John shares the advice he wishes his younger self knew.
“What advice would you give yourself at age 20?”
It’s a question I’ve asked every single guest on the Live Inspired Podcast. And after 500 episodes, the answers always move me.
I love asking it because it gives our listeners insight into what our guests were like at age 20 and what they’ve since learned matters most. It’s often hard-earned humility, or encouragement to slow down, or hope that things will get better.
Way back in episode six, celebrity author, radio host and my buddy Dave Ramsey said that he would go back and tell his 20-year-old self, “You’re not as important as you think you are!” Good advice for most of us at age 20….and many of us today!
Another guest and friend, Sue Klebold, is the mother of one of the Columbine shooters. She’s a woman who has endured both unimaginable tragedy and revealed uncommon courage. In episode 73, she said to her younger version, “You are more courageous and stronger than you have any idea.”
In episode 380, we met 12-time-Olympic medalist Dara Torres. You may remember her from when she swam in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles…or the 1988 Seoul Olympics…or 1992 Barcelona Olympics…or perhaps from the 2000 Sydney Games…or, most recently, as a 41-year-old in the 2008 Beijing Olympics! She told us that she’d tell her self-conscious younger counterpart, “Don’t worry what other people think of you!”
As the interviewer, I always learn something from the answer. But it wasn’t until the tables were turned and I was asked that question that I realized the true power of taking a moment to consider the answer in our own life. It forces us to take stock of both who we are today and revisit who we were.
When people see John O’Leary these days, they might see a guy who wrote two books, or speaks for a living, or hosts a podcast. They might see a guy whose life is incredibly easy (as some have suggested) or incredibly difficult (as others insinuated). They might know me as Beth’s husband or dad to Jack, Patrick, Henry, and Grace. Or they may know me as a joyful, grateful man. But at age 20, I wasn’t any of those things. You see, 20-year-old John didn’t feel like much of anything at all.
I was a floundering student, struggling in class, with no future professional focus.
I was drinking too much, using alcohol as a mask of fitting in more than a goal of having fun.
I lacked purpose, confidence and conviction, had never had a girlfriend and the future wasn’t looking bright. Trust me!
I was plagued with anxiety about what I’d do for a living, wondering if someone might eventually find beauty in me, or if I could ever even find beauty in myself.
I had lived 20 years stuck chained to the past, living in fear and struggling to fit in.
Until I finally let go of trying to be something for others and started loving my life exactly as it was.
Until I stopped pursing love for what I could get out of it and began simply savoring all that I could invest in others.
Until a series of events that started with my parents’ (unauthorized, I might add) decision to tell the story of my accident in the book Overwhelming Odds led me to standing in the front of the room full of strangers telling my own story for the very first time.
Until in doing so over time I realized that God had used something traumatic and painful for something redemptive and healing. Until I finally had real confidence and understanding of the truth that sometimes bad things must happen so that we may have room to grow relationally, professionally and personally.
My friends, we’ve all been burned, dealt with struggle, endured storms in life. We’ve lost parents, children and friends. We’ve failed in businesses, marriages and dreams. We’ve stumbled spiritually, physically and financially. And yet what I didn’t know back then is that our scars from these experiences aren’t signs of weakness to be covered up, but symbols of strength to be celebrated.
As we prepared to record our 500th Live Inspired Podcast episode and sought to bring a lifegiving message to listeners all over the world, we thought it would be deeply meaningful for my very first guest — and one of my greatest inspirations – to take the microphone and interview me.
That’s how I found myself seated across from Susan O’Leary last week as my mom asked me the encouragement I’d tell myself at age 20.
As I looked at Mom, thoughts raced through my mind like, “John, it’s from our scars and failings that our greatest successes originate” or “In every fire in our life we can choose to see: a life muted by pain, rejection and challenge or a life on fire with hope, perspective and the wisdom.” Or “Your life is a gift, you are loveable, your life matters. Act like it!!!”
But the answer I shared with Mom last week, the one I needed to hear at 20, and still need to be reminded of today is more succinct, more aspirational, and possibly more needed today by all of us: THE BEST IS YET TO COME!
My friends, this is the advice I wish I knew earlier in my life. It changes what we think possible for tomorrow and what we do to step toward that future today. And it’s the advice I hope you embrace regardless where you are in your life.
No, it doesn’t make today free of struggle. It doesn’t take away past heartache. It doesn’t promise that tomorrow will be easy. It just reminds us that there is reason for hope, that your life still matters, and that the best, truly, is yet to come.
Today is your day. Live Inspired.