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Steve Pemberton: From Orphan to Beacon of Hope (ep. 348)

On the Live Inspired Podcast, John O’Leary welcomes bestselling author of A Chance in the World Steve Pemberton on how kind gestures have the power to shift the trajectory of life.

Research suggests that our experiences in childhood will have a profound impact on the overall wellbeing + trajectory of our life.

Never acknowledged by his father and abandoned by his mother at three years old, Steve Pemberton spent his childhood being shuffled through the foster care system where he was abused, neglected and forgotten.

Yet small gestures of kindness from ordinary people helped Steve forge a new path that that led to personal and professional success.

Today, Steve is a husband, father, bestselling author of A Chance in the World and a trail-blazing executive championing workplaces where employees feel recognized, respected, and appreciated for who they are and what they do.

This conversation is a reminder that we’re all able to impact others simply by being a beacon of hope.

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  • “Comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”
  • As Chief Human Resources Officer for Workhuman, Steve champions leaders worldwide to build workplaces where every employee feels recognized, respected, and appreciated for who they are and what they do.
  • Never acknowledged by his father, three-year-old Steve was placed in foster care while his mother was losing her battle with alcoholism.
  • Dual battle: While fending off a terribly abusive family for 11 years, Steve was attempting to solve the mystery of his identity.
  • Reading was Steve’s sanctuary, allowing him into a great student and providing a vision of a world outside of the world he was currently suffering in.
  • The Lighthouse Effect: Ordinary people in young Steve’s life provided hope + encouragement including a construction crew that reminded him he was not a boy of circumstances but of possibility.
  • Struggling to find permanent foster placement, high school counselor John Sykes took in Steve, changing the arc of his life.
  • Despite numerous social collisions, Boston College provided Steve with a sense of belonging and security.
  • On a mission to find his identity, Steve meets his late mother’s + late father’s families, providing insight to inform his life moving forward.
  • “Be careful about the labels you assign to people and the judgements that you make.”
  • “If the most important thing I think I can know about you is your label, I miss this deeper, richer narrative.”
  • “We are a society of correction. That correction requires us to take stance to understand we’re not enemies.”
  • Coming full circle: Hoping to surprise a fifth-grade fan, Steve reconnected with his second-grade teacher who was now the principal of the school.
  • Not for themselves to enjoy, but for the benefit of future generations. A Greek proverb reads, “A society grows great when the elders plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
  • Directed toward eight- to 12-year-old, Steve Pemberton’s young readers adaptation of A Chance in the World with sensitivity, honesty + hope. Get a copy here.
  • Get Steve Pemberton’s bestselling book A Chance in the World here.
  • Pre-order Steve Pemberton’s book The Lighthouse Effect, available Fall 2021, here.


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About our sponsor: Keeley Companies wholeheartedly believes that if you get the people right -the results will follow. They set themselves apart with a forward-thinking culture that empowers their people and fosters loyal partnerships. Keeley Companies are a proud sponsor, partner, and super fan of the Live Inspired Podcast. Learn more about Keeley Companies.


My new book IN AWE is now available… and became an instant bestseller! Learn how to rediscover your childlike sense of wonder to unleash inspiration, meaning and joy. Visit ReadInAwe.com today! 


  1. Q. What is the best book you’ve ever read?
    A. Watership Down by Richard Adams and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.
  2. Q. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today?
    A. My sense of wonder was my armor.
  3. Q. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be?
    A. A 1970 interview of my father, Kenny Pemberton, the only video I have of him.
  4. Q. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be?
    A. My mother.
  5. Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
    A. John Sykes would encourage me to be a man of good character and Ruby of the Upward Bound program said, "you can be 100% correct in what you're saying and 100% incorrect in the way that you are saying it."
  6. Q. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
    A. I wouldn't offer advice but affirmation. A lot of your instincts about family, new beginnings, hope and dreams is 1000% correct
  7. Q. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read?
    A. From poet Edith Hamilton: He was, first and last, the born fighter, to whom the consciousness of being matched against a great adversary suffices and who can dispense with success. Life for him was an adventure, perilous indeed, but men are not made for safe havens. The fullness of life is in the hazards of life. And, at the worst, there is that in us which can turn defeat into victory.