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Home » Change Careers

“What Color Is Your Parachute?” a Good Choice for Finding Your True Calling

8 June 2009 Written by: Jorge Lazaro Diaz 8 Comments


Several winters back, I had hired a strong group of performers. I worked hard at bringing out the best these folks had to offer both as individuals and as a team. I received a very positive review from my boss. He recognized my accomplishment as going beyond the call of duty when I had been taking for granted that I have a knack for running software projects on time and under budget.

At the time, I was also speaking monthly for a groups tending to the needs of job seekers. (Look up Back on Track Network for more information). One presentation I gave really got me thinking. I called it “Finding the Ideal Career for You” making use of great content from Richard Nelson Bolles’ book “What Color is Your Parachute.” (You can check out my book review for more details.) The book contains a set of exercises great for helping people identify their transferable skills. So I put myself through these exercises as part of my prep work.

The exercise is simple. Write down several paragraphs about a problem you solved recently. The problem doesn’t have to be work related. It just has to be a problem you enjoyed addressing. The task is then to map the skills used to resolve the problem to the book’s transferable skills matrix.

I picked a challenge I faced organizing a kick off meeting and run for a marathon training team I coached. (Yes, I’m one of those overachieving weekend marathon runners who trains others to follow my insanity.) The kick off posed some unique challenges.

  1. My fellow coach was out of town that weekend driving her daughter to college.
  2. Few of the runners had ever run long distance races and many of them were out of shape.
  3. The runners didn’t all fall into one neat running pack. We had runners with paces anywhere from 9 minutes to 15 minute per mile.
  4. We had a wheelchair athlete that was cutting her teeth on a marathon for the very first time ever.

The first step was to find a substitute coach. I coaxed a buddy of mine who had coached with me on a previous season. He agreed to organize the slower paced runners. I made a bunch of phone calls looking to identify someone with experience coaching wheelchair athletes. My persistence led me to an expert that shared his smarts with me. I contacted each runner via phone or email to get them pumped about a 6am Saturday run (Ugh!) and reassure them I could coach them to the finish line. My work paid off. The kick off was a success for everyone.

The next step is picking out the transferable skills from your write up and matching them into three categories: things, information and people. I got a lot more for giving this presentation that I expected. When I started mapping, I made an interesting discovery. I saw that most of my transferable skills and the ones I most enjoy using are people skills. I had used my persuasion skills to recruit a substitute coach. I used people skills to find someone in my circle of contacts who could advise me on coaching a wheelchair athlete. At the kickoff I delivered a kick off speech to the runners inspiring them and convincing them to stick with the program.

I picked several other problems to write up and came to similar results. This is not what this computer science graduate degree holder expected after spending most of his career as a programmer, software architect, and technology leader. It caused me to spend some more time reviewing if I was on the right track in my career. I had not done so in a while mainly because I had been so busy “making a living” that I failed to stop, review and reflect. I’ll write another post soon to discuss where this all took me. Lot’s of fun.

I highly recommend this book for those of you struggling with the question, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” So many people have relied on this book for it’s job hunting advice which is excellent while failing to turn to the last section which is just as good or better for finding a career that fits you. It maps out a systematic approach with very clear steps defined for confirming your new chosen career. This process includes use of informational interviews as a way to confirm your findings and possibly even land that next position.

Please leave some comments. I’d love to see if this worked out for you.


Jorge Lazaro Diaz

Jorge Lazaro Diaz is the "Original" Career Jockey who started this blog and now serves as the Managing Editor. You'll find he enjoys focusing on professional and personal development articles and frequently covers motivational and spiritual topics.

You can learn so much about this author by clicking here.

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