Empowerment Series: Latina-Comedian featured in HBO Special, a Keynote and TedX Speaker, STEM, Former Rocket Scientist with NASA – Shayla Rivera Shares Her ABC’s with AW
My first sighting of the energetic Puerto Rican powerhouse came during a week when inspiration had fallen short. In an interview with Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush on the NBC Today Show, Shayla Rivera shared some of the journey to a drastic career switch. The bold move to leave her job as Rocket Scientist at NASA and pursue a path as comedian may sound crazy to some but I loved it so much that I tracked her down to find out more about her!
We often default to a setting or type, unknowingly, getting comfortable with a sort of pigeonholing. Once we are in a specific role at home, work or relationship it can be difficult to break out of it. Limitations set by others or ourselves can force us into a box but truth is that we have a choice. You can be whatever you want, as long as you believe that anything is possible. If you are willing to do the work and take some risks, amazing things can happen!
Shayla had plenty of labels, in addition to Aerospace Engineer. She has been in the role of salesperson, corporate trainer, motivational speaker, actor, writer, television/radio host, and Professor of Practice at The College of Engineering at Texas A&M University, just to name a few. The dynamic Latina is many things but she is also a mother and renaissance woman. The decision to dedicate energy to other areas of interest gave her the opportunity to step outside a comfort zone into greatness. It is an inspiring story that fueled new life into my own world of unlimited possibilities.
I am guilty of reading the same manuscript, as many of you. Playing a character that forces me into following rules set by others, maintaining a pattern of life that resembles the mainstream. At times, it’s made me incredulous to the idea that I can do anything. Shayla’s story reinforces the importance of living a life of continued awareness to encourage personal happiness. During our conversation, my goal was to discuss the transition, lessons, meaning of comedy, and enlightenment in her life. I’m hopeful that reading this interview will empower you to be daring because it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.
You studied Aerospace Engineering and became a Rocket Scientist for NASA, quite the accomplishment! The decision to shift careers and move into a completely different space as a Comedian and Motivational Speaker is amazing. I believe many of us fear change, specifically major life changes. What was your “A-Ha!” moment? What did life look like when you made this move and what did you learn about yourself during the transition? I was born in Puerto Rico, always had a love for human behavior and fixing things. I was attracted to finding out “what made people tick.” My parents made sure that I knew college was not an option, it was a must. I attended Texas A&M then worked for NASA for 5 years but the passion for psychology never left me. I enjoyed building relationships, consistently wanting to learn about people. After leaving NASA, I worked in the technical sales of water treatment chemicals and environmental systems. My favorite part of the job was connecting with others and wanted to do more of it. It became increasingly clear there was more to explore which me led to work as a corporate trainer. I helped executives change their lives by learning to manage their stress. Life took off, my sense of humor bloomed during my motivational speeches. I found the thing that stood out for me – bringing laughs, making others feel good. At the suggestions of others, I joined a weekend at a stand-up comedy seminar which turned out to be the pivot. Humor became part of my journey from that moment on. I can’t stress enough the importance of paying attention to what motivates or inspires you. Don’t be afraid to find that thing that drives you.
The idea of not resisting chaos instead dancing and living in it, is something you discuss repeatedly. You say that we should thrive and look to change our outlook on life’s chaos. You have quoted Dr. Quantum, Fred Alan Wolf, “We live dancing on the edge of chaos.” In the current reality we are living, normalcy has gone out the window. How can we pivot in our own lives to flourish during this time of confusion and uncertainty? “Dancing on the edge of chaos” we are always living in chaos. Divorce, death, unemployment, heartbreak or any loss – chaos is constantly there but think of the infinite possibilities behind circumstance. “Don’t let life happen to you – let it happen for you! The words you say to yourself make the difference. If you are not aware of your limiting beliefs, practice mindfulness. Use the awareness to fight for yourself by rewiring your brain. Be who you are and check those negative emotions at the door. Humanity, compassion, empathy and generosity – let them back into your life. It all starts with you.
During difficult times in my life, I have found that humor is healing, as is music. How did comedy change your life? What practices have you found to be key when overcoming personal hardship? By nature, Latinas are gregarious, relaxed, we enjoy joking around and form connections around it. Laughter prevails – it heals, provides relief and is in our DNA. It isn’t hard to find humor when the pain or stress kicks in, it’s a choice that has to be made. Taking deep breaths brings me back each time, I want to “bring God in the room.” It tells me it’s okay, I’m okay, I am going to laugh then lighten up. Enlightenment is received, as laughter sounds the same in every language. We are dancing on the edge of chaos but when we laugh, we communicate and feel better. I’ve felt this way, as long as I can remember.
I went through a divorce, it forced me to figure out who I was and ask myself what I wanted. It has been an ongoing process, I never stop learning and growing. Awakened-Woman was born from this transformation. Life unfolds with more ease after you learn “ABC: Awareness Begins Change.” Can you share a little about the moments that led up to this enlightenment? You can’t change something that you don’t know you are doing! We walk around with baggage completely unaware of the effects it has on our existence. Having self-awareness is key to understanding what makes you tick, the most important work you may ever do. Pay attention to your pain and take deep breaths. Ask yourself the questions and be honest, as to why are you feeling this way? Surrender, accept and allow it to flow through you.
You best describe yourself as a renaissance woman, labeling yourself as spiritually (irreverent), an impolite mystic, and awareness expert. Can you elaborate on what this means to you? I will continue to reinvent myself as many times, as needed. There is no one thing I have to be, I’m open to definition. Have the confidence to be yourself. Fuel your inner power, spirit and goodness to transform into who you are meant to be. Perception, from how you see yourself to situations that arise are essential to your evolution, so manage your perspective. I embrace the process and encourage you to do the same.
I like to end interviews with a positive quote or mantra that has helped during a difficult time. Can you share with readers some of your own inspiration? “Awareness begins change” Remember – you are the one in charge. You have all the power, execute it by getting a handle on your perspective. Awareness is the gift left behind by chaos.
Shayla has the right idea, she is using the power of her life story, inspiration and awareness to create the life she is destined for. Her sheer determination to live life outside the box and refuse the labels placed on her by society is true incentive.
Looking back at the life I have lived so far, can’t help to think where I’d be if I had taken some chances. Countless thoughts about what people may say or fear of falling flat on my face talked me out of trying something different. Living outside of fear and daring myself has been scary, as it challenges me to level up but it’s the only place I want to be these days.
The journey to becoming the best self cannot evolve without including self-awareness. We can only change what we know is not working. The things that demand our attention are not always within sight, therefore, digging deep to the core is the way to find our truths. Do not ignore life’s questions, trust the process and put in the work to ensure the foundation for a happier you is established.
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