Updated on 12.17.07

What Color Is Your Parachute? Determining a Place to Live and a Job to Do

Trent Hamm

parachuteThis is the third part of The Simple Dollar Book Club reading of What Color Is Your Parachute?, a seminal guide to your career. These entries appear weekly, each Monday afternoon, and you’re invited to read along. This entry covers chapters eight and nine in the 2008 edition (earlier editions are roughly similar). If you didn’t participate from the start, feel free to jump back to the first part or to the second one.

The second section of What Color Is Your Parachute?, which we’ll be covering this week and next, deals with change: changing location, changing careers, starting a new business, and so on. Let’s dig in.

Chapter 8: How to Pick a New Place to Live

When I first read What Color Is Your Parachute? so many years ago, this chapter really stuck out at me like a sore thumb. Why would one write about finding a new place to live in the context of a job hunting book? Shouldn’t you find what you want to do first and let that lead you to where you want to go? It made little sense, and so I shrugged and moved quickly on to other exercises.

What I found as an adult is that the area where you choose to live has a lot of bearing on the level of happiness you’ll enjoy. It’s an issue that my readers have experienced as well – living in a particular location just to facilitate a career often leads to unhappiness. In fact, Bolles makes a list of reasons why people would want to move, and most of them have nothing whatsoever to do with careers. Most have to do with family, personal satisfaction, and safety.

If you feel that the place you’re living now isn’t right for you, move on. Define what exactly you want and then search for the place where you can find it. Bolles suggests canvassing far and wide for opinions, from all of your friends to people you meet in the supermarket, and do it with an open mind. Research the suggested places online and find out more about them, particularly in terms of fulfilling your personal needs. Once you’ve found a location that suits you, travel there to get the lay of the land.

One key part of this is being thorough. Don’t just pick a place to live on a whim or an emergency need or you will assuredly find your way towards unhappiness. Bolles argues on behalf of researching the place as much as the job; in particular, if you can find a job in a lot of areas, research the place before finding the job.

For me, I truly wish we lived in a more rural area than we do. We live on the edge of a pretty small town. Our front yard looks like suburbia – our back yard looks like a farm. I actually yearn to live in a place where I can see perhaps one more house from anywhere on my property and I can be left completely alone to do what I wish – though I do admit that my current environment affords me a lot of personal freedom. Given the lack of expense in such rural living and the fact that my wife’s job and my writing career are relatively transportable, this is something we’re considering down the road when we have our bankroll built up a bit.

Chapter 9: How to Choose a New Career

Naturally, the flip side to a location search is a new career search. I should point out here that this chapter is brief and dominated by a lengthy table (which shows skills most useful for a wide range of jobs). The real meat of What Color Is Your Parachute? is about choosing a career, but it’s very introspective and dominates the third section of this book; this chapter is much more cursory, focusing on a superficial analysis for career selection.

Because of that, I found the little pieces of this chapter much more useful than the wider picture. For example, Bolles suggests taking a few tests to identify your psychological strengths and talents, but not to put too much weight into these test results – they should merely serve as clues. I’ve taken several of these tests and found that they have a hard time nailing me down outside of routinely pointing to a handful of skills – I’m apparently an effective communicator and a logical thinker.

Bolles also reiterates one key point over and over here, and it’s the one key point that I really took away from this book upon my first reading of it: do what drives your passion and matches your skills, not what others suggest for you or what happens to be the “hot” thing at the moment. This is the single best piece of advice in this entire book for a person about to enter college and unsure what to do. Don’t just choose a major because others suggest that you major in this “hot” field or because someone thinks that a particular major matches your skills. Take their advice, but incorporate it into your own understanding and think about it carefully before casting the die.

This chapter also gives a little taste of what’s to come in the excellent third section of this book. Bolles recommends sketching out what your dream life would be like. What would you be doing? Where would you live? Add as much detail as possible. Why? This exercise reveals the truth about what you really should be doing with your life. For example, if money is no object and yet your sketch involves a giant garage and tinkering with cars, it’s time to consider a job in automotive engineering or, at the very least, as an auto mechanic. Excellent stuff, and it only gets stronger as the book progresses.

