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Chances are that you’re familiar with longtime career guru Dick Bolles. His seminal work, What Color Is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers, has sold more than 10 million copies in 20 different languages since it was first published in 1970.
Every year, he publishes a revised and updated edition to ensure that his magnum opus stays relevant no matter what the job market or the economy looks like. Phoenix Focus sat down with Bolles to get his take on finding your purpose, stumbling blocks and the No. 1 thing you need to know if you’re looking to make your own fresh start. Here’s what he had to say.
Phoenix Focus: You’re the author of the now-classic career guide, What Color is Your Parachute?, currently available in a 2013 edition. In a sense you’re making a fresh start each year when you tackle another rewrite. What inspires you to do this?
Dick Bolles: From the time my book first came out, I decided every year to reinvent what a print book can be. I have not merely revised my book. I have rewritten it. This past year, I rewrote two-thirds of it.
I do that because I get to use my favorite skills. I like to figure out how things relate to one another, the building blocks of a different approach, what is fundamental and what builds on that. There is a web of better ideas, and every year I like to rethink that web.
PF: You’ve reinvented your own life a few times, too. You studied chemical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hold a bachelor’s degree cum laude in physics from Harvard University and earned a master’s in sacred theology from General Theological (Episcopal) Seminary in New York City. After you worked as an Episcopal minister for many years, you set your sights on leading others through their own career changes. In your experience, what are some common hurdles people face when overhauling their professional lives?
DB: When people make fresh starts, they start by researching the marketplace. The problem is that when the market gets volatile, often the pendulum swings from one side to the other. For example, this year the trend is that there is a great need for teachers. So you start training to be a teacher, and you go and get certified. All the while you were getting trained, the pendulum was moving. Because the vacancies didn’t wait for you to finish your training, they were taken by people already qualified.
PF: What approach do you recommend instead of following current career trends?
DB: It makes much more sense to start with yourself. In taking an inventory of myself, I’m going to figure out not only the skills I do well—are they with people, data or things?—and go further and [look at] the things I can’t wait to do.
PF: What questions should people ask themselves when they take their personal inventory, aside from what skills they possess and what they enjoy doing?
DB: What are the working conditions in which I do well? For people who like to work outdoors, if they end up indoors, they always end up on the inside looking outside.
The other question is about values. I once had a phone call, and [the caller said], “Dick, what do you do when the place where you work is crooked?” I said, “How do you know?” He said, “I just drew up the crooked contract.” He quit because the values of that place weren’t the values he has for his life.
PF: Challenges in the workplace often inspire people to assess where they are now and what they want to do in the future. But this process of self-evaluation and reinvention can come with its own set of challenges. What are some common ones people face?
DB: It will vary as much as there are individuals in the world, but the first thing that keeps people back is their own self-appraisal. A few years ago, we discovered that people 40 years and older have the biggest trouble making a fresh start. We puzzled over that. We realized that it was because they had this self-picture that by their age, they should have become successful in whatever endeavor [they chose] in their lives. They realize that their whole life has been based on wrong decisions up until now and find it hard to come to terms with that.
Another [obstacle people face] is their friends telling them there are no jobs or they’re too old. You have to be really careful about the company you pick. That person bringing you down, what they are really doing is saying how they would feel if they were in your position. They project themselves onto you. They need to be disregarded.
PF: In light of this and other potential obstacles, what is the single most important thing for people to know if they want to start fresh in their careers?
DB: It has to be hope. If you have hope, you can deal with anything. If you have no hope, you’re wiped out before you even begin.