Bestselling author John O’Leary discusses how embracing the joy mindset can help you find more purpose and drive at work–and life.
- The three questions to jumpstart your day
- How to spark your motivation with an ignition statement
- How to use “compound interest” to advance your career
In 1987, John O’Leary was a curious nine-year-old boy. Playing with fire and gasoline, John created a massive explosion in his home and was burned on 100% of his body. He was given less than a 1% chance to live. John‘s story, perspective and inspiration have inspired millions of people and 2,000 clients over the last decade.
John is the author of the instant #1 National Bestselling book ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life, host of the top-rated Live Inspired Podcast and inspirational speaker teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. His second national bestselling book, IN AWE: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning and Joy, published May 2020 and its immediate success led many to say “it’s exactly what we all need right now.”
- Book: In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy
- Book: On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life
- Book site: ReadInAwe.com
- Podcast: Live Inspired
- Website: JohnOLearyInspires.com
Resources mentioned in the show:
- Study: The Nun Study
- Book: The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen
Thank you Sponsors!
John, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Hey, Pete, great to be with you and your followers.
Well, I’m excited to dig into your story and some of the takeaways in your book and life experience to help folks be all the more awesome at their jobs. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? When you were nine, you had a life changing experience. Can you tell us the shorter version of the story?
Yeah. I’m going to begin with a longer version at first because I did not know that the story you were asking about right now had any meaning toward my professional life, personal life, relational life, or any other aspect of life until I was 27 and a half years old. And that is the first time that I can remember where I would’ve been able to answer the question that you just asked. We can talk about that if you’d like in a moment. But the simple answer to your question is this. At age nine, I was burned in a housefire on 100% of my body, and 87% of those burns were third degree.
I found myself at age nine in a hospital bed, in the emergency room, dying, looking down at my hands that were changed, my arms that were burned, and my legs that were burned, and just freaking out, wondering, “What possibly could I do to go forward in my life in a positive direction?” And, yet, my dad came in and he wasn’t at home when I got burned, Pete, but he walked in, and he was at his job actually. He was at his job. He left. Came home. Saw the house on fire and went to the hospital. Saw me, walked right over to me, and I’ll never forget it because I was afraid my dad would, for some reason, be mad at me, because I was part of the reason why the house was on fire in the first place. I was playing with matches and gasoline and had no idea what was going to happen. But I’m a nine-year old little boy, I’ve burned myself by accident, I burned down his house.
He’s walking toward me, I know he’s going to kill me, he’s left his job, he’s got a big meeting on Monday, and I’ll never forget, he says, “John, look at me when I’m talking to you,” which is, in our family, Pete, the kiss of death so I know I’m done. And then he goes, “I have never been so proud of anybody in my entire life, and I just love you. I love you. I love you.” And I remember thinking, “Oh, my gosh, nobody told my dad what happened. He doesn’t know what went down here, man. He doesn’t know I’m the culprit of this thing.” And yet I think he did know.
I also think he recognized what actually matters. And it’s important, as we live out and strive to be awesome at our jobs, that we also recognize that it’s just part of our overall lives, and we want to be awesome at all of it, and we want to start, ultimately, I think, at home. And the best way we’re going to be effective in that is to do so in love. And I know this sounds soft, but it’s not soft. It’s really hard. It’s really forcing you to be excellent at whatever it is you strive to do. It will change your life, which is awesome. That’s called success. But it’s also going to change the life of every single person that you interact with as you move forward in your business and in your life.
Wow! Well, there’s so much there. Well, first, congratulations. I mean, you’ve come a long way and you…well, you look great for one thing.
You wear blue well, O’Leary.
So, there’s that.
You know, for those who are listening rather than viewing, it’s odd to think that right now, Pete and I are looking at each other, and he sees my face and I see his, and when he looks at me, he doesn’t really see any scars. The wild thing, and I just consider it a miracle. You can call it, “Well, it sounds like dumb luck to me.” Fine. You call it dumb luck. I’ll call it a miracle. I have a 100% burn, that’s the entire body, 87% of those burns are third degree, meaning you have thick skin, thick red scars over your entire body from the point of the event all the way until you die. That’s just your life going forward.
