Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Richard Bolles' Three Boxes of Life

You only live once. How much of what you do each day is determined by the paradigm you are living in? How many of your life decisions were made by uncritically accepting certain premises that you adopted uncritically?

I am not suggesting that we start every day from scratch, questioning everything and trying to make all our decisions "in the now" as we go along. Your thoughts would run haywire. Do I get up or stay in bed? Do I get dressed? What should I wear? Should I eat or not eat? Where should I eat? Should I eat with my fingers this morning instead of the usual way? Should I eat on the floor or on a seat by the door? Should I eat standing up at the counter?

When the alarm interrupts my sleep I turn it off and begin my day. Habits like that are O.K. That's how we keep going. These are not the life decisions I'm referring to anyways.

Rather, I'm thinking about the internal picture we carry around in or heads, consciously or unconsciously, of what a normal life map looks like.

You may know Richard Nelson Bolles as the author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, the job-hunting manual that has helped gazillions of job seekers get re-connected to the employment force over the past four decades. In 1996 the Library of Congress names his book one of the 25 top books that has changed peoples' lives. (You can read more about him here.) His sequel to this annually updated job hunt manual was The Three Boxes of Life.

Here's what one of the reviewers at Amazon.com wrote:

I first read this book when it had been out only a few years, and it turned my head around. I had been brought up, like most children of the 'fifties, to think of life as a series of rigidly defined serial roles: first you were a student, then you were a worker, and finally you retired and got to do all the fun things you'd been putting off for the past 40-odd years. Having worked my way through graduate school, and done a bit of traveling in the process, I of course knew how artificial these distinctions were -- but I still tended to feel vaguely guilty about my "immature" lifestyle and rebuke myself for not "settling down" like a Real Grownup was "supposed to." Bolles set me straight -- in fact I was doing a pretty good job of balancing growth, work, and leisure in my life, and had nothing to be ashamed of. My subsequent work history has borne out the wisdom of his advice: I've been happiest and most productive when my life achieves that same balance; the most miserable time of my life was the nine-year period when I succumbed to the siren song of Silicon Valley and became a money-obsessed workaholic. This is a terrific book, and one that bears rereading every few years, especially when you feel your life slipping out of balance.

Here's another:

Bolles' What Colour is Your Parachute? has, in the short time since its release, become a classic in how to find a job. The Three Boxes is a related but rather different work. The author takes on the broader issues of life planning, which includes not only career, but also educational and personal planning. In some ways, this book is a rebuttal to the traditional college/career/retirement paradigm by showing that people don't have to (and, for that matter, won't even if they wished to) live their lives in the traditional career path straitjacket. The tone of the work is thoughtful but practical. A lot of self-help oriented material nowadays seems to focus on mustering your potential to achieve your dreams. These works have their place, but they fail to answer a preliminary question--how does one know what one wants from life?

The Three Boxes is about the task of actually figuring out what you want, and then implementing what you want. It's remarkably free of needless fluff about the inner person, while filled with practical ideas on "breaking out" of the "traps" of modern career life. This is a book to own. It's an easy and thought-provoking read, presented in light style with interesting graphics.

We all have a picture in our heads of what a "normal" life should look like. Bolles' book aims to provide a more balanced view, and one that is psychologically more fulfilling and healthier.

Bolles's books are an extension of his life mission, which was devoted to helping others in one of the most important areas of life: understanding who we are and being all we're meant to be.

Here's a page of R. N. Bolles quotes from the Brandon Gaille blog. I myself encountered him through an interview in Radix magazine back in the '70s. The interview impressed me at the time because it was clear his religious beliefs formed a foundation for his worldview, but he was engaged in work that focused on an extremely important area of life success: finding employment stability and meaningful work. 40 years later and it's apparent that he has never deviated from that mission.

May your day be immersed with good energy as you move through your paces and do all you set about to achieve. 

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