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What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Career Change
Alison O'Brien
Written by Alison O'Brien

The search for ‘more’ led me on a brand new path – building a business from the ground up in a field foreign to me. The biggest push was born from a fear of regret

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The search for “more” led me on a brand new path and the biggest push was born from a fear of regret.


“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  It’s a question I have been asked since I was as young as five, and once I found myself asking my nephew Shawn, who (gulp!) graduates from high school this June.

My nephew Shawn (at age 13) and I

My nephew Shawn (at age 13) and I

From age 13, Shawn’s answer has not wavered – he wants to be a history teacher.  It’s a subject he has enjoyed learning and, he says, he wants to impart that love, and knowledge, to future generations of students.

Shawn has always been a smart, thoughtful kid, so I know he has given much consideration to his future and the  steps necessary to reach his goal.

Asking Shawn the question, and feeling excitement about his yet-to-be-written book of life, made me a tad introspective.  I started thinking, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

By all accounts, being 42 years of age, having a mortgage and a business, kind of qualifies me as already being “grown up”…  But I feel like my book is still unwritten to some extent.  I don’t always feel – or act – mature, and I truly believe there is no end to the changes we can make and paths we can take.

I called my mom who, at age 70, still asks herself the same infamous question.  A foreign language teacher now general tutor, she says she once dreamed of being a translator for the United Nations.  She now says she thinks she’d like to work overnight at a grocery store, making sure the canned vegetables are stacked neatly…  Canned green beans, to be exact.

Me and my "focused face" at age 3

Me and my “focused face” at age 3

But, according to my mom, my career dreams have not been quite as varied.  From age three, she reminded me, I knew I wanted to travel a lot, like my Uncle Paul did for his corporate career.  Good ambition, but I had no real clue what “sending postcards from across the country” meant as a job.

When I was five, she said, I wanted to run a restaurant and went as far as to draw out dining receipts.  She would pay me by check…mark.  A payment by ‘Traveler’s Check’ had little feet and a suitcase.  When I realized those were not valid forms of payment, I do remember wanting to become a lawyer so I could sue customers like her for breach of contract.

And at about age 7, we both recall I was pretty set on becoming a journalist and since getting my first paid writing gig at 15, I did not look back.

I am blessed to have been a paid journalist – the past two decades writing for television news, features and documentaries.  I love telling a story – crafting it from the first word through broadcast.  My career choice – of bringing people’s lives to life – has afforded me opportunities that I never imagined possible.

As if the question was asked on the game show, Who Wants to be Millionaire: “I want to be a journalist – and that, Regis, is my final answer.”

Or so I thought…

At age 40, both my eyesight and that seemingly clear career choice became a bit blurry.  I had not lost one ounce of my love for writing and producing television stories, but I started to wonder if there was more of life to be explored.

The search for ‘more’ led me on a brand new path – building a business from the ground up in a field foreign to me.  The biggest push was born from a fear of regret – I did not want to wake up in 5, 10, 20 years and see that my “what if” had become a “wish I had”.

A month shy of my 41st Birthday, the JWalking Designs cyber-store-space was officially launched.  It may have gone from a ‘hey – wouldn’t making workout apparel be cool to do some day” to “someday is today” quickly to the outside observer, but this entrepreneurial endeavor took considerable consideration and planning.  And from imagining the initial idea and crafting the mission, to writing the first of many checks and running the first of many miles in our functional fitness skirt – it just felt right.

I now balance the demands of two chosen careers – it is not easy, but, as my nephew Shawn may say to his future students, “Taking chances is how history is made.”

Identity Magazine is all about empowering women to get all A’s in the game of life – Accept. Appreciate. Achieve.™ 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?

I am working on accepting that no matter how hard you will it, want it or work at it, things in life do not always go as planned. They may work out as they are supposed to be, but that does not always make the initially “argh” (pirate-speak for ‘aggravation’ and ‘disappointment’) any easier to absorb. This will be a life-long challenge for me, but nothing worthwhile is easy, right?

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

I appreciate my ability to listen and, from that, learn. Taking the time both to ask a question AND really listen to its answer is a seemingly small act, but I really find that few people do the latter; instead, many tune out the words and wait for the ‘pause’ so they can speak. As a television producer, I conduct multiple in-depth interviews for my documentaries. If I don’t engage an interview subject and/or listen to what he/she is saying, I may miss a huge, ‘who knew?’ point that could make or break my program. Why take that chance at work or in life in general?

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

I am proud that I take chances. Starting JWalking Designs has been a huge risk – financially, physically and emotionally – but I do not want fear to rule. That does not mean I do not get scared at the “what ifs”, because I do more often that I’d want to admit, but the fear of “not trying” is substantially more scary. As for dreams and goals I still have – how much time do you have to read?

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 am very good at quickly coming up with multiple contingencies to plans – I call it “seeing around corners”. If this was an Olympic event, I’d be a gold-medalist for sure because I do not like to be caught off-guard! While creating plans A through Z in mere minutes is a good thing in many parts of life, it can somewhat stall progress and definitely ramp up stress. If I let nature take its course and see what happens first before preparing for every eventuality under the sun, I may be pleasantly surprised at how things work out.

“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…?

Thirst for knowledge and adventure! If I stayed satisfied with the ‘status quo’, I’d never grow. I have come to believe that many of the limitations in our lives are self-imposed and, to quote the Eagles: “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains; And we never even know we have the key.” If we have the key, it would be a shame not to use it.

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About the author

Alison O'Brien

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.
FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/jwalkingdesigns
TWITTER: www.twitter.com/jwalkingdesigns

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