Lessons in Higher Learning

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Lessons in Higher Learning

In 1979 Jimmy Carter was the president, Sony introduced the ‘walkman’ and with only a few semesters to go I dropped out of college. I’m not really sure why. I never gave it much thought. That is, till now. Dropping out was just ‘what I did, no big deal…end of story.’

But on an emotional and psychological level, dropping out of school, was not the ‘end of the story.’  There was an underlying feeling of anxiety and shame over my ‘failure’ to finish college.

What if someone were to ask,  “So, where did you go to college?” “Well uh,” feeling the anxiety and shame welling up, “I went to the University of Maryland” hoping that would be the end of it. “So, what was your major?” “Social work and philosophy with a minor in dance, seems they needed guys, ones willing to wear tights, seemed like a good way to meet girls,” hoping my joking about reasons for course selection would change the subject.

For me, college was more like super high school; I would be out of the house, away at school and independent, as long as my parents would pay for it! Getting a ‘higher education’ really was much more about the ‘getting high’ part and less about the education.

While I could not have really understood this at the time I was ‘learning’ how to deal with feelings and shame; bury them or pretend they don’t exist! Can you relate?

So, after dropping out I began what was to become a ‘very successful’ career in the restaurant business. I went to work as a waiter at a Jewish delicatessen. Now there’s a real education!  It takes real fortitude and stamina to serve corned beef and tongue sandwiches to elderly Jews on a fixed income. Frustrated that I could never do enough to make them happy, I’d often ask my customers, “Is anything okay?”

Several restaurants and so many years later I ‘worked my way through life;’ painting houses and selling everything from health club memberships to insurance, even dabbling in stand-up comedy. Somehow or other  this background of experience has helped me to build a successful business public speaking; leading and producing motivational talks and workshops.   The feedback over the years has been really positive. I am so thankful that I am able to work at something that contributes to others and that I truly enjoy.

Interestingly enough, I was recently contracted to present a motivational program for the student affairs department of a local state college. Now, in preparation for my initial meeting and needs assessment with several of the managers and staff, I felt that familiar uneasiness I mentioned earlier, the uncomfortable association with college and quitting, with shame and failure.

Now I would be literally back on campus, working with student affairs counselors- whose key role it is to make sure undergraduates get the support and guidance they need in order to graduate. How ironic!

As I’ve already mentioned, my learned response to dealing with anxiety and shame is to hide it, at all costs! I got so good at hiding my feelings I didn’t even know I was doing it; like air to the bird, and water to the fish.

Only this time would be different.  Now I have the support and tools needed to deal with those difficult feelings of anxiety and shame, release them and move on.

Let me explain. I place high value on programs that help us to grow and become more self aware.  As such, I work with a group in which we practice self awareness by ‘checking- in.’ That is, we  get quiet and try to  connect directly to our ‘feeling state’, becoming  more relaxed, focused and intuitive in the process. We have a regular morning check-in call in which we  support one another regarding not only our goals and commitments for the day, but more importantly, the underlying feelings (especially the negative ones) around them. We speak openly and authentically, in a spirit of support, without fear of judgment.

Moreover, we understand that in our habit of  ‘getting to it’—the  to-do list, the meeting, the whatever -– we tend either ignore or simply pay no attention to the anxieties that so often make us miserable and ineffective.  So instead of doing that, we use our ‘check in’ call to support each other to acknowledge our feelings and return to a sense of well being, of wholeness.  What a great way to start the day!

With the support of my check in buddies, I was able to share openly about the shame I was feeling before going into my meeting with the college managers and staff.  As a result of this conversation I was released from the need to hide my feelings and  I was no longer dominated by them. Now I could be myself, more relaxed and in a much better position to determine their true needs.

As it turns out, the college counselors and staff were in need of  tools and resources to help them be more relaxed, focused and productive. Right up my alley! While I was busy taking my notes I was moved to share my experience about dropping out, and my feelings about going back to college. It didn’t take long for one of the counselors to ‘make me an offer I couldn’t refuse.’ “Why not complete your education here, let’s talk about it!”

Well, as of this writing I’m seriously considering going back to school and earning an undergraduate degree. I’m excited about this prospect, about bringing all of myself to it, free from shame and free to learn. While it’s been over 30 years since I’ve sat in a classroom, my commitment to personal growth has certainly taken hold and continues to grow, fueling  my desire for even greater self awareness. Along the way I have learned many important tools and practices for overcoming self defeating behaviors, fears and needless shame – important education for living, no degree required!


More Tools & Resources

Need some support, tools, or resources for overcoming anxiety and self defeating behaviors? We have some! Click here to learn more about the check in support groups and other resources for increasing  self awareness, relaxation, and productivity.



  1. Very insightful!

  2. Do it! Maybe online is the way to go.

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