And so, for me, Pete, I have burns, scars, from my neck all the way to my toes, it covers every inch of my body. My hands, my fingers, are amputated so I’ve got some real struggles going on, but yet my face, you don’t see any scars. And so, you can look at your life and see everything that’s wrong with it, and I think that’s very popular these days to see everything that we don’t have, and everything we wish we had, and the way we wish we had been raised, and the scars we wish we did not bear, and all those other stuff. It’s very common to talk about, “How crummy my life is,” “How brutal my boss is,” “How lousy my job is.” It’s commonplace and I think it’s a fool’s errand.
When I look in the mirror, I see the scars too. You can’t miss them but I just give thanks that part of me wasn’t burned, and I’m really grateful. And I’m grateful that I still have my life, and I still have joy, and I’m still happy. So, when you say, “John, you’re doing great,” I feel like I am doing great. I really feel like I’m incredibly supremely blessed coming through the storm.
Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective. And, you know, I’m thinking about, I lost my dad when I was in high school, I was a freshman, and the perspective I had, in a way it was kind of similar, is that I was sad. I mean, we were close, I was bummed, it was a tragedy. And, at the same time, I was grateful that we had those 14 and a half years there together. And I remember thinking, like, “Boy, if I lost him a few years prior to that, I’m not so sure I’d be on a good path.” You know? I mean, I think there’s a lot of temptations in teen, pre-teen times, and I thought, “Okay, getting hammered looks kind of interesting.” Like all these sorts of things. But, no, I had a good strong influence and I was grateful that I had that time. And I almost felt like, “Whew! That was close. Had I lost him three or four years earlier, I might be on a very different trajectory.”
So, Pete, we talked before we hit record, and I did quite a bit of research on you, so I feel like I know you a little bit. And yet when you shared that story about losing your dad, my heart sank a little bit, I loosened up a little bit, it got real for a little bit, and I just think that’s incredible what can happen when we’d be real with one another, not tell like one-up them, or not to say like, “Hey, me too.” Like, just to be real and authentic and vulnerable and connect with another human being. I think that’s amazing. And I also think it’s really remarkable because, for me, after being burned at nine, it took me two decades to come around and be grateful for the story.
For you to go through the storm of losing a parent when you’re just beginning adolescence, and you’re just beginning high school, and you’re just really beginning to journey through life, and even in the midst of it, to recognize, “Wow! At least I had him 13, 14 years. What a gift that was. At least I didn’t lose him when I was 11. That would’ve been hard, man.” Well, I would suggest, when you lost when you did, is unbelievable, almost unbearably hard and yet he must’ve instilled in you an incredible sense of self and grit and determination that, in spite of what you might face later on in life, that you’re up for the task at hand.
Well, thank you. And I think that a lot of that does resonate and particularly this podcast and we’re talking about your book. He got me started in going to the library, reading books, and getting excited about the power of learning stuff to make you better in whatever domain, whether it’s being awesome at your job or whatever you’re up to. So, let’s talk about how you’ve put this wisdom to work. Your latest book, it’s called In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy. Well, that sounds pretty cool. What’s the big idea here?
As a speaker, I go around the world sharing for organizations like Southwest Airlines or Microsoft or Apple how they can become better versions of themselves. And I have the honor of hopping on these flights and flying to fancy places and checking in and doing great work and loving these organizations. But as I go through the day, I see a lot of adults who are beat down by it, “Work is hard. And family is hard. And, oh, damn, the headlines, did you see them today? They’re bad.” Everything is kind of a struggle, and we’re just enduring. We’re enduring these days.
And I make it a habit when I’m on the road, once I leave the client’s conversation, I always go to schools. I love giving my time away to kids. And when I walk into the school building, man, the first thing you notice in a school is these kids are always smiling. You may not see it all the time when you’re in a lecture seminar, when you’re in an airport, of all places, but when you’re with kids, you see it. And you don’t always see it with your eyes. You see it with your ears. It’s like this radiant joy. And then as they get called from one class into the lecture hall with Mr. O’Leary, they go into that room skipping. Like, I don’t know when the last time your adult listeners skipped anywhere. Kids skip everywhere.
