Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The PhDecision: 8 Important Questions I Asked Before Going Back to School

This week, NBA players including Lebron James, Paul George, and Boogie Cousins made franchise altering decisions on the teams they would join. Recently I made a major decision about my own future and enrolled in a PhD program at North Carolina State University. Although my choice may not have the reach of theirs (sadly, there's no Cole Haan shoe deal for doc students), it certainly came with it’s own set of lifestyle consequences, family considerations, and salary cap implications. I wanted to share some of my reasoning and anxieties about going back to school in the hopes it may help someone else who is considering where they might take their talents.

Should I go back to school? While this feels like the most obvious quandary, it is really a Russian doll (pictured), a big question full of little questions. This is NOT the most important question.
In making this decision, it is crucial to make a distinction between learning and formal education. Learning is a lifelong enterprise. Learning comes with being a disciple and a student. I always want to be learning, questioning, examining the world around me. However, there are training programs, apprenticeships, volunteer opportunities, and even YouTube, where one can learn without oppressive financial and emotional debt. Formal education is not an altruistic endeavor or just for fun. Formal education is big business and at an average cost of between $11,000-$50,000+/year, it is a business decision. So I had to ask myself the little, big questions:

    1.   Does this degree give me the credentials, knowledge, or expertise to excel in my desired field?
    2.   Is this degree going to pay for itself - either by being free, reduced, or raising my earning potential to comfortably cover any incurred debt?

I was able to answer these satisfactorily but the booming, distracting question still remained - Should I go back to school? After reminding myself that this was NOT the real question (and becoming bleary-eyed staring at tuition tables), I remembered Howard McClusky's theory. In 1959, McClusky revealed his Power Load Margin theory which says, in sum, adults have to measure their own load (demands placed on them) and power (factors that they have to sustain the load) when deciding what educational goals they can manage. This theory lifted another set of questions for consideration:

    3.   Do I have the emotional, spiritual, physical support I need to complete this program?
    4.   Should I consider part time, full time, or distance learning?
    5.   Are there people around me who will keep me accountable and give me relief?
    6.   Are there things in my life I can reduce so my load is more manageable?
    7.   Does this program/school have a reputation for helping students manage their load?
Empowered with these practical answers, I was almost ready to apply. I am blessed to have a strong support system and as unpredictable as life is, I thought this may be the ideal time to do this degree. Yet, something was still gnawing at my spirit. Another existential, personal, and private question continued to whisper to me. When I sat quiet long enough, I heard it:

    8.   Does this degree define me?
I would be lying to say there is no ego involved in pursuing a doctorate. I needed to examine this tendency in myself so I retreated on a personal jet to the Caribbean. No, that was Lebron. Instead, I talked with friends who had done doctoral work about their experiences. One told me she had seen some of the most brilliant, competent, incredible people she knew become insecure shells of themselves due to their doctoral work. Another, who completed her PhD after much duress stated she will never judge anyone who does not complete the process because of the soul damage it can inflict. Others stated various tales of hardship and success.

Their words were sobering and liberating. These were people I revered and they had often struggled, sometimes given up, and sometimes overcame. They helped me answer this last question definitively. Does this degree define me? Hell no. Like Lebron's decision to play for LA, I was great before I came and I will be great when I leave. I do not need a degree to validate my greatness (sometimes I think a degree can obscure it).

I hope this is helpful to all sitting with your own questions. There were other signs and stories in my decision, but answering these questions was critical. This degree is feasible and practically possible, but not definitive. Even if I don't go to college, I deserve to be on the court. Ah yeah, that's right. Give me my jersey and the ball. God be with me, I'm ready.


Thursday, May 10, 2018

My 6 Cents: Thoughts on 'This Is America' I Haven't Seen Anywhere Else

Donald Glover This is America

This week, Childish Gambino/Donald Glover gave us a cultural touchstone, the music video “This is America”. It has been viewed over 65 million times (update: as of 05/14/18, the song has over 109 million views and just became the number one song in America!). It depicts violence, joy, riots, dance, apathy, and much more. I believe the video is part of a deleted scene from Black Panther - it’s what Killmonger showed W'kabi to convince him to help him liberate black people. I’ve been scouring the web, reading and watching the various layers and perspectives. (The link will take you to a Google search for 'This Is America reviews'). That said, there were some thoughts that I didn't see so I’ll add my voice to the chorus. Below are six more insights I haven’t seen anywhere else.

1. Completely indoors - Some have reported that Americans are the first indoor species. According to one author, we live 93% of our existence indoors. In urban environments, this is even more pronounced, as people only go outside to travel from one building to the next.

Childish Gambino in 'This is America'

2. Absence of elderly people - Maybe they been forgotten, killed, because they cannot run, dance, or contribute to the building of the empire? There is no elder who can be a place of memory, perspective, or wisdom. This too, is America - ignoring our elders.

3. Emanuel 9 + 1 - The gospel choir has been compared to the nine Charleston AME murders. However, there is one extra person . This “+1” hearkens to the biblical story of the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3. When they were thrown in Jesus was with them. In America, the Black Jesus/spirituality is being shot at too.

This is America Donald Glover 4

4. Production value - Everyone who contributed to this deserves celebration; the cinematography, shot selection, choreography, historians, producers, and everyone in between. The music is crazy. When the track plays James Brown as the last adlib, the video reaches peak blackness for me. I audibly shouted during rewatches as the “Say it Loud” singer screams “Get down!” before Childish Gambino tosses his joint and 'gets down' in the tradition of Brown, Jackie Wilson, and Michael Jackson. Euphoric and cathartic. The hair styling of SZA as lady liberty, the training of the horse to run across the shot, the combination of artificial and natural light; this video can be appreciated as complex and excellent art.

5. Blackness as uncapturable - Outside of hitting that joint, Childish Gambino and the camera never stop moving. Blackness is always elusive, always running from the grasp of white rule (sometime so much that it is exhausting). It cannot be captured and is always exceeding its descriptions. To control/police blackness is to attempt to shackle the wind. Thank you Mother Maya.

6. Hazard lights on the cars - At the end of the video, the cars all have their hazard lights turned on. This video is a warning. Of what? One common read is that it’s a warning to not get distracted. That said, I wonder how this video can become a distraction from the work of freedom? I fear that if we spend too long analyzing, rather than using it as fuel, we can be recreating the sensation-chasing dynamic it warns us against. That said...

I'm outta here. Thanks Childish Gambino and all for this masterpiece. The work continues...