I don’t usually write book reviews on this blog. I save those for my Tumblr, What Lexi Reads.
But The Art of Non-Conformity was so good, and relates so directly to what we talk about here at The Traveling Writer, that I’ve got to tell you about it. The sub-title itself is telling: Set your own rules, live the life you want and change the world.
Sometimes I feel alone in my ideas. I quit my stable job — my ideal job — to travel in Africa. I’d prefer to pay for life experiences than having, say, a big house. I don’t collect anything. I don’t want an engagement ring. I don’t think I even want a proposal. (I’ll explain why in a blog post sometime.)
These are not ideas that I flaunt, except maybe on this blog, because they’re not widely accepted. But the author of this book, Chris Guillebeau, encourages us to live those ideas even when we feel alone. He writes: “Your dreams and big ideas belong to no one but you, and you never need to apologize for or justify them to anyone.”
His book is about how to do that. How to make those dreams happen, the ones that everyone says are impossible or unrealistic.
A ton of people are probably reading Chris’ book right now — his blog is super popular, and rightly so — but I felt like he’d written it just for me. Maybe that’s because a section of his book mirrored a post I wrote on my travel blog a year and a half ago about how anyone can travel — or accomplish any dream — if they make it a priority. Maybe it’s because I recently read Haruki Murakami’s book about writing and running (and blogged about it), and Chris uses that memoir as an example in The Art of Non-Conformity. Maybe it’s because he advocates the no-regret mindset, which I already try to live by. But more likely, feeling like I can relate is probably a product of how Chris wrote the book. A good writer makes every reader feel like she can relate, like the book was written solely for her.*
Whether we can relate to a book also depends largely on timing. I happen to be thinking a lot lately about some of the concepts Chris writes about, mainly de-cluttering and simplifying my life. And one of the ideas he suggests is creating a To-stop-doing list. Yes, a list of things you’ll stop doing, unnecessary chores or obligations or responsibilities that don’t actually need to be done. This requires a good deal of saying no. To help yourself say no, he recommends asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do this?”
I’ve already come up with the first thing on my To-stop-doing list: bridal showers.
I’ve wanted to give them up for a while now, but it’s difficult because it involves saying no, and it looks selfish. Honestly, it is selfish. But Chris’ book helped me realize that creating the life I want will likely involve rubbing some people the wrong way, and that’s okay.
What do I have against bridal showers? They embody the culture of consumerism I’m trying to avoid in my life. If a shower was a bunch of my friends going out for brunch, I’d be all about spending time with them. But it’s not. It’s about about buying gifts, wrapping them in expensive paper that will go straight to a landfill, and oooing and aaaahing as the bride opens a bunch of stuff she’ll probably never use. Oh, and spending my money to endorse all of that.
I know, I know, the bride “needs” some of those things. But really, how much does she need in addition to all of the presents she’ll get at the wedding? Do we really need that many supplies to become a wife? Maybe “needing to outfit a home” applied in the old days, when people got married at 18 and were just moving out of their parents’ house. But I’m 29, and so are most my getting-married friends. We all have toasters and plates and most everything we need to live comfortably. (For the record, I’m not against baby showers, because a new mother actually does need new stuff. Not as much as some new mothers put on their registries, but some.)
Anyway, I don’t expect all of you to agree with this decision, and I’ll happily read your counter-arguments in the comments. This falls into my pile of unpopular ideas, the ones I don’t usually talk about because it makes friends feel and act defensive, which isn’t my goal. And yes, I’ll make exceptions for my best friend (who will soon be getting married!) and my sister. But everyone else’s party will have to go on without me.
Usually after I read a fabulous book, I mail it to a friend; getting rid of books I probably won’t read again is one of my ways of de-cluttering. But I know I’ll read The Art of Non-Conformity again. In fact, I might read it again before I go onto my next book, or at least skim the parts I’d like to implement in my life.
So check it out. And then take the steps to make your life what you want it to be — not what everyone tells you it should be.*I disagree with Chris’ argument that it’s probably not worth tens of thousands of dollars for a degree. He calls it a “piece of paper,” but the truth is it’s also a credential. It’s proof that you’re serious enough about your specialty to study it for several years, the key to a large networking community of alumni and it may help you get your foot in the door in your industry. I’d think twice about paying a lot for a degree, but I think there are far more benefits than Chris acknowledges.
28 Replies to “Thanks to Non-Conformity, I’m giving up bridal showers”
Good for you for putting your money and your time where your heart is!!
You know what my new weekend mission is? No activities that require sitting.
