Prompted

Fall 2017

Prompt: Tell us about a job you’ve had, either while at Grinnell or afterward.

I wanted to try something different, so one December I worked in the order-packing department for Signals magazine orders. We stood at a station and got orders in bins, chose the right size box, packed the items as efficiently as possible, affixed a label, and sent them in a bin to someone else. I enjoyed being busy, having time to think, and the constant challenge of packing each box just right. I hated the way all those people moved together like sheep when the bell rang for break time, their souls draining away with each shuffling trip to the dreary break room. Office work seemed pretty sweet after that.

Like many Grinnellians, I worked in the dining hall, which had some high highs and low lows. Getting busted in the walk-in cooler, giggling hysterically, with a co-worker sitting on my shoulders to grab mushrooms off a top shelf was a real high point. Meanwhile, the time a supervisor told me not to pick up the big box of onions because I “have to have babies” was a definite low. Another time, during a particularly tough week, I hid in the freezer and ate a whole unbaked big cookie. Still not sure if that one’s a high or a low.

I lived for my Grinnell paycheck of  85 cents an hour from working 20 hours a week.  I had the highest-paying job on campus, 20 cents more than waiters got at Cowles Dining Hall. I washed pots and pans during Saga Foods’ management of cafeteria services in the 1960s. This paid for my daily coffees at the Union and my 3.2 percent beers at the Rex off Route 6. 

When there was an opening for another pot walloper, I invited my roomie George Santoni ’61 to join me. Fifty years later, after his retirement as a professor of French at SUNY-Albany, he said, “Walt, that was the worst job I have ever had!” 

The work wasn’t that bad, except when the cook made scalloped potatoes. Then I needed a putty knife to clean pans of baked-on food. If they’d given me anything sharper, we’d have had a mortally wounded cook.

By graduation day, I still had no postgrad plans, but I did have increasing anxieties about “success.” I found a job selling ad space in a local Yellow Pages-like publication. I was too relieved to finally have a plan and enticed by their awesome “success stories,” promises of “promotion within,” and potentially high salaries to see all the red flags. I was constantly pushed to undertake “successful” sales tactics that made me uncomfortable. When I realized I needed to quit, I promised myself I would only allow myself to quit if I put more thought into this job search. I found a new job that I loved and thrived in within two days of searching and have vowed to never prioritize my anxieties over my professional comfort again.

Summer 2017

Prompt: What's the best advice — or worst advice — you've either given or received?

As each of my five kids prepared to leave for college, this was the advice/wisdom I offered: “Dance with your friends.”

 

I got some great advice at the start of my career, which is that I’m the one responsible for my professional development (and my career), not my employer. Don’t take development or career for granted: It’s on you to make it happen. 

When my son was born six weeks early, a co-worker told me that all the trials and tribulations we were facing would turn out OK and just “become part of his story.” At the time, I wanted to punch the person through the phone, because I thought he was minimizing the situation and didn’t understand. However, he was right. My little guy is now an amazing 12-year-old because of all the things that are “part of his story,” and I share the idea and what it means to me now, all the time. 

My adviser was a senior member of the history department in 1964 when I had my first advising meeting with him. We chatted a bit about course selection and then he asked, “What do you intend to do with a history major? Become an airline stewardess?”

Even now, after 50 years, I remember being very surprised. And I did not go to work for an airline after graduation.

“Don’t apply to Grinnell. You’ll never get in.” From my high school guidance counselor.

“Just put your dreams on the back burner and strive to make HIM (ex-husband) happy.” Said by a marriage counselor.