Post authored by Pattee Brown, Marketing Manager
People smarter than I am have suggested I take my life lessons and apply them to my professional life.
That advice always perplexed me. It’s a grand idea in theory, I suppose, but how do you apply losing a friend or getting stood up at prom to your professional life? Typically, personal experiences are personal and professional experiences are professional.
Well, at least that’s what I thought until I heard John O’Leary speak at the Maritz Global Events annual e4 conference in Las Vegas.
Before O’Leary took the stage, he was introduced as a guy who, at age nine, nearly lost his life in a devastating house fire with burns on 100% of his body. Strange intro, I thought to myself. Why would you open with an introduction like that? Certainly there are more relevant professional accomplishments this man could talk about.
But it turns out, there’s nothing more relevant to me, or to you or to anyone else, than this man’s personal witness about facing death at such a young age. His triumph over tragedy story reminds us that regardless of the circumstances, we all have the power to inspire remarkable transformations.
Throughout his talk, O’Leary cycled through three simple questions:
- Why me?
- Who cares?
- What more can I do?
If I read these questions outside the context of O’Leary’s incredible journey, they might come across as complaining or whining. You know what I mean. You wake up and the coffee pot has imploded or your flight is delayed or the hot water isn’t working and you whine into the Universe—”why ME?” I can hear myself complaining in frustration. “Ugh! Who cares anyway?” or “What else can I do?” with the decided undertone of a petulant child giving up on their efforts.
But after hearing O’Leary share intimate details about staring down adversity at the tender age of nine … after hearing about how he courageously persevered through the long and arduous process of healing and the leagues of inspiring people who supported him … after hearing all that and much more, those questions took on a whole new meaning.
Why me? Why am I so lucky? Why am I so lucky to wake up and greet another day? Why am I so lucky to have a job to embrace? Why am I so lucky to be surrounded by so many talented people? And so on.
A Perfect Kickoff for e4
With “Brave Souls” as the theme for the e4 conference, O’Leary’s spot on the agenda as the Opening General Session speaker was perfect. After all, being brave and taking on smart risks helps us grow, both personally and professionally. His stories set the tone for the sessions that followed and likely contributed to the high degree of peer-to-peer collaboration that unfolded throughout the e4 journey.
There was one story O’Leary shared that underscored a defining brave soul moment. While he laid in bed knocking on death’s door, he asked his mother if he was going to die— to which she answered, “John, do you want to die? It’s your choice, not mine.”
At nine years old, writhing in pain that most could never comprehend, this kid answered, “No, I don’t want to die.” And with that response, the future direction of his life shifted dramatically.
His mother gave him the best gift she could give him. She told him, “I love you John and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Then, she reminded him that no matter how hard things get or how badly he might want to give up, he had to fight to stay alive.
Every day, we all have the opportunity to fight for what’s right and to embrace the small moments (and life lessons) that ultimately lead us to richer and more rewarding outcomes. Every day, we have the opportunity to tell someone we care about that we love them and there is nothing they can do about it.
Hearing John O’Leary talk about how to go through life as a brave soul, how to speak your truth and face your challenges head on inspired me to take a different look at my personal experiences and to apply those life lessons to aspects of my professional life.
To learn more about John O’Leary and his remarkable journey, check out his best-selling book, On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life.