Ten years ago this fall, I took care of some unfinished business. That “business” started in 1979. It took me 24 years to wrap it up.
It was late August 1979. We had just gotten married. Cristi and I were both enrolled at Ricks College in Idaho. I was a recently returned missionary, ready to take on the world. Part of that world that I was taking on was Math 110 or college algebra. I always enjoyed math and got good grades in it, but it was not my easiest subject. I often could not get the answers to my questions about “Why?” Math facts were just math facts. I never liked that, and I still don’t. There is a human side to math. That’s what was missing for me.
Anyway, while taking Math 110 at Ricks that fall, I took occasion to visit the office of my math teacher. I don’t remember his name. I remember that he was bespectacled and impatient. I brought my questions to him, and his impatience with me or my questions led me to a quick resolve to drop the class, which I did with some malice.
I never had to take a math class again. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English four years later from BYU in Provo, but that experience at Ricks bothered me. Here’s why.
I let someone’s impatience define my opinion of myself. I felt stupid, like Dopey Dumb-Dumb. But of course I wasn’t dumb. The question was, nevertheless, unresolved. This became my unfinished business.
Flash forward to late summer 2003. We had just moved to Utah. I signed up a night class at BYU that fall. Math 110. Two decades later, I wanted to finish my unfinished business. I knew I had to do it.
The teacher was from Scotland and had the most wonderful accent. She answered, as best as she could, my questions of “Why?” I was the oldest person in the class. I got poor grades on several tests, but I nailed the final and got an A- for the semester. Business finished.
Flash back to 1986. I was in a master’s degree program at BYU. I didn’t finish it. More unfinished business. Hold onto that thought.
My darling wife has returned to “Ricks” (now BYU–Idaho) to finish her degree. Back in our day, Ricks only offered two-year degrees. Now they offer four-year degrees, plus online degrees. She is enrolled in an online program that will allow her to finish her schooling and get a bachelor’s degree, some 35 years after starting.
I can’t wait for that moment—seeing her in her cap and gown on graduation day. I am going to be screaming my head off. My goal is to embarrass the whole family. “Daddy, stop it!” “Grampa, you are nuts!” That’s what I want to hear.
On Tuesday evening, I’m going to go to an information meeting about an executive MBA program. I am interested in several programs, actually. I am figuring out what will work now. Why? You don’t have that many years left in your career, you say. I know I am and will be much happier, much better off, when I finish my unfinished business.
Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for not doing everything just right when you were young. Cut yourself some slack. You can do this. You can do anything when you have faith, when you are fixedly determined. This is your life to figure out. It doesn’t belong to anyone else.
No one else can write your life story. Don’t let anyone “ghostwrite” that story for you.
You get to write your own “novel” and pick your favorite characters and ending, the one where the guy gets the girl—or the girl gets the guy—and the degree, and the dream career, and the book deal, and the ranch, and the indoor swimming pool, and a close-knit, loving family, and peace of mind, and true joy. Don’t give the opportunity away.