I lied about my degree to get a job. How to become clean?

I went to college for four years but did not graduate or graduate due to a mental health issue that was undiagnosed at the time. I’m not ashamed of that. But with all my graduate friends, I was nervous about getting a job without a degree. So I lied about getting one when I applied for my first professional job – which I got. The degree is still on my resume. I am very good at what I do. I have all the skills and abilities my employer wants, and I get great performance reviews. Do I possibly have to tell the truth, and if so, how?

QUALIFIED STALL

I’m sorry to hear that a mental health issue derailed your degree. And I completely agree that there is nothing to be ashamed of. The real issue here is that you have expressed no remorse for your lie – which is separate from your sanity. We all don’t care. But unless we regret our mistakes, it’s hard for others to forgive us.

For an employer, your mistake may be more serious than your excellent job performance. In one of your first interactions with the company, you lied. It goes to integrity – no matter how sympathetic your situation. Ditch the excuses: sanity, graduated friends, even great job reviews. Own the thing you did wrong (at least to yourself).

Once you’ve done that, you can explore solving the problem more productively. Contact your college (or others in the area) and ask if you can complete your degree now – perhaps overnight. Your initial difficulties can be convincing to schools. You can also enroll in continuing education courses to flesh out your resume.

I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t know the likelihood or the stakes of your removal. Some will think you deserve it. But I already see the punishment. This lie has you locked in: you can’t apply for another job or promotion if it risks a background check. And the fear of discovery probably weighs heavily on you. Probably the safest thing is not to tell your employer until you find a way to make your lie more true.

Our daughter is married and has three children. I am sometimes asked, with an air of disdain for her, if her children all have the same father. My favorite answer is to ask if their own children have the same father. My wife thinks it’s petty. Advice?

MARTIN

People’s social filters sometimes go haywire, prompting them to ask questions that are offensive and don’t concern them. (Other people are just mean.) In those cases, I respond, “Why do you ask?” This often brings them to their senses, helping them see their rudeness and backtracking.

Not always, however! Some people double down and offer defenses for their indefensible questions. (“Well, kids don’t look alike,” for example.) At this point, change the subject or tell them to walk away, depending on how aggravated you are.

Our wonderful family dog, Scottie, has an inoperable cancerous growth that makes it difficult for him to breathe and move. The last time I took him to our vet, she said Scottie was probably starting to feel pain. It is now clear to me that any movement hurts this wonderful creature, but my husband refuses to talk about putting him down. To help!

DOG MOM

I am truly sorry for your dog’s difficulties. And I can confirm from experience that getting family members on the same page about veterinary procedures isn’t always easy. You both love Scottie. Make an appointment with the vet and bring your husband. Learn about the dog’s pain, possible treatments and prognosis. Hopefully hearing this information together will make the deal easier, if not less painful.

My boyfriend and I, both 60 years old, have lived together for two years. His son, with whom I got closer, is going to get married. The Problem: My boyfriend’s ex-wife is giving the bridal shower. (Who ever heard of a mother of a groom taking a shower?) As you might have guessed, I’m not invited. I’m sure if the shower was given by someone else, I would be invited. I really struggle with this exclusion. How should I handle it?

CATHY

It’s rare that I don’t sympathize with someone who says their feelings are hurt. But you tested me! It’s none of your business giving that bridal shower. Dusty old etiquette books may call it a gift for birth relatives to welcome, but I think we’ve moved past pretending that gifts aren’t the main purpose of bridal showers.

Try to see beyond your sense of entitlement and imagine the feelings of your husband’s ex-wife – the groom’s mother – who can still process her hurt or anger about her divorce. Moreover, she is free to invite whoever she wants to the parties she gives.


For help with your predicament, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, Philip Galanes on Facebook, or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

About Jessica J. Bass

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