Year 1 of my PhD, in Gifs

My blog game has been weak this year. Between leaving one job and starting school, and writing hundreds of pages in assignments, work on anything other than coursework was a daunting task. Still, the story of my year deserves to be shared.

Last August I started my PhD journey. I felt good. I felt prepared. I felt ready.

But my pretentious bubble was soon popped, and three weeks into the first semester I realized I wasn’t actually as ready as I had promised myself.

By my third month, I had written two unsent letters to my advisor, swearing she made a mistake by admitting me into the program.


I compared myself to everyone around me, and highlighted all the ways in which I wasn’t good enough. The intimidation factor was no joke. Many of the people in my classes and program were true superstars, brilliant and incredibly talented.

Up to that point, I thought I had a pretty good head on my shoulders. I thought I could take the challenge, the feedback, and the constant trial and error. I thought I knew it all.

I was concerned with everyone around me. The comparison trap was real.

Then my body started to give up on me.

I cried many times that first semester. I was unstable.

And then I learned that I didn’t know it all.

…and how to be quiet, sit still, and just listen – this came from teachers and classmates. Friends and colleagues paused me, told me to know how and when I take up space, and to just be still (quiet!). Those friends pushed me to be a better listener, which in turn made me a better student – specifically a better PhD student.

But this learning took time. And still, there were days when I struggled.

…and days when I really struggled.

But I owned that struggle, and used it to propel me into more confident days.

And then my angel of an advisor gave me really good feedback on a final paper, feedback that helped me realize how to be a better student and writer.

She validated and affirmed, and left me thankful that I never sent those letters of resignation.

And so, I leaned fully into winter break, and cleared my brain and heart for the next semester. I vowed to read and write differently, to study harder, and to be more committed in ways I just wasn’t during the fall semester. I fully embraced my identity as a full-time PhD student, and found pride in the things I could do and learn.

And I started to address the demons inside me that were telling me I wasn’t worthy.

And I sent them away. I demanded them away.

And I started making small changes that went a long way.

Stuff started to make sense. I was remembering things from my masters program. I was remembering and applying learning from the fall to the spring. By February, I finally felt confident (a tad, at least) for the first time during this entire year.

And I had made some really good friends, people who were in the same boat as me.

We collaborated on projects, pushed each other, and took risks to receive rewards. We started the process of becoming experts on our research topics. We shined.

And we built a tradition of cheering for each other, through the good and the bad.

As May neared, and final projects took over, I found myself excited, not scared like I had been in the fall. I knew I could do it. I finally believed in myself.

And before I knew it, all my papers were turned in, and I had successfully completed one year of PhD work. I did it. Despite the long road, I did it.

All is well…

…until classes resume in August, of course.

*gifs all found on GIPHY

Oxygen Mask Warrior

In education, it’s easy to pause and ask the daunting question, “What will they do without me?”

In fact, if you work in any student services or client-based field, this question has probably crossed your mind at least once in your career (and for some, once, per week). I certainly had this moment as I prepared to leave my previous posting in higher education, and covered it some in the piece, “The Educator Curse.”

I recently visited with one of my closest friends, who is currently torn between a huge possible job opportunity versus staying in his current position. Mixed within the layers of, “What if,” the aforementioned question, “What will they do without me,” was certainly alive and well throughout our conversation. And this was, however, a bit surprising to me. Up until this moment, I had always viewed this particular friend as an oxygen-mask warrior.

safety_oxygen_maskYes, you read that right: Oxygen Mask Warrior

I’m talking about making you your #1. I’m talking about securing your own oxygen mask before assisting others. I’m talking about making yourself matter.

This specific friend has always been one of the few people in my life to argue, “Michael, take care of you first,” and in the most, if-you-can’t-love-yourself-how-in-the-hell-are-you-going-to-love-somebody-else, kind of way. Furthermore, he has modeled the way in doing this, living as an example to me in all of his actions. But life happens, and sometimes we forget how capable and unique and talented and worthy we are.

And, all of this leads me to the question, Is your oxygen mask secure? 

Amidst the busy weeks, crazy hours, long nights, and unpredictable life moments, are you an Oxygen Mask Warrior? Are you kind to yourself?

So much of my move to Washington, D.C. is dripping in personal and professional selfishness, and in the best of ways, I have fully embraced this new reality. I’m excited about this. And, in fact, I’m thrilled about it. The only way upward is onward. Secure away, life warriors.

Taking care of me,


Happy 1-Year Anniversary!


First off, please allow me to laugh out loud at anyone who thinks I’m referencing a relationship in the title of today’s post. I’m clearly still single, though mostly just excited that I surpassed any nay-say’ers who didn’t think I would stick with blogging for more than a few months. In fact, I’ve now been blogging longer than any relationship I’ve ever had. How’s that for (#)perspective? Nevertheless, Happy Blog-iversary, to me!

And in all seriousness, thank you to all those who have entered my world, and shared, liked, favorited, and commented on my posts this past year. It has been a true joy to share myself with each of you (including random strangers), and I am so excited about the year of sharing which exists ahead.

As I reflect on this past year, and specifically the 148 posts I have published to this blog, I want to take a minute to share a few pieces which have resonated with me most while writing and exploring. Please see my self-prescribed Top 10, as follows:

10. Defining, ‘living.’

9. Hi. I’m Michael, and I survived my high school reunion. 

8. Let us all be more like Cole.

7. Things are simple. People are not.

6. God bless fashion, leadership, reflection.

5. I am more.

4. I’m moving to Wyoming. 

3. Come “out,” come “out,” wherever you “are.”

2. My high school was, “pretty black.”

1. There will be times…

Additionally, and as many of you know, music plays a huge role in my life. And while I reflect on the previously cited posts, I encourage you to observe the following playlist of my, “Top 10 Songs Which Gave Me Life This Year:” That list lives as follows:

10. “Hero,” Family of the Year

9. “Explosions,” Ellie Goulding

8. “Story of My Life,” One Direction

7 “Shake it Off,” Taylor Swift

6. “Coffee Cups,” Langhorne Slim & The Law

5. “Sissy That Walk,” RuPaul

4. “Wanderer Wandering,” Slow Club

3. “Free,” Rudimental (Feat. Emili Sande)

2. “I Lived,” OneRepublic

1. “Pompeii,” Bastille

Words escape me as we enter 2015.

And, of course, that won’t last long.

Here’s to more content that matters, storytelling with impact, and inspiration as a result of self-reflection…



IMG_9734PS – Bonus “fave post” from this year: I broke the hammock. Happy holidays, y’all!