Tag-Archive for » life lessons «

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015 | Author:

It’s a weekend afternoon and I’m sitting out in the front yard, looking at my slack line slung between two trees while I write this.

I was just on it a moment ago. And again several moments before that. And again several moments before that. That’s how slack lining goes for me. I do several attempts to cross its length: Sometimes I make it, sometimes I fall after a step or four or ten. After several rounds of this my balance starts to suffer as my muscles and focus fatigue, so I go sit down and take a short break, and then I go back to it, and so on.

That’s the thing that slack lining has taught me. I put it on my birthday goals list this year to try slack lining before I turned 26. In between writing it down as “try slack lining” and getting the opportunity to try it at my neighbor’s in Denver several months later, I misremembered my goal as “learn how to slack line.”

Before I had ever tried the activity, I thought of those as being pretty much the same goal. Then I thought, like many things, it may just come easily and naturally to me. When I was young we didn’t have much money and I had friends who did gymnastics. I always wanted to do it, too, but we couldn’t afford it. So my dad made a “balance beam” for us kids to do our own gymnastics on. It was a 1×4 board nailed to a base. I learned how to balance really well by the time I ever got to visit the gymnastics gym for a birthday party and walk across their real balance beam. Turns out if you learn to balance on a 1” wide board, you can balance on the 5” balance beam without problems.

But fast forward 20 years and I stepped onto the 1” wide slack line and everything on my body, and the line itself began to shake uncontrollably. I fell off as soon as I let go before I could even take one step. But in my mis-remembrance of my goal, I committed to learning how to do this.

The biggest lesson was learning how to fall. The only time I got slightly injured while slack lining was near the beginning of my learning time, and it was because when I started to fall, I tried to prevent the fall by taking another step. My second foot caught on the wobbling line and I fell body first to the ground, no feet free to land with. I hit hard hurting my tail bone and my hip.

To fall well while slacklining, you have to be aware of yourself. Aware of your balance. Aware of your core muscles and your hands lifted high for balance. You have to be able to assess if you could try to salvage your balance or, if it’s time, to just give in to the fall.

Now that I’ve been doing it for a few months, I’m still not good at slack lining, but I’m great at falling. Each fall is an act of acceptance. Falling is part of it. I step into it now, feeling the fall starting, I just step down into a walking landing. I use my momentum of those exiting steps to direct me back to the end of the line, so that I can hop up and start trying again.

When I first started trying to learn, I would thud down heavy with each fall. Sometimes it would hurt my feet. Sometimes I’d try to stay on the line longer while I fell, not ready to accept defeat for that try. It is with the acceptance of loss, the acceptance of failure that I’ve begun to make headway and begun to spend more time on the line than off of it.

It’s a dance. On the line, falling, salvage it, falling again, I accept it, I take the step off while walking to the beginning and then I’m up, at it again.

It’s become clear to me that success at this activity, and in life, has less to do with how often you fail and fall, and more to do with whether you fall well and continue to head right back to try again.

I’m 25, and after knowing the gut-wrenching ache of loss of the big things in life, I’ve begun to notice that when littler things go wrong, I hold everything very loosely. As my muscles get stronger and I get more focus, I can sometimes salvage the fall, I can sometimes correct in time to stay on the line, I can also see when it’s worth it to just give in to the fall and use the momentum to keep moving forward to try again.

I thought I was learning the art of slack lining, but I’ve learned that failing and falling and persistence are the art.

Success and slack lining are what come as a result of doing the other three well.


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Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 10th, 2015 | Author:

There’s this thing about me (that everyone says, but I don’t believe everyone means it, or knows how to do it): I absolutely love to laugh.I love funny movies. I love funny books. And over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered the joys of stand up comedy. (Did you know you can listen to comedy on Pandora? No? You can thank me for changing your life later. Note: If you like “cleaner” comedy, I’d suggest creating both a “Brian Regan” station and a “Jim Gaffigan” station on there.)

I didn’t know about the whole pandora trick until I was in a very sad, lonely, and broken season of life. And something odd started to happen. As I listened to more comedy, I became funnier. Which was hard for me to see, because it was clear that it was the most broken, least joyful I’d ever been, but I could make people laugh. Soon though, the things I’d say that actually made me laugh, they were about my pain. About the ways my life had gotten derailed. About the crap that most people would say is too serious to laugh about.

And I realized something. As I laughed about it, it lifted the pain a little. As I laughed about it, it took some of the power away. I wrote about this a bit last week about laughing at the real memory of my older sister after she passed away — not the fake, funeral-story version of her. The real her was kind of ridiculous sometimes, and we would laugh at those things in life, why not in death? Because death is too serious.  So when we started to laugh at her memory again, it took some of death’s power away.

