Book review: The Art of Non-Conformity

author chris guillebeau & his bulky passport & an image of his book cover Most of us who end up doing things on the Internet sludge around for a while, a good, long while, before we find our purpose and the means to voice it, much less an audience who is drawn to hear it.

In stark contrast to this, Chris Guillebeau's ascent, like everything else about him, is truly remarkable. He went from zero-to-fixture in roughly 279 days, a trajectory he outlined with generosity, humor and transparency, all in startling quantities, in his aptly-titled (and free!) PDF, 279 Days to Overnight Success. Several obvious reasons for this success lie within Chris himself (although he's far too modest to talk about them that way): a ferocious determination to focus; utter lack of patience with "normal" routes to "success"; off-the-charts smarts fused with equally prodigious curiosity; youthful vigor fueled by plenty of caffeine and clean livin'.

A few equally-understandable reasons are external, his interest and proven facility with travel hacking and entrepreneurship dovetail neatly with many people's urges to see and move through the world on their own terms. (An economy in freefall hasn't hurt interest, either). And several more are undoubtedly due to small but strategic outlays of time, attention and money in areas like networking, graphic design, and infrastructure.

Chris touches briefly on all these things in his book, The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want and Change the World, fleshing out details where useful. If you're already familiar with Chris's deservedly lauded blog, you'll have heard many of the stories he shares in the book already, in slightly different form.

But the gift of an all-at-once, immersion read is that it goes beyond stories, tips, tricks, "how-to"s and hacks to let you soak in a philosophy, and I mean that both in the sense of luxuriating and absorbing. From the beginning, where he establishes the likely mindset that indicates readiness to explore an unconventional life/style through the end, where he wraps up with a sensible warning that everything he's gotten you fired up about is always fiery at a cost (and, like its rewards, an unending one), Chris slowly conditions your brain for the thrilling, difficult work ahead. The book is generous, it's unrelenting, it's highly specific in its instructions and it's thoroughly, impeccably earnest.

If I'm making AONC sound just a bit overwhelming, that's because it's very possible that it is, at least, to someone who's not in the place to hear or use it. That's fine. As Chris himself says at the outset, this book assumes four critical prerequisites (numerals mine):

  1. You Must Be Open to New Ideas
  2. You Must Be Dissatisfied with the Status Quo
  3. You Must Be Willing to Take Personal Responsibility
  4. You Must Be Willing to Work Hard

As someone who's been casting off bits and pieces of convention with painstaking stubbornness since roughly 1990, my own take on this is that if you're at all interested in the message (points #1 and #2), you're already in a place to activate it, whether you do is a matter of a whole lot of points #3 and #4. If nothing else, this book has helped illuminate my ongoing issues with #3 as a serious sticking point. (Thanks, Chris. Thanks A LOT.)

Full disclosure: I'm a stalwart friend and fan of young Mr. Guillebeau, and, lucky, lucky me, the feeling appears to be mutual. I anticipated the book with a mixture of excitement and nerves; while had every reason to assume that it would be as good as the rest of his output consistently is, we all know what happens when one assumes. And, friend or not, there was no way I was going to heap false praise on anything. So it was with no small relief that I realized, roughly 1/4 of the way in, that Chris had hit a home run.

Thank you, Chris. Thanks a lot...

xxx c

Photo of Chris Guillebeau and his big, fat passport by Gwen Bell; book cover designed by Reese Spykerman.