In Mind

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So excited to have Bob Mueller, author of The Sad Girl, available on Amazon over to the blog today. I’m not sure how he has time to write with 8 children but I’m happy to have him stop by. It’s nice to have some male energy around here.

Something old I learned in school

By Bob Mueller

I learned something in school last week.

Shocking, right? Isn’t that the whole point?

Then again, maybe it wasn’t something new that I learned. Maybe it was just a reminder of a lesson I seemed to have forgotten.

As always some background is probably helpful. At the ripe old age of fifty, I’ve gone back to school at a local community college using a VA Vocational Rehab program. My primary goal has been to improve my writing skills and gain skills in non-fiction and journalistic writing. One of my classes last semester was Intro to Mass Media, intended as an overview of mass media sources and types, with a side of learning to read news articles critically. The class was fairly easy for an honors course, and I loved the instructor. She’s been in the mass media industry for thirty or more years and has worked a variety of positions from straight PR to news editing to press liaison. She’s very knowledgeable, and a great teacher.

She was also chronically late.

It wasn’t a huge issue, for the most part. Fifteen or twenty minutes out of an eighty-minute class doesn’t seem horrible. If you add it up though, every four days results in the loss of a class. But it was “just” a discussion class, without a lot of lecture, and the grading was fairly easy, so it didn’t really matter. My classmates and I joked about it, but it didn’t bother us enough to do anything about it.

This semester, I chose the same professor for Writing for Mass Media because despite her tardiness, she was a great teacher. The class is intended as a foundation course to get students well-grounded in writing in AP Style, so we expected a lot of lecture, and a lot of writing exercises, and probably a couple of tough exams.

By spring break, we had been given two homework assignments and no exams.

Her tardiness had gotten much worse as well. Fifteen minutes had become thirty, forty, or worse. I noticed too that her personality was different from last semester. She seemed almost timid now, which was a far cry from the outgoing person I knew last term. But I still didn’t say anything.

Twice she showed up with less than twenty minutes left in class. The second time was the last straw for several of us. About half the class was planning on transferring to a state university well-known for the rigorous admission standards for its journalism program, so they were very concerned about being able to meet those standards. Others were concerned about getting slammed with a comprehensive final that we would have no hope of passing.

Two of us went to the dean, and that snowballed into the entire class meeting with the provost, who was a great person to deal with. He listened well, asked questions, and treated us all like adults. We presented what we saw as the issues as professionally as we could, stressing that it wasn’t at all personal, but that we did have some concerns about her physical and emotional health.

He met again with our class two days after that to explain how we had ended up where we were and what was going to happen in the last four weeks of the term. The short version is that our prof was under a ton of stress, had gotten a little bit behind, and things had snowballed as they often do. The school was going through a major reorganization and realignment; she comprised half of the full-time staff of the department, and had just learned that the other full-time professor was retiring, so now all of the reorganization was going to fall to her – along with her regular teaching schedule, and maybe more. The dean and the provost hadn’t realized how stressed she was because she was barely keeping her head above water, and no one else had said anything to the administration. Now that they know what’s going on, they’ve taken steps to address her workload, and she’s discussed our concerns with us as well. We’re in good shape now.

What did I get out of this? Two lessons come to mind:

First, If you’re overstressed, ask for help.

Don’t let pride stand in the way and cause a bigger problem. There is nothing at all wrong with asking your boss for help with your workload, or your partner for help with the housework.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Asking for help is not a sign of weakness” quote=”Asking for help is not a sign of weakness”]. A good leader wants you to succeed, and they can’t fix a problem they don’t know about. If they don’t hear from you, they assume everything is fine. A good partner wants to take care of their significant other. But sometimes we’re too good at hiding life’s stressors from the people who can help.

Second, pay attention to the people in your world.

Some of them may need your help, and be too afraid or too stressed to ask. The corollary: If you think someone needs help, offer it. Don’t decide for them. Let them turn you down. They might just be waiting for that shoe to drop. According to the provost, our prof was surprised none of us had said something sooner, and told him she kept expecting us to unload on her at some point. The provost mentioned as well that she seemed relieved that someone had finally forced the issue. We hadn’t brought it up with her because while we knew something was wrong, we didn’t want to upset her, so it was a bit of a Catch-22. Knowing this professor as I do now, I think even a friendly comment asking about class start time or if she was well would have helped control the situation early on.

Now that I look back on this last week, I wonder if this was really a new lesson, or maybe more of a gentle Gibbs slap, reminding me about doing unto others, and loving my neighbor.

I suppose we all need one of those now and then.

About the Author

RBM Full Headshot 480x600Bob Mueller is a teller of stories. They sound like thrillers in his head. He puts himself in someone else’s shoes, teases out their feelings, blends that with bits and pieces of history and life experience, and crafts a story that might have been inspired by a song or a news story. But it’s about emotions in the end. Published under Booktrope’s Gravity Imprint, Bob is a member of International Thriller Writers, Tulsa NightWriters and Oklahoma Writer’s Federation, a father of eight, and a pastor’s husband. His novel The Sad Girl is available now from Amazon. You can also find him at, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Goodreads.

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  • Icy Sedgwick

    It’s a difficult situation – you don’t want to upset someone, and you also don’t want to annoy them if there’s nothing actually wrong!

    It’s good that they were able to intervene though. At some workplaces, if you tell someone you’re stressed, you’re just given more to do.

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