And so, I saw within these children joy, and like passion for life, and not taking the things for granted, and enthusiasm, believing that tomorrow is going to be better than today. They have it. They ask great questions. And I wonder, “What is it that they have, these children, about the way they do work?” Because they’re in work, man, in school. The way they play, they way they do life that we adults have lost sight of. And if we chose to return to it, what might happen in our lives? And it’s there for all of us. You don’t need to be under the age of five to grab it.
All right. Well, so now, it’s funny when I ask this question, but I’m going to. So, childlike awe, wonder, that sounds fun, I’d like some more inspiration, meaning, and joy. Can you draw the connection for us in how that can help professionals be more awesome at their jobs if they have that? I mean, yeah, “Happiness is all great and all, John, but can we stay on message?”
You know what, I’m so glad, I have a very pragmatic wife, an incredibly cynical neighbor, and so anytime I come up with my great happiness projects, these are the first two people who immediately try to squelch it with as much water as they possibly can, and they haven’t been able to yet, so I’m not sure this question will either, or those in the room who are crossing their arms, saying, “This won’t work for me. This won’t work for me.”
At the end of the day, our work is about frequently the relationships are those that we are doing it with. At the end of the day. Whether you are working in retail and you’re checking people out, whether you are collaboratively building on projects, now virtually, whatever it might be, it’s, “How do we connect with the people around us, with the task at hand, with the mission that guides us forward, in a way that allows us to be as effective as possible in doing so?”
So, then your question is, “Well, how do you do that stuff better?” Really, that all sounds good. How do we connect with people, and purpose, and task? Well, it all goes back to meaning and inspiration and joy. You used the word happiness a moment ago to describe it. I’m not a happy guy actually. I think happiness is highly overrated. I think happiness is an ice cream cone. I give my kids ice cream cones all the time, and about 30 seconds later on a July day in St. Louis, Missouri as it’s melting, my kids have lost their happiness. So, my $5 investment in happy melts 30 seconds in. Happiness is when I give them my new iPhone. Sadness is two minutes later when I take it away or it runs out of batteries.
So, happiness is this emotion that is incredibly fleeting. We strive for it but I, ultimately, don’t think is what we’re longing for. What we long for is satisfaction. We long for contentment. We long to do a job well. We long for joy. And we can have joy regardless of the set of circumstances in front of us. So, if you want to be effective at your job, if you want to be truly awesome, okay, awesome at your job, I would suggest to you, foundationally and fundamentally, one of the very first things you ought to try to embrace is joy.
Well, let’s talk about definitions for a moment. So, if happiness is a fleeting emotion that comes and goes and maybe based on the stimuli kind of right there, what is joy?
Joy is more on a determination. It’s a mindset. And I think a mindset can grow, Pete, when you own into it by asking questions around, “How do I get more of this thing?” So, if you want to get awesome at your job, ideally, you’re asking questions around, “Well, how do I get better at this? How do I become better in whatever work I strive to do?” If you want to own this mindset, and today we’re talking about right now is the mindset of joy, I would encourage you strongly, and this is going to sound soft, and I’m telling you it ain’t. This is hard business. It’s transformational if you take the O’Leary challenge.
I strongly encourage your listeners to ask three questions throughout the day, and to do them sequentially. So, the first question, it ought to be asked about an hour before your day normally begins. So, if you are waking up at 7:00 and you feel like the day already got ahead of you, we might want to wake up a little bit earlier. And I recommend, usually, get up about an hour earlier than you currently are if you feel like you’re already behind the day when it goes. We can do this.
And so, I wake up a couple of hours earlier than I really need to. But I go outside after taking a shower, I make a tall glass of water, hot cup of coffee, I sit outside in the darkness. I know this sounds odd. But if I grab my phone first, I realize that there are challenges in the news, there’s challenges with borders, there’s challenge with economics, “Oh, I got all these work emails I got to respond to, and I’m already behind. Not only am I behind, I’m beat down.”
