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Don't Be Picky

Nida Spalding loves to read, travel, and spend time with family and friends. She believes that curiosity and persistence are key to happiness and success.

"If you're not picky, you will find a job in America." I heard this from relatives who had lived in the United States. What did that mean? This question percolated in my 20-year-old brain. With a degree in Mass Communication from the Philippines, what job could I get? I'm an optimist and pragmatist. Maybe I could find an office job. 

In 1980, my brother and I landed in Santa Clara, California. At the local Wells Fargo Bank, I noted an advertisement for the Teller Training Institute. I considered this possibility. But in the Philippines, you needed a degree in Commerce to work as a bank teller. I majored in Mass Communication because I didn't do math.

I can't be picky. But the job must not involve farm or domestic work. Picking crops, cooking, or cleaning houses were out of the question. I've done all that back home. I can tell you about harvesting coconuts, drying them in the sun or in the drying shed over a slow fire, the heavy lifting, and working alongside hired help. Dad was a true "do-it-yourself-when-possible" kind of guy. We didn't get paid, either. This was earning our keep. This shaped a work ethic for my brother and me, made us determined to finish college, and prepared us for real life. 

In our apartment complex in Santa Clara, the Potpourri magazine showed up in mailboxes. I saw Help Wanted: Writer and dared myself to apply. "You have an opening for a writer?" I asked softly, not quite making eye contact with the receptionist.

"No, we don't," she said with contempt in her voice. I could feel my brother's eyes on me, felt his pity for his little sister. In my heart, I knew I wasn't qualified. But I'd been wired to treat rejection like sweat to be wiped away with a flick of the hand. I wasn't the help they wanted.


Verbatim Corporation manufactured floppy disks and regular and mini-cassettes. Della from my hometown worked there and knew the supervisor, Marilou, a Filipina. I was hired as an assembler for $4 per hour. The job came with paid sick leave, vacation, health benefits and profit sharing. I enjoyed working there. Older Filipino ladies freely gave advice and shared their lunch or snacks. On Fridays after work, I went dancing with younger, female coworkers. During work hours, I could assemble regular and mini-cassettes as fast as anyone.

Being a newbie, I was fairly quiet. Except one day, I questioned why Jane, a newly hired redhead was chosen as lead over us. I didn't know why I cared. I hadn't applied for that job. I voiced my opinion about skin color at a meeting. After the words tumbled out of my mouth, I could see the male manager was visibly shaken. Had I just accused someone of preferential treatment? Where did that come from? Did I prejudge her?

Marilyn Modessit was a production manager at Verbatim—a well-spoken, tall, slender woman with long, wavy blond hair. I saw her occasionally when she announced company news to our shift. Someday, I'll be a manager. I kept my eyes and ears open for opportunities at Verbatim. Once, I applied for an office job showing up for the interview in a suit. They chose someone else. Next, I applied as a Lead. This time, I got the job. That was my first taste of dealing with people.  

Much later, I would spend 20 years handling discrimination complaints as an analyst then as an upper-level manager. All my subsequent jobs came with health benefits, paid sick leave, and vacation. I would accept low pay until I could prove my worth. After gaining some level of competence and experience, I could afford to be picky. Just a little.

~ Nida Spalding






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