Next week, we’ll read chapters ten, eleven, and twelve in What Color Is Your Parachute?, covering starting your own business, growing older, and getting unstuck. In my 2008 edition, these appear on pages 185 to 236.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Fully agree on the choosing of the career part. A good way to find a good fit is when you’re going through the qualifications for different jobs and you stop trying to mold yourself into the different bullets (“I could do that”) and instead realize that, wait, you ARE the person they are looking for (“I AM that”)

  2. H-Bomb says:

    Wow, okay. I can not see how the next post turns out. i may go borrow this book now. I can picture my perfect life. A nice house, beautiful yard for the kids etc. But I am not doing anything but observing, smiling and just generally happy with my surroundings. I can not think of one single solitary activity that I would choose to be doing in that perfect environment.
    I wonder what that means??

  3. Scott says:

    A good tool I used to find a place to live is Findyourspot.com. It asks a wide array of questions to help pinpoint where you might like to live and then gives you a top 25 list. Very helpful.

  4. Red says:

    I second Scott’s recommendation of “findyourspot.com”for pinpointing personally interesting locations (in the US). It recommended a couple places that I was already looking at, but opened up a couple more (such as Eugene, OR) that I hadn’t thought about. I’d highly recommend once you complete the survey on findyourspot to look at the towns recommended on wikipedia to get a more in depth view at your town.

    Also, I really enjoyed the overview of how to search for employment in another country. This is something I’ve been interested in, but wasn’t sure how to get started, and the process outlined got me pointed in the right direction.

  5. Ryan S. says:

    I need more of a tool to find me a cheap place to live in the same town I live. Of course, given that I live in Hawai’i, almost nowhere is cheap :)

  6. Oswegan says:

    Mine doesn’t have a color. I am tired of working.


  7. Blue says:

    As a 25 year old single guy with little responsibility (i.e. I rent) I have the choice of basically anywhere to live. But the job market is difficult, particularly because I have very little networking opportunities in my field (I’m a financial analyst, while everyone I know are scientists who couldn’t name the top five investment banks). So realistically, I am forced to live with whoever will hire me. Sure, it’d be nice to live in Eugene, OR. But it’d be nicer to have a good job.

  8. sp says:

    Are there any additional resources to recommend that could tell me HOW to find my passion?

    I have interests and skills in a wide range of areas, but not a single thing I am passionate about. And it has ALWAYS been that way.

    I have tried a number of different jobs and I suppose I could continue to try others, but I only have so many years left to live. Have also read this book once before — albeit some years ago — and was unable to pinpoint a specific career.

    There is so much advice about following your heart and your passions. But what do you do when all you hear is dead silence?

  9. H-Bomb says:


    You are not alone. I feel the same way.
    Sometimes it drives me crazy to think about it. It makes no sense to me why I can not figure out one thing that I would love to do. Sure I have a lot of likes, but nothing that I am completely passionate about. I talked about this last night with my significant other. His suggested reasoning is that I had children at a young age so I did not have the opportunity to develop hobbies. I do not think this is the case. I think I should have had something I was passionate about long before then. Even my kids have an idea what they want to do. My son wants to be an inventor and my daughter wants to be a scientist. So, why do I not know what I want to be when I grow up?

  10. SP: Have you tried local job search organizations such as the chamber of commerce or the city’s career placement services?

    we waste a lot of time soul searching for our passion pondering the possibilities. but sometimes the best way of figuring it all out is to just dive in and try a job.

    Karen Burns wrote a post on this very topic –

    I needed a job after moving back to the bay area when i left journalism. and i ended up in some random job in international business. i discovered how interesting and fascinating and in some ways a lot like journalism. i discovered how international business gives me the opportunity to do analytical things while learning to start my own global music consulting business.

    But for your question on books:

    Here are two books:

    The Five O Clock club came highly recommended via a job search workshop.

    The five o clock club publications

    Do what you are (this book came highly recommended by Penelope Trunk whose blog is a great resource)

    she just wrote a great post on bad advice: do what you love – it’s awesome – http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2007/12/18/bad-career-advice-do-what-you-love/


  11. Susan says:

    Wow, that idea of location really struck a chord. We’re always trying to set up mobile careers so we can go anywhere we want…

  12. Becky Wooten says:

    I have heard of this book before, and think I will go check it out at the library. I am kind of in a cross road right now with my career and family. I have a great stable job at a University though I really desire to be home with my 16 month old. I also have one more on the way that will be here in May. I guess, I can wait until it gets closer to May, however it just makes more sense to stay home with two children. I also ready your blog on staying home. I loved it! Great perspective.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *