The Defining Moment

Sarah Thomas, PhD
Published in
8 min readDec 6, 2020


Today, I got a little reflective on social media after watching a few episodes of Breaking Bad (second time around) and analyzing the exact moment Walter broke bad. In my opinion, it was in Season 1, when he blew up Tuco’s office. That episode, he also shaved his head and named himself Heisenberg. It was a pretty big episode, but he broke bad here IMO because the maniacal laugh at the end showed the audience that he had really embraced his inner villain. Blowing up Tuco’s office was not so much about the money as it was about revenge and fully embracing his alterego. He was free to let what he had always repressed run wild.

Walt didn’t break bad in the fact that he decided to be a criminal. In the beginning, his intentions were noble, although his method was flawed. Even killing two people early on (spoilers, sorry) was forgivable because he acted largely in self-defense and had a crisis of conscience about doing what he had to do. He didn’t fully break bad until he crossed over into Darth Vader territory and started falling in love with being ruthless. Yeah clearly I have been overthinking this.

A friend of mine commented on my Facebook post about my analysis. He brought up the topic of implications of “breaking bad” in the real world. It might not be as far fetched as the TV show, but we all have these micro moments, where we have the choice to decide something that can dictate our paths in life. Through conversation with him, I wondered if the path to breaking bad might begin with taking a shortcut that compromises your values when you know better.

This got me to thinking. When have I had Breaking Bad decision moments in my own life and career?

One that I could think of occurred during ISTE 2014. I had been meeting people from my PLN offline since October the year before, but this was the first time that so many were in one place at once.

I vaguely remember having conversation with a good friend, perhaps a few weeks prior to ISTE at another event we were both doing. At this point, I had just started on the circuit. She was a vet and took me under her wing. A lot of what she told me stuck even to this day, but in hindsight I misinterpreted one part where she told me about the importance of a good profile picture to get speaking gigs (I probably had a cartoon up at the time). In my Sarah way, I did the absolute most and put up what I thought was my best picture, a Glamor Shot I had taken about a year prior.

Nice pic, yes…looks like me? Not 99.999% of the time. Listen, I grew up in the era of TLC and Aaliyah. I clean up nice but more often than not, you will find me in some jeans or sweats and a hoodie or a t-shirt and a coat. I dress it up when I feel like it, and am equally as comfortable doing so, but that picture isn’t me. It is, but not. Make sense? I guess in a way, I was unintentionally catfishing the educational community lololol.

And someone actually seemed to get offended when I showed up to a small friendly group dinner the first night after a full day of the conference. I was wearing comfortable clothing, probably a t-shirt and jeans and sneakers. This person, a fellow dinner guest, a stranger I barely knew, said in front of everyone with a tone of condescension, “you look nothing like I thought you would.”

These were the first words this person decided to say to me. Interesting choice. Then I noticed a few days later the person had unfollowed me.

This actually tickles me to a degree, although six years later, I am still somewhat pissed off. But I am glad that the person self-selected out of my circle because I would rather not be associated with people like that. It’s sad; I’ve had conversations with other friends who have also experienced this kind of treatment from fellow women in our field.

Shortly thereafter, perhaps even the next night, I had signed up to go to a fancy event (not affiliated with the conference) that had a ticket price that was slightly out of my comfort range at the time. However I opted to go because I thought it would be a good networking opportunity, and even more because I saw the guest list a few months beforehand and noticed that someone in my PLN I really wanted to meet had RSVPed. (Spoiler alert: the person didn’t come lol, but it was cool because we met at an earlier conference event, and also ended up connecting the next day at Edtech Karaoke.)

Still sore from the insult of the previous night, I made it a point to dress it up for this evening. I changed into heels and a nice dress in a cramped bathroom stall in the convention center, right before taking an Uber over with a friend who was headed to an event in that same area (although not the same event).

When I got there, I found that I had been pre-assigned a seat at a table with people I didn’t know. I had other friends in attendance whom I also wanted to meet, but I was assigned to this particular table. It was good conversation after I got over my initial shyness and even made a new friend at the end of the evening when the organizers invited everyone to mingle for the last few minutes.