2018, Harvard ran a business story on this, and 94.5% of news stories were negative. So, two years ago, when the markets were at a historic high, and unemployment at historic lows, and COVID-18 wasn’t even invented, let alone COVID-19, there were no stress points, man. Well, during that phase, 94.5% of the news stories were negative. So, I challenge you to go right past the headlines, go outside, grab a journal, watch the sunrise, and ask the question, “Why me?” and take an inventory, before the day unfolds in front of you, what you’re grateful for. If you want more joy, opt in. It’s a choice.
So, the “Why me?” question is I think there are so many ways to take that “Why me?” but you said the gratitude is the angle you’re putting on there.
And, occasionally, if I’m speaking, like if I’m at a seminar, sometimes I’ll be a little bit more playful in this, and I’ll walk through the questions that you should ask if you want to have a lousy day, “So, you want to have a lousy day? You want to be miserable at your work? You want a lousy marriage, a horrible singleness? You want to be more addicted to whatever that thing is that brought you down yesterday? Ask these three questions. And the three questions are ‘Why me?’ because it’ll even make you feel worse about your life; ‘Who cares?’ because, ultimately, you don’t, clearly, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it; and, ‘What more can I do?’ And I’m just one. It’s a huge problem. The headwind is too strong. I can’t change the environment, I can’t change the economy, I can’t change my business, I can’t even change my spouse or my kids. I certainly can’t change my life. What more can I do?”
So, I walk them down the path of those three questions and then, the original point, I say, “There are three questions that I’m begging you today to begin asking, and here are these three. ‘Why me?’ A question around gratitude. ‘Who cares?’ A question around mission and meaning and values and purposefulness in your life. It’s going to spark joy. And, thirdly, ‘What more can I do?’ And asked in the light of victory, asked in the light of the mindset that allows you to spark joy, it’s going to lead to engagement. It’s going to lead to creativity and collaboration. It’s going to lead to you living not only your best job yet, but your best life yet.”
And the second question, the first one is easy, it’s gratitude. Spend three minutes on it, or 45 minutes, but all research around gratitude is that it’s a muscle we all have, many of us choose not to stretch, but when we do, it leads to vitality in the way we attack the day, and also vibrancy in the way we feel about our life around us. According to a study that came out just yesterday, 12% of Americans are pretty happy with their lives. I think the word they used is very happy with their lives. Very happy. 12%. Do you want to become a little bit closer to being very happy with your life? Start with gratitude. It’s an important muscle that must be stretched in order to be enjoyed.
The second question is, “Who cares?” And the way I would encourage your listeners to answer this is, “I choose to care. I choose to care. It’s a choice. And I choose to thrive in work and in life because…” so don’t try to buck it up, “I’m going to do well at work but whatever in life, whatever in health, whatever in money, or faith, or whatever. If I get around to that stuff, I’ll be fine then.” Bull. If you are only successful professionally, you would get to the top of the ladder and you will realize that you climbed the ladder and it was leaning up against the wrong wall. I’m not saying don’t climb high. I’m not saying don’t sprint, don’t run, don’t track topline revenue and bottom-line profitability, don’t get better at your work. I’m saying do all those things, but also recognize this is being done in the context of a holistic life.
So, we want to make sure that we, as we live out our mission, are living it out now, not only organizationally in our job, but also in our life as a whole sum. So, who cares? The answer is “I choose to thrive at work and in life because…” This becomes your ignition statement. We used to call these mission statements. In mine, and I have it on the wall in my office, mine, “I choose to thrive because,” and this is personal, “God demands it, my family deserves it, and the world is starved for it.” Let’s go. Let’s go.
I like that. Those are good reasons.
Those are weak reasons. Aim higher, man.
But it’s not like, you know, “Because I should,” or, “My parents spent a lot of money in my college education.” Like, you can have weak reasons and you can have killer reasons, and that makes all the difference.
So, you can be led from a place of fear or a place of love. And, again, this sounds soft until you apply this thing up and down your life and your work, and you recognize it’s not soft. It’s foundationally transformational. It leads to excellence. It leads to a high level of accountability. It impacts not only the work you’re doing but the way you’re elevating everybody else in your teams to do better work in their lives as well. So, it really is.
As you are all getting ready to say, “This is too soft,” I’m telling you, I’ve grown three different businesses using these models. It’s not soft. It’s actually…it’ll set you apart from everybody else that looks alike. and the third and final question, we could say there’s a lot more, and there are a lot more questions to ask, but the third question that I’m encouraging you to ask daily is, “What more can I do?” and this is how you grab compound interest professionally.
We all know about compound interest, man. Open a bank account and, boom, baby, it starts growing. Compound interest. Free money. How do you do that at your job though? How do you do it in your relationships, in your spiritual journey, in your health, in your creativity, knowing you’re becoming better each day? How do you do this?
The easiest way I’ve learned to do this is to ask a question every night, and I have a journal next to my toothbrush, and when I’m on the road, this journal comes with me, and on that journal I ask a question every single night, the question is, “What more can I do?” And then, before I go to bed, I have a mandate that it must be answered. And the full question is, “What more can I do to ensure that tomorrow will be even better than today?”
And sometimes, Pete, that’s directed toward being a better husband. Sometimes it’s directed toward…you know, my dad has got Parkinson’s disease, he’s struggling. My mom has got her challenges. The world is busted right now. There’s a lot going on. But others, for those of you who are just worried about being awesome at your job, “What more can I do to be awesome at my job?” Every single day, choosing one thing that you will do tomorrow that you did not do today that will allow you to become even more effective, even more awesome. If you did that for a week, you would see immediate results. If you took the challenge for a month, I think it would transform the way you show up every single day. It’ll change what you say no to and it will elevate what you’re saying yes to.
Well, I’d love to hear, so as you’ve shared this message with many people, what are some of the answers that tend to come back, like frequently neglected, omitted, what-can-I-do responses that are high leverage?
So, I’ll just share a couple personal examples. My relationship with my wife, I think, is one of the most important ones to at least try to get right. And, in 2016, we wrote a book called On Fire, and it went on fire. It became instant number one national bestseller. It was translated into a dozen languages. And, overnight, a guy who was kind of busy, became extraordinarily busy, on the road all the time. And as we ended that year, I realized, “Wow! I got awesome at my job but I was losing track of the things, four little kids, and the individual who gave me those four little kids, my wife, that maybe should matter most.”
And so, I have a cool process on New Year’s Eve that I’m always running through individually, but I wanted to become a much better spouse in the following year. I still wanted to be awesome at my job, I still wanted to touch lives organizationally, I still wanted to grow topline revenue, but not at the expense of losing my wife. And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” And as I got clear on it, “Well, what if I tracked all the things she does that are good without telling her.” I kept a journal entry.
And so, on January 1, 2017, I began a leather-bound journal with the words “Dear Beth, Jan. 1, 2017.” And then I told her in writing what I was going to do this year, and then I shut the book and went to bed. And the following day, I did it again, January 2, tracked one thing she did really beautifully, something maybe with our kids, maybe something she wore, something she did for a neighbor up in our community, whatever it was. Just tracking the good, tracking the success story.
A couple cool things came up out of that. Number one is we had been married at that point for 13 years and that was, that year 2017, our best year of marriage yet. I think, Pete, frequently in life, we say, “I do” maybe to a person on an altar, at the park, you make the commitment, but then you get bored with it. It just gets hard. It becomes kind of monotonous and we grow tired, and we stop doing, we stop courting the one in front of us. We say, “I do,” when it’s our first day on the job. Like, we really want to grow, we really want to expand, but then we realize our boss is a pain, the customers are snobs, and we really don’t do it anymore, we don’t really care that much anymore.
