You’re not in trouble if the only consequence is a verbal reminder.

Trouble is a matter of perspective.

When a colleague, for example, tells me that he or she “got in a lot of trouble” for failing to complete a task or adhere to a policy, it almost always means that the principal has spoke to the person and warned him or her against committing the offense again.

I do not think of this as trouble. I think of this as being spoken to by your boss. I think of it as a requested change in behavior or performance.

Early in my career, when I was less subtle and considerably less wise, I would point this out to my colleagues, failing to acknowledge (or even realize) that many of these teachers are former students who graduated from high school and college with 4.0 GPAs and a list of extra-curriculum activities a mile long.

I would venture to guess that many of my colleagues never failed to hand in a homework assignment on time.

Teachers tend to be some of the best students in their classes. The ones who behaved well and always wanted to do well. The ones who loved school.

In this regard, being called into the principal’s office for a verbal reminder might be be considered trouble.

They’ve never been suspended from school. Caught selling term papers to fellow classmates. Been assigned in-school suspensions for damaging school property. Pulled fire alarms for cash. Set records for the most consecutive detentions ever. 

They’ve never received a report card with an F or even a D. Never been arrested by the police. Never had the police break up a party in their apartment. They’ve never been tried in a court of law. Fired from a job or had their career threatened in any meaningful way.


In a recent, completely unscientific survey, most of them have even received a speeding ticket.

When you come from a background like mine, a verbal reminder does not constitute trouble. It’s just a reminder about what you’re supposed to be doing. A recommended change in behavior. A correction in performance.  

For me, trouble is trouble. It is a behavior with an associated and meaningful consequence that will negatively impact my immediate or long-term future in a real, tangible way.

Over the years, I’ve seen this variation in perspective in my students, too. For some, a meeting with the principal about behavior is just another meeting with the principal. Five minutes later, they are behaving as if the meeting never happened.

For others, a reminder from me to pay attention in class can cause visible signs of distress for an hour or more.

Perspective is everything.

That said, even with a pristine record and lifetime of exemplary job performance, I still have a hard time accepting the idea that your boss’s expression of disapproval or request for a change in performance constitutes trouble.

If there is no tangible consequence, it’s not trouble.

But I’m smart enough today to keep these opinions to myself.