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.