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John O’Leary shares how missing the blooming of his magnolia helped him learn to be present and offers you a 21-day challenge to do the same.

Enjoy this excerpt from p. 91 of my #1
national bestselling book IN AWE:



“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince 

“You missed it, Daddy.”

It was early on a Saturday morning when my five-year-old son, Jack, whispered those sad words into my ear.

I’d returned late the night before from a weeklong whirlwind speaking tour and was still exhausted from the travel. Over the previous seven days I’d been in eight states and delivered more than a dozen presentations. This morning I was jet-lagged, wiped out, and in desperate need of more sleep.

Next to me, my wife was beginning to stir as Jack’s whisper grew in volume. “Daddy, wake up! You missed it!”

I had no idea what he was talking about. Was it a baseball game? Had I inadvertently missed his birthday?

What John O’Leary learned by missing the blooming of his magnolia tree.

Nope. It was something much simpler but no less important.

Over sixteen years of marriage, Beth and I have moved three times. With each home, we’ve been blessed to have a grand magnolia tree tower over our front yard.

As a guy who travels a lot, I’ve been to Washington, DC, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. I’ve stared straight up in awe at the redwoods north of San Francisco. I’ve hiked through the Costa Rican rainforest, basked under Hawaiian palm trees, and heard the whispering magic of aspens in the mountains of Colorado. Yet my favorite tree remains the magnolia. And my favorite experience is playing with my family below one as it blossoms.

The official harbinger, in our household, that spring is arriving is when the glorious white, pink, and purple blooms unspool overhead, the magnolia aroma rains down, and the great tree comes to life.

The morning Jack woke me I was in my bed, lying next to my wife for the first time in a week. The kids were a bit bigger. Beth was a little more tired.

And the magnolia tree in our front yard, which had been dormant all winter, had awakened, sprung to life, fully blossomed, and dropped its petals.

It’s an event I get my kids fired up about every spring. It’s a display that symbolizes perfectly the promise of new life. It’s an awesome spectacle.

And I missed the entire show.

My work requires a good bit of travel. There will occasionally be things that I miss. Many of you can probably relate.

How kids can teach us to be present.

But sometimes do you feel like you’re missing it and you haven’t even gone anywhere? Times when you are physically present, but emotionally absent? That life is happening all around, but you aren’t really present? For any of it?

Take an everyday scene at the park. Kids are thrilled to be there. They are making new friends, playing in the sand, sailing high on the swings, or lost in a game of make-believe. They may be a bit too loud and get a little dirty. But they are laughing, running, engaging with friends. Savoring the moment.

Now, pivot your attention from the kids and the playground to the benches surrounding it. What do you see?

On the sidelines of the park, sit the adults. Their heads are bent. Their thumbs are swiping, scrolling, tapping. Every now and then, someone glances up at the sun in frustration. They tilt their phones, trying to see their screens.

Their focus is on something else, somewhere else, far away.

And it isn’t just when we’re at parks. From family dinners to corner diners, from airport terminals to team meetings, you’ll see proof: There exists a vast chasm between our physical presence somewhere and wholehearted engagement once there. Since becoming obsessed with social media, email, texts, headlines, and Angry Birds, with every beep, we excitedly grab our phones, check the screens, thumb our replies, and swipe right. And all the while, we miss out on what- ever we are doing, and the people we are actually with.

We were not made to be in a thousand places at once.

We were made to be here, in this moment, right now.

No one exemplifies this the way children do. When we are young, we don’t understand the concept of time. There is only the now. As a result, children are completely absorbed in what they are doing. The rest of the world falls away as they become engrossed in activities they love: building with their Legos, looking at a book, coloring a picture, digging in the mud.

This is the gift of childhood. Total immersion in what the world has to offer.

How to make be present and make each moment matter.

And then there’s us, the adults. We are halfway present for every meeting, barely aware of what we’re eating, hardly watching the television show. We are on our devices, or worrying about tomorrow, or stewing about yesterday. We are constantly in rewind or fast-forward, rather than play.

Far from being absorbed by what’s in front of us, we’re barely even here.

To live In Awe, we must wake up: Each moment we experience— from the sunshine in the park to the brainstorming meeting in the conference room to the commute at the end of the day—can become significant only when we give it our full attention.

Only then can we stop missing the marrow of life.

Today is your day. Live Inspired.

3 replies on “21-Day Challenge to Be Present”

We heard you in Scottsdale last March at a bank conference and have been listening to you and reading your books. Thank you for helping me refocus ~God bless you, John, Lori hightower

Very timely. Alas, it’s been this way long before the widespread norm of cell phones, smart watches and the like. I wonder if my father’s generation (the “Greatest Generation” of the 40s until his death in 2004) dealt with this before all our age of mandatory, can’t live without ‘em gadgets and gizmos? I believe the answer is yes.

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