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

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.

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