I wanted to care deeply in this relationship with my wife, and so I tracked the good of her. I noted it on a piece of paper, and I wanted to reflect that goodness back to her through my actions, through my words. And on Christmas day 2017, I handed her a poorly-wrapped present, she opened it, and it was this leather, stains, wine stains, lousy, beat down journal with 360 journal entries with her husband tracking her beauty. And it’s the first present I think I’ve ever gave her that led her to tears. In fact, last night, she was reading this in our bedroom, laughing sometimes, crying sometimes, emotionally being brought back to this autobiography that is our life. It’s our journey together, and we missed it for a while but we didn’t miss it in 2017, and neither of us have missed it since.
So, that’s one way to ask the question, “What more can I do?” and actually take tactical action to move you. We could also talk about how this has impacted our business, who we’ve hired, who we’ve let go, what we’ve done with the community, what we say yes to, what we say no to. It influences the way you show up every single day by asking the question, “What more can I do?” and then you write it down, you go, you track your progress, you make your changes along the way, you track the course, and you see how you can become even better going forward.
And what I like is that, you know, it could be a very small thing in terms of I don’t know how long it takes you to write down a good thing that your wife did, or I’m thinking, “What can I do to make tomorrow better than today in my work life? I could tidy this desk.”
And that would, I mean, it just put me in a little better mood, a little bit more positive, a little bit more energetic, a little bit more able to reach my favorite paper and pens, etc. when the moment calls for it. And so, I hear you about that compound interest because the next day, it’s like, “Well, hey, the desk is clean, so what else can I do?”
And then you start adding those on top of each other. Pages equal chapters, chapters equal books. I see the library behind you, I mean, you’re loaded back there. Books lead to libraries. It’s just compound interest. Word by word, paragraph by paragraph, page by page, book by book, library by library. You start moving this into relationships though and you’re on relationship capital. Compound interest, I think, Einstein said that it is the eighth wonder of the world. Those who understand it get it. Those who don’t pay it. So, if you understand compound interest, you’re collecting it every day in your bank account.
Can you write down the question, “What more can I do?” Can you answer it? And the following day when you wake up groggy, can you take action? Because if you do, it’s going to change that day, and those pieces of paper stacked, it’s going to change a life. And so, it really is, like I’ve told you before, we’ve grown three different businesses simply by asking that simple question, “What more can I do?”
Well, so let’s talk about this notion sort of in workplaces and relationships. I guess what are some of the top do’s and don’ts that make a world of difference in making those relationships compound into a wonderful wealthy relationship as opposed to getting in severe indebtedness?
Right, man. Let’s deal with the math all the way up and down. So, one of the most important things to recognize as we go through this process is it’s not so you can collect interest, it’s so you can pay it, it’s so you can make a profound difference in the lives of those that you choose to serve. An example of this, as COVID-19 was spreading, as I’m a motivational speaker, a leadership speaker, I travel the world giving seminars, 94% of that revenue disappeared overnight starting March 6, so our whole year blew up and imploded, and I have a whole team here that supports our efforts. We try to make a bigger difference in the community.
And so, I was going home, kind of feeling a little bit sluggish about the work, and, “How can I be awesome at my job when I can’t even keep this job?” and all the things we kind of go through when we’re having a pity party. And I asked the question that night, “What more I can do?” and this is, I don’t know, late March, “What more can I do? What more can I do?” Well, we’ve a book coming out called In Awe, and was coming out early in May, and we’d already pre-sold thousands and thousands of copies, and the press was about to take this thing and run with it.
And the way I answered that question that night is, “What if we gave it all away? What if we took everything, everything that we’re going to make from this book?” And instead of being self-focused, “What can O’Leary get out of it? How can I collect more? How can I get my interest, baby, my compound payment?” What if, instead, we could give it all away?
And so, I asked the question, “What more can I do?” I ran up on my wife, that’s always a good idea if you’re married or with a partner, before you make a big decision like this. She agreed. We ran it by my four kids. They agreed it would be cool. And with that, we decided to give 100% of the profits away to an organization called Big Brothers Big Sisters. And so, in the first two weeks alone, we were able to write this organization that makes a profound cultural difference in our community. One by one is how you change the world, by the way. One by one, that’s how you do it.
