Tag-Archive for » self-discovery «

Wednesday, October 07th, 2015 | Author:
photo credit: Daydream via photopin (license)

photo credit: Daydream via photopin (license)

The dress is white, sleeveless, summery. The fabric is decorated with large, orangish flowers — daisies maybe — flowers painted in a way to give the dress more a sense of womanhood than girlhood.  It falls just below my knees, or at least it did the last time I wore it. I was 14, and I wore it to my sister’s funeral.

It was one of my favorite dresses in a time when 1) I hated dresses still and 2) I was expected to wear dresses still to church every sunday. This one felt like me, where all other dresses failed to. It was beautiful but not too cliche “girly.” I was a hardcore tomboy at the time, and struggling to find ways to express my femininity in my style. This simple, beautiful dress had colors that were bold, but not pink, had a short length (for the time), but was still allowed in my conservative household, and was lightweight, feeling like summer.

When I was preparing for the funeral, I couldn’t figure out what to wear. The only black dress I owned was a little more formal, more of a “Little Black Dress,” and I’d only worn it to ceremonies and celebrations like my 8th grade graduation. That felt all wrong.

I could wear pants, my mom said. It didn’t have to be a dress. That felt wrong, too, though.

So I looked at my clothes and I saw the dress with bright flowers that felt like me, and I thought, I wonder if this is OK. It was bright like me. It was fiery like Julie. And I was comfortable in it during a week that I desperately needed comfort. My mom said that would be fine.

I wore the dress as I stood at the pulpit on the lower stage of the church, looking out over a sea of black clothes and sad eyes and I read a poem I had written for her.

And I went home and took off the dress and replaced them with my tomboy clothes, which would shortly thereafter be replaced in life by clothes I’d inherited from my sister, which wouldn’t be replaced with my own clothes and my own struggling style for many years.

That day, the dress got put away in the closet, and stayed there. I have purged my life innumerable times by now. Every time I move, or every time I get sick of digging through my closet, I get rid of things. But I’ve always kept that dress. Because years later I still looked at it and saw something of me in it.

“I could still wear that again,” I told myself when I left for college and took the dress with all my other clothes down to San Diego. I’ve told myself that same thing with every move since then.

But yesterday, a donation truck was coming by our house here in Wichita and I was getting things ready for it the night before, and I saw the dress. The dress that I have never worn again. And I put it in the pile.

I think that dress was proof that I knew who I was then. I knew myself at 14. And I lost myself in the tumultuousness of grief and life change and influential people and more grief and more life change and through all of that I’ve been trying to emerge as someone who knows myself and lets others get to know me.

And while it’s taken 12 years, I think I’m there. Not in an “arrived” sense. But even in the little things. Like the fact that I often will post something on pinterest and one of my friends will see it, not realizing I’m the one who posted it, and send it back to me. It shows how well they know me.

Having been sure I’d found myself again, I was able to let go of the dress that had served as a lamp post, a guiding light all these years.

“I’ll never wear it again,” I finally admitted to myself, “it’s the funeral dress. Let’s be real.”

But that wasn’t the point all these years — the point was I was trying to find the girl who’d worn it the last time. The girl who, in a sea of black, wore white and orange. The girl who wrote about grief, and shared it. The girl who was herself in the face of the storm.

I found her. It’s taken over a decade, but she’s back. I’m back. I’m back.


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

Wednesday, May 07th, 2014 | Author:

Ask for what you need.


That was a mantra repeated again and again at Onsite when I was there a year ago this week.

Onsite is an intensive therapy workshop in Tennessee, and it was the setting for the most significant week of my life to date. I heard about it first from Donald Miller at the Storyline Conference (he also mentions it in the Storyline book).

“My assistant has been with me for 10 years, and Onsite was such a significant experience for me that she refers to me as pre-Onsite and post-Onsite,” Don said. “I didn’t even know how broken I was until I went and started to look at what it would be to get healed.”


I was in a place where I thought I knew exactly how broken I was — decimated was a term i used a lot. Turns out, I didn’t even know the depth of the broken places.


This small place in the country in Tennessee became holy ground for me as I waded through the most painful pieces of my life. As I grieved. As I found acceptance for truths I couldn’t see or stomach previously.


But, though it wasn’t the main theme of the week by any means, the underlying words that were breathed again and again just for the health and safety of everyone were, “Ask for what you need.”


And this has been a revolutionary thought, not just for me, but for me to articulate with the people I do life with.


It’s come out in my nuclear family’s dynamics. In my friendships. In my jobs.


I ask for what I need up front, instead of waiting until later when my needs haven’t been met to address it. And I encourage others to do the same.


Sometimes it’s about the temperature of the air conditioner in the car.

Sometimes it’s about expectations about traveling with a friend. Sometimes it’s “I need to share my story with you,” or “I need for you to not put a positive spin on everything.” Or sometimes, it’s the really painful stuff: “I need you out of my life,” or “I need you to be there for me in ways that you haven’t ever been there before.”


What happens is that those conversations change from being painful or awkward confrontations where someone has been let down, to being pre-emptive and healthy, and direct. (Because our relationships continue from places of hurt and dissapointment, though, there may still be some pain in these conversations. But as you practice this more, the points of pain decrease in frequency in my experience.)


