18 December 2010

52. The Art of Non-Conformity

52. The Art of Non-Conformity: Set your own rules, live the life you want, and change the world by Chris Guillebeau (3/5)

Round-the-world travel aficionado and blogger Chris Guillebeau has written a book that condenses a lot of the ideas presented on his blog. Though I received a free copy of the book (Thank you, Chris), I have mixed feelings about it.

If you're familiar with Chris's website and message of unconventional living (live the life you want, not the one you feel you're supposed to, and don't be afraid to pursue it in unconventional ways), I'd skip the first chapter. It was a turn-off for me for 3 reasons:
1. The parables he used didn't quite fit the situations he applied them to in my opinion, so they got on my nerves.

2. He wrote that he "doesn't want to waste anyone's time" which immediately made me think, "Get on with it!" The moment you say you don't want to waste my time, you're wasting my time by not delivering your ideas directly. A more detailed table of contents would accomplish the same task.

3. In line with that, he aggressively discourages people not open to the idea of unconventional living from reading the book. I understand niche marketing, the idea of velvet ropes to encourage your "right people" (those into your idea) to stay while encouraging those who aren't to move on to something they are into. However, I don't think that applies to books. Not in the same way it does to websites at any rate. The book itself is the red velvet rope, its cover will either lure people in or turn them away. There's no need to turn anyone away with your words. If you really want to spread an idea, you don't discourage anyone from coming into contact with it. They may disagree in the end or give you a bad review, but how else can you plant seeds of ideas or raise ideas for discussion?

There's a saying I see most every day: "Books invite all, they constrain none." I believe in that strongly, so his first chapter irked me. Am I simply the wrong audience then? I don't think so since I've been following his blog for quite some time with interest.

The college versus blogging chapter also killed me even though I agree with a number of things he said. It's true that a college education isn't necessary to perform a lot of jobs, but having a degree will make it easier to get most jobs and tends to yield larger paychecks over your lifetime. So unless you're sure you're going to be self-employed your whole life, keep that in mind.

Also remember that Chris has those pieces of paper if he ever needs them.

More importantly, college is about learning critical thinking. You can learn a lot on your own but it's also very useful to get feedback. The alternative graduate year he proposes is just general knowledge, more like what you'd get in high school or frosh/soph years college. I'm all for lifelong learning, but his suggested program is in no way a grad program. Grad school is for learning specialized knowledge. Go to iTunes U and look through the free course offerings there or read up on your topic of interest with books from the library.

Another benefit of college is networking. If you expect career help, research that aspect before picking a school. I received fellowships from my undergrad school which helped me pay for grad school (where I met a network of people I worked with after graduation). A lot of it is using the resources available.

Chris describes his college experience as an 80% waste of his time. Like most things, I believe that what you get out of something is related to what you put into it. Maybe he took the wrong classes or didn't go to a challenging enough school or just wasn't into it.

You don't have to have a degree to succeed, but be aware that not having one can present you with a lot more hoops to traverse in traditional work realms. If you're great at networking, rock on, you can probably talk your way into the opportunities you want. Just don't be that person who is insecure because you didn't go to college. I know too many lovely, smart people who have hangups because of that.

My favorite chapter was number 9: Radical Exclusion and the Quest for Abundance. The most useful thing I took from the book is the idea of a to-not-do list, a way to minimize time sucks that are unhelpful or even toxic to you.

He also talks some about his travel hacking in the book which I enjoyed. I wanted to know more about his relationship with his wife though. I understand wanting to preserve her privacy, his too, but it seems a missed opportunity to talk about unconventional relationships and pursuing dreams when you have a partner who is not involved in them. From the blog, it doesn't seem like she travels with him to most of the countries he visits, so how does one maintain a relationship when one's dream keeps you apart? What happens when ten to twenty thousand dollars a year goes to fulfilling one partner's goal without the participation of the other? How does one maintain balance and equity in the relationship?

I suspect I will get the most practical use out of the resources that didn't actually make it into the book. I'm looking forward to checking those out.

Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to read your provocative book, Chris.

5 years ago on TTaT: Higher altitude

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