Updated on 01.07.08

What Color Is Your Parachute? The Flower Diagram

Trent Hamm

parachuteThis is the fifth 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 the first part of chapter thirteen 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, the second part, the third part, or the fourth part.

So, here we come to the “flower diagram,” probably the most famous portion of What Color Is Your Parachute?

What Is the Flower Diagram?
You can take a peek at it through Google Books if you’d like.

In a nutshell, the “flower diagram” is a self-assessment, intended to help you figure out what type of work is most appropriate for you. Rather than existing in the form of a test, it merely exists as a small set of questions that help you to nail down what you’re actually looking for. These questions take the form of petals on a flower.

I thought it would be useful to walk through these petals right now and give some general thoughts on each one.

Where do you want to live? For some, it doesn’t matter that much – for others, it’s vital. Also, the answer to this question often changes as your life changes.

For me, it’s quite important that I don’t live in a major city: no open spaces and lots of tightly packed people make me uncomfortable. Thanks to the internet, though, one can participate in a lot of professions remotely.

I’m glad that this is only one petal in the flower, though it’s an important one. I talk a lot about following your passions, but your passions can sometimes take you down a very uncomfortable road.

Having said that, I think this is the most important petal on the flower – it’s the leader, but it shouldn’t completely trump what the others are telling you. There are a lot of ways to dig out what your interests are, but the best way I’ve found is to ask yourself what you would do with your time if you had several million in the bank (and after the fun of just vegetating and resting was over).

People and Environments
Some people thrive in an office. Others dream of working outside. As for me, I like a mix of both. I also like people who can keep socializing in the office to a minimum, especially near others trying to work. These are very valuable things for me in a work environment.

How can you find out about this? Ask around. Figure out what really bugs you and ask how prevalent it is in certain areas. Investigate any job you’re serious about very carefully.

Values, Purposes, and Goals
Is this job in alignment with what you are trying to do with your life as a whole? For example, if you’re a devout atheist, it would be very difficult to work for a Christian organization. Similarly, if you’re trying to break into management, a cubicle monkey job won’t match what your goals are at all.

It’s always worthwhile to spend time really understanding the key values of your life and the goals you’re trying to accomplish. They don’t always indicate where you should be going, but they usually indicate where you shouldn’t be going.

Working Conditions
This is another concern that is highly variable depending on the person involved. Do you have any physical requirements, for example? Similarly, if you’re a family person, mandatory overtime probably isn’t worth any price.

My biggest working condition requirement is time flexibility. Sometimes I need to take off time to care for a sick child or take one to the doctor – if I didn’t have the flexibility to do this, I wouldn’t be able to work that job.

Salary and Level of Responsibility
Obviously, this requires some sense of reality. If you lard up the other categories with too many absolute specifics, then you’re likely not going to get the salary you want. Similarly, if you don’t like responsibility, you’re likely reducing what you should expect for a salary. As for me, I enjoy responsibility, but only if it comes with authority – quite often, it does not, and that’s the mix that I don’t care for – that fact has hurt me salary-wise in the past.

In the center of the flower are the skills. In short, what is it that you do that is notably beyond the basic ability of others? That’s a tricky question to answer, and it also requires introspection. I think my skills mostly revolve around expressing ideas – and humanizing them.

What do all of these pieces add up to? They add up to a truly honest assessment of what you’re looking for. The more time you spend honestly addressing questions like these, the better your job hunting will go.

Next week, we’ll read another big portion of Chapter 13, covering pages 250 to 282. This covers in detail identifying the transferable skills you most enjoy using.

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  1. Stephan F- says:

    I hate this exercise.
    The bad part of doing this exercise is realizing that the years and thousands of dollars put into my schooling are completely irrelevant to what want to be. And to top it off, my primary field is pretty much all outsourced anyway and my backup is going that way too.

    The worst part is not getting any support from family or friends on making the changes needed. I can’t do it alone, my emotional reserves are too shallow. I am moving slowly, much too slowly, but each effort takes almost all my energy just to take a small step.

    Lots of these kinds of books talk about mentors and mastermind groups and support but what do you do when no one believes in you?

  2. Michael says:

    It’s been several years since I read “What Color is Your Parachute”. I remember enjoying the book, but I didn’t find much I could put into practice.

    I think I need to go back and re-read it with a few years perspective. Thanks for bringing it back to my attention.

  3. ok says:

    Sorry for being nitpicky, but..

    >>This adjective means that someone has a strong belief in a religion

    “Devout” : This adjective means that someone has a strong belief. Atheism is the -absence of belief- in deities.

  4. Sidra says:

    hey if you’re going to be nitpicky at least be right :)

    while ‘devout’ often has a religious connotation, it is not its ONLY meaning.

    1: devoted to religion or to religious duties or exercises
    2: expressing devotion or piety
    3 a: devoted to a pursuit, belief, or mode of behavior : serious , earnest
    b: warmly sincere

    so looking at #3, ‘devout atheist’ is a good play on words and makes sense.

  5. ChaKo says:

    …then believe in yourself! Do what you think is best and don’t stop until it’s done. Good luck brother

  6. Walter Daniels says:

    To commenter #1, you believe in yourself, and accept the hurts. Possibly, you may even find the one destined for you that will believe in you, in the process. In any case, you will know you have done what is right. BTDT.
    I’m glad to see you reading WCIYP. :-) I’ve recommended it to so many, I should get a commission, from 10 Speed Press. I also tell people.”Read the book through, then go back and do the exercises. That way, you’ll understand what you’re doing.” It is absolutely the best job hunting book, I know of. If you don’t think it provides good advice, you did one of two things.
    1) You did the processes wrong, and got bad results.
    2) You don’t like being told what you are good at, and it not being what you wanted.

  7. It has been a long time since reading one of the first editions of What Color is Your Parachute. It was a wonderful blessing.

    There is a version for pessimists called What Color is the Hole in Your Parachute.

    This book helped me find a mid life career course correction. It got me into college in my 30’s (the first of my family for several generations), got me into a profession I love (nursing).

    Now, using the same principles of the book, I have parlayed all of my previous skills and am looking at yet another career course correction.

    The book is many things to different people. For me, a life saver. For others, a decision matrix tool.

    One of the most basic points was that we will make numerous career changes in our lives. Why not change into a career where we never go to work because we are doing what we love and what we love is not work.

    To illustrate how powerful the philosophy is, one Sunday recently I was doing what I love (working on my websites). In the process, I sent a letter off to Seth Godin, one of my favorite authors (and my de facto mentor). It was a surprise that I got a response back. Even more, was that he responded Sunday Evening.

    Seth Godin is doing what he loves to do. It is not work.

    We can go through life thinking nobody should move our cheese. Or we can anticipate that it will be moved and be ready to find new and exciting, even tastier cheeses.

    The guys who made horse drawn carriages had to change when cars started to be made.

    The guys who made tube type TV’s had to change.

    Doctors who did open heart surgery had to change when new techniques came in.

    Plastic surgeons had to change when new procedures came into practice.

    Even teaching in schools is changing as you read this.

    Check out the book, Seeing What’s Next by Clayton Christenson.

    Somewhere in all the change is something that everyone will love to do that they can change into. What Color is Your Parachute will help you find that change.

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