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Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity

I stumbled upon this book at a crossroads in my life in 2011 during a visit to California - my first big solo travel and road trip adventure. Since then, it’s been a book I’ve come back to time and time again.

At the time I was 25 and preparing to make a big change in my life. Big in the sense of leaving behind everything I’d worked toward, ultimately striving for a successful career in the art business world. Having made a very promising start, I was working for one of the world’s two most prestigious art auction houses, an institution notoriously difficult to get into. I felt like everything had lead up to this moment: I’d studied hard, set myself goals, followed through…I’d taken all the right steps, and they’d gotten me to where I wanted - or thought I wanted - to go.

But the reality of what I found when I got there, wasn’t at all what I could envisage myself pursuing with passion and excitement for the foreseeable future let alone a lifetime! So the decision felt HUGE. It was about re-evaluating my whole life, my whole future still ahead of me, and what I wanted that to look like.

I was only certain of one thing: I will not spend my life working at a desk, behind a computer, day in, day out. That much was clear and since that was the indisputable reality of my future at the company, my decision to leave made itself.

What followed since was anything other than clear...but a journey of trial and error, of touch and go, of failing and failing better, of learning and discovering, getting clear on who I am, what my strengths and weaknesses are, what I stand for, what's really important to me...

I couldn't have wished for a better book to come across at that time. The Art of Non-Conformity answered exactly to what I was feeling and going through, providing a relatable perspective, actionable advice, and motivating examples that gave me the courage I needed to leave the world of office life behind me then and there and launch into the world of self-employment and of creating life on my own terms. I hope this book inspires you as much as it did me.

About the Author

Chris Guillebeau is an author, blogger and speaker on the subject of unconventional strategies for life, work and travel. A true modern-day explorer, he has successfully completed his personal challenge to visit every country in the world (193 in total) before his 35th birthday. The Art of Non-Conformity is Chris’s first book, and in between his work on numerous entrepreneurial projects and his travels, he has written a number of equally inspiring and successful titles including the New York Times bestseller The $100 Startup. His website is loaded with inspiring content and you can also subscribe to his newsletter to keep up with his most current projects and ideas.

Key ideaS

The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) explores how to redefine your life, make your own rules and succeed with your passions. Chris draws on lots of inspiring real-life examples to show what is indeed possible when we overcome the fear of taking the leap, take charge of our lives and create new opportunities for ourselves. It’s a great read for anyone interested in creative self-employment and creating and living life on their own terms.

To break free of an unfulfilled existence you have to find out what you really want to get out of life and what you can offer the world that no one else can.

Breaking free can be scary, but don’t let fear stand in your way.

Instead, remember that you don’t have to live your life as other people expect you to – and strive to find security in your own competence.


“Set your own rules, live the life you want and change the world”

There are 2 things that’s hold us back from living an autonomous and fulfilling life: firstly, being unclear about what we want from life; secondly, being afraid of making the necessary changesThe first step then is to get clear and find out exactly what you want to get out of life!

Most people don’t know what they want from life, don’t have a larger life goal, or a clear sense of purpose.

When you don’t know what you want from life you end up living an unremarkably average life following what everybody else does.

Whilst you avoid challenge, discomfort and risk - playing it safe holds us back from developing our full potential and achieving greatness in our lives.

If you’ve ever asked yourself if there’s more to life, start by thinking hard about what it is you want to get out of it.

Coaching is a great way to help you get clear about this.

The second step is to conquer your fear of change instead of avoiding or ignoring it, so you can take the leap.

Start by acknowledging your fear. It’s normal to be afraid of change - but don’t let fear keep you in an unfulfilling life.

“You’re not good enough” or “You’ll never succeed" is fear trying to stop you.

Prepare mentally to conquer your fear. Put it in perspective by asking yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” The worst-case scenario is usually not that bad!

Coaching can help you explore your ‘limiting beliefs’, clear these blocks and help you conquer your fears.

Another important principle of living life on your own terms is to challenge authority.

For example, challenge “gatekeepers” (e.g. your parents, society, your boss, your partner...) that seek to limit your choices, whilst giving you the illusion of freedom of choice from within what remains.

The first step is understanding that few options are truly democratic. If you’re unhappy with the restrictions imposed on you , you’re free to challenge them!

Gatekeepers can be obstacles in the way of a free and fulfilled life. But, luckily, you can challenge them by changing the rules of the game.Look for alternative approaches that might work better for you.

How to set your own rules and succeed at getting what you want out of life:

First, to accomplish your goals in life you must recruit your own small army of followers and find out how to fulfill their needs.

If you dream of becoming an artist, for example, you’ll need the support of fans and patrons. And if your goal is to succeed with as an entrepreneur, you’ll need a loyal customer base to ensure your income.

To find your followers, think carefully about how you can help people get what they want. People will follow you only if your work helps them in some way.

Coaching can offer multiple tools for helping you explore your values.

Second, determine what your own values are and align your spending habits accordingly.

Many people believe money can buy happiness. However studies shot that money and happiness are correlated up to a certain point (one estimate states around $40,000 or £32,000 income per year).

Rather, it’s what you do with your money that counts, and the key is to stick to your values. Prioritize and focus on pursuing those things.

For example, Chris himself ensures that his spending is aligned with his value of prioritizing traveling (20% of his annual income) over “stuff”. His trade off is that he doesn’t have a car, spends only $100 a year on clothes and ensures that he doesn’t have any debts to pay off.

Thirdly, make time for everything you’ve always wanted to do by eliminating the unnecessary things in your day-to-day life.

People often lament the fact that they don’t have enough time to do what they say they care most about. But there’s a good chance it just requires some prioritisation & life planning.

Take a careful look at your current obligations to determine which are actually necessary and get rid of of any unnecessary ones. The fact is that in order to devote most of your time to what you enjoy, you’ll need to be forceful about dropping a lot of other things.

For each activity, ask yourself “Why should I do this?” and “What will happen if I don’t?”

Once you’ve freed up time in this way, you can bring in more of the things that you enjoy doing and which will enrich your life.

A final thread that runs throughout the book is the idea of producing legacy work - work that will outlive you and make the world a better place for others.

The thinking behind this is that once our own needs are met (by using all the previous tools), one proven way to achieve more meaning and fulfillment in life is by “giving back”.

You can help others with your skills and talents in your unique way. There are many ways to do legacy work, just ask yourself: “How will this really help people?”


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