Interview with Chris Guillebeau: The Art of Non-Conformity

Today, I’m interviewing Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris is a writer, travel hacker, and career innovator.

Be careful, this interview may inspire you to do something extraordinary with your life. I hope it does.

Chris Guillebeau
Chris Guillebeau: Travel hacker, author, and entrepreneur

Here’s the interview:

Jeff: You’re a self-proclaimed artist and “creative” — what do these terms mean to you? How did you become an artist, and how is that a part of your life now?

Chris: I’m an artist in the sense that I’m a writer, but like most people, I’ve been creating things my whole life. I also enjoy building businesses and other projects of all kinds.

Mostly, I like the building part. With the exception of my blog, I’m not nearly as good at sustaining existing projects.

Jeff: What’s been your favorite place to travel to so far?

Chris: I don’t have a single favorite place; I like a lot of different places for different reasons.

Among others, I like South Africa, Macedonia, Hong Kong, Zanzibar… but the list really goes on and on. I also try to appreciate the process of travel itself, not just the destinations.

The Art of Non-ConformityJeff: The Art of Non-Conformity is a manifesto for, among many other things, people to live a different life. To eschew the status quo and not conform, right?

But don’t you run the risk of forever evading responsibility, if you do this? What is your definition of what it means to be an adult?

Chris: Yes, which is why non-conformity must be more than just rebellion.

I use the model of non-conformity having the twin roles of freedom and gratitude.

Freedom is all about opportunity — the chance to choose how we spend our time and what kind of work we’d like to do.

Gratitude leads to what you call responsibility — or as I see it, creating opportunities for other people to also have the freedom to choose.

As for what it means to be an adult, I’m less sure about that. I still have no plans for what I want to be when I grow up.

Jeff: Okay, Chris — so you travel the world and encourage people to live extraordinary lives. That’s great for you, but what about the rest of us? Is that kind of life for everyone?

Chris: Traveling certainly isn’t for everyone. Some people are happy in one place, and that’s fine. But as for living an extraordinary life, everyone who reads this sentence is already highly privileged.

Why wouldn’t someone want to achieve something significant before they die? Life is short.

Jeff: In your experience, why do most people conform? What’s holding them back from living a more extraordinary life?

Chris: Because they don’t know of any alternatives, or because they’re afraid of what other people think of them. Everything else leads back to one of those reasons.

Jeff: Most people, I think, want to live more amazing lives, but don’t know how to get started. What are some practical steps to breaking out of conformity?

Chris: Start by asking why. Why do you do what you do? What’s the point? What if you stopped doing it and started doing something else?

Think about what you’d really like to do, and if you’re not sure, experiment. Avoid debt whenever possible, since it will reduce the choices available to you in the future.

Find like-minded friends. If your family doesn’t understand you, you can still love them, but you’ll need to forge additional relationships to help with your quest to be amazing.

Ask yourself two questions:

  • What excites you?
  • What bothers you about the world?

The answers to these questions can guide your next steps. And fortunately, it does get easier over time.

Jeff: What is the one secret to writing and being read?

Chris: Those two things are quite different. You don’t have to “be read” to be a writer; you just start writing. If you care about writing, the lack of being read won’t stop you.

As for the being read part, that consists of two parts. The first is broadly related to having something to say. What you have to say doesn’t need to be entirely unique (most writing isn’t), but it does need to be meaningful and interesting.

This part can’t be short-circuited — or at least, when people do attempt to short-circuit it, it’s usually fairly obvious.

The second part, especially for those who share their writing online, lies in building relationships. I always tell beginning bloggers that if they have three people reading their posts, treat those three people like the most important people in the world.

Continue with that perspective when you have 300 readers, and 3000, and 30,000 and beyond.

In the long-run, creating quality work and genuinely building relationships will take you far.

* * *

For more on Chris, check out his blog and follow him on Twitter. You can get his book The Art of Non-Conformity on Amazon. Or, check out his Unconventional Guides for some of his excellent eBooks on travel and making your life count. (Affiliate links)