“Incompletes are time bombs ticking away at our joy.”
Do you have “unfinished business” blocking your path, in business, in relationships or in life? What is that one thing you need to complete, forgive or handle, in order to move forward and become your most empowered self? My own blockade to fulfillment was staring me squarely in the face, yet I had no idea what it was really costing me.
Early in my career, I was abruptly asked to leave the boardroom across the hall from my office. Bewildered and concerned, I impatiently sat behind my desk, feeling very small and anxious when my boss marched in and quickly closed the door behind him. This massive six-foot five man, hovered there glaring down at me with a look of disappointment that I will never forget. “I hope you didn’t just make a liar out of me”, he said. I laughed nervously, as a 24 year-old-school girl might do and politely with trepidation replied, “Well what did you say?” The words tumbled out of his mouth with his own disbelief. “While completing their due diligence for investment into our company, the venture capitalists discovered and informed me that YOU, YOU have not gotten your college degree.” I was very still. “YOU HAVE, HAVEN’T YOU?”, he was interrogating me, as if to will it to be true. I couldn’t speak, so I began to shake my head back and forth, first right, then left, repeatedly and clearly signaling no. He then proclaimed, “WELL, THEN YOU WILL, WON’T YOU!” There was no question about the intention of his demand, and I completely understood as my head automatically began to move up and down, emphatically knowing that at that moment, my dirty little secret was out.
…it hung over my head like a nagging itch that just never went away.
It was the kind of secret that undermines one’s complete confidence and self-worth. And, the kind of secret that robs you of achieving real joy while interrupting your future and holding you hostage. I had one of those secrets. I was “technically” a college drop out. Yes, it’s true. In 1985, I left the University of Florida one credit short of receiving my bachelor’s degree. I had repeatedly rationalized that it was really no big deal, but in truth, it hung over my head like a nagging itch that just never went away.
Prior to this jolting encounter in my office, I had found a way to pretend that this gaping hole of accomplishment wasn’t really that important. I had reduced it down to semantics. When someone would ask, “When did you graduate?” I danced around the truth and said June 1985. But for me, there was no parchment, no degree, and no walking ceremony to applaud my heroic four plus year efforts. I simply left college missing one credit, completely ashamed of my failure, and robbing myself of the long awaited and well fought pinnacle of accomplishment that should have been mine.
There were a number of personal circumstances that led to my unfinished college departure. At the end of my senior year, I made a conscious decision to move out of my apartment and head home to escape an unhealthy and dangerous roommate situation. I truly believed that I had the 120 requisite credits to graduate. It was only later upon examination at home that I discovered I had only earned 119. The story of the one elusive credit dates back to my sophomore year when I took the opportunity to study abroad in Innsbruck Austria. I had enrolled in an art history class and was certain that the European setting and culture would be the perfect backdrop for my deep dive into the world of art history. I was wrong. Despite the effort I put into my professor’s class, my grade was never better than a C. I felt that she was prejudiced against me for some reason and that I was not going to be treated fairly. In protest, my twenty-something, defiant “I’ll show her” self, dropped her three-credit class after the drop-add period ultimately leaving me one credit short of the necessary graduation requirements years later. First note to my 20-year-old self, don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. In hind sight, I should have just tried harder to prove her wrong. Instead, I gave in to my emotion and irrational whimsy not fully understanding the future consequences.
It was a heavy constant burden that was like an open wound…
No one really knew that I had left school feeling unaccomplished and incomplete. It was a heavy constant burden that was like an open wound, lying just below the surface of my skin, festering at the mere mention of the word education or graduation. Still I remained silent, not realizing the true cost to my overall wellbeing. I got so busy at work, that I didn’t have time to go back and finish. From time to time, I almost forgot about the missing credit and was able to move forward, until that morning, when the investors disclosed to my CEO that I had been telling a lie. Second note to my 20-year-old self…there is no such thing as a secret you can keep forever, and even if you work for yourself, you are always accountable to someone else.
Once my big untruth was unearthed, the plan to earn my last credit and to graduate college was set in motion and I registered to take a correspondence course to complete it. As a result, they agreed to invest. In 1988, a year after the company started and three years after leaving college, my Bachelor of Science degree in Telecommunications finally arrived in the mail. Coincidentally, it arrived on the very day that we were having a celebratory event commemorating the infusion of the first round of financing. It was a momentous day for the healthy financial start of the company, but more important, it was a long awaited and necessary rebirth for me. Without the degree, I was viewed by others as weak and as someone who could not finish what she started, and I viewed myself as a quitter who let a youthful, emotional reaction trump reason and grit. Finally completing my degree meant just the opposite. I was now someone who steamrolled over that incomplete and was now officially equipped to dream big and to make things happen. “Sometimes failure is our greatest teacher and tenacity our biggest coach.”
…once we clean up the inauthentic and the incompletes in our lives, we can create room for truth, possibility and greatness.
Unbeknownst to me then, was that the “uncovering the truth would set me free and ultimately allow me to start to live more authentically and to grow in immeasurable ways.” Shortly after receiving my BS in Telecommunications in 1988 in the mail, I went on to enroll in an executive MBA program at University of South Florida while working full time. I was the youngest person to ever have been admitted to the program, and I had something to prove. After 18 months of Saturday classes, I earned my EMBA, and was asked to join the USF Business School faculty as a visiting professor in residence and guest lecturer mentoring young hopeful entrepreneurs about how to pave their own paths to success. Neither of these opportunities and foundational steps in my career, would have been possible without having finished that incomplete, that was keeping me from becoming my best self. From my own experience, I have learned that once we clean up the inauthentic and the incompletes in our lives, we can create room for truth, possibility and greatness.
So just ask yourself, is there anything holding you back from your most achievable moments? What obstacle or incomplete is standing in your way to greatness? Perhaps it’s time to update that old resume for your dream job. You may decide to attend that long awaited class or to acquire a new skill set to pursue a new career. Maybe you will decide to tackle a long-ignored health issue that is holding you back or commit to a fitness and nutrition program towards your healthiest self. Perhaps you begin the process of forgiveness in a difficult personal or family relationship, or that you finally decide to take the steps necessary to regain your personal power. It starts with a decision to do so, followed by the first step in that direction. I know you can take action as I did to tackle the incompletes in your life and watch the magic unfold.
Several years later in 1993, I was honored to have been awarded the USF Entrepreneur of the Year, followed by the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for the State of Florida in 1997 for the startup and early success of my telecommunications company, Intermedia Communications. (ICIX- Nasdaq). Intermedia grew to become a wall street darling and was recognized as a driving force in the creation of the competitive local phone company market over the next 15 years.