"The tragedy of life is not so much what we suffer, but rather what we miss."
Chris Guillebeau is no stranger to ingenuity. In The Art of Non-Conformity he set out to squash the average, predetermined life plan and enlist a group of readers that abandon their preconceptions, challenge the norm and forge their own path in the direction of what makes their creativity and passion thrive. Written for a unique group of motivated and hungry readers, he is unapologetically bold—he anticipates the blockers his readers will likely foresee, reveals the ultimate rewards of exploration, and sprinkles in the encouragement necessary to inspire the first step. By sharing very real and inspiring stories of boundary-pushers, Guillebeau has crafted a book that will inspire even the most comfortable reader to crave more.
The Big Idea
Fear as a Driver of Success
"Always do what you are afraid to do."
Imagine stepping up to a start line of a race and being indifferent to the fear and pressure of succeeding. Light as a feather, heart rate stabilized, not a worry in the world—how would you perform? What drives you? Guillebeau echoes the sentiments we have heard so often: fear is a driver of success. It is an indicator that we are pushing boundaries and living and performing outside of the average or expected. Fear is what makes us feel alive, and as active participants in our life path, and harnessing that fear in a positive direction of change and in favour of fulfillment is what Guillebeau encourages his readers to do. He suggests there are three steps to do this:
- Staring Down the Brick Wall of Fear
“Conquering fear begins with acknowledging fear.” Guillebeau argues that our fear is often enticed by deep seated expectations or false understandings, so if you really stare it in the face, question it, and dig in it often, it becomes less of an obstacle and more of a motivator.
- Building the Net
“Apply the ‘no-regrets’ mind-set. After acknowledging fear, you then need to change your mind-set and prepare for making a change.” This is often a highly personalized approach and will play directly into what you place value and importance on; however, there are three valuable “nets” to put in place that Guillebeau shares in this section. The first, imagine the worst case scenario and you will (or should) come to recognize the consequences of inaction are far more limiting than what could grow from change. The second, it is important to rally a group of supporters and mentors to guide you through the blockers or hold you true to your original intent when your inspiration wanes. Lastly, set yourself up for rewards along the way that serve as reminders and motivators. All three combined make the potential consequences seem less limiting and far less isolating.
- Smashing Through the Wall
“This is where you stop wavering and decide one way or the other if you’re going to take the leap.” Now that you have moved past the blockers of fear and insecurity, the real challenge comes with taking steps to move in a new direction. This stage is based solely on action, moving out of the dream phase, through the blocker (both real and assumed) phase and into the movement phase. What do you want to do? What will get you there?
"Convergence is a state of being where everything in our lives is in alignment."
Otherwise known as a state of happiness, convergence is achieved when everything you place value on is active and abundant. Whether that is in relationships, exercise, work or other elements of a daily routine, you are doing more of what you love and enjoy and less of what weighs you down or makes you unfulfilled. “To achieve convergence,” writes Guillebeau, “two separate (but related activities) are required: saying goodbye to unnecessary tasks, obligations and expectations—then welcoming in a wide range of other things that enrich our lives.”
We, as a society, are so bound my external expectations, that it is such a radical thought to live with such abandon, to trudge forward in a way that is motivated by the ultimate quest for fulfillment. Guillebeau encourages readers to ask two very important questions when faced with an expectation: “Why should I do this?” and “What will happen if I don’t?” He argues that “as you begin to implement this practice, you’ll gradually learn to discern necessary from unnecessary obligations. The next step is to say no to as many unnecessary obligations as possible.”
Not only are most of us driven by external expectations, but so often we are deterred from seeking out or capturing opportunities to fill ourselves up, so the next step after denouncing obligations is “welcoming a life of abundance, filled to the brim with things you enjoy doing and that leave a legacy.” He argues that there is a difference between that feeling of exhaustion after trudging through a day filled with the fulfillment of obligations, versus the exhaustion that comes with investing positive energy in a project or quest that expands your mind, heart and soul.
"Wherever you are in life, however old you are, begin thinking about every day as the first day of your life. The recognition that all we have is today brings about a combination of good and bad news. The good news is that the failures have already taken place. There’s no need to continue reliving them in your head. The bad news is that the successes are locked away too."
The danger of success is that we relinquish that period of time to the “glory days”, assuming that our best days are behind us and that our impact on the world around us is nominal from here onwards. Rather, the art of non-conformity is to push onwards and upwards, living a little extra each day as a way of redefining fulfillment, success and legacy.
The ultimate goal, Guillebeau argues, is to build something that is the perfect complement to your ability and your passion, all while helping others. “If you like the idea of having more glory days, and you don’t want to retire from the sense of being alive, you need to work toward building a legacy.”
Whether you are comfortable where you are, or hungry and craving more, Guillebeau has equipped you with the tools, the lessons and the encouragement to move in the direction of the unknown. To squash fear you must embrace it, to find direction you must look inward, and to build a legacy you must find the gaps and fill them. While an easy read, it is an empowering read—one that lights a fire and demands attention. Are you living you’re most remarkable life?