We were able to write them a cheque for $30,000 because a question came in front of us, “What more can I do?” It was not asked necessarily selfishly. It was asked selflessly. It was not asked only out of success, “How can I grow myself?” but out of significance, “How can I impact those around us with the resources that we still have, with the ability to influence that we still possess?” I did that to give. I do it to give. It has led to this incredible response from the media, from social media, from other organizations saying that they wanted to match what we gave. It led to a couple organizations saying, “Man, we want to bring you in to speak virtually to our organization. We want to learn more about this compound interest, this idea of being generous even during difficult days.”
I wasn’t giving to get at all. We gave because it’s the right thing to do in any climate. And yet, in doing so, the wealth comes back into your world. And so, as you ask that question, I strongly encourage you to ask it through the lens of love not fear, the lens of abundance not entitlement, or not like thinking small, and, “How do I get more of the pie to come toward me?” There’s plenty of pie to go around. Have a piece and then pass it.
Oh, certainly. Okay. Well, so then, with that said, we’re asking it in the right way, what are some sort of maybe sparks or inspirational starter actions that tend to pop up frequently?
So, one of the other things I learned in leadership is to be as focused as possible in providing people questions rather than specific answers. I want people to come up with solutions for themselves. I’ll give you, though, some answers that I think will be most effective answers that have worked well for me, our team, and those that have run through this in the past.
When they ask the question, “What more can I do?” what we’ve almost always found is the question is almost always focused, first, with a reflection in the mirror. Almost always. They want to know what more they can do to become a better version of themselves, to become a little bit more safe financially, to be able to give a little bit more in the community. And then they begin building the bridge a little bit farther, now that they have some of their own needs met. They’re able to look beyond themselves, beyond the reflection, and start saying, “Gosh, what more can I do for my spouse, my partner? This addiction, man, whatever this thing is that I’m struggling with, a dream that I’m longing, the ability to influence in our life, my own children, my aging parents?” And then it keeps expanding forward from there.
And so, as people ask this question, they’ll frequently begin asking, with the universe closest to them, “What more can I do?” And that’s healthy. It’s an appropriate way to begin the conversation. As you move farther down the path of not only success but also tying and tethering to that significance, the ability to influence and impact those around us, it begins shifting, in my own world, visiting kids in hospitals, taking the first fruits of the book In Awe and giving it away to an organization that I believe will make a far greater impact with that money than I possibly ever could if it was mine. And so, it begins moving from self-focus into other focus over time.
All right. Lovely. Well, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
We’ve had a whole lot of folks respond, they’ve gone in for their executive MBA because they realized, “What is holding me back? What is holding me back? I always wanted to do this.”
So, it can lead to you saying, “Man, I want a promotion. I want a new job. I’m going to tell my boss specifically how I feel and how I need to be spoken to so I could be more effective working with her.” It can lead to a whole different level of cascading effects in your life, but it’s highly personal. Highly personal. So, the way you get the information that ultimately you need, you desire, that will improve you, that will make you awesome is to simply start with the question mark, “What more can I do?” And then to pivot forward with the answer.
The hardest part, Pete, actually, part of it is answering is just simply taking the time to answer. It’s going to take a long time. It’ll probably take you 30 seconds each day, so that’s how long it takes. Then the real hardest part, the following day. Will you do it? Will you email your boss and say, “You know, we need to have a conversation”? Will you reach out to the local community college or the local university, and say, “You know what, I think not having this education is holding me back from being who I know I can be”? So, taking the action is the trickiest piece, and yet in doing so, it will set you apart. It will put you in a new direction in life.
All right. Thank you. Now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
So, one of my favorite quotes is from Viktor Frankl, and it’s been attributed to Nietzsche as well, it’s, “When you know your why, you can endure any ‘how.’” And, for me, whatever your job might be, if we don’t have laser focus and, ultimately, why we choose to do that job at a high level in the first place, I think we’ll fail in time in whatever that task is.
It’s a compelling statement in my life that guides me through difficult days physically, because I struggle physically many days, but also professionally with my job and other facets.
Thank you. And could you also share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?
