How to Live Life Inspired and Find Success in Everyday – John O’Leary, NYTimes Best-Selling Author

Today, Atlanta Small Business Network is joined by inspirational speaker, best-selling author, and contributor, John O’Leary. John shares with us his story of tragedy, triumph and overall self-betterment that ultimately lead him to travel the country in hopes to inspire you and your self-worth.

 John O’LearyAt just nine years old, John was severely burned over 100% of his body and was given a 1% chance of living. It was within those moments the bed stricken 9-year-old made a choice to reclaim his life and engage in a future that will bring hope and desire to all who would listen.

O’Leary spends his year speaking to over 50,000 people around the world, with more than 120 events for clients like LEGO, Verizon Wireless, Southwest Airline, and more.

Throughout the Interview, John drives home the importance of asking yourself key questions that promote the power he hopes you find within. O’Leary does a wonderful job explaining how and when to focus on the key points of life and how to use them to infuse richness in every part of your life, including work.

John O'Leary One suggestion he has for you is to find that person that you look up to in your field, may that be sales, management, or tech, and shadow them. Absorb what they know and how they have achieved their stance today. O’Leary says, “find someone who is doing this well, take him or her out to lunch and say listen, I look up to you, I respect you, your someone who does it the right way”.

To read more about John, visit his website at
Purchase his #1National Best-Selling book, ON FIRE, here


Jim Fitzpatrick: As a nine year old boy living with his parents in St Louis, John O’Leary was burned on over 100% of his body with 80% of the burns being third degree. His doctors gave him less than a 1% chance of living past 24 hours, but they didn’t know John. Not only did he live past 24 hours, he went on in his life to become a New York Times number one best selling author and one of the most sought after motivational speakers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: John uses his life experiences to help inspire other to overcome the challenges they face in their everyday lives. We recently caught up with John, and he shared with us his incredibly inspiring story.

Jim Fitzpatrick: John O’Leary, welcome to the show. We’re so happy you could join us today.

John O’Leary: Jim, it is such an honor to be on your show.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Well we appreciate the time. I know you’re a bust guy between all your speaking engagements and being a best selling author, and then of course a father and a husband. Your kids are absolutely beautiful, so congratulations to you on all of that.

John O’Leary: Well, man. That’s … Where you ended is where my real work is. I am a dad and a father of four, husband of one. I really have a great life, but I have the pleasure of traveling the world sharing a really remarkable story that I know we’re gonna spend some time unpacking today.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yes, you really do. For somebody like yourself, and as soon as we get into the story here that says I have a great life, I wanna talk about that life because that’s what makes you so special. For the viewers that aren’t as familiar with the John O’Leary as I am can you share with us, and share with the audience what the amazing story is that got you to this point?

John O’Leary: In short, it is that a little boy who was expected to die has gone on to become a man who is teaching others how to really live. So what does that mean? What it ultimately means is that at age nine, Jim, I was burned in a house fire on 100% of my body, the entire thing. 87% of the burns were third degree. I spent five months in the hospital, lost all my fingers, as you can see, to amputation. I have wounds over my entire body and scars, and yet through grace and through a little bit of determination, through a little bit of fights, through a whole lot of community effort, this little boy went on not only to survive the five months and the couple years of recovery, but has really gone on to live and lead a remarkable life.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So share with us, if you would, you’ve been through so much in your life, how do you cope with it all that life has thrown your way?

John O’Leary: I think when life happens, not if, and I don’t mean when you get the paycheck, when you get the big sale, I mean when the real stuff of life happens, the diagnoses, even the smaller stuff, traffic, delays, whatever it may be, when life happens we get to choose how we respond by asking two sets of questions. Those questions that victims love to ask.

John O’Leary: Number one, why me? Why the luck? Why the delay? Why the traffic? Why the diagnosis? Why the burns? Why me?

John O’Leary: Secondly, who care? And Jim, I think who cares is the question of indifference.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

John O’Leary: And indifference, whether you’re leading a business, you’re trying to make a deal, you’re leading a family, you’re living a life. Indifference leads to death.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

John O’Leary: The third question, so why me, who care, thirdly what more can I do? I’m only one. It’s a small business. I’m a sales guy. I’m a family guy, what more can one person do to really drive change, to live into the best version of myself. I’m only one. What I would encourage people to do, and what I try to do when I’m living my life intentionally, is I ask three completely different questions that I’m gonna ask right now. Your viewers so write these ones down.

John O’Leary: Question number one that the victors love to ask, and they do it as the sun rises in the east, why me? Why me? Why am I so lucky? Why am I so blessed? Why do I have eyes to see, and ears to hear, and a heart to feel, and a mind think and collaborate, to connect, to drive change, to innovate, why me, man? I’m lucky, blessed, living in the freest country in the history of the world. Give me a break. That’s a pretty good foundation to start your day.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Absolutely.

