An Interview with John O’Leary, author of “On Fire”


Hi everybody! I’m Karen Putz, I’m
here with one of my favorite author is John O’Leary. He’s written a book called, On Fire and believe it or not my kids have read his book they have not read my
own books–they’ve read a few of them so that says a lot about John’s book and
John’s story and in a nutshell when John was nine years old he started a
gasoline fire, you know kid being kids they like the experiment with things and
John went into the garage and he lit a strip of gasoline and
fire which unfortunately also exploded the gas tank near by and he was burned
down nearly a hundred percent of his body and not expected to live it at all, but
John lived and he’s here today to share some of his story and he’s here
believe it or not he’s telling us why he will go through that whole thing all
over again so John welcome thank you for sharing your time with us today
John: Karen, listen I get introduced a lot and that was as beautiful as any I’ve ever
heard so thank you for the intro and I’m glad to be your friend I’m thrilled to
be on your show Karen: Oh that’s awesome I should have said the two of us met at Kathy
Buckley’s house in California and I had never heard of you at that point maybe
just a little bit of something from somewhere and then he made the
connection Oh this is John O’Leary with this book so it was really excited they have
that time with you in California meet you
mmm-hmm Karen: So tell me a little bit for people who don’t know much about you
tell me a little bit about what you do today and about your journey that lead you to this point
John: awesome so today I am a husband to a woman named Beth I am the dad of four
kids named Jack, Patrick, Henry, and Grace I’m the son of Susan and Danny I live in
st. Louis Missouri I travel the world as a speaker that’s one of the things that
brought them out to LA to speak with Kathy and you is I was out there for a
couple other meetings so I’m a motivational speaker, leadership teacher,
I also am an author of a book called “On Fire” and we have a really good
podcast called “Live Inspired with John O’Leary” so when you add up all of those
things I’m a pretty busy guy but also I think well-traveled enough to recognize
how blessed I am you mentioned in the introduction that “John got burned and
he’s here to tell us that he would go through it all again” and I would I know
that sounds crazy but I would because that fire for me led to formation of
faith and understanding the character and compassion and even the discovery of
how valuable life is I think many of us don’t realize how precious our life is
until it’s almost taken away from us or it is taken away from a dear friend and
even at the age of nine I came face to face with death and so every day since
then I recognize the blessing that life is Karen: So, thinking back to your story I want to tell
you the one part in that book that made the most impact on me and that was the
moment when you came home from the hospital and you were pretty bandaged up,
you could hardly move anything and then your mom just put a fork in front of you and
said eat and you were like how cruel is that for a parent to do that and I know
when I was reading the book part of me was like, you know, how could you you as a
mother be so heartless to your son but I realized that your mom was giving you
a taste of grace and she was giving you a taste of courage and it didn’t look
like it at the time that it was packaged beautifully in that “parent wisdom”
that your mom knew that if she helped you find your own strength and courage in that
moment,you could find it the rest of your life and a lot of times with parents
today we tend to feel like we want to shelter our kids we want to help our kids,
we are helicopter parents and your mom in that one little piece of a lesson
taught me that we need to allow our children to fail, to find
their own strength in adversity if we teach them that, we teach them something they can use the rest of their life So that’s what your mom was doing at that moment which to you and
to me as a reader was cold and heartless but was actually the most loving thing
that a parent could do. So years later looking back on their what do you think
of that lesson today? John: yes I still hate my mom for that one and I still think she
is the greatest parent of all time because of there you go she’s just even
today this is 33 years afterwards I’m 42 years old now and I’m a dad I recognize
finally how impossibly hard that must have been for her to put a fork in front
of me and that the full story is this I’m home from the hospital for the first
time five months so it was a street fight to
make it back but we’re home the house has been rebuilt my five siblings are all around that table my mother is over there my father’s over there my food is
in front of me and Karen I can’t eat it because for those of you viewing right
now I don’t have fingers I don’t have fingers my sister Amy grabs a fork she
starts scooping potatoes toward my mouth and right as the potatoes are about to
enter into my mouth my mother says, “Amy drop that fork, if he’s hungry he’ll feed
himself.” It turns out that that night my mother ruined dinner because two and a
half hours later I finally was able to get a couple bites into my mouth and
then a couple more as I sandwich this fork between my two hands and brought
brought the food up to my mouth so she ruined dinner but I don’t think her goal
that night was to make it a good dinner it goes back to your original question
she was trying to teach me resiliency she was trying to put something in front
of me that was incredibly hard to do but something she knew deep down with enough
time and practicing grit I could do and something that over time would serve me
beautifully over the days and weeks and months and then decades to follow so as
you and I talk right now I’m in this beautiful living room I own a home I fed
myself breakfast this morning I made waffles for my kids with hands that may
seem to some of your viewers as broken and useless but my mother reminded me
that they’re actually beautiful but they’ve been redeemed and that they can
be used for greatness but but I had to embrace that lesson as a kid. Karen: You can feed yourself pretty well now! John: Yeah, can you see it on my face? I can feed myself very well now! Karen: Thanks, Mom! So, it’s been 33 years now, 33 years… How long have you been speaking? Since 2008, right? John: right that’s about right yes
Karen: and you’ve done 49 States right what’s the one state you
