On Tuesday, I had a Zoom call with a long-term coaching client (we’ll call her “Andrea”). She’s a VP at a university and is in the final round of interviews for a president position at another university.

In two weeks, Andrea has the final on-campus interviews that will be for all the marbles. I could tell she was nervous, so I asked:

“What are you MOST nervous about?”

She responded, “That they’ll ask me about something that happened many, many years ago and it’ll be a huge red flag for them.”

What Andrea was referring to is the fact that she never finished her dissertation in graduate school. She was going through a lot emotionally (including a divorce) and it wasn’t a happy time in her life.

Even all these years later, you can tell she still carries a lot of shame and guilt from not finishing what she started.

My advice to Andrea?

OWN IT. 100%. Not finishing that dissertation can be your biggest advantage and most powerful differentiator.


Anytime I do a sales training, I talk about Psychographics, which is understanding, in depth, the attitudes, opinions and beliefs of your prospect or customer. In effect, this is what Andrea is doing – she’s selling herself to the university.

And what could be going through the minds of the university board members about the dissertation is, “Andrea didn’t finish something years ago…I wonder how that’s going to manifest itself if we make her our president?” They’re worried about history repeating itself.

Better to own it and address it up front.

“I didn’t finish my dissertation. Unfortunately, I was going through a very tough time in my life and it’s not a place I want to go back to. But HERE’S what I learned from it and THIS is why it would make me the perfect president for this university…”

And she really would be the perfect president. I’ll disclose that this interview isn’t to be the president of Harvard. It’s for a smaller school, with students of lower socioeconomic status, and having a president that has struggled makes her even more relatable to the types of students she’ll be leading.

Like Andrea, we all have moments we look back on–things we did or things we didn’t do–and we feel shame. Or guilt. Or regret.

All useless emotions that don’t serve us in our journey to Outperform.

We think these things are our largest liabilities. That they somehow make us inferior.

They don’t. They’re our greatest assets.

Keep Outperforming,