And driving is only allowed if the time not sitting will be much longer. (So, we’ll drive to Discovery Park to run for an hour, because the park is only a five minute drive away.)
This means that I only see a movie if I’ve had an active day, I don’t go to sports games that I’m not playing in, and bridal showers would also fall into that.
That’s such a good goal. I find myself sitting more and more as I get more social media clients… Not good. I need to focus on finding a balance. Sounds like your weekend goal helps with that!
I’m with you on Bridal Showers and congrats on making the decision. It’s hard to break against society’s norms.
I didn’t have a bridal shower myself (was in Peace Corps/Estonia) and have to admit that I don’t really get them. Why does one need more gifts than what is given for the wedding? Recently, I was researching wedding sites for a project I’m working on and I was really shocked at all the push for consumerism and “bigger, better, more expensive” for everything surrounding weddings and bridal showers. I’m not sure if you’ve heard about http://wisegifter.com/ – it’s an alternative for listing experiences for your registry that people can contribute to rather than stuff. I like the idea behind this.
I’m currently making my way through Chris’ book and really enjoying it.
Thanks for that link! Awesome.
Amen! I don’t do bridal showers either and I only go to baby showers if it’s a very, very, VERY dear friend. And I’ve definitely felt the brunt of these unpopular stances. Thanks for putting this book on my radar. I look forwad to reading it.
No bridal shower here! I mean, a 30-year-old who’d been living on her own for 8 years marrying a 36-year-old who’d lived on his own for 14 years? We had house stuff. A shower would have felt like a gift grab. But I do think it’s nice to mark major events with ritual, even if it means creating your own ritual. I had a get together with my bridesmaids the day before the wedding. Not a spa day — a day at the lake with a picnic. It was beyond fantastic, because they all live far away from me, and having them altogether … well, you know where I’m going with this. A million times better than what Crate & Barrel sells.
It’s so nice to know there are people out there who feel the same way as I do! At the same time, I hope the readers who are offended by this — because I KNOW you’re out there — speak up and give us your say here. That’s what the comments section is for 🙂
This book sounds amazing. It is definitely hard to go against the grain. Amen to the Bridal Shower boycott. I like the idea of spending time (instead of money) on my good friends.
You really loved this one! I can’t wait to read it. Also saw it on Jenny from Life After College’s blog today too.
Well, I”m way beyond the bridal shower years, but I wholeheartedly support someone’s decision not to attend them. I feel the same way about Christmas–society’s expectation that one must purchase gifts. I prefer to buy gifts for friends when spirit moves me to do so, not when it’s dictated to me to do so. Good for you, Lexi.
Living in Africa a while myself has made me appreciate the presence of a good friend. There were so many times living abroad that I wouldn’t have given a right arm for the laughter of someone from home. I don’t think you really get that when you’ve lived at “home” your whole life. Its something taken for granted.
This post is so timely, I’ve been mulling over similar things lately and found your counter-cultural ideas encouraging. Having only recently moved back to the US after 8 years abroad, pursuing passions and convictions and deliberately eschewing career progression, I’m definitely happy with my choices. But bumping into friends from high school and college who are know financially secure lawyers while I’m hustling for creative work, sometimes this pang of “what have I done with my life?!” sets in. The competitive person in me knows I could have done that, so I have to remind myself that I chose not to. I chose to move every two years around the world, from Japan to England and New Zealand and now home, I had different priorities (travel, full life, experience), and I actually liked bringing all of my possessions back to Seattle in 2 suitcases. It’s just hard when the culture around you has different priorities. I appreciate the encouragement and I’m right there with you.
As for bridal showers and wedding gifts, as a broke 25 year-old living with my parents after two years in Japan (where I met the man), I was incredibly thankful for every gift I received, mostly cash for putting the rental deposit down on our first apartment in the UK. I haven’t gone to a bridal shower in years because they don’t do them in England, and now that I’m back it’s baby shower season (!), but I think I’d still go and try to bless the bride with a thoughtful, non-consumerific gift. I love the opportunity to think of unorthodox but ethical presents. For a recent baby shower I found a lovely vintage dress and wrapped it with reusable packaging and it was a hit and a joy to give.
I say more power to you for taking a stand that makes people think!
And more power to you, too, Alisha, for your own courage in letting go of career progression. I’m so with you on being around financially secure friends — that can be hard. It can also be galvanizing, though, I’ve been finding lately, especially if those friends criticize one’s lifestyle aloud! For me this makes for a surge in creative energy & purpose….
I absolutely respect your desire to opt out of the consumerism of bridal showers. I do wonder, though, if you could have a greater impact by attending showers but providing a thoughtful, alternative gift as some here have suggested.
