The Art of Non-Conformity

The other day I stopped by the library, as I do every week (occasionally every other week). While looking around for some new books to read and share with you, I came across a book I had read some years ago and really enjoyed, and thought I’d re-read it. That book was The Art of Non-Conformity – Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World by Chris Guillebeau

Note – The link to the book is an affiliate link. If you buy the book, I’ll receive a small commission at no cost to you. Thanks for supporting the site!

I had first heard about Chris many years ago when this book was in the “New” section of the library. I had been intrigued by the title and taken it out, read it in one sitting, and then looked the author up online. Since the book is copywritten in 2010, this must have been back in 2010 or 2011. It’s hard to believe that it’s been six or seven years since then!

After I read the book, I immediately checked out his website for more great content. I can distinctly remember spending lots of time there – following his journey to visit every country in the world, reading his thoughts, and the awesome comments. He apparently now runs a podcast that’s been successful – I noticed it over on iTunes the other day in the Business section. It’s called “Side Hustle School” and it’s currently number 12.

Art of non conformity

What Is Non Conformity?

In the book, the author teaches you how to build a good, meaningful life in an unconventional way. He rightly points out that many of us sleepwalk through life. Every day, we make the same drive to the same office, talk to the same co-workers, deal with the same politics and other irritating stuff. We spend our money on things we don’t really need, to impress other people who probably aren’t even looking. We don’t think about leaving a legacy or our meaning on this planet until the end of our lives, instead of throughout our lives.

He argues that there’s a different, better way to live than to just do the same thing until we conventionally retire. What if you structured your life to be financially independent, possibly through assets, but more likely through income that can be earned anywhere on earth? What if you used that financial independence to lead an unconventional life, one filled with adventure and deep meaning to you, instead of waiting until age 65 to do so?

He shares his story, as well as the story of several other people he’s met in his travels. Chris has started several businesses at a low cost, all of which were profitable. In fact, he later went on to write the book “The $100 Startup” (affiliate link) on this very topic.  By creating several businesses that could be done anywhere, he was able to create income for himself to allow him to reach his goal of traveling to every country in the world.

The Naysayers

The author also spends quite a bit of time talking about how to handle those people who love to tear you down, tell you why what you’re thinking won’t work ,or smugly try to tell you all the reasons you can’t do something. These people are like the Dementors in Harry Potter – they try to suck all the life and dreams out of you. They feed on killing dreams, and feel happy for themselves that they’ve taught you how to be more “realistic”.

I can so empathize with this, because I have relatives that are exactly like this.  When you tell them good news, they tell you why it’s actually a bad thing. If you share an idea, they’re quick to tell you exactly why it won’t work. If you wanted to launch a business, they’ll tell you all about how it’s going to fail. They just have such a negative outlook on life, they want everyone else to have a negative outlook too. So as soon as you are doing (or even thinking of doing!) something that’s the least bit unconventional, they’ll be there to suck the life at of it. So guess what? I just stick to discussing the weather with them.

They’re here to suck the life from your dreams. Photo credit – Dailymail

An Unconventional Graduate Degree

Now, I actually have a conventional graduate degree (MBA), but I’m so in agreement with the author that the piece of paper is not really important. In fact mine is upstairs somewhere, buried in a drawer, and in my real life I don’t mention it at all. That’s not to say I’m not proud of it – I did spend four hard, long years while having two kids and helping my husband through his near dealth from septic shock getting the thing. But you know what? I’m more proud of the hard work I put into it, the perseverance, the fact that I kept going when it would have been much easier to give up, than I am about the letter I can put after my name.

I also totally agree there’s nothing you’re going to learn in your graduate classes that you can’t learn by yourself. The reason you get an graduate degree is because you want a job with a conventional company, that will only recognize a conventional degree. You also might be like me and want to have your terminal (last) degree be with a higher quality institution, because you had to put yourself through undergrad debt free and had to go to a local college to do so. Perhaps you also want to seek out experiences (like in a Chinese Walmart) that you wouldn’t otherwise have, and develop connections with your classmates you’ll use over time.

