Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity

I’m trying to read more books by other bloggers, and the one I managed to finish first was The Art of Non-Conformity. Based on the writings at eponymous ChrisGuillebeau.com, the book’s tagline is “Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World”. Sounds good, eh?

I’m not sure how I found the site initially, but I remember finding it neat that he resides in my old zip code of 97214. Awesome neighborhood. 🙂 As you might expect, it is more of a “lifestyle design” book than anything specifically financial.

What do you want from life?

The author’s adventures so far has included going from doing manual labor at FedEx, to selling stuff on eBay, to volunteering with a medical charity in West Africa for four years. He now makes a living as a writer, selling a variety of “unconventional living” eBooks and now this physical one. One of his current big goals is to visit all 192 countries in the world.

A big chunk of the book is about finding what you really want to achieve in life. Instead of trying for less work, why not better work. What do you imagine as your legacy? When trying to figure this one out, Guillebeau pushes you to think openly – take risks and don’t listen to what others say can’t be done. Sprinkled throughout the book are stories about his experiences and those of others who are leading non-traditional lives. Two of my favorite quotes:

Take your dreams seriously.

We tend to overestimate what we can complete in a single day, and underestimate what we can complete over longer periods of time.

Making it happen
How do you create your ideal life? Spend your time towards your real priorities. Stop spending time on busywork or other inefficient activities. Realize that a “Stop-Doing List” is just as helpful as a “To Do” list. Instead of a “work/life balance”, which often works out to be “stop working so much, since you hate it, but enough so you can eat”, why not make your work align with what you want your effect on the world to be?

The author is a strong proponent of self-employment, especially through internet-based businesses that allow you to be location independent. This makes sense, because this is exactly what he has done successfully. However, at times I felt the book was colored a bit too strongly with his own experiences.

One example is how he’s not a big fan of college and graduate degrees, noting repeatedly that 80% of it was a waste of time. (I’d say his eventual occupation and his degree of Masters in International Studies had something to do with it. Many engineers or medical school graduates probably think higher of their education.) School isn’t always the answer, but he really seems to dismiss it too easily because it didn’t help him personally.

Personal Finance
I’ve already said this isn’t a financial book, and so don’t be surprised that the section on personal finance is pretty sparse. Most of the advice is of the big-picture variety, and parallels his life advice. Just like you should only spend time towards what you really value, you should spend money happily on what you really value. Don’t spend a dime on the rest. Life experiences are more important than physical stuff.

One interesting idea was his preference for what he calls Income-Based Financial Independence as opposed to Wealth-Based. Basically, he dislikes the traditional goal of having a “Number” of say a million dollars as a goal. Instead, he wishes to create a certain income from work that he likes to do, while also having the freedom and time to do all the other stuff he wants. Somehow he avoids the term “passive income”, but he does tell you to avoid work that simply trades time for money.

Wrap-Up
By far, the strongest part is the author’s easy and energizing style of writing, which makes adventure seem within grasp to everyone. If you have that little idea in your mind that you want to do something different/drastic/scary, then this book will help push you to take the next step. Cynical readers will just see this as rah-rah impractical dreamy fluff. However, I happen to agree that accomplishing just one bold task can make us feel invincible, propelling us to do more. Hopefully, this review will help you decide if this book is for you.

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