What do you want to do that for?

Paint, write…do whatever you need to do to fulfill your dreams!

“What do you want to do that for?” was the response to my unbridled enthusiasm about writing a children’s book on self-esteem. It echoed within a hollow past of stolen dreams until they collided with similar words that had silenced my tongue as a child.

At eight, while watching my father dab oil paint onto the watery streets of Venice, I declared that when I grew up I would become a famous artist. He laughed and said, “What do you want to do that for? Artists only become famous after they die, and often don’t earn enough money to buy food.”

When I was eighteen my Maths teacher asked me why I was attending night school. “Because I want to go to university,” I replied. He laughed and said, “What do you want to do that for?”

One day while doing the dishes with my mother-in-law after a Sunday roast when I was twenty, I shared my dream of writing a book about divorce to show that children aren’t resilient. She replied, “What do you want to do that for? No one will want to read a book about that.”

At twenty-one, I began studying in earnest to complete my final two years of high school by correspondence, vigilantly guarding my secret from my stepmother because she believed education would be wasted on me. After all, I would “only end up having babies,” she said. But the inevitable “What do you want to do that for?” came anyway when someone ‘spilled the beans.’ With her laughter ringing in my ears, I knew I had to face my fear of failing if I wanted to achieve my dream. But it was a fear so huge that for six weeks before my final exams, stomach pains and diarrhoea most mornings forced me to grab my books as I headed to the toilet.

Then…success came at last! I passed my exams and enrolled in college to become a teacher. Some years later, while a stay-at-home mum to two beautiful children, I attended university part-time to gain a Bachelors Degree, majoring in art. I also had my first painting exhibition. Then commissions came that enabled me to buy food and pay off debts when money was tight during a drought on the family farm.

I now want to tell all those fathers who try to deter their children from becoming artists (and wish I could have said this to Hitler’s dad who beat him mercilessly for wanting to become one) that on several occasions, selling a painting got me out of debt, and being an art teacher opened doors to employment when all other doors remained tightly closed.

For instance, on my O.E. in North America I ran an art gallery for six months when a car accident grounded me in Florida. And in the back room after hours, I taught children and adults how to paint.

Then during two summers in picturesque New England, I ran the art department of a summer camp. The camp owner kindly let me stay on over winter, rent free, so I could rewrite my book about divorce and find the “whole” story an editor said was missing.

If I had lacked the faith in myself to write this book, and rewrite it for twenty years, I would not have discovered the elusive “whole” story. Neither would I have learned how children lose their resilience, how they end up on drugs, become alcoholics, why they commit suicide, how some kids with straight As never achieve their potential, and how some homes become war zones from which a ripple effect of violence spreads out into our communities.

And I would still be lost within a labyrinth of family secrets, unable to find my way out into a happier and more productive future.

My dream to become an artist and writer has not only paid huge dividends for me in terms of what I have learned and the wealth of wisdom I have gained, but others have also benefited from what I have shared of this inner wealth.

If I had let the derisive “What do you want to do that for?” derail my best efforts through fear of failing, I would not have been there as a dream catcher for students whose parents, or other adults in their lives, had put them down or crushed them. I would not have learned about how we destroy each other’s self-esteem, and discovered ways to rebuild it. Nor would I have learned that listening shows the love and respect and caring that children need to feel that they are valued, and that these things act like water and fertilizer and sunshine to help children blossom and achieve their dreams.

And, if I had not taught art at summer camp, I would not have discovered what healthy and secure and loved children know, for some had written on pictures about their own life journey:

“Find the beauty of love in everyone…”

“It’s not what you look like that matters, it’s what you are inside…”

“To love myself is the way I’ll always stay happy.”

So why do I want to write a children’s book about self-esteem when I already have a book to finish? Because it is vitally important that children learn to love themselves so much they will turn a deaf ear to those who ask, “What do you want to do that for?” when they share their dreams. With a healthy self-esteem they can go undaunted into a future of their own making, instead of falling by the wayside as a victim of fear.

And so I continue to write, undeterred that the rewrite of my first book has taken so long, for now I have an amazing twenty years of writing and research and wisdom to draw on to fill many books. For some light relief and relaxation, I paint in oils. And each time I hear Kenny Rogers sing this line from The Gambler, “Every hand’s a winner; and every hand’s a loser,” I smile to myself knowing that I am the only one who gets to choose what my hand will be.


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