When Good News Goes Bad

When I was a kid, I had a favorite silly joke, a dialogue that went like this:

Jack: A man fell out of an airplane.
Jill: That’s bad.
Jack: No, that’s good. He had a parachute on.
Jill: That’s good.
Jack: No, that’s bad. The parachute didn’t open.
Jill: That’s bad.
Jack: No, that’s good. He was heading straight for a haystack.
Jill: That’s good.
Jack: No, that’s bad. The haystack had a pitchfork sticking out of it.
Jill: That’s bad.
Jack: No, that’s good. He missed the pitchfork.
Jill: That’s good.
Jack: No, that’s bad. He also missed the haystack.

Updated fifty years later, and based on actual events, the joke goes like this:

Jack: My friend got laid off from his job at Hewlett-Packard.
Jill: That’s bad.
Jack: No, that’s good. He was already negotiating with a different division for a new job.
Jill: That’s good.
Jack: No, that’s bad. It was with the division that HP suddenly closed down last week.
Jill: That’s bad.
Jack: No, that’s good. He was hired to deal with the software, and HP only whacked the hardware devices, so he still has a job.
Jill: That’s good.
Jack: No, that’s bad. Now he has to figure out how to sell software that doesn’t run on any currently manufactured hardware.
Jill: That’s bad.
Jack: You’re not kidding.

You’re not kidding is right. The whole scenario brought back images of an amazed Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, saying, “My! People come and go so quickly here!” I barely had enough time to find a “Congratulations on the New Job” card for my friend before the second shoe dropped. Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the economy, forget about looking at the leading economic indicators. Just try looking for a “Congratulations on the New Job” card. They’re as hard to find as jobs themselves. I finally had to settle on a generic “Congratulations” card, which, sad so say, is still on my desk because it just seems cruel to send it now.

However, for some of us, the good news/bad news ricocheting that my friend is enduring is nothing new. Midway through my career, I was recruited and laid off by the same publishing company twice within an 18-month period. In my last three jobs before I went freelance, I was fired once and laid off twice. (Looking back, now I wonder whether better breath mints might have helped.)

And highs and lows are especially prevalent here in Silicon Valley. Anyone who’s spent much time at start-ups knows the stomach-lurching feeling that starts with a great idea, gets validated by funding, and then, for reasons known or unknown, crashes and burns a year or two later. It’s considerably rarer to have it happen at such a big company like HP but it still occurs with startling frequency.

On the bright side, it can be a badge of honor in these parts. Employers like that someone was willing to take a chance on a long-shot. It shows fortitude and vision. And you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. And it teaches you to appreciate those small moments when good news blossoms, before it heads in the other direction.

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About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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2 Responses to When Good News Goes Bad

  1. Judit Sarossy says:

    It is a good picture of our life in the Bay Area. But be honest I would trade any time my learning experiences for success ones. 🙂

  2. GingerR says:

    Geeze, I shouldn’t have read this.

    I got laid-off from a long-time contract in June. I put off looking for a job until after vacation season was over, and while I was taking it easy my old job called up and re-hired me. I guess I’ve been warned and will be keeping my resume up to date …

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