Recently, I attended a human resources conference where the keynote speaker, John O’Leary, inspired the audience with his personal story of resilience. In fact, we were all on the edges of our seats, grateful to be soaking up his empowering message.

At age nine, John was burned on 100 percent of his body and was expected to die. He spent five months in the hospital, fighting his way to recovery. Now he stood speaking to more than 300 HR professionals, encouraging us all to approach each day with a sense of gratitude.

From his tragedy, John said he received the greatest gift – the wisdom that regardless of our personal and professional challenges, we get to choose how to:

  • Navigate adversity through decision-making
  • Reveal a brighter vision for what’s possible
  • Live boldly to impact others

As busy, stressed-out individuals, we often ask ourselves questions like Why me?, Who cares? and What more can I do? At times, we all think like stubborn children whining about life. If you focus instead on the good fortune you have received, these same questions can evoke a different emotion – gratitude. We should accept that each of us was chosen for a specific life and that we should approach that life with an anticipation, rather than an obligation, to do more.

I was fortunate enough to spend some one-on-one time with John at the conference. His first question to me was, “What can I do for you?” This surprised me as I was his host, and should have been asking him that question. John helps people see a side of life that is less stress-filled and more full of joy and love.

There is no assessment tool to measure the effect of an extreme experience like the one John survived, but we do have a competency that is pretty important: Resilience. It can help you determine how prospective and current employees will respond to adversity and difficult challenges. The strongest individuals are the ones who will not only survive, but like John, will go on to inspire others.

You can learn more about John O’Leary by reading his book, On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life, or on his website at