Writing

The Origins of What Color Is Your Parachute: Dick Bolles’s Editor Reflects

Richard Bolles/Photo © Glenn Jones

Editor's Note:

Lisa Westmoreland is an editor at Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and is the editor of Richard Bolles’s classic career guide, What Color Is Your Parachute?

Richard Bolles, or, as his friends knew him, Dick Bolles, was a unique author. Every year, come rain or shine, he would update his classic career guide, What Color Is Your Parachute?, because the world was always changing. Dick was always reading some newspaper or other, and thinking deep thoughts about jobs, career, and one’s calling. He saw “work” in a holistic way long before “life design” became trendy.

This is why, even though markets boomed and busted, and trends came and went, the core of his book always stayed constant. Your job isn’t just somewhere you go for eight hours a day – it’s a way to bring meaning to your life. So What Color Is Your Parachute? didn’t just have dry information about resumes and interviews; it had advice on how to make sure your work fulfilled you. It also featured advice on keeping hope alive when you’re out of work. What other job-hunting book has an appendix with tips on how to avoid depression? Trust me, when you’re unemployed, that’s important. And Dick brought that out into the light rather than hiding it away.

It was fun being Dick’s editor. At the beginning of our relationship, he used to say he didn’t need an editor: His book was written at a sixth-grade level, and he had a note in the back of the book about his “unorthodox” use of grammar and punctuation. But it all stemmed from playfulness, from the desire to humanize the job-hunting process, and from his wickedly smart brain. His emails to me, over the years, were just as funny. You know how some people have great email styles? They’re so full of personality and wit that they could only be from one person? That was him. Someday, I’d like to write emails like that.

A man like Dick, who lived to age ninety and seemed like he would live forever, leaves a long legacy. What Color Is Your Parachute? has a timeless humanity that will allow it to live on and help future generations. I would expect nothing less from a man whose quirky book title began as a joke, said off the cuff to someone thinking about quitting their job: “Well, what color is your parachute?” That’s Dick in a nutshell: witty and colorful – but underneath it means something.

Just yesterday I was watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee and she mentioned that title’s phrase during one of her segments. For someone who proclaimed to have little formal respect for the English language, Dick actually changed it. And just like language is living, so is his book. Live on, little Parachute, live on!