I am Sarah Edwards

Interview with Scott O'Leary

I mentioned that I'm going to start using my blog as a way to tell the stories, inspirations and hardships of people that inspire me. Meet Scott O'Leary. A lot of times we are defined by our work and I think that is because we are measured on what we put out into the world. Scott puts out peace, humility, and positivity and I've been curious if there was a significant change in his life that created this sense of enlightenment. As we all know, life is hard and only gets harder. If you're anything like me, you're always struggling with a sense of balance. Am I doing enough? Do I work hard enough? Do I have enough? Do people like me? If not, why don't they? All of these thoughts are so intense and at times can get in the way of us truly enjoying life and our loved ones. I've been starting to read more (pause for reaction) and am working on finding more balance in my life.

Each morning we wake up we have a choice. A choice in how we are going to first love ourselves and find peace and then how we are going to bring that to those around us. I don't have all the answers (obviously) which is why I'm on a path to seek out others that have some wisdom to share as we all work to find balance.

One of my favorite things about this interview is how Scott talks about the smallest moments in his life and how those impacted him. We all have an opportunity to make an impact on a person. Every day. The smallest gestures often do more than you will ever know. A lot of times I'm overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done in the world and it's scary.

I know a popular quote around the Millennial generation is Hustle & Be Humble (or something like that). Which I love and appreciate as someone who works hard. But after reading this I think I need to spend more time aligned with this, "Smile, breathe, and go slowly." - Thich Nhat Hahn

Ok, meet Scott.

Can you first start by sharing a little bit about your background? Where did you grow up, go to school, any notable life experiences?

"Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone's soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd." - Jalaluddin Rumi

I was born and raised in Haverhill Massachusetts. In the 18th and 19th century, Haverhill developed woolen mills, tanneries, shipping and shipbuilding.

The town was, for many decades, home to a significant shoe-making industry. By the end of 1913, one tenth of the shoes produced in the United States were made in Haverhill, and because of this, the town was known for a time as the "Queen Slipper City". It is roughly 35 miles north of Boston and was about a million miles away from those glory days.

I was lucky enough to escape my deep blue-collar roots and attended The Massachusetts College of Art in Boston.

Which happens to be one of my notable life experiences.

I had an amazing high school art teacher. Susan Paradis. My whole life I used art to escape. In high school I took as many art classes as I possibly could so I didn’t have to be in other classes. I had no ambition at that point to go to college. Any college.

I created a lot of artwork because I honestly enjoyed the process. I like making things. In my senior year Susan asked me my plans after graduating. My answer was something along these lines.

“Get a job and drink beer” In what I can only describe as a fit of anger she literally grabbed my flowing eighties hair and dragged me into a closed-door room and bombarded me with a series of F bombs.

Along for the ride were things like you are wasting your talent, your life, and you are better than this. I remember my wise ass and defiant response was “I’m going to have your job” her response was pretty simple. “They can have my fucking job you are worth it.” Was I was worth it? I went home that night and wrote a mandatory essay on why I wanted to go to art school. I assembled my work and I sent it the admission office. I say this with universe crushing humility. Susan changed my life.

I've tried to stop asking people "what do you do?". It seems so dull. So instead I will ask, "how do you spend your time on Earth?" (but also, what do you do for work?)

“Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh

Lets do work first. I am a working/thinking/ still making stuff art director/creative director.

I am a father of two beautiful children (notable life experience) Tyler and Paige who have traveled around the sun 26 and 22 times respectively. I am here for them. I am a teacher and a student. There will never be enough time in this universe that I could spend with them.

I am a husband. I met my wife at 15. (notable life experience) We have been married 27 years. We have been on this journey together for 37 years, so I have spent a great deal of my time on earth with her and her humbling beautiful light.

I am an ultra-marathoner. (notable life experience) An ultra-marathon is any race over 26.2 miles. So I spend a great deal of time running. I have run and completed races of 35, 50 and 100 miles. The time I spend training for these races are meditative. I am in nature, usually the woods, by myself, breathing, with an open and empty mind. True story: In the mountains around Kyoto live the marathon monks. Over a seven-year training period, these "running Buddha’s" figuratively circle the globe on foot. During one incredible 100-day stretch, they cover 52.5 every day. And the prize they seek to capture is the greatest thing a human being can achieve…enlightenment in the here and now. That is why I spend my time running long distances. It is my Zen center. I have experienced moments that I can only explain as enlightening.

I am an obstacle course racer. Spartan races. (notable life experience) The Stoics believed that the obstacle is the way. Within the struggle of getting through, around or over anything difficult was the birthplace of joy, understanding, and happiness. That is why spend so much time training and racing. I have never found out more about what I am and what I am not than in a Spartan race. Obstacles don’t create, they reveal.

I am a seeker physically and spiritually. So I spend a lot of my time exposing myself to great teachers. (notable life experience) Stoicism. Buddhism. Taoism. Hinduism.

