The Day I Learned a Valuable Lesson about Responsibility and Communication

During a recent discussion I remembered an experience from several years ago. The results of my situation could have been much worse, but I was able to mitigate the damage and learn hugely valuable life lessons.

I had signed up for a few college classes but had not paid the tuition. Subsequently, I decided to drop the classes and focus on other priorities, including a demanding temporary job assignment. However, rather than going to the trouble of cancelling my enrollment, I simply did not pay or go to class and foolishly assumed that I would automatically be dropped. At the time I thought that was the university’s policy.

Of course, it was unwise to assume that I would be dropped from the classes. I should have simply taken a few minutes to log in to my online account at the university and click “cancel” for my enrollment. As it turned out, I was not “automatically” dropped. By the time I figured this out it was too late to cancel without consequence, and I was told that I would need to pay the fees and a large portion of the tuition for the classes.

I was more than a little upset and concerned, and I sought input from a faculty member who I trusted and respected. He told me about a situation with another student who had a similar circumstance. This other student’s approach was to write a nasty letter and to demand that the university fully see the situation according to his own perspective.

The faculty member told me that this other student’s approach led to an unsuccessful outcome. He counseled me to try a tactful, humble approach.

I wrote a letter and asked that the university please forgive my obligation to pay the tuition. I certainly was not demanding but simply laid out the facts truthfully, fully acknowledged my fault, asked for mercy, and thanked them for their service to our institution.

Here was the most significant and memorable part of the experience: At one point I had to talk with an administrator at the university. She was somewhat sarcastic with me and said something along these lines: “So you just assumed that you didn’t need to drop the classes and that you would automatically be dropped? Is that what you’re saying?”

I’m sure she expected me to defend myself, shift blame to others, and demand that she remove the hefty tuition and fee bill. However, instead I simply looked her in the eye and calmly said, “Yes, that’s right.”

She was bewildered. Her demeanor completely changed, and she simply said, “Oh, okay.” She told me what I needed to do, and I am fairly confident that she and the faculty member went to bat for me before the special committee that had to decide whether to remove the tuition bill.

As it turned out, the university decided to extend mercy, and I got off by paying a relatively small administrative fee.

I learned valuable lessons from this situation. Don’t assume that you can be passive and that everything will be alright. Be proactive, communicate, and manage your situations and relationships. Also, don’t be hard-nosed, but be willing to admit your faults — especially when the facts are clear and you have no inherent leverage in the situation. Be genuine in a way that disarms people who are braced for a brash, arrogant demeanor that so many others display.

My outcomes are always more satisfying when I follow these lessons.

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