John O’Leary: It allows you to get out of bed, dance towards that shower, ask the second question as the hot water hits your face, which is who care if it’s hard, if I’m struggling, if there’s some challenges going on at work, or in sales, or in my family, or with health, or in finances, or around me in our community. Honestly, who care? Times like these require people to boldly step forward, and maybe we’re called to be that person. It’s a question of mission and values and ownership. So who cares if it’s hard. You are worthy, act like it.

John O’Leary: And that ultimately allows us to finish the day strong. By asking the third and final question, which of course if you’re taking notes at home, what more can I do? What more can I do to ensure in my sales, in my business, in my marriage, in my faith walk that tomorrow is even better than today.

John O’Leary: And of course the gimmick is this, they’re the same questions, but if we don’t own this, if we don’t own this someone else will. The traffic delays, the TSA officer, the person who won’t call us back, our crabby spouse, my headache, that’s gonna own it for us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

John O’Leary: So my invitation for all of us, starting with the party of one, the party of one O’Leary, is own it as a victor. Why me? Who care? And what more can I do?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, those are awesome questions. I’m gonna put them on my shower door and not forget them until it’s a habit, but it’s gets right to the point doesn’t it? You’ve really simplified it with those three questions for everybody that’s listening right now. They’re probably making the names because it really … Everybody’s gonna deal with challenges each and every day. The most successful of us, and then of course the ones that struggling a little bit, right?

John O’Leary: Right. And I think the mistake many of us make is wishing the challenges away. What I’ve noticed in every single growth period of my business and marriage, and in particular my faith walk, is that it is through the storms, through the seemingly challenges that we make our greatest strides forward.

John O’Leary: So I would just encourage your listeners, and you and I as well, maybe we should not be wishing them away, and maybe we should not try to keep our children from being burned and from making their own mistakes, and getting bruises on their elbows and knees. Maybe it’s through these bruises, and mistakes, and missteps that we learn what matters. We develop a little bit of character and resiliency. We grow on faith and fortitude, and we ensure that our best days remain in front of us, not behind us.

Jim Fitzpatrick: For sure. So speaking about challenges, and obviously someone in your situation, the rest of us can only imagine to be burn at 100% of your body. We can’t even fathom that. So drill down a little bit, what were some of the greatest challenges throughout your life to deal what you’ve had to deal with, because we have no concept of that.

John O’Leary: There’s a lot there, obviously, to unpack, but I’d like to get lazar focused so it’s actionable for all your listeners and viewers.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure.

John O’Leary: When I first came into the hospital, you gotta understand, I started the fire by accident, but I did start the fire. I burned down my house and myself. I’m laying in the hospital bed, my mom and dad haven’t seen me yet, so the thought that I had as a little nine year old boy from St. Louis, Missouri was, “Oh, my gosh. My dad is going to kill me when he finds out.” That was all I could think about was my father’s wrath. I hear his voice down the hall, and Jim, he is led back into this room.

John O’Leary: He pulls back this curtain, like many of your listeners right now, my dad’s a business owner. He walks in, he points down, and then my father says to me, “John, look at me when I’m talking to you,” which in our family was the kiss of death, so I look up at my mean dad and he says, “I have never been so proud of anybody in my entire life, and my little buddy this morning, I’m proud to be your dad.” And then he says, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” As a little one hearing these words my thought was, “Oh, my gosh. Nobody told my dad what happened,” or the old man doesn’t know what really went down.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow.

John O’Leary: But I think those of you who are listening right now with children of your own, or nephews and nieces, or you’ve met kids in the marketplace of life …

Jim Fitzpatrick: Absolutely.

John O’Leary: … you understand what’s going on here. My dad is shifting what is inspired and moving him forward in life. It’s one of two things that will get you out of bed and keep you out of bed, and get you into work and keep you engaged once you’re there, and get you home for dinner on time if that was the commitment you made, but more than that keep you actively engaged while you’re there. It’s either fear, “I have to or she’ll walk out on me. I have to or I’ll lose my business. I have to or I’ll get sick again,” or love.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

John O’Leary: Which shifts the conversation from have to to want to. This desire, the I do you spoke years ago when you made your vows the first time. I do. I do. It’s this willingness to say, “I do” to life every day. So my dad came in with fear, I have to, shifted into love, I want to, I do. And he changed. I caught … Right behind my dad came my mom. She took my hand in hers. My hands are burnt, but she walks right over to me, took my hand, looks at me in the eyes and says, “I love you.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

John O’Leary: Well then I look up and I say, “Momma, knock it off with the love. Am I gonna die?” And her response back, Jim, was, “Baby, do you want to?” And the reason I’m sharing this whole story is because when you face challenges in life, and we all have, I’ve been burned but you’ve been through some relationship challenges, you’ve been through stuff in your businesses, you’ve been thorough stuff in finances. All of us have been through stuff in our heads limiting beliefs etc.

Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s right.

John O’Leary: We’ve all been burned. We’ve all through storms, so how do we respond? My mother’s question insisted that I own it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

John O’Leary: But you asked me a question 30 minutes ago that I’m finally getting around to answering. “John, when you face challenges today, how you respond?” Well, my mom said, “Baby, do you wanna die?” I said, “Momma, I don’t wanna die. I wanna live.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

John O’Leary: Which she responded good, “Then look at me. You take the hand of God. You walk the journey with him, but John, you fight like you have never fought before,” and Jim, on that day, it was January 17, 1987, a nine year old child made a decision to fight on having no clue what the following day had in store. All I knew on day one was the fight is on. And I think today, which by the way is day one of the rest of your life, it’s enough. You don’t need to know about tomorrow right now. You don’t need to worry about yesterday. It’s behind you. Let’s focus right now on what we got in front of us. Let’s do the best we can with the talents and resources we have, and let’s fight to make sure that tomorrow’s better than today.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. What do you say to those individuals that are not yet living their dream because of their own fears inside?

John O’Leary: Well I would say three things, and maybe four as we get to it. Number one, I would encourage them to replace that fear with faith. The fear is this concept of what might happen tomorrow. Well, tomorrow’s not promised to you, so let’s not act like it. Fear starts to fade away when you start focusing on living the moment right now. So replace the fear with a little bit of faith, or if you prefer the word presence. Engage actively where you are right now.

John O’Leary: The second thing I would say is, me too. I do, if I’m not careful, have an awful lot of fear in my life. Today, I travel the world as a speaker. You mentioned the book On Fire, I’m a number one national best selling author of the book, On Fire. We have a really cool active community and podcast.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah.

John O’Leary: So it sounds like, “Well John, what a successful story.” Yeah, 13 years, overnight success, right? My first presentation was 13 years ago and the audience was not your incredible community, Jim. The audience was three girl scouts in third grade who ask me, Mr. O’Leary apparently, to share my story of being burned with their troop.

John O’Leary: My answer to life, whether it’s a request from you brother Jim or three girls scouts, is yes. I try to be open to that yes, open to the next best step. So I said yes to these girls having never in my entire life delivered a presentation. I drove to school, opened the door of my car, took about eight steps, turned around, walked to the front of my car, threw up twice …

Jim Fitzpatrick: This is the three girl scouts.

John O’Leary: Not an exaggeration, in front of three third grade girl scouts, went back inside, put a piece of gum in my mouth, opened up the door, and said, “Let’s go.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

John O’Leary: That was my first talk.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Right.

John O’Leary: I gave three that first year. I think I gave right the second year, and about 16 the third. Not one of them was paid.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Wow.

John O’Leary: So it wasn’t an overnight success.

Jim Fitzpatrick: No.

John O’Leary: It was a passion project. Don’t say no, don’t say how. The answer is yes, now figure it out.

John O’Leary: And the third thing I would say to those of us thinking about starting that next business or project is success leaves breadcrumbs. So I would find the most successful guy in that sales business, in that entrepreneurial business, whether you wanna start selling tennis shoes, I don’t really care what your job, and find someone who is doing this well. Take him or her out to lunch and say, “Listen, I look up to you. I respect you. You’re someone that does it the right way and I wanna be like you when I grow up,” and it will flatter them. It will turn them on and they will open up their book of life to you. And then all you have to do is do the next best thing. It’s that easy and it’s that hard, but I would replace fear with faith. I would encourage folks to say yes, just yes, go.

John O’Leary: And then thirdly, take someone out to lunch, take them out of a meeting, take them out for a quick phone call and learn from what they’ve learned as they’ve moved towards success.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Well, John O’Leary, the bestselling author of two books that I know of, Overwhelming Odds and On Fire. Those are gonna be made available on our homepage, here. You can just click the button. It will take you over to Amazon. You are a very, very special individual. We appreciate you very much being here on our network. I know that our audience will get a tremendous amount out of your talk today.

Jim Fitzpatrick: So again, John, thank you very much, and we wish you the best, and hopefully we can have you back on.

John O’Leary: I’m looking forward to being back, Jim. And, hey ladies and gentlemen, thanks for watching this.