5 Reasons Your Parachute May Need a Makeover
When Richard Bolles authored the job-finders’ classic “What Color is Your Parachute” in 1972, he couldn’t have foreseen the impact that his book would have – or the popularity that it would achieve. Back then, Bolles’ pen-and-paper approach, chock-full of exercises geared to brainstorming what you’re good at and what you really like to do, was unique. In the early 1970s, the concept of being the steward of your own career was non-existent.
But how relevant is “Parachute” today? Its basic premise – the value of aligning your skills with your interests – hardly seems novel in today’s career-minded world. While many might argue that the book is a timeless classic (In 1991, the Library of Congress named it one of “25 books the have shaped readers’ lives”) and it has been updated annually, the metaphor of the parachute may have come down to earth. But let’s not fold it up just yet. Here are five ways to rethink some of the enduring lessons in “Parachute”:
We want lots of advice – and lots of types of advice. Just as we like shopping for what we want where and when we want it, we’ll gladly scour the Internet for career advice. Delight in reading about career shifts and dual careers? There’s the New York Times’ Marci Alboher’s career blog. Want to talk entrepreneurship? Penelope Trunk keeps you up to date. Why not splurge on every career news feed you can get your hands on? With today’s range of easy-to-use feed aggregators and social bookmarking tools, (quick examples: Netvibes and Magnolia, it’s easy to organize and showcase trusted sources.
We’re gabbers – for good career reasons. An old-school, hard-copy career guide like “Parachute” is great at delivering generic advice, but it can never really take a more customized dive into your particular situation. There’s no expert or career coach on the other end of the phone or discussion thread who’s walking you through your problem. But today’s online media bring us a world of dynamic, interactive exchange in which you are one e-mail away from any given career expert. It’s a very different world than the one “Parachute” was originally intended for.
When it comes to describing our careers, we prefer “gray” to “black and white.” “There is no plan.” That’s how author Dan Pink sums up the career zeitgeist in his Manga-inspired creation Johnny Bunko. That idea might scare some, but it neatly describes the ambiguity and lack of linear path that our careers will most likely take.
“Parachute” deals in eithers and ors. Knowing that we’re definitively right-brained or left-brained and being able to distinguish between whether we’re “safe-keeping” (“loves risks”) or “experimental” (“is curious”) makes for stimulating dinner party conversation, but where is the practical application? Most of Bolles’ “Parachute” tests will leave readers falling somewhere in between, leaving us wondering how to apply those kinds of information in our career-searching needs.
We are free to be you and me. Gone are the days of asking ourselves, “What am I going to be when I grow up?” and feeling like we’re not mature enough to resign ourselves to some 9-5 desk job and be real adults. These days we’re inundated with choice and options. The societal pressures still exist, but contrary to our mothers’ words, we don’t really need to marry doctors or lawyers or be ones ourselves to be “successful.”
We can work from home, have our own businesses, and best of all, we can share our stories, serve as mentors, and learn from the mistakes of others without having to make them ourselves. So why measure your abilities and career potential based solely on the type of jobs presented in the Occupational Outlook Survey?
We’re becoming hard-wired to be wired. Richard Bolles never envisioned a world in which we’re constantly plugged into some mode of communication that extends our workday exponentially. Cartoonist Venkat Rao painted a pretty accurate picture (literally) when he mused about work-life balance on his blog. Few of us are able to achieve the Nirvana-like state of being “off the grid” – disconnected from cell phones and Blackberries and instant messaging. Perhaps we will all be better served if next year’s edition of “What Color Is Your Parachute?” covers work-life challenges such as these!