By John O'Leary. This was originally posted on JohnOLearyInspires.com. When John O'Leary was 9 years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and was expected to die. He is now an inspirational speaker and bestselling author, teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life was published March 15, 2016. John is a contributing writer for Huff Post and Parade.com. John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, MO. Order John’s book today anywhere books are sold.
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.
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.
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