Good point. Alisha seems to make a similar one. Something I’ll consider!
I stopped doing Christmas years ago because of the consumerism. It gets my SO’s goat because he’s still very materialistic. I rather have a small group of people over and make a great dinner instead of wasting my time at stores and shopping for gifts that might end up getting returned or regifted.
I also don’t do bridal showers or baby showers (most of the women I know are older with very healthy incomes. I’m a writer and every penny I make goes to paying my bills).
I have to read this book. Thanks for the recommendation.
Hey Alexis! This is great – thanks for the props and (even better) creating something unique of your own. Well done.
And I’m not really against degrees; after all, I spent $32,000 on my M.A. a couple of years ago and said that I have no overall regrets. What I am against is the idea of going into debt for no good reason, which is something that unfortunately happens a lot in higher education. If school was a good fit for you, which it sounds like it was, that’s great.
Yours in World Domination,
Thanks for stopping by, Chris! And for inspiring us with your book.
I think the conversation about whether to spend a ton of money on a degree is a good one to have — because whether we do that IS a choice, and sometimes that’s easy to forget.
I struggle daily with how much stuff I accumulate. As a new mom, the whole industry of children’s things is overwhelming and disgusting. I try to show my daughter that she can appreciate nature and people everyday, not the things she has. And I try to populate my house with things that add beauty, not clutter.
So what are you going to do with the extra time you gain from not attending showers??
I didn’t want any bridal showers. I did the gift registry for the wedding because there were a few things we did need (married at 23, but I had been living on my own since I was 18 while my husband had not) but I really, really, really didn’t want the bridal shower. It seemed like double dipping! But, here is the tricky one that will happen if you get married someday, people WANT to give you a shower. It is hard to say no. I ended up having a very small one with a few co-workers and then one of my aunt’s threw one for me.
Jessie — Good point about friends wanting to follow tradition and throw you a party. Or they just want to do something nice for you! I’m sure I’ll come against this at some point. Maybe I’ll be able to convince them to do something where we spend time together, not money on each other 🙂
Haha great post! Don’t worry, I’m not having a bridal shower!!! 😉
Starting Chris’ book this weekend. CAN’T WAIT!!!!!!!!!!!!
I have never gone to a bridal shower. I did not have a bridal shower for either of my weddings. For the first one it seemed pointless since we had been living together for a year plus and for the second one…well, that’s self-explanatory. I don’t think there is anything wrong with eschewing them.
As far as non-conformity goes, it’s definitely a challenge to go your own way in life but I’ve found it’s a lot harder to just go along with the expectations put upon you by everyone else. My husband is a good example of this. He had the high-paying job and the house on the beach and was engaged to a really nice woman that he liked but didn’t love, but he felt completely stifled and dissatisfied with his life. So he quit his job, sold his house, broke off his engagement. Then he moved into a little apartment and went back to school. He was 43 when he did this. His parents and many of his family members completely bugged out, as you can imagine. But now he’s in graduate school doing something he loves. He met and married me and we have a really great life together, both of us happier than we ever thought we could be. (And there was no proposal, our rings cost $30 a piece and we married at the courthouse.)
I have my own experiences with non-conformity, but this comment is already hella long so I’ll just leave it at that.
I think that a lot of people put a lot of stock in the idea that if you follow a certain path in life, you will minimize your risk and your potential for suffering. This may be true for some, but it’s not true for all. You will be better off for following your heart rather than following the crowd.
Love this story! Thanks for sharing.
Loooooove it! I’m stopping saying yes to everything, especially things that are a big waste of time!
Awesome post, Lexi. Sounds like a great book for our generation.
I think I read this review when you first posted it, but after reading your list of recommended books today, I came here to read it again. I’m reminded that I NEED to get this book. I think I’ll add it to my wish-list and if I don’t get it for Christmas, I’ll treat myself to it in the New Year. One of the biggest challenges I face in achieving my goals is that I feel like I need to do EVERYTHING. I’m looking forward to a simpler, more focused 2011.
I’m with you on the whole anti-consumerism stance, but yes, it is hard and it is unpopular- especially at Christmas!
I also wanted to say a big thank you for your comment at the end of the article in which you disagree with Chris about the value of an education. I think what has happened is that many people went to college without really thinking about what they were doing, while others expected a degree to be a guarantee that life will be good. There are no guarantees in life. There are just different possibilities.
My advice to students is this: If you are intentional about what you hope to learn, and if you understand what the education system is good for and what it is not good for, then you are less likely to be disillusioned once you are out in the world living your life.