The Top Five Life Lessons I’ve Learned This Year

Our NYC Marathon finish!
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Written by Alison O'Brien

I cannot believe how fast this year has gone! Even for me, who makes her New Year Resolutions before the calendar turns to January, I’m forcing myself to slow down and look back at 2014, before speeding headfirst into 2015.

I cannot believe how fast this year has gone! Even for me, who makes her New Year Resolutions before the calendar turns to January, I’m forcing myself to slow down and look back at 2014, before speeding headfirst into 2015.

So, drum roll please…   Let me present “The Top Five Life Lessons I’ve Learned This Year”:

#5 — Go TEAM!

I really love being part of a team — whether producing television documentaries or coaching and training for a marathon, there is nothing like the camaraderie.   And while I identify myself as a teammate, in a professional-sense, I had stopped seeing myself that way in a personal sense.   After years of not dating, nor trying to find someone to date, I had forgotten what it’s like to be part of a “pair”.

That changed this year, when a guy and his dog made their way into my world.   Without me even realizing what was going on, the titles of “girlfriend” and “dog walker/feeder” were added to my resume.

That guy and his dog!

That guy and his dog!

I made space in my schedule, then my home and my heart, for things other than my work and my obligations to others.   And, the most surprising thing is that I love it!

My 3-year-old niece, Maggie-Pie, loves the song from the recent Muppet Movie, which has the chorus: “Life’s a happy song when there’s someone by your side to sing-along.”   Ain’t that the truth!

#4: (I Am A) Work In Progress

From a young age, my dad taught me that in order to win at anything, from checkers to Candy Land, you had to earn it.   So, I’ve always aimed to put forth my best effort in everything I do, and work hard towards earning that win.

What I never anticipated was that unexpected events could derail even the best efforts.   I mean, really?! How dare that happen?!   But, after instances such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, I have reluctantly had to accept that I cannot control everything.  I have to let things happen as they may.

This realization does not mean that I have stopped trying my best — I’ve just stopped beating myself up for things over which I have no say.   And I am a lot happier for making that adjustment.

#3: Those Roses DO Smell Sweet!

This December, I issued a challenge to my JWalking Designs’ customers, followers and friends — myself included: Take a moment, each day in this hectic holiday season, to do something that makes you happy.   The idea behind the #HappyHolidaysChallenge was to appreciate the little moments life has to offer.

We run through life at a pretty fast pace, and sometimes we don’t stop a second to simply stop and open our eyes to our surroundings.   There is so much in this world to see, and too little time in which to see it.

Our NYC Marathon finish!

Our NYC Marathon finish!

I had the honor of running the 2014 New York City Marathon for the third time this November.   Yes, my pace partner, Kandi, and I had a finishing time in mind, but we slowed several times to celebrate with our cheerleaders spread throughout the course.   We did not want to miss out on the meaningful moments that make memories.

We may not remember how fast we ran our fastest mile, but we will never forget the woman who ran the 26.2 miles in a halter dress and flip flops; or talking to the woman whose mother passed away two days earlier.   And I won’t forget the feeling of running through the final miles in Central Park — being caught on camera by our screaming supporters, then surprised by my best friend who perfectly timed her run from her office for a pre-finish hug.   Those are the things that make life worth living.

#2: Anal-Retentiveness Isn’t a Bad Thing

By this point in my post, you may have guessed that I’m a tad task-oriented.   I keep a daily “to-do” list, of everything from laundry to lunch, and relish every time I cross items off.   And the same goes for when I can add “Completed” and the nitty-gritty details the longer-range tasks listed on my yearly one.   The “A” in my name truly stands for “Accomplish”.

Amongst many items listed on my 2014 edition, I am blessed to have been able to:

  • Become a godparent to my now-9-month-old niece, Emma, and confirmation sponsor for my 14-year-old nephew, Thomas
  • Zip-line over the lush landscape of Honduras
  • Run the Boston and New York City Marathons, while raising money and awareness for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training
  • Gain confidence in my ability to swim so I no longer panic in the water

I keep these lists in my iPhone, and I often look back to remind myself how far I’ve come and how far I still want to go.

#1: Celebrate Good Times, C’Mon!

Speaking of going far…   I love going everywhere and anywhere anytime!   Have passport, will travel!   Luckily, I have found likeminded friends who enjoy celebrating life the same way.

