What Makes John Leonard Tick
In ‘What Makes You Tick’ I get the chance to pick the brains of some inspirational people from all walks of life, in the hope that by sharing ideas we can continue to progress, push our limits, and inspire each other.
John Leonard is a writer, speaker and videographer hailing from the North side of Co. Dublin. He is a former Dublin GAA player, and is the author of Dub Sub Confidential, winner of the Setanta Sports Book of The Year Award in 2015. He has a degree in English and Philosophy, and has been happily married- and sober- for almost 7 years.
Would you say you are more introverted, or extroverted?
I am an introverted extrovert, if that makes sense. The poet in me loves time to reflect and ponder. That side of me loves solitude and stillness. But there is a side of me that loves to show off. I love to engage people and tell them about me. I enjoy that expression of me to others. I have always loved being on stage and the centre of attention, although I have no problems being out of the spotlight.
What is your passion?
I don’t have one passion, although in years past it would have been straight up football, football and more football. Now I have more variety in my passions: football, writing, poker, speaking and videography are what get me going in the morning.
What are you driven by? (What motivates you?)
I want to make a difference. I want to look back and see a legacy in future years. I want people to know that I did something to try and make this world a better place. I want to lead a good life and that entails grinding it out, working hard, and learning every day. That is what spurs me on.
How do you measure success?
Success for me changes with everything I do. I have high expectations for myself and the projects I am involved in. So I am challenging myself to celebrate the smaller wins. But success is not a financial thing, even though that is how modern culture tends to equate it. For me it is achieving a goal and that can be measured in any terms I want. So for example, with my current development as a speaker, I measure my success in how people react after my talk is finished. Have they enjoyed it? Have I inspired them and got them thinking?
But there are no absolutes for me, certainly not when it comes to such an arbitrary and subjective aspect of life such as success.
Who had the most influence on you at a young age, and why?
My Dad. He spent many long hours with me and my brother, helping us and teaching us. Even though he was bound to a wheelchair as he suffered from MS, he was an ingenious and determined man. He ensured that I was given every opportunity to explore my talents: writing, dancing, art and sporting endeavours.
What’s the best book you’ve read, and why?
That is such a tough question and one I can’t answer properly. There are so many incredible and influential writers in my life. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien is my favourite Irish book. His mastery of language and rhythm is incredible. He has the wild eye of the poet blended with a craft that surges into the heart of Irish identity. The magical aspect of the book is what I love most. He pips John Banville and The Sea into the top Irish spot. The Sea is an incredible piece of art and something which should be savoured slowly over a long period of time.
The best other book I’ve read could possibly be The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. This book was fundamental in helping me identify the kind of story I like to read. It opened my eyes and charged my imagination. Having spent years reading Kerouac, Kesey, Burroughs and Hunter S. Thompson, this book blended their ideas into something tangible and simple. I enjoyed it immensely.
Describe your typical morning routine. (How do you prepare for the day ahead?)
I normally wake before 9am (I don’t work office hours and am generally late to bed!). I eat breakfast and check the diary. I try to do 100 sit ups and 50 press ups. On great days I meditate for a half hour or so. I put on some coffee and chat with my wife about what the plan is for the day. I get stuck in. Every day is the same. We don’t have weekends or bank holidays in my world.
Describe your perfect Sunday.
The perfect Sunday for me involves getting up a little later than usual. I have a hearty breakfast and drink a few coffees. A long walk somewhere with my wife would be next on the list; quite possibly Howth or some of the lovely beaches we have along North Dublin coastline. I would come home and I would do a little meditation, followed by studying poker for a half hour or so.
I would have a scour for any big football games on and watch them lazily in the background. Then I would crank up the Sunday poker tournaments. Sunday is traditionally the biggest day of the week in online poker. I would spend the evening and night plotting my way through the massive fields and eventually win the Sunday Million early on Monday morning. That is the perfect Sunday for me.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Not really. I enjoy sweets and ice cream from time to time, but nothing I feel guilty about! Those guilt ridden days are behind me!
What are your hobbies/interests?
Writing, staying fit and strong, poker, football and most sports, I also love filming and editing movies and documentaries.
I am happiest when…
I am laughing with people I love.
What was the most significant learning experience you can recall having?
In my adult life, it has been the awareness of the story I had created for myself in my head. When I fully understood that my beliefs about myself were just part of a deeply conditioned narrative I had constructed over many years, then I was able to change it and write a new one.
This awareness came as I was trying to get sober and simultaneously embarking on a romantic relationship with my now wife, Serena. She is a personal coach and was able to clarify my understanding of the part of my brain which was limiting my potential and causing me to repeat bad habits.
Becoming aware that I could change that story I have of myself in an instant was incredibly powerful. It has been a fundamental part of me getting and staying sober. It is the reason why I am achieving great dreams now in my life. I am open to being the person I want to be, and not a version of me I used to think I should be.
It is a pivotal part of me being me. I create my story now. I write it. I write who I am being and then I fulfill that idea of who I am.
What is your approach to daily life?
Go for it. Go out and get it. If it is too hard, then think again. If it is still too hard, then meditate. Think about it again. Then go for it. Expect great things to happen every day. Have your imagination always open to the possibility that your true self is soon to be satisfied. Connect with people every single day. Connect with animals. Try to make people smile.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of achieving sobriety?
In a word…freedom. Taking up sobriety has been the best decision I ever made. It has released me from the shackles of conformity and from limiting beliefs about who I can be. And this has meant that I now have freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. Except for getting drunk or messed up on drugs! Instead of looking for the pub or the dealer, I now look to connect and be human. It is so liberating to have that freedom now.
When I used to drink and do drugs, I didn’t accept the world was big and beautiful: I was a cynic and a wanted to mash my mind. Even though that learning experience was enriching insofar as I now know what that world is like, it is a relief to simply remember it now.
What advice would you give to young people?
Be positive. Expect great things to happen. Imagine impossibly incredible adventures in your life. If you don’t think it is possible, then it will never happen. And no matter how often you fuck up, remember that you can turn your life around anytime you want. It just takes you making that decision.