How much do you care what other people think? Have you postponed traveling for more than a short vacation period because some friends or relatives might think you’re nuts? Or irresponsible? Or adrift with no career plan?

I’ve never been one to worry much about what other people thought about my plans, from high school forward, but even I have to step back sometimes and go, “Why am I doing this?” We go through life doing so many things just because “that’s the way it’s done.” This is especially true with going to college, picking a career, buying a house, and listening to our (often clueless) bosses.

This subject is top of mind with me lately for several reasons. I’m living in Mexico for a year, which certainly isn’t a mainstream idea, even though it’s doing wonders for my finances and my stress level. Second, there was an interview I did last week, where the (lawyer) blogger kept coming back to this question of how long-term travel is perceived by others. Shouldn’t we worry about being perceived as slackers? (Editor’s update: that blog has gone dark, so I guess the answer for him was, definitely yes.)

The Non-conformist Life

Last, I’ve been reading this runaway bestseller from a blogger who got a book deal and then sold books by the truckload based on his following, not because he had the right agent or a long history of articles in prestigious dead tree publications. It’s pictured at the top left and called The Art of Non-Conformity, by Chris Guillebeau.

I’ve been following his blog a long time and maybe you have too. He’s one of the many “lifestyle design” bloggers that popped up like mushrooms following the success of The 4-Hour Workweek book, but his writing resonated with me more than most others. He’s a traveler trying to hit every country in the world, first of all, plus he’s a big fan of work that’s stimulating. As in it’s okay to work 50 hours a week instead of 4 if you truly love what you’re doing, get energized by it, and can’t wait to get started in the morning.

Instead of trying to be more audacious than the pack, a lot of his points of view seem downright reasonable. Like the idea that you should save a bit for retirement, yes, but earn and invest in experiences now instead of waiting until the twilight years to live out your dreams. Spend your money on experiences, not just more stuff to cram into your overstuffed living quarters.

For people already leading a non-conformist lifestyle, this book will be a confirmation rather than a groundbreaking treatise. I’ve followed most of the advice in here without even thinking about it, in the process of accomplishing what I wanted instead of doing things “the way it’s supposed to be done.”

The alternative self-directed graduate degree

There are a few challenging ideas in here that are intriguing though. For one, his suggestion for skipping college, especially graduate school: for most people it’s just an overpriced piece of paper to get you on the treadmill. Few will have the guts for this since that piece of paper is necessary for most non-entrepreneurial career paths, but I’ve got to admit his “self-directed alternative graduate program” would teach you a whole lot more than any university. On the list are things like a subscription to the Economist, a round-the-world plane ticket, a reading of all the major religious texts, learning a new language, reading 30 nonfiction books and 20 classic novels, joining Toastmasters, and much more.

Total cost – $10,000. A bargain compared to community college even. I know that when I returned from my first round-the-world trip, I was amazed at how much I had learned about religion, geography, world politics, economics, and geology. Certainly far more than had stuck with me after cramming for tests for four years between keg parties. I think he’s onto something.

Getting Serious

If you pick up the book pictured at the top, it’ll cost you well under 10 bucks. (In an ironic twist, the paperback is cheaper than the Kindle version!) But if you really want to get serious and give yourself a big step up, Chris sells a bunch of specialized Unconventional Guides and courses. They’re going to cost you much more, but they’re investments in your future, something to give you an edge when striking out on your own or to give you an edge when trying to rack up frequent flier miles.

Art + Money (Yes it’s possible)

Build an Empire

Click here to check them all out.

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