STORY: Losing and Gaining are Two Sides of the Same Coin

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Losing and Gaining are Two Sides of the Same Coin

If I live to be a hundred, I’ll still remember Friday, January 28, 1983. It was a bright sunny day, and I blissfully sang “I’m on the top of the world!” off-key as I dressed for work.  The day before, the company physician had confirmed what I’d suspected for weeks–I was three months pregnant–and after two boys I felt it would be a girl this time.
I had other reasons for feeling like I was on the top of the world…

I’d been promoted three times in the past three years. Regional Training Manager David Keith was now my colleague instead of my boss. We both reported directly to the Human Resources Director, an elderly Englishman named Anthony Kennedy. Great buddies, Dave and I usually traveled together to Singapore and other Timex assembly locations in the Far East. I enjoyed my job with the Regional Human Resources Department so much that I sometimes felt guilty getting paid. (In fact, Mr. Kennedy had been nagging me for months to complete my self-appraisal form so my annual merit increase could be processed, but I kept on putting it off. “What’s the hurry?” I told him. “I’ll get a retroactive increase anyway.”)

Although it wasn’t part of my job, I was often tapped by the Regional Marketing and Sales Group to conduct customer service seminars for Timex watch dealers. I didn’t get any extra pay, and had to stay at my desk after hours to make up for the time I spent doing these seminars, but I tremendously enjoyed helping the Timex dealers and staff understand the unique V-movement in Timex watches and why we didn’t need jewels like other mechanical or analog watches.

I also taught part-time at the National College of Business and Arts (NCBA). To cater to the thousands of young assembly workers pursuing a college degree, NCBA had opened a campus right next door to Timex. Some ingenuous folks had even constructed wooden stairs over the concrete wall that separated Timex and NCBA, shaving off a few minutes from the walk out the Timex front gate, down the block, and into the NCBA campus.

My growing family lived in relative comfort. In fact, we had recently moved into a beautiful bungalow in San Mateo (Rizal), a town outside Metro Manila. The peace and quiet, not to mention breath-taking views of the sunset and the mountains, more than made up for the hour-long commute to/from the Timex watch assembly plant in Cubao, Quezon City.

Life was great, I thought to myself that fateful Friday in January 1983 as I bounded up the steps to the Regional Office, still humming “I’m on the top of the world” under my breath.

Even as the massive frosted glass doors slammed shut behind me, I knew that something was terribly wrong. The office was eerily quiet. There was none of the usual morning chatter as the regional staff got ready for another busy day. What was even more chilling was that the staff desks were all unoccupied, and the directors’ office doors were all closed (a rare sight in the “come-right-in-and-tell-me-what’s-on-your-mind” atmosphere of the regional office).
“Where’s everyone?” I quizzed Dave, glancing at all the empty desks. “In there,” he replied, gesturing towards the closed doors. He paused and then said with an inscrutable expression on his face, “The old man wants to see you.”
My heart pounding in my throat, I tremulously stepped into Mr. Kennedy’s office. There I learned the painful truth. Timex was closing down the Manila facility and consolidating its Philippine assembly operation in Cebu. I’d be losing my job by end of March. “But I’m three months pregnant!” I blurted out. Mr. Kennedy said there was nothing he could do. “Don’t worry, you’ll easily find another job,” he assured me.

I left Mr. Kennedy’s office in a daze and headed for the cafeteria. The hallway was filled with distraught assembly workers. Unlike me, these girls had been handed their final paychecks and asked to leave immediately. Some of them were wailing unabashedly, while others sobbed quietly as they gathered their personal belongings from their lockers. It was surreal. The words “I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet,” came to my mind, as I forgot my own misery and tried to console the girls as best I could.

That weekend, I started sending out job applications and writing to headhunters. Nancy, a consultant with a leading search firm, echoed Mr. Kennedy’s assurance that I’d easily land another job – until I told her that I was pregnant. She promised to check with her clients and get back to me. I knew the answer even before she called. “I’m really sorry,” she apologized, “but my clients prefer someone who can work uninterrupted during their first year.” It was the same elsewhere. I’d get as far as the interview but the minute I mentioned I was pregnant the door would close. Some well-meaning friends advised me not to disclose that I was pregnant but I didn’t want to start a new job based on deception. I decided to stop wasting time, money, and effort on a futile–and extremely frustrating–job search, and wait until after I gave birth.

When March came and I got my final pay, I realized to my chagrin that through my own fault (neglecting my self-appraisal), my separation pay had been computed on my current (lower) base salary.  To make matters worst, the kids got sick and I needed to spend for lab tests and medicine. My bank account quickly dwindled down to zero. Fortunately, a nearby grocery store allowed me to buy food and other necessities on credit–but for how long?
I sold Avon products and Readers Digest subscriptions to help pay the bills. The only mails I received were window envelopes, some with “FINAL NOTICE” stamped in red. I didn’t have any money for a cake or ice-cream for my son’s fifth birthday, and it broke my heart.

Then, on May 26 (my birthday!), I received unexpected mail. I stared at the Abenson letterhead for some time, racking my brains for anyone I knew in the country’s largest appliance chain, before opening the envelope. The salutation read “To the Baby Maker, from the Profit Taker” and went on to say that Abenson was offering me the position of Human Resources Development Manager. It was a total surprise since I didn’t know anyone in Abenson but I soon learned that the Timex Marketing Director was also Abenson’s consultant, and the Timex watch dealership was owned by the same family.

So, while I waited to give birth to an adorable baby girl, I had a job waiting for me. I realized that I needed to LOSE my job to GAIN this managerial position. God does work in mysterious ways.

-Michelle Alba-Lim

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