In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy

In Awe: Rediscover Your Childlike Wonder to Unleash Inspiration, Meaning, and Joy

by John O'Leary


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NATIONAL BESTSELLER • The #1 bestselling author of On Fire shows us how to recapture and harness our childlike sense of wonder in order to become more engaged, successful, and fulfilled.

“Engaging . . . O’Leary encourages us to see the world through a child’s eyes.”—Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie

There once was a time when we joyfully raised our hands to answer questions, connected easily with others, believed that anything was possible, and fearlessly jumped into new experiences. A time when we viewed each day not as something to endure, but as a marvelous gift to explore and savor—when we danced through our lives in awe of the ordinary moments and eager for the promise of tomorrow.

Unfortunately, that’s far from our experience today. Instead, we feel disconnected and jaded. Social media reminds us that we don’t measure up, and the mainstream media barrages us with constant negativity. Many of us find ourselves caught in a life of dogged responsibility and mind-numbing repetition. The daily struggle to earn a living has caused us to lose the sense of wonder with which we once greeted every day.

In his new book, bestselling author John O’Leary invites us to consider that it is possible to once again navigate the world as a child does. Identifying five senses children innately possess and that we’ve lost touch with as we age, O’Leary shares emotional, humorous, and inspirational stories intertwined with fascinating new research showing  how each of us can reclaim our childlike joy, and why doing so will change how we interact with the world.

In Awe reveals how we can regain that ability to see fresh insights, reach for new solutions, and live our best lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593135440
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 3,355
Product dimensions: 9.30(w) x 6.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Once expected to die young, John O’Leary now teaches others how to truly live. As an internationally acclaimed speaker, #1 national bestselling author of the book On Fire, and host of the Live Inspired Podcast, O’Leary empowers hundreds of thousands of people each year to live inspired. He shares his insights and inspiring message with emotional storytelling, unexpected humor, and authentic joy. He lives with his wife and their four children in St. Louis, Missouri.

Read an Excerpt


The Path of Possibility

Well, maybe it started that way. As a dream, but doesn’t everything. Those buildings. These lights. This whole city. Somebody had to dream about it first. And maybe that is what I did. I dreamed about coming here, but then I did it.

­Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach

The roar of the crowd seemed to envelop me.

I walked over to the grand piano and settled myself at the bench. Wiped the sweat from my forehead with my suit-jacket sleeve, placed my hands over the piano keys, and took a deep breath. Noticing my heart racing, I couldn’t help but wonder: How the heck did I get here?

I was onstage at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, sitting at a piano, surrounded by more than eighteen thousand people.

They were cheering. For me. A guy with no fingers who was hoping to inspire them to imagine what was possible in their lives by doing something seemingly impossible on his own: playing the piano.

I caught my breath, then spoke into the microphone with a laugh, warning the audience to lower their expectations for this musical interlude, and raised my damaged hands as the reason why.

With that, I took a deep breath and began to play.

The doorbell to our family home in St. Louis rang.

Mom, seated next to me at the kitchen table, went to answer the door.

With a few moments to myself, I looked up from my plate and glanced around. I was still getting used to all the changes in our home.

The sticky, worn, green linoleum that once covered our kitchen had been replaced and was now bright pink. The dark oak cabinets had been swapped for lighter, new ones; the orange countertop had been replaced with a fashionable shade of mauve. The mid-­seventies fixtures had been exchanged for the newest fads of the late eighties. Reagan was in the White House, Springsteen was on the radio, and our kitchen was rocking.

Just nine years old, I sat in the kitchen of our renovated house trying to wrap my head around everything that had changed since the fire five months earlier.

It wasn’t just our kitchen that was different.

Our garage had been reduced to ashes; every room in the house had been damaged by flame, smoke, or water. My five siblings and parents had been forced into temporary housing for four months as our home was rebuilt.

I spent those months in the hospital, fighting for my life.

We were dealing with change in every aspect of our lives.

But my own life had changed the most.

Thick white gauze bandages covered nearly every part of my body. I looked like the odd love child of the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Don’t get me wrong—both are unforgettable characters, but few of us aspire to be their offspring.

The majority of the bandages covered thick red scars where my skin had mostly healed. Some of those wrappings, though, masked open, painful sores that hadn’t.

The wheelchair I sat in was an immense improvement over the months I’d spent tied down to a hospital bed, the practice at the time to minimize joint contractions as burned skin tried to fuse back together. Spending that much time motionless caused my muscles to atrophy. I struggled with basic mobility because scars had accumulated over my healing skin, rendering walking again a distant, improbable goal.

And then there were my hands. When I looked at where my fingers used to be, I saw gauze. The doctors had amputated my fingers on both hands down to the bottom knuckles.

