John O’Leary shares how his first client Rusty Keeley encouraged him and pushed him to do better and what it means for you right now.
“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow.
Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead.
Walk beside me… just be my friend.”
– Albert Camus
Over the past 15 years I’ve had the profound honor of speaking at live events with more than 2,000,000 people. These conferences allowed me to visit 49 states and 17 countries making real friends around the world.
To expand our reach beyond a finite number of guests at events, we created the Live Inspired Podcast. It’s been downloaded several million times by individuals in more than 75 countries. We’ve also been fortunate to have two #1 National Bestselling books, ON FIRE and most recently IN AWE, that have been translated into more than a dozen languages. We recently created a virtual coaching program that is effectively partnering with clients around the world with clear next steps, inspiration and accountability.
Clearly, it’s been an amazing journey.
And it almost didn’t happen.
None of it.
After struggling with self-confidence after being burned as a child and hiding my scars for years, in my late 20’s I gradually began to embrace the story, accept what happened and identify what an experience so close to death taught me about life.
My first year as a speaker brought three opportunities to share. And in the second year a grand total of eight. None of these early clients were able to pay and I was beginning to wonder if it was just impossible, if I wasn’t cut out for it, and if I should give up on the dream. I lacked confidence in myself, clarity in my message and conviction on what to do next.
And that’s when my life changed.
How John O’Leary’s first client Rusty Keeley changed his life through belief, encouragement and love.
I got a call from a family friend named Rusty Keeley. He ran a small business in St. Louis and was hosting a leadership meeting. We’d met a few times. But this phone call, and the friendship it ignited, was a mighty inflection point.
The leadership meeting was successful. While Rusty Keeley was my first paid presentation, it was the advice he gave afterwards that was far more valuable.
He walked me to my car, thanked me for the message, and shared advice that changed my life: “O’Leary, you were awesome….”
There was a long pause before he added, “And you can become so much more.”
He connected me to his father-in-law, a remarkable, articulate and loving man named Dick James. Dick sat with me at a Steak ‘n Shake for three hours, took notes on what I wanted to share with the world and helped design a speaking framework to do so successfully. He also gave me books to read, speaking exercises to practice, and belief that we could do this.
After growing in clarity of my message and confidence to deliver it better, Rusty Keeley invited me to speak to another division of his business. Then another. And then another.
He then invited me to speak at a leadership gathering with eight YPO business owners. All eight members invited me to speak with their businesses afterwards. Rusty Keeley continued to make introductions, sent emails and personally called friends strongly encouraging them to invite John O’Leary to speak to their organization.
Through those introductions we booked a couple dozen speaking opportunities. Then 50. At last count, more than 100 speaking engagements blossomed through his personal introductions. And a kid with little confidence in himself and a lack of clarity around how to build a speaking business began successfully operating one.
Six years ago, when I planned my inaugural 2-day leadership conference, the first business to sign their leadership team to attend was Keeley. A year later, when I started a board of advisors, the first seat to be filled was by Keeley. When I wrote On Fire, the first sale of the first book was to Keeley. And it was followed by hundreds more that he sent to his team, clients and family.
My friends, Rusty Keeley changed my life.
He was encouragement when I needed a lift. Sage advice when I needed wisdom. A connector when I needed a new opportunity, a pat on the back when I needed approval and frequently a kick in the pants when I needed to take action, be brave and grow. In other words, over the past 15 years, Rusty has been my friend.
In the marketplace we all find ourselves in today, we long for friends. In the divisive, negative, and isolating world we find ourselves in, we desire authentic relationship. With the stress we’re experiencing as we try to manage the complexities of our lives, we are starved for genuine friendship.
With 61% of us feeling as if we had no one to really share our hearts and truth with before the pandemic, can you think of a better time to step forward and be that kind of friend for someone else than now?
It will change their world.
What you can offer your loved ones right now that really could make a difference.
I recognize that not everyone has business advice or business connections – and while both of those have been greatly appreciated, I think what was even more impactful was his belief, his time and his care.
Are those three things you can offer?
My friends, you are awesome.
But you can be so much more.
This is your day. Live Inspired.
P.S. As our brand has grown in influence in the marketplace, we’ve been approached by many organizations interested in sponsoring our work. While we appreciated the support and interest, we were looking for a partner with a uniquely mission heart… Well, it should come as little surprise that we chose Keeley as the first sponsor of our Live Inspired Podcast. We can continue to do our great work because of their support. Learn more about what Keeley Co. does and why Keeley’ns love their work here. Listen to the Podcast here or anywhere you stream your podcasts.
P.P.S. Yes! I mentioned virtual coaching above. Learn more about what we’ve created, the impact we’re witnessing and how it might elevate your organization here.