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John O’Leary on the importance of expressing gratitude.

“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”– GB Stern

Have you ever had someone make a big difference for you?

Better question: Do they even know?

Frequently we so quickly move on with our lives that we miss the opportunity to share our gratitude for all someone else did for us. Let me explain.

I Never Expressed my Gratitude to my Brother for Saving My Life

Shortly after college I bought my first home.

A couple of my buddies lived with me and paid me rent. We had a back yard, wooden deck, hot tub, barbeque pit… basically everything a twenty-something guy needed!

My brother Jim called shortly after I moved in. He wondered if he could live with us for a few weeks while transitioning from a house he was renting into one he planned on purchasing. He was a successful attorney, my only brother, and I was happy to have him move in for a while.

On July 3, 1999 with temperatures in triple digits and humidity so high it made breathing a chore, I helped Jim move.

Now, I worked mowing lawns as a kid, bailing hay as a farmhand in high school, and remodeling distressed properties after college. But I’d never worked as hard or for as little as the day I moved Jim in.

We carried his free weights, a ski machine, and a treadmill.  We carried a giant wooden bar, a pool table, a massive dresser, a beat up bed, a love seat, couches, ottomans, end tables and bags of junk.

After a brutal day in the heat, we finally finished.

Finding Gratitude in an Unlikely Experience

Jim took a quick walk through his old house to make sure we’d grabbed all of his stuff. That’s when he saw his Christmas decorations hiding in the corner of the basement: Wooden reindeers, light strands, a box of ornaments and a giant Santa Clause. He called me over, handed me a few boxes of lights and one of the reindeers, looked at me and said, “Man, this stuff is going to look amazing at our Christmas parties.”

Christmas parties? It’s freaking July, Jim. You’ll be in your real home before September. Right?

Well, my friend, a “few weeks” turned into three years.

Three years of fighting over the television remote control and leftovers. Three years of laughter and great memories. Three years of watching sports and wrestling matches. Three years of going out and staying in. Three years of hosting family gatherings and, yes, Christmas parties.

In other words, three years of living like brothers again.

Who Has Elevated, Shaped and Inspired Your Life?

And not once during the three years we lived together did we talk about the fire that defined my childhood and changed our lives. Not once during the three years we lived together did we acknowledge to each other, or the three other roommates, that Jim was much more than a brother. He was my lifesaver, my hero, and without him I wouldn’t be alive.

There are so many individuals responsible for me successfully surviving a childhood fire that should have killed me – paramedics, doctors, nurses, technicians, community. There are countless individuals who helped inspire me to thrive afterwards – my parents, therapists, Jack Buck, classmates.

Yet none of them would have had an opportunity to do their job, give their time, offer their prayers or encourage me forward had it not been for Jim’s heroism the day I was burned. As I stood in the front hall burning as a child, he’s the one who picked up a rug, beat down the flames, risked his life, burned himself and saved my life.

And I never even acknowledged it much less expressed gratitude for it.

How and Why to Express Your Gratitude

Well, I have now (speaking about it publicly for 10+ years and in my #1 National Bestselling book ON FIRE, you could say I shout it from the rooftops everyday and it has cemented his impact and my gratitude) and it’s brought us closer together as brothers and as friends.

[Manley Feinberg, world-class mountain climber, musician and leader, reminds us of the importance of recognizing those who help us along the way on Live Inspired Podcast episode #129. Manley shares tips on how to reach your next peak in life and business and how to elevate others along the way. Listen here.]

My friends, we all have been elevated, encouraged, shaped and inspired by others. We all have individuals, coaches, mentors, and teachers who made a profound difference in our lives.

Use this moment and an excuse to intentionally reach out to those individuals and express your gratitude.

When you connect, rather than talking sports, or weather, or what the market did today, choose to participate in conversations that will breathe life and possibility into the moment. Rather than ignore their impact or wait to share with them next time, choose a conversation that matters, elevates and actually shows gratitude. Rather than hope they know, thank them for who they are and what they mean to you.

While silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone, shared gratitude sets others on fire for life.

3 replies on “Do They Know?”

When I was 2.5 years old I had an injury that left in unconscious for 36 hours – My 8 year old sister took me to safety and called for help. My other sister performed CPR – I am only here because of my sisters.

Inspired by my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Halcyon Johnston. She always made me feel good about myself and my abilities. She was complimentary and uplifting.

When I was in Catholic grammar school there were 2 priests I remember who were so amazing, thoughtful and awe inspiring. Monsignor Connell and Father Myers. I hope they both knew how much they meant to me! I was dropped off early before school started, so I would go to mass every morning and Msgr Connell mostly said that mass. After mass I’d stay and chat with him. He was so kind and just wonderful to talk to. One day some of my friends got dropped off early too and I skipped mass to play outside. Msgr Connell had a heart attack on the alter that morning and died. For a long time I felt it was my fault for skipping mass that day 🙁 He was a wonderful wonderful man. Father Myers was there the whole time I was in grammar school. His sermons were thought-provoking, interesting and always had some funny parts. We all loved when he stopped by our classroom for a visit. He participated in our CYO {Catholic Youth Organization} groups and drove down for a day during our beach week trips to say mass on the beach. He always listened to us and answered all the questions we had, even when we questioned the bible stories. He married my husband and I and my 2 sisters. He baptized my daughters and some nieces and nephews. He helped me thru some really rough times. We kept in touch after her retired to FL and exchanged Christmas cards until the day he passed. I was devastated when he died. He was the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I know Catholic priests have a bad reputation these days, but all the ones I knew were wonderful respectful men.

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