As a little girl living in Nigeria, West Africa, I remember walking around our lush garden admiring the bright tropical flowers like the hibiscus flowers with their red petals, yellow and orange marigold flowers or the oversized green leaves of the elephant plant gently moving in the breeze. During the rainy season the garden seemed so vibrant and alive not only with color, but with little creatures like the lime green grasshoppers or the red velvety caterpillars. Then there were the chameleons with their large bulging eyes that seemed to stare you down before they quickly camouflaged and disappeared into the shrubs. To be honest I found the chameleons a little creepy but overall the garden was my happy place full of magic. I would daydream about fairies dancing around the flowers and under the giant leaves as I walked and ran my hands across the plants. I imagined the fairies were like friends I could have conversations with about school, my fears, my wishes……
I was lucky to have a mother that encourage imaginative play and all my artistic interests. I loved to draw & paint and as I got older, I also learned to braid hair, cook, sew, and even do pottery and sculpture. I enjoyed making beautiful things and became good at doing anything that involved using my hands and my imagination.
There was the time we lived in a modest house and my parents wished to move into something bigger. My mother would tell my siblings and I to start a dream book which consisted of cut out magazine pictures neatly glued to the pages of a notebook and carefully labeled. This was long before the internet was a thing or Pinterest existed! On Sundays we would pray with our mother and look over our dream book. Achieving one’s goals requires hard work and dedication but first you must have a good sense of imagination and a dream.
As a teenager I dreamed of living in the USA, which at the time seemed unrealistic given my family dynamics. I would sit outside in the dark on the hood of one of my parents cars looking up into the dark sky filled with twinkling stars. It was comforting knowing those same stars were being seen somewhere in America and that we shared the same universe. I would pray to God to make my dreams come true. At 16 my mother & siblings moved to the USA. Eventually I became a permanent resident and years later I became a US citizen.
So much has happened in my life since then – university, medical school, living in different parts of the United States, marriage, children, work, life struggles….through it all I never stopped dreaming and creating new goals. Unfortunately as I get older I have realized we are encouraged to dream less and most of my peers and older relatives have become cynical & disillusioned. I get it- as we get older and the reality of adulthood sinks in with all the responsibilities of parenthood, our 9-5 jobs and life hurdles, we learn to be practical and responsible. You can’t run off to Vegas just because you feel like it. (Not sure why I picked Vegas but it seems like an incredibly irresponsible place to go!) We dredge through our days looking forward to the next weekend or time off. Any artistic or creative outlets pushed to the side in the hopes we will get to it in the future, maybe when we retire or maybe not at all because we no longer see ourselves as creative or able to do anything other than what we are doing now.
I recently watched a young girl explain how most kids believe they are creative and yet most adults don’t believe they are creative or imaginative. I think this is unfortunate. I can’t imagine doing the same thing for years, not dreaming or having new goals and not including some creative projects into my life.
Even I am not immune to the naysayers and dream killers but I refuse to be drowned by the negativity. Last year I closed my medical practice after 10 years of doing the same thing. Plus, to be honest, the economic conditions were not ideal and my families needs had changed. We moved to a different city and I had the opportunity to explore some creative and artistic projects while rethinking my purpose and direction in life. I believe it is important to evaluate one’s life every few years because decisions you may have made in your teens or early twenties may no longer be relevant or meaningful to your current place in life.
Anyway, I shared my thoughts or dreams with an older relative and her response was less than positive: “Why are you wasting your time” “You have to be practical” “Habiba always the dreamer” “You need to get a real job” ….Yes, it hurts when this response comes from someone you respect but you can’t blame them. They can only tell you what they know based on their life experience. For many, your worth is determined by a salaried position defined by someone else. Most people feel safe with what appears to be a predictable life. Personally, I believe as soon as things become too routine, it is time to switch things up, otherwise we end up going on “cruise control.” I enjoy a sense of adventure in my life and finding new ways to be creative. Being part of the crowd, blending in and doing what is expected was never my goal .
For a while I questioned my choices and wondered if my dreams are valid or just foolish- but I know they are not- what is foolish is sharing your dreams with people who don’t believe or support them. Keep dreaming and continue working hard towards them but instead of telling everyone what you are going to do, just show them.
-Habiba Tunau MD
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