Those are all good reasons to get the official degree, but it comes at a great financial and time cost, and may have little/no benefit to your career. Instead, if you just want the knowledge a graduate degree provides, you can design your own program using online classes, podcasts, the library, and so on. It just takes self discipline and work, but you’ll be rewarded in the end with new skills and a more interesting life.

Personal Finance

Chris actually devotes an entire chapter to personal finance in the book. You can’t live an unconventional life if you’re struggling to pay the bills, and needing to work full time at a low paying, in-person job to do so. He embraces the concepts of paying very little for the things that don’t matter, and investing more in yourself, your business, and your dreams instead.

He profiles people that took some what might be considered radical moves to live out their dreams, like Adam Baker (of the sadly now-defunct Man vs. Debt blog) who sold all his stuff and moved overseas with his wife and daughter. He also mentions J.D. Roth in this chapter, since he did a guest post over on Get Rich Slowly back when it was good (note-visit Money Boss to find his new online home).  Check out Adam Baker’s TED talk below, viewed almost 1.5 million times, on selling stuff, paying off debt, and doing what you love.

Basically, Chris’s personal finance advice is to become financially independent, whether it’s by creating an income for yourself that can be earned anywhere or by saving enough of a nest egg to support you (or both!). Have a laser focus on spending money on things that align with your true priorities and dreams, instead of on stuff. Then just live the life you want, without thought of the naysayers.

The Best from His Website

As I mentioned, as soon as I finished the book years ago I popped right on over to his website and read more of his writing. Here’s a selection of my favorites from his site:

A Brief Guide to World Domination

279 Days to Overnight Success

How To Conduct Your Annual Review

The Purpose Of Work Is (featuring Mr. Money Mustache himself!)

What I Thought

This book was actually one of the first things that got me thinking on a FIRE (Financially Independent, Retire Early) path. What was the meaning of my existence? Why was I put here on this planet? Why did such a bad thing happen to me and my family? I had to be able to turn all of this into something greater than just sitting in my cubicle all day. I know I was able to speak about it in front of 30,000 people, hopefully inspiring them to feel appreciated in what they do every day. But I’m seeking something more.

What that is – I still have yet to figure out. I’m hoping this blog can be part of it, though – I’m reaching thousands of people, and I hope the things I write resonate with them and help them in their own financial journy. My short-term financial plan, to pay off my mortgage and pay for my kids college, is more conventional than some. But these short-term goals are in service of my longer term goal, to reach FI and do work that really matters.

Overall, I’d highly recommend picking up this book either through Amazon or through your local library like I did. While you’re at it, try to snag the $100 startup book, read through his website, and check out the podcast.

Have you ever read this book, or Chris’s site? If so, what did you think? What are your thoughts on these concepts? Let me know in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “The Art of Non-Conformity”

  1. Troy @ Market History

    I’ve never followed the standard path in life. I’ve never been the ideal kid, the one who gets straight A’s in school, graduates top of his class at a prestigious university, slowly climbs up the corporate ladder, etc.

    I think the internet has really allowed the idea of non-conformity to take place. Before, a lot of people just had no choice but to slave away in the corporate world. But with so many internet businesses being opened (people who get paid for posting on Instagram, bloggers, etc), a lot of people can take the less beaten path.

    1. Yep, the internet has made a huge shift in people being able to pursue less conventional occupations. It’s still a lot of work, but you can work from anywhere doing things that didn’t exist even ten years ago

  2. jumpstartfromscratch

    I have not read any of these books, but he has a real flair for great titles. They peak my interest immediately. I will have to visit the library soon.

  3. I completely agree with you on the MBA. What I’m also most proud of is getting through it while working long hours, and taking courses in the evenings and weekends.

    I also have this deep desire to live an unconventional life, which I guess is the real reason I’m chasing FIRE. I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned, but will add them to my rotation.

    I guess in the end, we’re all really just chasing freedom from conformity.

    1. Definitely check them out if you have a chance-they’re good, quick reads. And I so agree that all of us chasing FIRE are leading an unconventional life by society’s standards.

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