Prior to the event, I was in a Voxer group with some acquaintances who were loosely affiliated with it. I didn’t know anyone well except my aforementioned friend who had served as a de facto mentor (she had added me to it), and honestly can’t remember who else was in it. I think it was my first Voxer group.

The morning after, someone asked how the event had gone. I responded that I had a good time but would have enjoyed being able to select my seat. I was met with a stony, “interesting,” and then radio silence. The once-chatty group felt like it came to a grinding halt for several hours. The awkwardness was too much for me to take, so I saw myself out.

Immediately following this, I had a mini-meltdown in the hotel. BTW, my ISTE meltdown has become a near-annual event, which you probably know if you have skimmed through my previous posts (2018 was the worst). At this moment, I started to spiral and have all kinds of racing thoughts.

  • Did I blow it? Am I done now?
  • Maybe I shouldn’t critique stuff.
  • Why am I having these experiences? Is something wrong with me?
  • Maybe I should change, like I did when I reinvented myself in college.
  • All heels all the time from now on.
  • Should I start straightening my hair again? Maybe they’ll accept me then. (Note: I went natural again at 30, and was 32 when this occurred. It is an individual choice, and to each her own. This can and should be a blog post all by itself, as it is very nuanced.)
  • I don’t want to go back out there. Why am I even here?
  • I can’t be seen without makeup.

…and much more.

The elephant in the room here is that I am a Black woman in what was and still is a predominantly White space (US edu-Twitterverse). In my bones, I knew I was at a crossroads, and that this was a critical moment. Most of these questions were basically Me asking Me if I should tone down my Blackness and/or play into patriarchy and sexism to make other people feel more comfortable and therefore more likely to accept me.

This was my edtech Breaking Bad decision moment.

I sat. I cried. I thought. I think I reflected for about three or four hours that morning, missing most of the conference sessions. I came to the conclusion that there were two main possibilities:

  • I could assimilate, a coping mechanism I had become very familiar with as a Black honors student in a non-representative track in middle and high school. My family had taught me better, but I had occasionally caved into this behavior just to make things easier on myself as a student. Was it worth doing again now? (Pros: potentially faster path to “success” with less friction from the masses; cons: I’d be selling out, essentially playing a role. Also presumably I would have to stay silent on many things that mattered to me.)
  • I could be myself. Nothing more, nothing less. If I felt like wearing my “hat to the back…pants down real low” (Lol TLC lyric, metaphorically speaking) then so be it. If I wanted to wear heels and a nice dress, cool. I could wear my hair however I want: in braids, slicked back with an Afro puff (my default), or straightened, depending on whatever I felt like doing. I could speak my mind and say whatever I want, when I want, or even choose to stay silent when I felt that was the best option. (Pros: being able to look at myself in the mirror; cons: people may not like it, continued friction in the form of implicit and explicit bias, I may not find “success” at all).

I came to a decision that I do not regret for a minute. Notice that I put “success” in quotes. Everyone’s definition of success is different, and I realized that I’d never find real success in my eyes if I chose the path of external least resistance. That day, the last question I remember asking myself is, “what good is money and prestige if it’s based on a lie?” I decided my self-respect was worth way more, got myself together, and headed back to the conference with my head held high.

I enjoyed the rest of my conference experience and had a blast that night at karaoke. Six years later and I feel like I have been blessed to have a strong PLN who like me for me, and vice versa. I love these people (including many of you who are reading this), and they have helped me to learn and grow throughout the years. This is the type of change I embrace.

Regarding my choice not to break bad…I was pleasantly surprised at the results.

Have I made some mistakes over the years? Absolutely. We all do as human beings. There are some things I would do over differently if I could. But these are lessons that have helped to make me stronger, and will help me make better decisions in future situations, ones I can actually be proud of. Thanks for reading this late night rant. I might go back and edit in the morning, or not.



Sarah Thomas, PhD
Editor for

Educator/Regional Tech Coordinator. Passionate about using social media to connect w/ educators around the world. We all have a story. What's yours? #EduMatch