Chris Guillebeau sent me an email on a Sunday night at the end of December, 2008. Earlier that day I'd found his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, and left my first comment in response to his post entitled "A Short Collection of Unconventional Ideas." He "writes for a small army of remarkable people," and I was already getting a glimpse of why that's true. Here he was dropping me a little thank you note that even included a lovely remark about the vibe of my own work.
This was the first time a blogger had taken the time to send me a personal email thanking me for visiting his site. Gestures like that leave an impression and that attention-grabbing move, coupled with his great writing, soon turned me into a regular reader. His blog features stories from the road - Chris is well into his goal of traveling to every country before his 35th birthday - as well as ideas on carving out an authentic path at that space where personal and professional merge. His writing is particularly inspiring when your personal and career goals don't necessarily follow the norm.
Guillebeau has now published his book, The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want and Change the World. Although I'd pre-ordered it early on, once I realized that I would miss my delivery by more than a month, and I couldn't quite figure out where to tell Amazon to ship my copy, I just canceled my pre-order. Which worked out nicely for me in the end.
It was fun to walk with my friend Rachel into the Elliott Bay Book Company my first week in Seattle and buy the only copy they had left. There was something especially fun about buying this particular book from a bookseller where I imagine the author himself has purchased books before, since he once lived in Seattle.
Now Chris Guillebeau lives in Portland, where I spent last weekend. Because he's solidly involved in his Unconventional Book Tour, we didn't run into the author in his hometown, either. Through a stroke of Magnificent Fabulocity, I expect, nonetheless, to meet one of my favorite bloggers at the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, NC, just 65 miles from home, the Sunday after I return to Greensboro. I couldn't have planned it better if I'd tried!
But what about the book?
It took me longer than usual to read this book, since I've been schlepping it around with me on busses and in tents and from friend's house to friend's house. But finally I finished it yesterday morning and wanted to share it with some likeminded readers.
After spending 4 years volunteering for a medical charity in West Africa, Guillebeau returned to the US, went to grad school, and started traveling the world. Along the way he hit upon his big every-country travel goal. His book, like his blog, sheds light on some of the unconventional choices that have led him down his unique path. But it's not a "Hey look at me, I'm a cool travel guy" book; far from it. He shares anecdotes, tips and resources from his own life as well as others who have forged down a less-chosen path. From the book cover:
The Art of Non-Conformity defies common assumptions about life and work while arming you with the tools to live differently You'll discover how to live on your own terms by exploring creative self-employment, radical goal-setting, contrarian travel, and embracing life as a constant adventure.
This isn't a book for everyone. To many, the idea of forging off on the kind of paths Guillebeau's intended audience members are likely to choose for themselves brings far too much risk. It resonated with me, however, in the way his blog does, offering a solid reminder that we don't need permission to follow our own paths. Guillebeau seems to have embraced, early on, the ideas that it's okay to be different, while it takes many of us much longer to be okay with our uniqueness. It's refreshing to discover a voice that so confidently champions authenticity. And unlike some writers, Chris subscribes to the belief that living on our own terms does not have to be a selfish act. In fact, he is a staunch believer in giving back, and encourages his readers to craft goals that include "legacy projects" meant to not only satisfy and fulfill us, but make lasting contributions to our communities at the same time.
This is a book I'll read again. I'm inspired by Chris Guillebeau's story, by his attitude, and by his perspective. And I'm once more reminded that "non-conformity" takes many faces. Even the simple act of kindness seen in emailing a thank you note to a stranger is unconventional. The kind of unconventionality I want more of in my life.