Rachel Paige King | Longreads | April 2018 | 14 minutes (3,753 words)
When Richard Bolles, Episcopal minister and author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, died last year at age 90, the New York Times explained his best-selling career guide’s success this way: “‘Parachute’ had come along at the beginning of a historic shift, when corporate strategies like outsourcing, subcontracting, downsizing and mergers were starting to erode traditional notions of job security. The idea that you could stay in one job for a lifetime began coming undone in the early 1970s, and ‘Parachute’s’ perennial sales reflected, at least in part, this new reality.”
Given the tumultuous climate for job seekers over the last half-century — Bolles’s book originally came out in 1970 — the various editions of Parachute have, unsurprisingly, sold a lot of copies (roughly 10 million). In the 2005 edition, for example, Bolles demonstrates why generations of job seekers found his work helpful, with its combination of straight talk and spiritual uplift. For example, he writes, “The typical job in the new millennium is best viewed as a temp job …You must always be mentally prepared to go job-hunting again, at the drop of a hat.” Although the various editions were constantly being updated and revised, we see Bolles (in the mid-aughts at least) spinning the parlous state of job-hunting as not just an inevitable part of modern business but an opportunity for personal transformation. He asks workers to stop expecting not only security, but also stability or even any kind of appreciation for their efforts. At the same time, he presents the world of work as a thrilling adventure (or at the very least a fun challenge) involving short-term gigs with steep learning curves and workplaces characterized by interpersonal drama and managerial indifference to personal struggles. Still, he appears to believe that finding a “dream job” is possible if you stop hoping for any kind of external reward. For Bolles, the job seeker should not be looking not for a single position or even for a traditional career, but for a vocation. Secular people sometimes forget that that word was originally synonymous with the concept of a religious calling, but Bolles, with his seminary training, most likely never did.