Nigeria native Tamuriat Olabode spent her first night in America shivering in a cousin’s Chicago basement that doubled as her bedroom.
The Muslim immigrant was 15, owned only the clothes she wore on the 6,100-mile flight, and had never spoken a word in English.
The year was 1980.
Olabode—now Tami Gilbert, 57, of Highland Park—is a mother, wife, health care industry professional, motivational speaker, podcast host, health and wellness coach, author, webinar presenter, and yoga instructor. Were she to frame and hang all of her college degrees and professional certifications, including the Resiliency & Thriving facilitator certificate she earned last November, they’d cover most of the Great Wall of China.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Gilbert, a surgical clinical coordinator at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital since 2014, writes in her first book, Courage to Persevere: A Compelling Story of Struggle, Survival, and Triumph (Dream World Press Publishing, 2015). “I’ve learned a lot in my life to achieve all my dreams, and now I am here to help other women do the same, to overcome their obstacles to achieving their dreams and reaching their goals.
“We all get discouraged; it is important to get back on track.”
Gilbert, who grew up in the Nigerian village of Ijofin, never lost track of the power of positivity after her father, Abudu, who’d been in the United States since 1970, sent for her and her two siblings to come to Chicago. Tami endured relentless bullying from high school peers because of the way she dressed, chose not to respond to any of it, and cried only at home.
“I focused on my classes as a teenager, knowing that the key to finding a good job and someday being able to afford a warm place to live was getting an education,” Gilbert recalls.
She completed a sixth-month Certified Nursing Assistant program in Chicago at the end of her freshman year in high school, hopping on a train every Saturday to attend class. Gilbert then landed a job at a nursing home in Oak Lawn, this time commuting via bus after school. She made $3.75 an hour and usually punched out at 11:30 p.m.
Ever resourceful, she did her homework during work breaks and cracked the books hard on weekends.
After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Gilbert earned a Master of Science degree in Nursing at St. Xavier University in Chicago.
And while working at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago from 1992 to 2014, she somehow found the time to add to her sheepskin pile by getting her MBA at North Park University in Chicago.
The former basement dweller bought a beautiful high-rise condo overlooking Millennium Park in Chicago and, at the age of 39, adopted a boy named Ivan.
Her path to the top?
But Tami refused to settle, professionally or personally. She met Lake Forest High School vocational specialist and tennis coach Scott Gilbert on a blind date in 2008 and married him two years later; Scott, who has two children in their 20s (Evan and Erin) from his first marriage, adopted Ivan after the couple’s wedding.
“I owe deep gratitude to Scott for believing in me and always supporting me,” Tami says. “I would not be where I am today without him. I’m also thankful for the love and support I’ve received from Ivan (a St. Louis University freshman), Evan, and Erin.
“A lot of good things have happened in my life.”
Several years ago, Mrs. Gilbert found out she had prehypertension during a doctor’s appointment and was prescribed medication. The meds’ side effects bothered her, so she pivoted to heavy doses of diet change and exercise.
“Nurses work a lot, and we often don’t have, or make, the time to take care of ourselves,” says Gilbert, who’s also an authorized occupational safety and health trainer. “I’d reached a point where I had to make lifestyle changes, and I did. My thinking was, ‘If I can help myself, I should also be able to help my co-workers and friends make lifestyle changes if they choose to do so.’ ”
No wonder Gilbert has been dubbed a “Master Habit Changer” by her clients and colleagues.
“In addition to my passion about improving the quality of patient care in healthcare settings, I am also a firm believer in the necessity of practicing self-care as professionals,” she writes in her second book, Career CPR: How to Thrive in Any Workplace Environment (Dream World Publishing, 2019). “Taking great care of ourselves nutritionally, physically, and mentally helps us to always show up as the best versions of ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others.”
But she penned Career CPR primarily to help employees—in any industry—navigate in-office waters teeming with difficult personalities, from the bullies to the whiners to narcissists, and take charge of creating happiness and satisfaction at work.
“I want to share with you different tactics that will empower you and help you love (or love again) your job, regardless of your co-workers at this time,” Gilbert writes in the introduction.
“I have a job I love,” Gilbert says. “I’m no longer affected by what others think of me. I don’t judge people. I’m in such a good spot in my life now.
“My co-workers love me, and I love them.”
Her beloved mother, Anura, died at a young age in 2007. Tami helped her mother make the pilgrimage to Mecca.
“My mother was like a peacemaker,” Gilbert says. “She got along with everyone and didn’t like confrontation.”
What Anura’s resilient, preternaturally optimistic daughter liked discovering years ago: her happiness point.
“Everyone’s happiness point is different, more or less,” Gilbert says. “The key is to find it. I found mine.
“I’m happiest at home.”