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My Story

I grew up as a high performing teen chasing big dreams in a country famous for wars, political assassinations, and electricity shortages.

I was born in Lebanon during its long civil war. I grew up in a mountain village away from areas of armed conflict but within reach of the war's negative impacts on society and the economy. Fuel and electricity shortages were normal, and people relied on local farms and homegrown food. They went about their daily lives, sending their kids to school but constantly worrying that things could blow up at any minute.

I was always a very sensitive child, bright for my age, I was told, but with ideas too big for my head. I had big dreams of travelling the world, of sightseeing in faraway places, of experiencing new cultures. I dreamed of living an abundant life surrounded by beautiful nature and peaceful people. But I was told I must be practical. Others called me “naïve” and “too trusting” whenever I talked about my wishes.

As I grew older, I used to feel guilty about dreaming of travel when I knew other people were struggling to keep a roof over their heads or were grieving for loved ones recently lost in the war. I learned to keep my mouth shut and my thoughts secret. I turned into “that shy, quiet girl” after finding convenience in being an introvert.

My mother disapproved, however. She had good intentions when she pushed me to be more social, to speak up, but she only made me feel miserable and out of place.

I come from a loving, middle-class family with hardworking, nonreligious parents. I was the eldest child and I had three siblings. My parents taught me and my sisters the power and freedom of being an educated woman with an established career. They always invested in our education and had high expectations in return.

Some of my classmates called me “privileged,” a word I hated because it was filled with envy. I felt I had to earn my worth and prove myself in some way, so I doubled down on studying to get the highest grades. It seemed at the time that my grades were the only things in life I could control. I stayed a high achiever throughout school, passionate about maths, sciences, and languages.

As a teenager, although I was the top of my class, I was very anxious and self-conscious. There were days when I felt unbearable pressure from all around. I took life very seriously and found it difficult to wind down.

I also struggled with negative self-image issues, especially after puberty when I experienced hormonal upsets and extreme acne on my face and shoulders. I fell deeply into the trap of comparing my body with other girls', thinking that something was wrong with me.

My big dreams kept me going. While my head was full of negative self-talk, my heart continued to dream about travelling and exploring. I had this need to do more with my life, but I didn’t know what.

I mostly found joy in books and read whatever I could get my hands on: Arabic literature, English classics, poetry, mystery paperbacks, science journals, travel magazines. I also journaled a lot and wrote stories and created my own fictional worlds.

I loved art and sketching. I was into pencil and acrylic and sacred geometry; I'd spend hours drawing and colouring beautiful patterns with my mandala kit.

My parents also gave me lots of opportunities to try out. Even with the economic and political situation, they did their best to take us sightseeing all over the country, from natural attractions to Roman ruins and crusade castles. They made me try martial arts and horseback riding, but I admit I resisted anything that made me self-conscious about my body. They enrolled me in music school, and I learned how to play the classical guitar.

I excelled at maths and physics throughout high school. Encouraged by my parents and teachers, I picked electrical engineering as my career choice, and my parents sent me to study at the American University of Beirut in the capital. I moved into the girls’ dormitory, and I was suddenly a village girl on her own in the big city.

My anxiety soared high. My social awkwardness was extreme, but I managed to find like-minded friends and to get along well with my teachers. I couldn’t be in the top of my class in all subjects because of the strong competition in the engineering faculty. This was my first lesson in lowering my standards. But I kept my strong study habits and personal boundaries that kept me on track with my grades. My responsible and serious manner also landed me a job as a resident assistant in the dormitory.

Engineering academic pressure turned out to be nothing compared to the series of car bombings and political assassinations that terrorised the country during my second and third years at university. The Hariri assassination bombing of February 2005, in particular, was only a few minutes away from campus. I clearly recall the explosion boom and the broken windows. Fear and uncertainty spread everywhere. We’d be walking on the street, wondering if this street was going to be bombed next.

My big dreams of travel and peace and abundance were mocked big time. But I didn't give up. I doubled down on my studies, and I graduated with honours in July 2007.

By the way, I was twenty-two years old then, I had already fallen in love and gotten married, and I was pregnant with my first child. Yes, life happened fast. I remain to this day in awe of my initiation into motherhood.

At the end of that year, I had to face a new fear when I had the opportunity to travel to the United Arab Emirates for the sake of an engineering job. The catch was that I had to leave my husband and our four-month-old baby behind, just temporarily until I secured my job and found a place to live. The whispers of doubt in my head were so loud: How dare you leave your baby behind right now? How dare you not sacrifice your dreams like good mothers are supposed to?

I owe it to my mother who encouraged me to go, and who took care of my son while I was away.

I chose to travel and got the job. I became an independent young woman in a male-dominated workplace, a stranger in a new world, determined to succeed. My husband and son followed me a couple of months later. And today, sixteen years later, after being blessed with three more kids and after travelling a lot, we’re living in New Zealand, one of the most beautiful places in the world.

I’m grateful I chose to trust my heart’s calling and follow my dreams.

I’m grateful for my younger self who had the big dreams in the first place.

And I’m grateful for my parents who supported my big dreams and taught me how to follow them, who held me to the big vision of living up to my full potential.

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