we plant a couple of flowers. Like, it’s been a pretty good day and it’s 10:20 like I’m blessed. So, I really do mean like I feel almost every day is just a profound blessing and I beg you guys, ladies, leaders listening right now, don’t miss what’s in front of you. Your life is sacred. This day is blessed. So, today’s pretty good, but the best day of my life, the wedding’s pretty lame too, because I think that’s most people’s answers. Coming off in the hospital, that was a pretty solid day. A day called John O’Leary Day at the ballpark, that was pretty cool.
Maybe the coolest though because there’s a whole story behind the John O’Leary Day at the ballpark, you can read about it, was 30 years later, when I had my second John O’Leary Day at the ballpark. The St. Louis Cardinals had invited me to speak to them and they were so moved by the story that they had me speak to the entire team one more time, and then they had me do a repeat performance of John O’Leary Day at the ballpark. But this time, instead of being in a wheelchair, I’m standing and this time instead of my dad pushing me in my wheelchair, I push him in his and this time instead of me being a little one, my four little ones are the little ones with wild eyes in awe as we walk around the grass turf of Busch Stadium, and I had a chance to throw out a first pitch with no fingers and actually hit the glove that I had intended to throw it to which is evidence of a miracle. And then to walk back from the mound, hug the catcher, hug my mom, hug my dad, hug my wife, hug four kids, go into the stands, and sit in the sun. Forget baseball. Celebrate life. So, that was a pretty cool day that I will long remember.
Casey Weade: Well, John, thank you for that story. Always so full of heart, full of love. It just vibrates from your being and I truly appreciate you taking the time to share your story and all of your insights here with our audience. Thank you so much.
John O’Leary: Casey, thank you. Well done. Well done.