haven’t been to? John: Hey if you’re listening in Alaska you got to call me okay if
you’re in Alaska today you call me Alaska is our last state we’ve been in
49 states I think 18 country’s spoken live in front of more
than a million people and apparently have like a hundred million impressions
online so this little story that came out of st. Louis Missouri three and a
half decades ago has gone on to become this really cool global story that’s
touched lives all around the world So when you look back on your speaking career, What’s the most memorable moment that really stands out for you? it’s… unless this
interview is a couple hours long it’ll be hard to even answer that single
question because there are so many I think my three favorite events so far
the first one because you always remember your first, you know, there’s
just something about it my first speech was in front of three Girl Scouts it was
that first speech back in 2008 or whatever the year was when I said yes
for the very first time to share my story and I’d never done it before it
never told anybody and so I went in front of this group of three third grade
girls I was so nervous getting ahead of time that I threw up in the parking lot
I walked in looked read my notes the entire time without looking up. Did not
even get a box of Girl Scout cookies as a reward for giving up part of my
afternoon but that’s my first and it eventually led to a second and
eventually led to a third and then a fourth and then onward from there so I’m
grateful still for the first opportunity another one that I thought of when you
asked the question was a group of inmates I spoke to in Fort Leavenworth
Kansas, these are guys were going to spend the rest of their lives Leavenworth Kansas so these are it’s a
federal prison in northern Kansas just outside of Kansas City and I got to
spend a full day with them talking about leadership and seeing these guys in
their jumpsuits engaged and sorry and trying to do better and trying to be
redeemed and trying to make amends. For me, it’s the kind of experience I’ll
never forget I’ve had some cool opportunities but maybe none more cool
than that so that was a really it was an honor to be with those guys for the day
and then maybe my favorite event was about two and a half years ago for a
group called “Arbonne.” Arbonne, it’s a consultant group of consultants from
around the world it was at the MGM in Las Vegas main stage 20,000 people
around awesome ladies awesome gentlemen and that day I
got to play the piano for them so I with fingers that you may think look broken
and useless because of lessons my mother taught me not only how to eat but how to
play and how to dream and how to live I was able to play in front of 20,000 or
so her favorite song which was Amazing Grace
so I’ve had some cool experiences from Karen: Oh I love that song! You’ll have to play it for me some day! we’ll play it here we go, we will get that on the calendar some day. Do you still get nervous? John: I get nervous every single time before I
speak always in front of a group of three Girl Scouts or in front of a group
of 23,000 it doesn’t matter the size I get very nervous a friend of mine named
Charlie plum he’s a speaker he’s a survivor of I think six and a half years
in captivity after during Vietnam he was a pilot he shared with me shared with me
once that the nert that nervousness is good our job though is to get the
butterflies in formation so you want the butterflies you want the anxiety but you
want to actually harness them for good you want to make sure the anxiety is not
about you but about doing a phenomenal job for the audience Karen: I learned about butterflies in formation from my World Champion barefoot coach I ended up writing a book with him, and his coach taught him that butterflies are good just get them to fly in formation and it’s good to harness that power and harness that energy so it’s cool to hear that
I haven’t heard that in a long time I had not known that expression before Charlie shared it and
I just think it’s beautiful and I think we can all use that whether it’s a
difficult conversation or something in our parenting or getting back into
spirituality whatever it might be all this anxiety we all feel we all feel it
our job then is to use those butterflies get them in formation and then fly
forward together now you have something called a “Ignition Statement” and I’m
not familiar with that I’m not sure that you didn’t remember it from the book but
it might be something new that you talked about becoming more about there
and how you can use that John: Yeah absolutely so ignition statement to put it in the
vernacular that you guys listening may know mission statement so it’s just like
a mission statement but instead of being about a business or a hospital or a
school or whatever else it’s about you it will get you out of bed early it’s
what gives you energy to dance through your day it’s what keeps you up it’s
what gets you engaged and lit up and inspired to do something bigger than
yourself every single moment of every single day so for me it helps me answer
the question, “I choose to thrive because –” and then fill in the blank so I choose
to thrive because… so when I answer that question my answer is this John O’Leary
chooses to thrive because God demands it my family deserves it, and the world is
starved for it– let’s go! So for me, that is why I get up early it is why I have
this goofy grin on my face while you and I are talking it’s why after this
interview I’m gonna walk into the next one equally lit up it’s why I try to do
phenomenal work but it’s also why I come home from work to play with my babies so
I choose to thrive every day because for me God demands it my family deserves it
the world is starved for it let’s go that’s a good
one passion station yeah exactly right so when we talk about passion in that
word what does it need you how do you define it well the part of passion is
something you would do even if no one was looking and no one was paying you to
do it so for me I for instance I am blessed to be paid to speak but the
reality is I would do it for free and I would do it if no one was watching and I
would do it even if even if I was sick like I’m I am so passionate about the
opportunity of being able to share life with people and encourage and inspire
and remind them of the power of their mindset the power of the perspective the
power of their choices like for me it’s just passion it is passion so it’s it’s
very similar to what we chatted about a moment ago with the ignition statement
it is what lights you up it’s what turns you want passion and by
