My meeting with Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color is you Parachute
There are not many times when you have the chance to thank someone who has profoundly changed your life through their authorship of a book. In 2012 it was my privilege and pleasure of spend several hours with Richard Nelson Bolles, author of “What Color is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers” and his lovely wife Marci, in Walnut Creek California.
Not a straight career path
Like so many of us, Dick Bolles’ career did not follow the path that he originally planned. The young chemical engineering graduate went into the seminary to become an ordained minister. This career occupied his adult life for many years. In the late 1960s his role was to supervise campus ministers. He became aware that they needed to prepare for redundancy as their role was under threat due to funding cuts. Most had no idea how to apply for a new job, and so Dick started gathering information to assist them. In December 1970 his small self-published book, ‘What Color Is Your Parachute’ was typed and printed in a copy shop. It was an inauspicious start for a book that has been continuously updated and published since then.
Sadly he passed away in March 2017, aged 90. His New York Times obituary gives an insight into the fascinating life he lived. He had a huge impact on the career profession and on individuals seeking a new direction all over the world.
Whilst it is challenging to distil the essence of four hours of conversation into a brief article, our discussions explored several themes.
Career as Self-Expression
“Every career is an artist at work.” In the 2013 edition of “What Color is Your Parachute?” Dick wanted readers to look at what they do in a new way, to see their career differently. He used the metaphor of each of us being an artist who creates our own career. We use the medium that best allows us to express who we are. He used himself as an example, preferring four main forms of media in his work; people, ideas, paper and colour. (See video Being an Artist)
Dick Bolles loved to write and got great pleasure out of continuously improving “What Color is Your Parachute?”. It was not just revised but in fact some sections were completely rewritten for each edition. Sometimes this was because there had been changes that need to be reflected. At other times it was just for the love of creating more beautiful prose. He expressed the sense of fulfilment that he got from training new career practitioners, or helping experienced practitioners take their skills to a new level. He loved that his impact on their practice was magnified as they helped other people. Dick’s need for variety was satisfied by having several different professional roles – author, teacher, researcher, businessman. This allowed him to change between the roles and never get bored with what he was doing.(See video Being Entrepreneurial.)
Instinctive Working Style
We spoke at length about the demands on an entrepreneurial private practitioner. Dick emphasised the importance of focusing on one main project at a time. This enabled you to reach each goal you have set yourself. However within that focus was a delightful sense of being in the moment, following his instincts to do what he felt like doing. He commented that he really trusted his instinct. If he got a great desire to write about something he would do so, knowing that within a short time the reason for that writing would show up. (See video Following Your Instincts.)
I had wondered about Dick Bolles’ interest in technology, as JobHuntersBible.com had been fairly static prior to our meeting. However this site was being redeveloped as we spoke. He reflected that he had embraced technology in all aspects of his business and life. Dick was a keen internet user, researching and reading online for around three hours per day. He spoke highly of the role that LinkedIn plays in the job search process as an invaluable forum for networking and professional communication.
The exciting news at the time we spoke was that, with his son Gary at the helm of the project, an online version of “What Color is Your Parachute?” was going to be launched. This membership site was designed to include all the information and strategies of the most recent edition. (See video Moving into the Digital Age.)
Although Dick left the ministry in 2004, spirituality remained a passion in his life. When I spoke to him he was working on his next book, “A Hunger for God”. This book was exploring his concept of God and exposing a life-time of theological study and interest. He seemed very excited about this project. He said that it had been formulating in his mind for many years. I got the sense that it had given him the platform to say things he had wanted to share for a long time.
Thoughts on Life
He commented that your achievements should not be measured by what you have done in a day. Instead you should consider what you have achieved over a much longer period; a month, a year, a decade. I loved Dick’s concept that life is like a smorgasbord and you should allow yourself to taste all the different dishes and make fun out of your life. He believed that we are on earth to love life and said that he saw life in terms of love and light and colour.
Dick expressed that he appreciates the privilege of really loving what he is doing, and loving the life he is living. Indeed, with his charming wife Marci by his side, a shared passion for movies and enjoying the smorgasbord of life, and an ongoing sense of purpose from his work, this man behind ‘the parachute’ was a wonderful example of someone who loved the life they have created for themselves.
Enjoy these interviews with this wonderful man who had a huge influence on my life. David and I used ‘What Color Is Your Parachute’ by Richard Nelson Bolles to make a life-changing transition in our lives in 1998. This awoke my professional interest in career development and had a significant influence on my work as a career practitioner.