Man, so my dad has Parkinson’s disease, he’s had it for, gosh, 29 years, and that’s a long time to be alive, let along have Parkinson’s disease. So, he’s struggling mightily, he’s lost his job, he’s also the most grateful guy I’ve ever met. He’s just happy everywhere he goes. The word you and I were using earlier – joy.
Years ago, I asked him how could he be so grateful when he’s got so little seemingly. And he said, “How can I not when I’ve got the world. I’ve got everything.” So, I had him share, “Dad, what are you grateful for because of Parkinson’s disease?” And he went through this list, and I said, “Dad, could you give me three things, just three things?” And he said the very first thing is, “I’m grateful it wasn’t a more serious disease,” and then he said, “I’m grateful I used to be so busy, now I have nothing but time to reflect on who really matters and what really matters in my life. I’m grateful for this time. And then, thirdly, I’m grateful for your mom.” He says, “Everyone else is pushing me farther away but your mother, my wife, keeps stepping closer and closer, and I’m incredibly profoundly grateful.”
And then I’m ready to give him a hug, Pete, and then he says, “Sit down. I’m not done. I’m not done.” And he went on and on and on. And, by the end of this conversation, he had 17 things that he was grateful for as a result, specifically, to Parkinson’s disease. So, I shared that as the backstory because I’ve done a lot of research on gratitude. And one of my favorite studies on gratitude is called the nun study. You can Google this later on. I think it was done from the University of Minnesota on a group of nuns from the Notre Dame province, I believe.
They collected all the journals from these ladies, and they said, “Did it matter how these women viewed their days?” Could you think of a better controlled group to study? “Did it matter how they viewed their days?” They wore the same clothes. They have the same faith. They eat the same food. They teach in the same schools. Did it really matter how they viewed their days? And the way they tracked it was by how optimistic or how negative they were about the day they had. They all kept journals, so they kept all the journals.
And then the remarkable aspect of that research is it said that those who are most negative about their days were alive at age 85, I believe, the number is 31% of the time, and those who were most optimistic and positive about the day they just experienced, the same day that those others experienced, but they saw it through a different lens, they were grateful for the lens they had, were alive 87% of the time. It’s almost a three-fold increase in longevity.
I challenge your listeners to research gratitude, and everywhere you turn, you’re going to find more remarkable things that gratitude will lead to in your vibrancy, in your longevity, in your health, in your life, and in your effectiveness at work. So, it’s one of my favorite studies.
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?
A favorite book. Man, so one of my favorite go-to is called The Return of the Prodigal Son. And it’s written by a guy born in northern Europe, he taught in Canada for a while, his name was Henri Nouwen.
Right on. Thank you. And, tell me, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
If you go to ReadInAwe.com, on that website, we have a link to all of our social media links, we have a link to our Live Inspired podcast, we’ve got a link to our books, so all that stuff is there for you. You can learn about John O’Leary speaking and his story leading up to this.
There’s a 21-day challenge free that people can go through, and recognize why they ought to be optimistic that their best days remain in front of them. With so much negativity, I want to give some practical optimism and hope for today that tomorrow is going to be even better.
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Wake up early tomorrow. Don’t let the day tackle you. You tackle it. Get up about an hour early. I know that’s a lot. I know you love your beauty sleep but it’s where you’re going to get your best work done. Begin that day in silence, reflect, fully in gratitude, maybe with a journal in hand, asking the question “Why me?” What are you grateful for? Take inventory. Start there.
Then, “Who cares?” That’s your mission statement. And if you can design your mission statement, we called it an ignition statement.
Why do you choose to thrive? Why do you choose to be awesome at your job? And then, thirdly, and finally, we spent quite a bit of time on this one so I hope it was heard loud and clear. Tonight, not tomorrow night, tonight, ask the question before you go to bed, “What more can I do?” And then answer it.
If you’re looking for one specific takeaway, ask the question tonight, “What more can I do?” Grab your compound interest and take action.
All right. John, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish lots of luck and many more moments of awe.
I’m living it, Pete. Thank you for letting me join you on your show. And thank you for the great work that you do.