Mayra Porrata on Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Trusting Your Instincts

Noodle Expert Mayra Porrata discusses Neil DeGrasse Tyson's engaging lessons on the universe and the importance of listening to your gut and heart.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

Because I sincerely enjoy learning from individuals who work in fields that are different from mine, I would pick someone like astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I find him to be one of the most eloquent and intelligent living teachers of our time. He has a wonderful ability to explain supremely complex information and make it understandable (not to mention funny, his sense of humor is quite delightful). It would be a mind-expanding and humorous year for sure!

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

The best piece of advice I received and one that I hope to instill in my students and daughters is this: trust your instincts (your gut and heart). It’s very easy to be led astray by the fearful messaging of our mind (or worst, the fearful or shaming advice of others). If we’re paying attention to ourselves fully and consciously, and then make decisions based on this, we will experience less painful outcomes for ourselves and others.

Where would you send a student who hasn’t traveled before?

Because I’ve found “contrast” to be a great and powerful teacher, I would send a student somewhere that is drastically different from their usual/daily experience. Immersing oneself in a different culture, language, and way of life is one of the best ways to not only appreciate our shared humanity, but learn who we really are.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

I’ve always done very poorly in mathematics and anything remotely related to it. My first year of college, I recall feeling inadequate and down on myself because of my inability to comprehend what I perceived to be a completely different “language." I almost dropped out several times because I thought I was just not “smart enough." While confronting this deficit of mine was rather painful, what I found beneath my “math shame” was the awareness of the topics and domains I was actually good and competent at. So often, we tend to focus so much on our deficits and failures (and those of others too!), that we forget that we’re are all capable and gifted too — the point is to continue to search (and fail!) until you find those talents.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Truth be told, my field(s), actually found me! I often tell the story in class of my childhood vocational dreams, which included becoming an astronaut and a teacher (and a nun, too!). In many ways, the work I do has elements of each of these fields — my orientation towards “what is possible” through social entrepreneurship (the astronaut in me), a devotion for learning and evolving (the teacher in me) and my love of humanity and calling to serve (the nun in me). I sincerely love my work and the ability to create courses, books, and workshops that are useful to others.

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