Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity

Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity


It would be too simplistic and perhaps, even prosaic, to say that Chris Guillebeau’s opus to living a successful life based on passion and throwing fear to the wind, reads like Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”.

The titles are similar.

There’s a commonality in themes: planning; strategy; finding strength in times of fear and weakness; building and rewarding a loyal army; and choosing a new path that fits your needs not just choosing one that has worked for someone else.

There’s also the unconventional nature of the authors’ lives.

Tzu is commonly known as history’s originator of successful military strategy and whose how-to-guide on warfare has been used by numerous generals since a time when armies were limited to swordsmen and archers.

While Guillebeau is quite possibly one of the most successful high-school dropouts that today’s millennial and baby boomer generation have never heard of outside of rappers Lil’ Wayne and Drake, and Peter Jennings of ABC World New Tonight fame.

However, there’s one crucial difference.

For every person or army who successfully practices Tzu’s art of war, there is a loser or group of losers. For every reader who carries out the principles outlined in “The Art of Non-Conformity”, there will ultimately be an opportunity to live a life that leaves a positive impact on others – making not only the reader a winner, but those they touch winners as well.

Over the course of eleven chapters, Guillebeau weaves in his own road to a non-conformist life of world travel and inspirational writing; the tales of others like him; an endless attribution of quotes from history’s most prolific thinkers and doers; and detailed action items for readers to undertake as they map out their new journey – may it be quitting their cubicle culture job, donating all of their personal belongings to charity or deciding to become a nurse after twenty years in the accounting industry.

Before we continue any further, we all know the publishing world is overrun with books and writers preaching the benefits of an atypical professional and personal life. “The 4-Hour Work Week” (Timothy Ferriss), “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (Stephen R. Covey); and “Think and Grow Rich” (Napoleon Hill) are some most widely known among them.

Some of you have probably read one if not more of these titles, so you’re probably wondering how Guillebeau’s work is worth another trip to the bookstore. His book is not better or worse, but it is an alternative.

It would have been great if the author explained more about he and his girlfriend lived four years in West Africa while working for a medical charity and managing other business ventures, but he balances this omission by telling the unique stories of individuals like a San Francisco couple who packed up their lives in 2006, along with that of their preschooler, to visit over thirty countries and live on $24,000 a year.

In fact, most of the third-person accounts Guillebeau gives of other non-conformists are a lot like him – people who live and love to travel; learn and build a brand from their adventures; and parlay that experience into a highly profitable version of their former selves.

Guillebueau admits that “extensive world travel isn’t for everyone” and does give readers tools to embark on and leave what he calls a life of legacy work versus a life of busy work­ – doing well for yourself while also doing good for others.

The tools are a practical reinforcement of ideas we’ve learned from the characters of our favorite childhood books – be daring, be different; jump in with both feet; and trust in your friends. Ideals we tend to forget after years of conventional schooling.

My one grip with the book is that for all the motivational quotes – from the likes of Winston Churchill, Mark Twain and Ralph Nader – littered throughout its pages and stories of success and the joys of international travel, there’s little to no mention of failure and how one can rebound from it, as if success could actually exist without a failure or two.

Adding examples of a stumble, fall or mishap, and how the author learned from them would – at least for me – make a life of non-conformity more realistic.

It’s hard to say, but not everyone will succeed in life. And even if one does succeed, they experience and learn from failure along the way. It happened to Steve Jobs.

 “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” ~ Woody Allen




– By Crystal Nicole Davis