My friend Hakimah and I call ourselves “The Day-Trippers” — we seek out the cheapest airline ticket that will take us to the farthest location available for the shortest amount of time.   This November, 6 days after finishing the New York City Marathon, I joined Hakimah — and our friend Christie — on a day-trip to Oslo, Norway.   We left Newark, New Jersey at 8pm on a Friday night, and landed back Sunday afternoon at 2pm… with a 26-hour jaunt through Oslo in-between.

Vigeland Park, Oslo Norway

Vigeland Park, Oslo Norway

We saw as much as we could in the time that we had — posing with the life-sized sculptures in famed Vigeland Park; climbing to the top of the Oslo Opera House; and hanging out with the guard in front of the royal palace.   And, most importantly, we took much-needed time to catch-up, laugh lots and plan for our next adventure.

Life is so unbelievably short, so I want to make the most of the time I’m given.   I wish you all the happiness, health and humor life has to offer.

What is YOUR Top Five for the year?   Please share them loudly and proudly!

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life — Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.TM Every contributor and expert answer the Identity 5 questions in keeping with our theme. As a team, we hope to inspire and motivate ourselves and inspire you to get all A’s.

What have you accepted within your life, physically and/or mentally? What are you still working on accepting?

This constitutes as lifelong learning, but I am always struggling to accept that along with the wonderful sometimes comes the not-so-good. This year, I’ve celebrated true triumphs, such as the birth of my adorable goddaughter, and unbelievable loss, like the passing of her beloved grandmother. I have been reminded, time and time again, that life is unbearably short so I need to make the most of what I am given.

What have you learn to appreciate about yourself and/or within your life, physically and mentally? What are you still working on to appreciate?

Following the above acceptance, I am really working to appreciate the amazing moments that happen every day. There is so much to see in life and all it takes is looking up from my emails and texts to see it. That is something I don’t think I truly appreciated until my eyes and I turned 40… and seeing the small print on my iPhone became more difficult… 🙂

What is one of your most rewarding achievements in life? What makes YOU most proud? What goals and dreams do you still have?

I don’t often take the time to reflect back on what I’ve accomplished; instead, I tend to focus on what’s left to do. That said, I am very proud of the fact that I’ve stepped far outside my comfort zone and am building JWalking Designs into a business that is gaining ground in the workout wear world. As a 20-year, 3-time Emmy Award winning, Television Producer – a career of which I’m also quite proud – it’s still a little bit of a shock to me that I’m doing something so different! This past January, I flew out to Los Angeles to meet with my design and manufacturing team, Jomsy Inc. The owner, Sylvie de Gil, introduced me to her staff as “the CEO of JWalking Designs”. I seriously turned behind me to see to whom she was referring. Duh! My goal for 2015 is continue moving onward and upward — both professionally and personally.

We all have imperfections, so we think. The truth–we are all perfectly imperfect. What are your not-so-perfect ways? What imperfections and quirks create who you are–your Identity?

I can be a wee bit of a bulldozer when it comes my “to-do” list — I zero in on a specific task, put my head down and just gitterdun… sometimes to the detriment of things and people around me. Once I start something, I often cannot stop until I finish it. It’s been this way for my entire life — as seen in a photo taken of my “focus face” at age 3.

Me and my "focused face" at age 3

Me and my “focused face” at age 3


Today, you’ll find me sitting in my driveway, my car running and me running late, writing an email that I’ve decided needs to be done right now. I’ve missed many a meal because I am so focused that I can’t hear my stomach growl; and fallen asleep many a night with the lights and my laptop on, because I didn’t want to go to bed without finding that perfect word to add to a story.

“I Love My…” is an outlet for you to express and appreciate all the positive traits that make you…well… YOU! Sharing what you love about yourself will make you smile, feel empowered, and uplift your spirit and soul. (we assure you!)

Identity challenges you to complete the phrase “I Love My…?

I Love My… Optimism! I tend to see things as I think they ought to be, not as they actually are. My rosy view often brings me disappointment, when people turn out to not be better than their behavior, but I refuse to lower my expectations. I have a quote on my refrigerator that reads: “The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to shape it.” I truly believe that if I am good and play fair, the world will too.

About the author

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Alison O'Brien

How a Pair of Running Shorts Spurred on My Second Career.

As a veteran television producer and novice athlete, I decided to train for my first marathon in the hopes of finding and funding a cure for the cancer my friend was bravely battling. I spent the 26.2 miles finding fault with the ill-fitting, dysfunctional and certainly unflattering running shorts I was wearing. Seven years, thousands of miles, and even more running 'bottoms' bought, I decided that if I couldn't find fitness fashions I liked, I'd make them myself.

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