Somewhere in between the gold stars of academic accolades and the bottom of a bottle of beer in my early twenties, I realized a universal truth:
No one actually knows what they are doing –– at all. People might think they do, say they do, tell you they do, but they really don't know much more than you. We’re all just kind of stumbling our way through this messy life.
However, the nuggets of wisdom keep on coming, and shoulds rain down upon you.
Sometimes you find people with good advice: parents, doctors, flight attendants, Siri.
But even this well-meaning counsel can be dangerous. After all, a grand total of zero people on the planet have walked the same journey that you have. But even the most earnest of guidance comes from a limited place: one’s own experience.
So, when it comes to making life decisions, you’re on your own. And often, this means just following along with what someone has told you is a good idea to do.
But if you’re anything like me, when presented with Door A and Door B as your options, you pull a Miss Scarlet (in the conservatory with the wrench) and start looking for that trap door.
For a long time, I thought I was largely alone and honestly kind of a bad person for thinking this way. Then, I found a book that proved such a notion completely wrong.
I’m assuming that because I once checked out The Happiness of Pursuit, by Chris Guillebeau from my local library, that Google knew which way to point me.
A title by the same author came up: The Art of Non-Conformity. Interest piqued by the title, I decided to spend my precious free book credit on it.
As soon as I started listening, I felt like I was having a conversation with myself –– someone else who looked for an alternative path in a world that told him there were limited options.
AONC was the book that I didn’t know I needed. Without overdramatizing, I do what to emphasize that after reading it (and subsequently his other well-known work, The $100 Startup) I started making some big changes in my life. But more on that in another blog post.
Spoiler alert: I loved the book.
Not-so-shocking spoiler alert: I didn’t love all of it.
So, to give you a proportional idea of what the book was like, I want to highlight a few things I liked about it and a couple I didn’t. Then, you can decide for yourself if you want to spend your precious Audible free book credit, or actually invest your own dolla dolla bills y’all.
Here’s the good stuff:
It is practical AF.
One thing I appreciate about books like this is when there are concrete action steps that you can follow from the author’s advice. Obviously, it’s lovely to hear about philosophy and context, but the core of this book includes steps that you can take to immediately begin putting your plans into motion.
It is rooted in the author’s own experience.
As I’ve started to research more about entrepreneurs who have succeeded online, I’ve learned one thing for sure: there are a lot of phonies out there trying to sell you shit. However, Chris Guillebeau isn’t one of them.
A quick Google search and some digging around his website(s), and you will discover just how many books, products, and other awesome things he has created. You are actually taking advice from a real success story.
It challenges you.
A book with the title The Art of Non-Conformity must deliver on a pretty big promise: real ways to lead an unconventional life. Chris uses many points in the book to ask you to think about your attitudes and beliefs you have always held true. Throughout the book, you are consistently evaluating your opinions about many aspects of your life, and deciding if you want to continue carrying on with them in that way.
Now, for the not so great parts:
It sounds a little arrogant.
As much as he tries to maintain some balance with his radical opinions in the book, Chris inevitably creates a very us/them dichotomy. He paints the people who choose a traditional lifestyle as bland, boring, and unimaginative. Frankly, I think that that is unfair.
I believe that some very radical people end up in more traditional lifestyles because their interests and habits change, or maybe they're just more suited for it. I don’t think that everyone who has chosen relative normalcy is doing so because they are too intimidated by or misinformed about the alternatives.
Chris tries to throw in some qualifiers here and there to show that he’s not judging such people but… they don’t exactly convince me.
It sells one specific lifestyle.
Finally, I want to call out one overarching aspect of the book that irked me. While I applaud Chris’ reveal of alternative strategies to gain income and manage your life goals, his personal take on how to live an unconventional life is inextricably linked with the way he has done it. That is, being an entrepreneurial nomad. Obviously, his target audience for the book are those with the same mindset.
But, there are many types of unconventional lifestyles that don’t involve creating a business and roaming about the globe. I would have liked to see, at least a short section that briefly discussed such lifestyles, with references to other authors who have focused on creating and developing such lives. Think missionaries, military members, time travelers, etc. There are many ways to live unconventionally other than those Chris discusses.
So, I know what you might be thinking at this point: isn’t this just another person telling you what you should do with your life?
And I can honestly answer, no. What I really appreciate about Chris’ book is that, as I mentioned above, it’s an opportunity to dig into yourself and your personal motivations, which ultimately lead to you writing the story––not someone else.
Yes, ultimately it comes back to you, fumbling through life, making decisions to try to get somewhere. In this process, you definitely will not write a story free of struggle or failure, but it will be yours.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.