The trick is, to do so, you have to know what you need. It takes self-examination, and taking the responsibility on yourself to know your needs, instead of expecting others to fulfill the needs that you may not have even been able to articulate to yourself.


I’m sure I’ll write more about Onsite throughout the months and years to come as it was so formational for me. But this week, as I am one year out, this is something that came to mind and into my conversations last night, and it’s been a part of my new rhythm of life in this past year.


It’s not easy to examine myself and figure out what I need, but it’s healthy, and it helps me have more realistic expectations of other people, and helps me communicate my needs directly. Sometimes, I can say “I need ___” and the person knows right there and then that they’re not going to be able to meet that need. And while that may be hard/sad/disappointing, it’s healthy. It gives us all the freedom to say what we need, and say what we can offer to others before the hurt and disappointments leaving us feeling in a lurch.


So the question is: What do you need?


Once you practice knowing your needs, practice asking for them. It may be intimidating for us at first, but I have seen significant amounts of health flourish into my relationships as we’ve started to use this honest, self-responsible, direct approach.  I invite you to try it, too. Feel free to share your thoughts/questions/and stories of how it goes.


If you’re interested in Onsite, I cannot say enough about the impact it had on my journey. If you feel stuck, or at rock bottom, or hopeless, or you just are interested in being the healthiest version of you, I would personally recommend their workshops. They have a variety of types and lengths of workshops. I was told before hand by a therapist not affiliated with them that it would be like a year or two of therapy in a week. For me, it was. https://www.onsiteworkshops.com/

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

storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 | Author:

I had this thought the other day: This is the renaissance of my life.

I am learning about music that I like, music that is out there, music that I want to sing along to. Music I want to dance to and music that dances with me. Music that makes me cry, and some that makes me smile involuntarily.

I am making art. All kinds of art. My finger nails have charcoal dust under them that will not come out with one or two washings.  Charcoal similarly cakes itself into the cracks of my hands that are drying out from how often I’m washing them. My leggings have varnish on them from the bench I stained. My shoes have sawdust in them from sawing the wood for that bench. My table has sticky sections of it from glue that ran away and off the page. My walls are lined with blank canvases and empty picture frames leaning up against them, waiting to be filled with what I create.

I am writing. Sometimes even poetry. My blog and my journal give testament to the words that come from my pen, from my keys, from my pain and my hope.

I am reading again. Everything from Chelsea Handler, to biographies of Napoleon, to Calvin & Hobbes, to Dan Brown mysteries, to Hemingway and Austen.

I am learning again. Not just about art and technique, but languages — I’m learning Italian and I’m loving it. I’m eager for the knowledge and the application.

And I’m curious (as I have always been, but still) about history. I want to know more.
I’ve asked myself, “why?” Why am I doing these things? Why am I making these changes?  Am I just now really discovering who I am? The typical 20s self-discovery thing?

When I’m honest, the answer is “no.”  I’ve known who I am for many years now.  I am not just now figuring out what I like and who I am. The fact is that what I like and who I am is changing.

I had a hunch, and in doing some brief research, I found that I was right…

The Renaissance of the 14-16th centuries started right after the black plague hit the European continent.

The “Rebirth” came out of death. Out of loss. Out of panic. Out of the forceful need to move on from “old normal”.

I am being re-born. That’s what renaissance means: rebirth. But why? Why now? Why change?

Because I lost everything. The town, the church, the friends, the family, the job, the daily activities, the passion.

Because it was time for new. There was no choice in it.

Because I am coming out of my own years of black plague. Of death. Of loss. I have emerged from my dark ages, and I, while the same person, am discovering new things, am developing new interests.

And what started out as writing to just get my thoughts on page, turned into the desire to tell a story, to relate to the common human things that we all experience. A story-teller re-born, with more freedom to tell the stories that ring true.

What started as writing poems because I needed some short form to get my words out turned into becoming a private poet. Writing poems down on napkins and in “notes” in my phone — when I’m at a stoplight, when I’m running and pause for breath, when I’m trying to sleep, when I am just so sad or so happy and I have to let it out of me, there comes words in verse, lines in waves — a poem is breathed. A poet is birthed.

To be embarrassingly honest, I started making art recently as a way to avoid something I needed to write that I knew would be emotionally exhausting and difficult. Every time I had time to write it, I’d create a charcoal artwork instead. Beauty from ashes before my eyes. I knew it would die down once the need for avoiding responsibilities was gone — but I was wrong. The desire to create is even stronger now. An artist has been born in me.

And what started as listening to music while I journaled grew into a hunger for music. I want to hear more. I even want to make music again. I don’t know how or if that will happen, but there is still plenty of time to change and discover.

I am being reborn. I am coming alive again.  And I don’t know what my new passion will be. Where my new path will take me.  But maybe it will take me many places: Jane of all trades, master of none. I have peace about not knowing, and joy at the thought of the journey to find out.

Maybe I am meant to be a renaissance woman, after all.

Jo coming alive in Israel

Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. 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