Book Review: The Art of NonConformity

While I tend to be a skeptic about “self-help” books and books that claim to be able to change your life, I have been on a kick recently (maybe from being in front of a computer at least 40 hours of my week) of reading inspirational, life-hacking, career advice and self-help type blogs, including, but not limited to Life-Hacker, Brazen Careerist, Zen Habits and The Art of NonConformity: Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work and Travel. I blame this new trend of mine not on the fact that I don’t know what I want to do – because I have, since first grade, known the very basics of what interests me, and when I’m unhappy or unsatisfied with a situation or job, I tend to be quite terrible at hiding it.  No. I blame this on a sinking feeling that I’m getting lazy, creating bad habits, and perhaps going about this whole “life/career” thing all wrong.

Knowledge and a certain amount of self-awareness is one thing; planning, courage and focus is something different.  Which is where these blogs come in.

Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Nonconformity has been of particular interest to me, not just because of general career or goal-setting/happiness advice, but because his big goal is to travel to all 192 countries by the time he’s 35 years old. And recently, I have accepted the fact that travel is an important aspect to my life, even though I am not desiring a truly nomadic life like some people these blogs have used as examples.  But more on that later.

As some of these talented bloggers do sometimes, Chris Guillebeau recently published a book based on his blog called The Art of Nonconformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want and Change the World. The book is really a primer on beginning to think about your life from a fresh perspective – it is in many ways the opposite of the expected narrative of books like The 4-Hour Work Week and other similar titles. Chris gives great examples about how he has crafted his own life to be independent and fulfilling, but he makes it clear that his choices are not the universal “fix-all” choices. The emphasis is on empowerment, personal responsibility, overcoming of fear and the realization that goals and dreams are not only important to have, but are much closer than you realize. The book gives ideas to get you started on a path to reevaluating your life, but never claims to have all the answers.

It’s not necessarily important to make your career your passion; it is necessary to make sure that 98% of your time is spent working toward the goals that are important to you, the things that are making a difference in the world and the activities that bring you the most satisfaction.  I appreciated reading The Art of Nonconformity because it is an advocate for personal responsibility and a fresh lens you can use to look at your life and really, truly decide what is important to you.  And once you figure that out, Chris gives hints and tips to push you into building the best path for that life.  So not only does it inspire you with the theoretical, it empowers you with the practical.  But it’s hard work, my friends.  If you’re lazy, there’s no book in this world that can liberate you from that soul-sucking desk job you complain so much about.  That’s right.  I’m looking at you.

Henry David Thoreau once said “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them.”  In all due respect to Mr. Thoreau, I think we should all do our best to prove him wrong.

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