Noodle Expert Kimberly Griffin discusses the benefits of snacking on a candy bar before a big test and how "staying on her own mat" during yoga class helped her focus on her own journey.
Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?
Brené Brown would be my ideal teacher. She writes and speaks about shame, vulnerability, and courage. Her work focuses on how being vulnerable can lead to living a more wholehearted life, as well as being a better leader, parent, partner, and family member. I have so much to learn in these areas, and her work really speaks to me. She’s also a professor — she describes herself as a researcher and a storyteller. I would love to talk with her about what it means to be a scholar that does work that is accessible, helpful, and means something to so many people.
Also, there is just something about her that seems to put people at ease. She’s seems to be everything I respond to well in a teacher — open, funny, approachable, and comfortable just being herself. She seems like the kind of person who you could spend hours talking to and who is completely open to questions. I’d love to be her student for a year, learning how to be the best version of myself as a professor and a person, and also how I could be of best service to others.
What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?
“Stay on your own mat!” At the beginning of many yoga classes, the instructor will discourage you from comparing yourself to those who are practicing with you. It’s so tempting — sometimes you are right next to someone who can do really complicated poses or is super flexible. It’s tempting to look at that person and think “I can’t do that!” and try to do more than your body will allow. The problem is that when you pay attention to others, you lose sight of your own practice. You lose sight of your own strengths and goals and focus on doing what everyone else is doing.
I’ve sometimes struggled with this outside of the yoga studio, and I’ve noticed my students do, too. They ask themselves why they can’t write as well, say things that are as smart, or get the same internships as whomever seems to be good at everything. In these moments, it can be helpful to remember to “stay on your own mat” and focus on your own journey — what you’re good at, where you hope to grow and develop, and what your goals are. This piece of advice has often helped me to refocus and pull myself back from terrible cycles of insecurity and comparing myself to others.
Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?
I will choose two places — one abroad and one in the U.S. Internationally, I’d recommend India. People are warm and friendly, and there is so much opportunity to learn about another culture. It is really important to experience a place that is so absolutely different from what we see from day to day in the U.S. For example, in India, cows roam through the streets, palatial homes are right next to impoverished neighborhoods, and when people shake their heads “No,” it actually means “Yes.”
In the United States, I would send a student who has never traveled to Washington, D.C. There is history everywhere, from the monuments, to the Supreme Court, to the museums. You never know when you’re going to run into a protest, street fair, or farmer’s market. It’s a diverse, dynamic city with such a unique landscape. And there is something inside me that feels like it is important to see your nation’s capitol at least once.
When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?
When I was in college, I was miserable at organic chemistry. It was the first time I took a class that I didn’t understand. I had always considered myself to be a pretty good student, so struggling so much with chemistry was really hard for me, but I learned several lessons. First, being good at something, or even not so good at something, can take a lot of effort and hard work. I realized that I was going to have to learn to study and put in the time (sometimes a whole lot of time) to get through this class. I learned that it is important to ask for help when I need it. I reached out to tutors and teaching assistants with all of my questions, and it made all the difference. I also learned that whether or not I was “smart” could not be defined by how I did in one class. I can be really smart and good at a lot of things, without being a rockstar at every single subject.
Finally, I learned that eating a candy bar before you take a hard exam is a very good distraction. Cramming while I waited for the exams to be handed out just made me more anxious, so I ate a candy bar instead. I decided that I wouldn’t take on other people’s anxiety about tests and just focus on doing the best I could. All of these lessons translated to how I face challenges now. I try to remember that hard things take a lot of effort, sometimes I’ll need help, that I’m not going to be good at everything (and that’s OK), and finally, that I can’t take on other people’s stress, just manage my own.
Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?
I’ve always been interested in the idea of helping people be their best selves, and I remember when I decided that would be through understanding education. I was in college, reading about the academic test score gap between black students and white students. As I read and read, I got more and more angry. I realized that people were creating programs and policies to try to close the gap, and a lot of people had been thinking about the experiences and outcomes of black, latino, and Native American students, but I wanted to scream, “Why hasn’t anyone fixed this?”
When I thought about what job would allow me to be of help, I didn’t immediately think about being a professor. I always assumed that college professors spent most of their time teaching, and I thought that there was no way that I could do that at the college level. And I didn’t think of professors as problem solvers or being able to have an impact outside of a classroom. I was surprised to find that I actually like teaching, and that one of the best parts of being a professor is that I have had the opportunity to be a part of making change through teaching, writing, studying, and speaking about the things that matter to me. The time I get to spend thinking about how to solve problems and make education better, especially for black and brown students, gives me a lot of joy.