Cara's Reviews > The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World

The Art of Non-Conformity by Chris Guillebeau
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's review
Oct 30, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: life, inspiration
Read on October 23, 2010

"Have you ever heard that it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission? This is completely true, but there's even more good news: there are very few things you need to ask forgiveness or permission for." -p. 18

I follow Chris's blog and get a lot of inspiration from it. This book is basically the blog distilled and put into an exhortation/how-to manual. It's an engaging, quick read, and increased my desire to break out of my ordinary life and be my own boss. In fact, it's taking me way longer to try to summarize it than it took to read it in the first place, so here it is in bullets:
- Society relies on gate-keepers and peer pressure to keep us all in our little boxes, jumping through hoops and doing busy work. We don't have to go to school, work in an office, and be mindless drudges just because everyone else is. It's the opposite of what you heard as a kid--now instead of "If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?" it's "everyone else is jumping off a bridge, you should too!" if you try to do something different. But you don't have to listen.
- To live a full, meaningful life, you have to figure out what you'd rather be doing. Do the ideal day exercise to crystalize what you want your day-to-day life to be like, then add radical goal-setting (figuring out what you want to do before you die and picking the one or two most important to get to work on) and planning for serendipity (make a plan, but leave flexibility for taking awesome opportunities). Note that just doing everything for yourself is unlikely to be satisfying for long, so think about how you can benefit others.
-Everyone is afraid. You have to do what you want anyway. Change is scary, but don't let that stop you. "All things being equal, we generally resist change until the pain of making a switch becomes less than the pain of remaining in our current situation." To push yourself, you can increase the pain of the current situation, or decrease the fear of the change. Sometimes circumstances do this for you--he gives an example of his apartment flooding pushing him and his wife to move, something they had been considering but putting off for a long time. Also, when you're afraid, think about what is the worst that could happen, realistically. Will you die? Will the world end? No? Probably you should do it, whatever it is.
- Sometimes you're in a position where what's going on around you is wrong. If you find yourself in a position where you need to fight authority, step outside the normal rules of the game and make a new game. You're much more likely to win. Ex. public land was being auctioned off to oil companies. Within the game, people wrote letters and staged a protest, none of which accomplished anything. One guy stepped outside the game by showing up at the auction and bidding enough to win every single piece of land, even though he had no money. That held the process up enough to be overturned when the power shifted to the new presidency.
- If you're looking for security, don't look for it in a beige office with a salary and coffee breaks. Be awesome at what you do, and people will seek you out.
- Chris presents what he learned in grad school vs. the blogosphere school of hard knocks, and proposes an alternative to graduate school involving reading stuff yourself, learning languages, going places, and doing things. You can do a lot of that for the price of one year's tuition these days, and it may be more meaningful.
- How to look at money: don't buy stuff and expect that to make you happy; eschew debt; be frugal but willing to spend on experiences or things you value; give.
- How to make better use of your resources: eliminate the unnecessary (things and to-do tasks), and use the space and time for things you value.
- See the world--it's a mind-expanding adventure.
- As you do great stuff, don't rest on your laurels. Make sure to do some "legacy work" every day--work on your big meaningful project. (Why are these guys so obsessed with their legacies? I agree with the principle that we need to do meaningful work and make sure to chip away at that most important project every day, but to me, it's because I don't want to waste my days, not because I really care that much what I leave behind to be remembered by. Life keeps on going--very few people are remembered at all beyond a hundred years after they die, even fifty, and that's ok. We're all just drops in the cosmic river--our individual contributions really don't matter, it's the whole that matters. But I digress.)
- People may tell you you're being irresponsible, unrealistic, dangerous, etc. but they're just scared.
- Do your thing! Whatever it is, do it!

There are also a bunch of case studies of people doing unconventional things and being happy. It's the power of self-direction--iIt's a waste of life not to take things in your own hands and make it what you want and need it to be. This book provides inspiration and some direction for doing that.
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