Here’s a confession, but don’t stone me before you listen: I love Hitler jokes.  This also came out of this sad and dark season of my life. It started with one Hitler meme I saw on Pinterest that I will include for your enjoyment.


(Not enjoyable yet? read on.)

I saw this meme around Valentines day, and I laughed and laughed and laughed so hard. To think of Hitler as this twitter pated 6th grade boy was hysterical to me.

And then I realized something — it also takes away the power that his memory holds. The atrocities done at his command. The manipulation. The reign of terror. The blood of millions. The man that did gut-wrenching things that he fought so hard to accomplish and we fought so hard to stop — he becomes a joke. He becomes a human again who we can laugh at. I saw my laughter taking him off of his pedestal of cruelty and inhumanity, and placing him on a ground where he can be laughed at because he looks like a twitter pated 11-year old in this photo. (And now you can judge me. I understand, Hitler jokes are not up everyone’s alley.)

And I resolved to work to get to a place in my life where I could laugh at pain. Not at first, you need to feel it. Pain deserves and demands to be felt. There are real things that must happen because of pain.

But I think it’s a sign of healing, or in some cases, like with Hitler, a forceful display saying “I’m not going to let you have more power over me than you have to.”

That’s what I was saying to death when I started to find the freedom to laugh at the memory of my sister — about that time we snorted pepper to see if it would make us sneeze, and it made out nostrils burn with the fire of a dragon’s breath. Or the way she totally took advantage of my brother and I — borrowing money from our savings accounts to buy her first car, and then saying she’d drive us to go get ice cream if we paid for hers.

That’s what I was saying to the shame of my story when I started to make jokes like “Oh, you you don’t want to talk to awkwardly to that person you kind of know in the grocery store? Just be involved in a scandal. People will avoid you. Problem solved.”  Or laughing with a friend when recounting a first date where a guy was saying his mountain bike got stolen and it was “the worst year ever” and my friend says, “Did you say, wanna bet? Let’s compare.”

That’s what I was saying to the threat of cancer when I found a lump in my breast last year and the on-call doctor with no bedside manner said to me, “Well, you’re young, so it’s probably not cancer. But it might me. Come back in two weeks.” and I said to my friend, “This better not be cancer, because these little things aren’t worth that.”

Last night as I was searching for something to watch on Netflix, I saw that comedian Kevin Hart has a really interesting video on Netflix that I’d never watched before, called “Laugh at my Pain.” I’ve heard most of the bits in that particular stand-up routine online before, but I’d never watched the video.

What caught me off guard, was that the whole first 20 minutes or so is a documentary style piece where Kevin Hart goes back to where he grew up in Philly, and he tells some of his story. In it, his old managers also talk about how he came into stand up comedy, and one of them recalled sitting down with Kevin and being like, “You’re funny. You’re a funny dude. But are you you when you’re up there? Do you leave people know you, or anything about you?”

It was with that admonishment that Kevin started to incorporate some of his real-life, real-story things into his stand up act. His manager remembers that as being where he turned the corner, where he started to really shine. So in the documentary part Kevin tells the viewer about how his mom kicked his dad out when he was four because of his addictions. And he points on the step on the stoop where she made a rule that his dad was never allowed to come past. He tells the real story, he shares the real pain.

And then, the second half of the film (which is explicit, so don’t watch that part if you’re not into explicit comedy), his whole standup routine is about those same things. It’s about what earlier was the painful remembering. And he is able to laugh at it, and invite the audience to laugh at it too. I had heard all the jokes before — but thinking about it in those terms, coming from just watching him tell the real stories, I have never enjoyed his comedy more.

As I said last week, I will teach my children this thought, and tell them to use it on bullies (never the innocent. If they’re the bully, they will be taught a FIRM lesson). But if they’re being bullied, I’ll teach them to laugh at the bully. They may get beat up, but certainly, there is no bully on earth who can stand being laughed at, because they know — it takes their power away.

The bullies in life like death, abuse, illness, divorce, disaster — they do beat us up. But there is some joy in being able to laugh at it. Whether it’s while we’re the kid crumpled in the corner of the school hallway bleeding when we laugh to our friends who rush to our side: “I fall really gracefully, right?” Or whether it’s later on, as we’re healing, when we recount how we swear his fist kind of smelled like Chanel #5 before we blacked out. It might not take the pain away, but it takes the fear and power away.

And there is some humor, because we all have been bullied by something or another. We all have pain. And while it’s important not to minimize pain. It’s also important to not let it rule our lives.

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, October 07th, 2014 | Author:

“You can get whatever you want, but it needs to be under $3.”

I was familiar with these words as my mom and dad would say them to us three kids every time we got the treat of eating out as a family at McDonalds, or even better, at Burger King. It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it was sure special.

