The philosophy that drives my work:
I don't believe in learning just to promote one's own ideas of success: we are all learners who never stop learning, and we do this to make life collectively feel easier for all living beings.
We learn in order to open up channels for new ideas and the evolution of knowledge itself.
Unique forms of genius exists in everyone and it's up to us as a species to help as many of us recognize what our personal form of genius is.
I also believe that buzz words and hypes are dangerous. They distract us from the moment-to-moment, human-centered dynamics that shape us.
As Carol Dweck says, growth mindset is not a proclamation, but a journey.
If that sounds like it blends well with your vision, I hope you'll keep reading and watching...
My 'aha moments'...
Many years ago, I decided to take on a job of leading high school graduates through Central America on a service-learning year. Some of the students I was working with were stuck in a pattern of making destructive life choices, and were headed down a path that was leading to negative outcomes in their career goals, relationships and overall well-being. Through the course of the trip, I would hold coaching and counseling sessions with them, and during the day, they would help community members with different needs and projects.
Two huge 'aha moments' came out of that trip.
#1) Their beliefs about themselves, and the narrative they had formed (I'm a terrible person; I'll never succeed at anything; I'm an emotional wreck, etc.) was something they had LEARNED based on what they were surrounded by regularly - at home, in the community, at school. These narratives, or mindsets, were like broken records in their minds that they kept listening to without having any awareness that another story was possible. And these narratives were almost like a trance that kept them repeating similar actions over and over (and in fact, getting into actions that were getting even more detrimental and irreversible).
#2) Being needed by people interrupted some of the negative tracks on their broken record. Their belief of being worthless and bad or pathetic could simply not hold when others were looking to them to help.
This is what informed my work on 'self-transcendent purpose', or what attachment psychologist Gordon Neufeld calls the 'alpha instinct'.
It's one of the steps in my Growth Mindset Goal-Setting Booklet.
We start out life exposed to the reactions and opinions of a tiny group of people
- and because we are with them so regularly, their emotional state, behaviors, and reactions actually trigger our brain in ways that gradually lead to an almost automated view of ourselves - an 'inner speech' that will keep repeating itself so often that it actually alters our perception of reality - of ourselves and the world.
And that way of seeing makes it hard for us to see any other way.
But the good news in all of this is that by 'exposing ourselves to new data' - which comes in the form of experiences, relationships, and learning, we can interrupt some of the beliefs we have that have been formed over time. I've done it myself and have seen thousands of others do this as well.
That's the power of understanding how our brains get built.
That we are not born with qualities and abilities in fixed amounts. We are, as David Deutsch calls us, "universal constructors" - the human brain is capable of flexibly adapting to meet new, never-experienced-before challenges. It's simply how the human brain is built.
By understanding this, we can take more control over how we build our brains and how we help the next generation leverage the power of theirs.
That's what my teacher training and other programs are designed to help people do:
get back in touch with how powerful we actually are - an idea we knew as children but have since been talked out of...
My Career Journey
I started out as a French teacher for government officials who needed to learn French for their diplomatic posts or other assignments. I was able to bring many students from complete beginner to completely fluent within one year of studies. I was also able to help them eliminate their 'English' accent when speaking by introducing the 'triangle vocalique' and the associated mouth movements, as well as rhythm and prosody. I am fluent in French, Spanish and speak German comfortably - and used my experiences with these languages while teaching.
My success as a teacher also came from the fact that I learned, researched and then explicitly taught 'how we learn'.
I later studied international relations and became a linguist analyst for the department of defense. I continued my research and learning about international policies and economic history, but felt an urge to return to my passion for teaching - and in particular working with young people.
After taking students on community-service projects in Guatemala, Honduras Costa Rica and teaching in schools in Ghana, Ecuador, Peru and Belgium, I decided to take all of my insights about learning - and in particular how our beliefs about ourselves affect our learning and behavior - into graduate studies.
I chose NYU in order to dive into neuroscience, particularly neuroplasticity, and the study of fear and affective states. There, I worked with a postdoctoral fellow, Lasana Harris, on studies on stereotype content, disgust, moral decision-making and neuroeconomics. My thesis was on Factors Influencing Empathy, and looked at emotion recognition, mirror neurons and sensory-motor frameworks. I was also mentored by Dr. Zoran Josipovic, whose work on mindfulness and meditation inspired me to spend several months at various monasteries and learn from teachers from India and Vietnam.
After that, I decided to take all of this into my work as a school counselor, and started presenting 'brain workshops' to students, parents and teachers. Demand grew and I continued to research and expand the industries I was learning from.
I now live in Chicago and offer workshops to education departments, schools and organizations throughout the US and worldwide.