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John O'Leary's greatest life lesson learned from an elderly family member.

How to choose love over fear, an excerpt from John O’Leary’s #1 National Bestselling book ON FIRE

My greatest life lesson to date – the one that impacts everything I do, every relationship I have, every choice I make – is this:

Fear and love are the two great motivators. While fear suffocates, love liberates. [Tweet this.] | [Share on Facebook.]

Today, I’m sharing about a time when I learned how and WHY to choose LOVE over fear. No, not sappy, Hallmark-card love. And actually, not even romantic love. Just pure, unabashed love – for your neighbor, child, spouse, friend, colleague, barista, fellow man. Love, the greatest motivator in life.

This is an excerpt from my #1 National Bestselling book ON FIRE:


An important life lesson learned while meeting Beth’s family for the first time.

The first time I met Beth’s family, I received advice I’ll never forget.

It was nearly Christmas and we were ushering in the holidays with a large family party.

Beth and I had been dating for just a couple months, and it was time to meet her family.

There were several dozen uncles, aunts, and cousins. The gathering was loud, full of laughter, food, drink, and good cheer. I felt at home immediately.

Near the end of the party I met one of Beth’s uncles. Though an older man, he still had a square jaw, buzz cut, large, powerful hands, and a spark of mischief in his eyes.

We were standing in his house, near the kitchen table, laden with food.

He leaned over to grab another cookie, took a bite, then said, “Do you know what I do when I meet someone for the first time, John?”

No, sir. Tell me. “Well, John, I always turn sideways.”

He turned sideways.

“I cock my left hand.”

He made a tight fist.

“That way I am ready in case the person tries to swing at me. I can swing, hit him first, and drop him.”

There was an awkward silence.

“Do you understand?”

He kept eating the cookie as I nodded yes. Eyeing that left fist of his, I asked. So, you’re saying, sir, that every time you meet someone for the first time you’re ready for a fight?

“That’s right. And I’d drop him to the ground. There would be nothing he could do about it. Just nothing he could do about it.”

If we dwell in a place of fear, we’ll never go anywhere.

Now he wasn’t sharing this statement as a way to intimidate me, but instead as some advice he considered valuable.

He was an amazing man and we miss his sweetness and idiosyncrasies.

But he grew up in a tough neighborhood, lived during the Depression, had fought in a war, and the residue of those experiences shaped every new encounter he faced.

Can you imagine going through life that way? Can you imagine every time you meet someone making a fist getting ready to throw down? Can you imagine every time you shake someone’s hand you have your left hand clinched ready to swing?

It’s outrageous.

But while we may laugh at this story, most of us are more like him than we’d like to admit.

We occasionally start our day with our fists clinched ready to throw down. We sometimes greet others with our shields up, masks on, prepared for war. We can become used to greeting adversity and opportunity, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the sunshine and the rainstorms—not with an open heart on fire with love, but with one frozen shut by fear.

Now, fear can be a good thing.

We should fear touching something hot, letting someone down, a hungry lion. In my faith, even the fear of God is a good thing as it propels believers away from something destructive and toward something life-giving.

Fear is part of our human experience and necessary for our survival. The goal, though, is not to stay in a fear-based mentality. If we dwell in a place of fear, we’ll never get anywhere…



Let me reiterate that last line: If we dwell in a place of fear, we’ll never get anywhere. Want an actionable way to choose LOVE over fear in your life today? Listen to my most recent Live Inspired Podcast #125 here to get practical tips on how to choose love and strengthen your relationships with keen insights from psychologist, professor and co-founder of eHarmony Dr. Les Parrott.

Sometimes we greet others with shields up, prepared for war. Today, choose instead to greet adversity and opportunity, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the sunshine and the rainstorms with an open heart on fire with love.

What is your greatest life lesson? Please share in the comments!

3 replies on “My Greatest Life Lesson to Date”

John’s podcasts have become an awesome source of insight and inspiration for me. I listen while driving long distances and when there’s typically only the rigor of avoiding boredom or frustration with media. Thank you so much!

The lesson that taught me the most was that even in the face of bad things happening, you do not give up. Good will always prevail. God will see to that!

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