The State of Your Life

By John O'Leary

John O'LearyWhen I was 9 years old, I suffered burns over 100% of my body and was expected to die. Today, I share my story with more than 50,000 people each year in hopes that they may live a more radically inspired life. As a Phoenix Society Ambassador, I am honored to have this opportunity to serve as a guest blogger and share my story with you.

Today, I share a blog post that highlights my struggles with accepting my true reflection after being burned.

“The state of your life is nothing more than a reflection of your state of mind.”

We spend an inordinate amount of time hiding from our true reflection.

It seems to me, we cake on makeup in the morning, less as a way to magnify our beauty, and more as a way of hiding our imperfections. And this “makeup” isn’t just applied in the morning, but throughout our days.

We Photoshop the perception of our lives by posting only pictures of perfect vacations. We apply the makeup and go deeper into debt to portray the image that everything is fine. We stay so busy at home, preoccupied with tasks in our day, and driven at work that we completely forget who we are, the incredible worth of our stories, the beauty of our reflection.

I spent decades applying makeup to my life.

After being burned as a kid, the image I longed to portray was that everything was okay, normal, fine.

Back in grade school, while still in a wheelchair, I tried desperately to fit in. Played sports, participated in plays, everything normal. Nothing different here!

The longing continued through high school and college. I was not particularly gifted in arts, music, class work, or sports. I didn’t have a job, didn’t date, wasn’t on fire in my faith or secure with who I was. So my make up or mask of choice at the time: drinking.

I lived for the weekends. And by college the word weekend meant Wednesday through Sunday. Not dating, not working, and not trying too hard in class, I strived to go out more frequently, drink faster, consume more, and stay out later than any of my friends.

For me, the buzz, the real addiction, wasn’t as much about the alcohol as it was the sense of being accepted, of belonging, of being seen….of being loved.

Even my career choice was makeup looking back on it.

I mean, what would be the most challenging job for a guy who’s been burned and doesn’t have fingers?  Yup, a carpenter. Looking back on it, I became a real estate developer less to build beautiful structures than as a way to shout loudly to anyone watching that I was normal, I was fine, all good.

But in time, in life, erosion happens. Erosion cuts through the makeup, the mask, the bandages, the dirt and the grime and leads to the discovery of what was there all along.

For me the erosion kicked in when my Mom and Dad wrote a book about their experiences during my hospitalization, the fire. It was an unauthorized biography of my life and they put a picture of me on the front of it. Jerks!

But after reading their book, looking back at the cover, I saw my story, my reflection even the picture on the cover differently, as if for the first time.

A picture I’d always kind of hated. The picture showed my thick red scars, a wheelchair, braces and splints and all the pain they reminded me of. But now, this time, I saw something else, too. A bright smile, light in the little boy’s eyes, courage in his spirit and joy in his heart.

Sometimes I think we can be so preoccupied in covering up what we don’t have, that we miss the amazing gifts we do.

It turns out the fire led perfectly to where I am today. The challenges led to experiences that shaped me, the character that drives me, the faith that guides me, the life around me, and to the possibility in front of me.

And I am absolutely certain this same reflection awaits you today, too.

And I am absolutely certain this same reflection awaits you today, too.

No, it won’t be perfect.
There remain challenges, scars, and difficulties.
But it’s now your life.
It’s now your story.

And rather than reaching for makeup to mask it, let’s choose instead to reach for a megaphone to celebrate it.

This is your day.  Live Inspired.


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 author, teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. John's first book, ON FIRE: The Seven Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life (, publishes March 15, 2016 by North Star Way, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. A member of the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, John is a proud husband and father of four and resides in St. Louis, Missouri.

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Hizmoo    Moderate:
5:47pm - Mar 21, 2019

That’s very inspirational! Facing such problems is undoubtedly tough. But overcoming them deserves respect! I, myself, didn’t pay attention to my health earlier. But since recently I decided to change my lifestyle. The first step is getting a bicycle. I found reviews on the best cyclocross bikes on I think it should keep me fit. Of course, if I do it regularly. Anyway, hopefully, it’ll help me in the long run. I should also change my nutrition which will be much harder.