I tried to avoid looking at my hands, because every time I did, I confronted a barrage of anxieties: How will I ever throw a baseball again? How will I be able to go back to school? If I can’t return to school, how will I ever get a job? Most discouraging, even at the age of nine, was the thought: No girl will ever want to hold my hand.

I was staring down at my hands as Mom reentered the kitchen. A few steps behind her I saw the unmistakable silhouette of Mrs. Bartello.

As Mom approached, I looked at her in shock and asked, “What is she doing here?”

She was our piano teacher.

None of the O’Leary kids wanted to see her enter our house. Because her appearance meant that whatever we were doing—watching TV, playing, studying—would have to stop, as our piano lessons were about to begin.

Although none of my siblings were wild about piano lessons, I hated them the most. I didn’t want to play the piano; I wanted to play baseball. It wasn’t concert halls where I imagined my talents taking me, but baseball stadiums. It wasn’t notes I wanted to hit, but fastballs.

I’d always dreamed of playing professionally for the St. Louis Cardinals. I just knew that one day I’d put on that uniform, take the field, and play for my beloved hometown team. Those were my dreams at age nine. Similar to the aspirations of other young children. We didn’t yet know to be realistic with our goals.

Yet even a child knows when it’s time to awaken to a grim reality. The fire had robbed me of that dream forever. I’d never hold a baseball. I’d never play for the Cardinals or wear the St. Louis uniform. Painful as that fact was, I took solace in one beneficial aspect of my injuries: at least I’d never have to take a piano lesson again. There is a silver lining to every cloud, people!

So why on earth was Mrs. Bartello here?

Mom approached my wheelchair, bent down, and released the brakes. She reversed my wheelchair away from the kitchen table and pushed me down the hallway into our family room.

“Mom, where are you taking me?”

My friend, I want you to take note of how she responded. Maybe jot it down somewhere. I recommend that you use her tactic with a student, spouse, child, or someone with whom you are having a disagreement.

She didn’t murmur a word.

Not a word.

Talk is cheap.

Instead, Mom humbly, bravely, lovingly pushed me away from the spot where I’d been stuck in the kitchen and moved me toward a new destination, a new perspective.

As she pushed me, I looked up and sought, one more time, an answer: “Mom?”


She rolled me to the piano, relatched the brakes, and calmly told Mrs. Bartello she’d be in the kitchen if we needed anything. She then walked out of the room, stranding me alone with Mrs. Bartello.

This gentle piano teacher sat down and pulled the bench closer to me. She took a deep breath, put her arm around me, and told me how proud she was that I was finally home. She’d missed our lessons together, she said, and was excited for me to play the piano again. She added with a certainty that surprised me, “Okay. Let’s do this.”

Then, as if nothing had changed in my life in the five months since she’d last seen me, Mrs. Bartello pulled out the sheet music for a song I’d been learning for my mom. Back then, I had fingers but little desire to use them to play piano. That lack of desire remained and was a hurdle we’d have to leap over together. But, of course, now it was far from the only one.

Looking back, I am amazed that Mrs. Bartello, and my mother, had the audacity to think it was possible. How do you even begin to teach a young boy with no fingers to play the piano? Aren’t fingers a prerequisite?

I sat in that wheelchair, in front of the piano, on a morphine drip, with my hands wrapped in thick gauze resembling a boxer’s glove. And it gets worse.

My right arm had little muscle mass, making it almost impossible to lift; my left arm was strapped into an airplane splint at a 90-­degree angle from my body.

I felt totally useless and utterly confused about what we could possibly do together.

But somehow, for some reason, Mrs. Bartello was undeterred.

She took out a pencil and a rubber band from her purse. She wrapped the rubber band around my right “glove,” binding the pencil to the end of my bandages. With this single pencil protruding from my right hand, Mrs. Bartello instructed me to begin playing the notes on that sheet of paper.

What followed was the longest thirty minutes of my life.

As I listlessly hit the piano keys with the pencil, I remember distinctly thinking: I hate my mom.

I could not believe she was making me take piano lessons in the condition I was in. The only good that came out of it was that eventually the lesson ended. At least I’d never have to do that again, I thought.

Which was true. Until the following Tuesday, when the doorbell rang again. Mrs. Bartello came back . . . and came back the Tuesday after that.

For five freaking years of Tuesdays!

Gradually, painfully, begrudgingly, note by note, a bewildered boy with no fingers, with ostensibly no chance of returning to life as it once was, learned to play the piano. First with a single pencil bound to the bandage on his right hand. Then one bound to his left. As the wrappings were removed, I learned to play with the tips of my knuckles and by rolling my palm, creating makeshift chords with the parts of my hands that remained.

Looking back on those Tuesdays, I realize that Mrs. Bartello and my mom weren’t simply teaching me the piano. They had no expectations that I’d perform at a recital or enter any competitions.

They were developing something more important than musical ability.

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