the way it’s not always easy it’s in fact it’s seldom easy I think the
mistake many of us make us to think that passion is fun it’s fun not always
sometimes passion is dangerous sometimes passion is awkward sometimes it’s
uncomfortable and unpopular so it’s not necessarily about fitting in or getting
rich it’s about nests it’s about following the calling in your life so
it’s about saying yes to that calling you were passionate about something new
willing to get 4:00 in the morning and do three fights you get to a speaking
engagement you’re willing to get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby
and you’re willing to do the training for the marathon that you want to
accomplish so the routing this December is right up there with passion it’s not
an option on butterflies and angels and things that we usually think of you know
pure happiness 24/7 out of the day it’s that willingness to suffer and to work
and to strive for something they hit on it and a lot of people miss that well
you get out of beautifully so I will be stealing
shamelessly later on today the willingness to suffer that that is
powerful and by the way we need more of that I think many of us want friend and
followers and we want to be loved and light not a whole lot of us are willing
to suffer for it and that would set you apart if you’re willing to suffer for
something you believe in that’s so true that is so true and I
think the more we get out of our comfort zone the more we clearly push yourself
when we find new heights and new abilities but most of us don’t do that
well let me ask you this what you can talk about not being the victim
and your book so why do you think it is that holds most people back from living
the life I inspire gosh that is a wonderful question it has in part to do
with we believe that the circumstances are bigger than our choices so we think
hearing loss or we think fire or we think divorce or we think the way we
were raised or the color of skin we were born into or or where we were born
geographically or all these things that kind of happened to us that happened to
us we think that they define who we are and who we can become which means if
that is true of course for a victim to it of course we are victim to hearing
loss or of course we are victim to amputations of course we’re a victim to
scars bad memories experiences that have burned us in the past
of course we are but what my mother taught me and what your leaders have
taught you as well is you don’t have to be a victim to it that you can choose in
fact to be redeemed made better made stronger made more compassionate made
more whole through embracing it it doesn’t make the pain go away it doesn’t
make the present perfect but it allows you to control how you show up and how
you take that next step forward which is ultimately going to determine what
happens next in your life so I I choose not to be defined as a burn victim I’m
not most days I forget I even got burned as a kid I’m a dad I’m a husband I’m a
son of God I’m a happy dude I’m an American I’m a Midwestern ER I must
speak I’m a whole lot of things outside of being a burn victim that’s not what
defines me what defines me is the joy of each day and and as painful as it is to
get here that choice a choice that joy is a choice and it’s one that I try to
make every moment of every day it is it so when you seek joy it’s
everywhere and what I would say to you and your listeners is we used to do this
now we think we need our smartphone or a beer or a big ice cream cone or
something else but we used to choose joy and when we were when we were doing that
we were called children children naturally have this sense of wonder and
awe in everything they do the leaves turning the Sun rising a
little earthworm making its way across the driveway
holy cow an earthworm mom look at that look at that ah is just joy and so you
ask me what I do for fun part of it is just to keep my eyes open and if I do
that well I see happiness joy pleasure fun everywhere part of it is to
experience life through my own children’s eyes they light me up so
being with them lights me up as well part of it is hanging with my wife I
married her 16 years ago but I’m as in love with her now as I was then that
choice is one that has to be made at every single day it’s not easy it’s not
really popular but it is a choice I do aren’t just words you say one time and
then you move on it’s a choice you make daily and so I have a lot of fun and all
that I do I love sports I love family I love faith I love playing the piano I
love life I love work it’s my passion so I love interviews I love hanging out
with you right now I’m having fun I can’t believe that we get to do work
that we get paid for that is this much fun like crazy so I have fun and almost
everything I do Monday to Friday people may not realize that they can choose a
whole different way to live so for us to wrap this up in our youth 33
you had that experience what is one piece of advice or wisdom or something
that you can wrap this up for all of us so apparently my most quotable my most
tweetable quote if you will or is the sentence you can’t always
choose the path that you walk in life but you can always choose the manner in
which you walk it and I think that plays solidly whether you’re talking about a
nine-year-old kid a single mother a retiree a guy who’s struggling with the
idea of me I’m near bankruptcy of someone struggling with what that
diagnosis might mean for them someone battling against an addiction or against
the memory from yesterday or a goal they’re racing towards tomorrow whatever
it is you can’t always choose the path that you walk looking backward but you
can always choose the manner in which you lock it and for me that is so
awesome I have a father with Parkinson’s disease he no longer can earn no longer
can work at all no longer can drive no longer can walk and lately no longer can
speak so you can see where this thing is trending and yet he is the most joyful
playful humorous fun-loving faithful content guy I’ve ever met I’ve met a lot
of people I’ve never met anybody more joyful loving and playful than my father
you can’t always choose the path that you walk in life but you can choose the
manner in which you walk it my dad taught me that and I think we can teach
others that’s our the way we show up that’s a beautiful thing what a great
way to wrap this up thank you again there thank you yeah you live this
message so I’m preaching to the choir today but I’m glad to meet you again and
some of your friends

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