I think a lot of people working in the advertising industry can get their soul sucked out of them but it seems you have found some peace or enlightenment. How did/do you do that?

“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” - Jalaluddin Rumi

Mine was sucked. I decided at the darkest moment to suck back.

This book was recommended to me, The power of now by Eckhart Tolle. (notable life experience) A large spiritual fire was started and I haven’t stopped feeding it. I started walking and running the path. It was that easy and that hard. Forward!

What advice would you give to someone running an agency as it pertains to taking care of their employees?

"It is not that we have so little time, but that we lose so much. ...The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully." - Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

Respect Time.

Treat employee’s time with the utmost respect and care.

It is the most valuable resource we have as humans. And the most wasted. Allow and encourage time for vacations. Encourage and support employees needs to chase their passions outside the job. Create an environment that respects time with families and friends.

What is your relationship with social media? How do you use it?

"Radiate boundless love towards the entire world." - Buddha

My relationship is focused. Outside of a few sports posts and some arrested development humor. My goal is simple. Put good into the World. My life has been changed and significantly made better by a series of singular gestures.

My teacher cared enough to confront me. I went to college and have an amazing career and give my family a life I never would have dreamed of back in Haverhill at the age of 17…One conversation.

I received an email from a friend asking me to run a 35 mile race. I wasn’t even running at the time. I hadn’t run since high school. 10 weeks later I ran 35 miles in the snow in Wisconsin. Followed by the humbling honor of running 50 and 100 miles and am training for my second 100…One email.

A friend said, you should read this book. I read that book. And I haven’t stopped searching for more teachers since…One suggestion.

Never underestimate the universe changing ability of one post, one recommendation or one conversation. I passionately throw a series of one things out into the Universe. Humbly hoping it helps someone. Like I was helped.

If someone is struggling with balance, what advice would you give them?

"Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides." - Lao Tzu

Impermanence: the state of being impermanent.

Embrace it would be my advice. Be humbled by it and grateful for the life you have. When you hold that word, that definition, up against almost anything, I have found balance pretty quickly.

This is all a gift. A miracle that we exist and that the vessel we exist in works the way it does, how it does. This is going to be taken away without any guarantees. There is no changing the outcome.

So when I struggle with the everyday problems of a modern society and world I just lean heavily into my demise. It helps me quickly separate the unimportant and helps me focus on the important.

You seem to have an insanely dedicated physical work ethic. How did that start? What's your favorite part about it?

"To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him." - Buddha

It started out of desperation. I hated a lot of things. The list was long.

I was an athlete as a kid and through high school. I love sports. I stayed somewhat in shape. But I just had nothing else to lean into at the time so I made a decision.

I just woke up one day a few years ago. I was physically and mentally toxic. My mind and body were both in pain, I just didn’t know it.

I simply said to myself “I am going to get in the best shape of my life.” I threw myself into that escape pod. Little did I know at the time that my whole life was going to change once again. (notable life experience)

My favorite part is suffering. I say that humbly. Society, technology, science and medicine do everything they can to eliminate it from the human condition.

We comfort ourselves from suffering and then, when it arrives, we act surprised. Why did my dog die? Why does my sister in law have cancer? Why do people kill and hate? Why does my knee hurt? Why is it so cold out?

I like the process of inflicting it upon myself. I love what suffering reveals, both physical and mental weakness. 

I love what suffering eliminates…The ego. Being reduced to fighting for air and dealing with excruciating pain is an intensely humbling experience and forces immense focus and gratitude for all we are given on a daily basis.

Favorite part runner-ups.

I have cried inexplicably on long runs at the beauty of trees. Watching the sunrise. Being continually exposed to nature and all its healing powers and wisdom. Transforming into a vegan athlete. Being sober for one year. Gratitude. Immense daily appreciation for the gift I have been given to use this machine.

You post a lot of beautiful quotes that I've reposted because they need to be heard. What is your favorite quote or saying? What does it mean to you?

First, thank you. That is very kind and humbling. This is an extremely tough decision. I’m going to have to pick two.

"Smile, breathe, and go slowly." - Thich Nhat Hahn.

One of my favorite teachers and this collection of words, no matter what, always seem to be the answer. Just reading it brings me peace. It’s a spiritual crutch for me. To perform this act is to be peace.

"Fear is a liar." unknown

This is my bulldozer when I need to get through imaginary walls.

I didn’t understand the power of this until I stopped listening, believing and being afraid. This is another big part of my physical and spiritual journey.

Continually exposing myself to situations where fear thinks it has a chance to convince me of it lies.

If you could give advice to a generation of people working in the advertising industry what would it be?

Breathe. Create with joy.

Finally, if you were to describe yourself in a painting, song, poem, building structure, geographical location, etc. What would it be?

"You know how it is. Sometimes we plan a trip to one place, but something takes us to another." ~ Rumi