We lived simply. More accurately, we lived cheaply. But I remember those 3 dollars would buy me a plain whopper and fries at BK, or 6 chicken nuggets at McDonalds (not in a happy meal… those only came with 4 nuggets, which wasn’t enough food for me, and the meal was above the $3 limit). It was always a treat.

I don’t know how old I was the first time I noticed it, but at some point I became aware of the fact that like the words of the $3 rule being spoken so faithfully to us, my mom would faithfully speak another line of words to any homeless person or person asking for change that we encountered: “I don’t give out money, but are you hungry? I’ll get you whatever you want.”

But the $3 limit was never mentioned. And she bought them food when we didn’t get to eat out, because that was still a rare treat for us. She would go in with them to the grocery store or the fast food place or the gas station and she would get them meal deals that we were never afforded the chance to try. The fact that they were superseding the $3 family rule was never mentioned to them, which I thought was odd.

Because even as a child, I was taught compassion, I was taught to care for people and to see everyone as human beings that have the same value to their lives as I do. But, while I never said anything about it, I was confused about why our family’s budget didn’t apply to others when my parents bought them food.

As an adult I look back and I see that the lesson my mom’s actions taught me was that it is good to give, even when we give more than we would normally afford ourselves. People matter more than dollars. All people.


When I was in high school, I started to buy boxes of granola bars and keep them in my car so that any time I saw someone in need, I had something to offer them. I actually intentionally bought peanut-flavored ones so that I wouldn’t be tempted to empty my own stash. (I have a peanut allergy.) But after I graduated high school, it was rarely as I was driving by that I encountered people in need. I instead met them on the streets of downtowns as I walked around with friends. Or at the beach. Or at the grocery store. And my granola bar stash wasn’t doing much good sitting in my car, so I got out of the habit.

Because I’m a hungry person, a prepared person, and I spent more than a decade babysitting regularly, I got used to always having a snack with me in my purse or back pack or pocket. (I know, that’s kind of weird, but it’s true.) What I started to find was that as I would meet people who were asking for food or money, if they were hungry I’d offer them whatever snack I had on hand. I’ve given away leftovers, a soda cup from In n Out, cliff bars, animal crackers, crackers, almonds, fruit, jerky, and baked goods.

The first time I had an opportunity to do so though, I hesitated. I was in San Francisco by myself, exploring downtown for the day. I was working in an unpaid internship and didn’t have extra money, so I had brought a lunch and a snack with me. When faced with the choice, I gave the snack away first. But then I came upon another hungry man asking for help, and I said no, and walked away, justifying that I would be hungry for the day if I gave away this, the last of my food for the whole day. As I justified it, I remembered my mom, spending more than we spent on ourselves, offering food when we couldn’t afford to eat out. And I realized what a stupid justification being hungry for the day was.

I went back and found the man and handed him my lunch and sat down with him while he ate it.

I remember that day clearly, because it was the first time I gave until I felt it. I walked around hungry that day. And it’s been a reminder to me of the power of C.S. Lewis’ challenging words: “We ought to give until it hurts.” I didn’t hurt that day, but I felt what I had given, and that was a step in the right direction for me.

The last time I was in San Diego, I was walking with two of my friends up Newport Ave in Ocean Beach looking at shops as we meandered away from the beach. I saw them then, on the other side of the street, but kept walking, window shopping, chatting with my friends.

But as we made our way back down the other side of the street, the two women were still there. I said hi briefly as we passed. They weren’t asking for anything, they didn’t have a sign, they just lived in the OB area as manly homeless folks do. My friends were up ahead chatting and walking on. I asked the women if they were hungry, and they were, so I offered them the cliff bar I’d been storing in my back pocket for a snack as we walked around the beach. “I’m sorry, this is all I have, and it’s just one. But do you want it?” I asked them. “Oh yeah! These are the BEST!” They both looked at each other and with a silent exchange one reached out for it, and then handed it to the other. “I ate earlier today. She can have it,” she said, handing it to her friend. The friend looked hesitant, and then took it and smiled.

My friends had turned and realized I had lagged behind and waited patiently as I finished chatting with the ladies. When I re-joined them we began walking again, and they know not to make a big deal of stuff like that. But my friend Lizz, who is always willing to credit me with being more intentional than I am, asked me, “I saw you grab that when we left the car. Is that why? So you could give it away?”

“No.” I said simply. Resisting the urge to take credit for something better than the truth. “I brought it because I thought I’d be hungry. I wanted a snack.”

Because people are more important than dollars. And more important than my temporarily filled belly.

I hope one day I’ll learn enough courage and discipline to give until it hurts. But for now, I’m grateful for my mom’s example of giving until we’re a little hungry. Giving, not when we have extra, but when it means someone else getting something that we wanted for ourselves. Giving until we feel it, even if it’s just a little bit.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014 | Author:

Things I’ve learned in my first year at an office job/with an insurance company/ working in marketing:

Exactly one year ago today, I started a job as a marketing director for a wholesale insurance company (We sell insurance to insurance agents who then sell to the public. I learned that since starting, too.) These are some of the things I have learned since starting this job.

  • I’ve learned a LOT about insurance. Which partly makes me want never want to own a home because it’s made me aware of how detailed those policies are and how much work it really takes to understand your policy. Also, I know what terms like “inland marine” mean (which has nothing to do with boats) — essentially it’s this: In a restaurant for example, the building would be covered by a policy, but if you have inland marine, inland marine would basically be everything in the kitchen that would fall if you turned the kitchen upside down.
  • I also learned that the concept of insurance was started by the company that is now known of as Lloyd’s of London. At the time, there was Lloyd’s coffeeshop in London, and a bunch of business men and merchants decided to form a sort of insurance co-op so that they’d all cover each others’ shipments, so that if a ship went down, one merchant wouldn’t be totally out of business. And thus started insurance. My company now does a lot of business with Lloyd’s to this day.
  • Also, the Titanic was insured by Lloyd’s of London. Which, of course, was a huge claim loss for them. But interesting still.
  • I also have learned how it can be nearly impossible to get home owners insurance on a house in southern California because there is so much “brush” down there and risk of fire. So all those Hollywood homes of stars — yeah, they’re not super covered, or if they are, they have outrageous premiums because the risk is so high.


  • I’ve learned that I can drink Folgers coffee on a regular basis as long as it’s piping hot. When it starts to cool down I start to audible gag and shutter. It’s distracting to my co-workers.
  • I apparently use sticky notes much more than the average office worker. And then I figured out how to use the “desktop stickies” on my computer too. Notes for everything.
  • All copy machines are the bane of my existence anytime I have to print a big job. We need them, but they work perfectly about 40% of the time. And when we think “oh that went so smoothly… I only had to hand-feed the paper and then it didn’t stop printing and start beeping” we don’t even realize how much we’re coping.
  • I love designing ads. And I’ve gotten the opportunity to have print ads I’ve designed in national magazines more than a dozen times.
  • Some Starbucks baristas will hate you if you come in every week to buy 100 gift cards that they then have to individually scan and load for an incentive program. Also, some Starbucks employees are really impressed with how generous of a person I am, because no matter how many times I tell them it’s for my company, and the company pays for it, they still seem to think it’s my money and I’m buying 100 gift cards for my friends. They’re the ones that say, every time, “Man! I want to be friends with you! Your friends must love you.” Every. Time.
  • Customer service means dealing with people who ask stupid questions. “How many zeros are in one-thousand?”
  • DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN EDIT THE SUBJECT OF AN EMAIL IN YOUR INBOX WITH OUTLOOK??? This took me about 9 months to learn. Life-changing.
  • Some people don’t know how to use computers. As in, they don’t know how to double-click to open something. Yep.
  • People have really short memories. Myself included. So I try to write everything down now. Thus the sticky notes.
  • Hot Pockets can light on fire in the microwave and fill the office with smoke.
  • Bagels brighten everyone’s day.
  • If you become known as the dessert girl who regularly buys/makes/brings/consumes sweet things, then people will start to look out for you and will come by your desk to discretely say “I have cookies at my desk… come by later.” It’s really a strong bond, the bond between sweet-teethed ladies.
  • Working with almost all women means some days are more tense than others. But there’s also a sort of camaraderie and candidness that wouldn’t come with many men in the mix too, I think.
  • People will read email blasts more if there’s a video in it.
  • I update my voicemail every morning with the new date and whether I’m in the office all day or in and out of meetings, etc. And every morning I think to myself “I would rock at reading out loud.” It must’ve been all of that reading Shakespeare aloud in high school English classes.
  • Chipotle caters now. But they don’t deliver it. Valuable info.

And lastly, after a year of working in marketing, I’m aware of the “brand” that we individuals are all producing with the things we put out there for others to see. It’s made me want to be intentional about not just including the good stuff, but also hard or embarrassing stuff too in what I share. I want my “brand” to be a representation of what’s real. Not just the smiles. Not just the funny. But to show the honest, day-to-day life of rebuilding, re-discovering, grieving, finding joy — the little things that make up a life.

I think this is why I have loved watching the show, The Office, since I started to work here. Because it shows that same thing — the everyday doldrums, joys, pet peeves, shenanigans, and routines that make up the mortar that insulates the bigger brick pieces of life. These are the things that make up our stories. And that’s more than OK.

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

photo credit: San Diego Shooter via photopin cc