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What Your Colleagues and Relatives Think? Screw That.

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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Sunday 7th of November 2010

It's easy for people like you and Chris to give this advice because you make money doing something you can do from anywhere. I am a teacher and so is my husband. We can't just take off and work from anywhere. We try to take advantage of the time we have in the summers, which is why I bought your book to find better deals, but we need to show up in a specific place the rest of the year.


Sunday 7th of November 2010

Emily, many Americans would envy all the time off you have and think you've got it made, but if you're not teaching in a university you're probably underpaid, which doesn't help. Having said that, I've met loads of schoolteachers in my travels, in places like Peru, Guatemala, Vietnam, and Indonesia. They've saved for experiences instead of more stuff. Contact me offline so I'll know more about your situation, but I just hosted a teacher friend at my house in Mexico who did a year-long exchange program and I've visited a college teacher a couple hours away who is on a Fullbright scholarship. There are ways to branch out from norm in almost any career.

Mario B

Friday 5th of November 2010

Most people are walking around in a coma and wouldn't know what to do with their life even if finances suddenly became a non-issue. Look at all the lottery winners and wealthy retirees who don't know what to do with their time when they stop showing up at the same workplace every day. We need drones like that probably to keep the wheels turning and man the cash registers at retail. Wish they would stay home on election day tho. They're so easily manipulated by the spin doctors.


Monday 1st of November 2010

I haven't read this book yet, but I do read his blog. The problem I have with all these types is they're almost all young and childless. Having a kid (or aging parents who need care) greatly complicates your ability to just hop on a plane anytime or start a business from scratch without worrying about the consequences. "Lifestyle design" isn't so easy when there are diapers to change or school plays to attend.


Tuesday 2nd of November 2010

I hear you Jessica. I only recall two mentions of children or families in that book. Granted it's 10X easier to live the life you want when nobody else depends on you.

Too many people use this as an excuse though to just become a drone. They lock themselves into a path of taking on more and more obligations, more and more debt, just to live their day-to-day life. They wake up 20 years later when the kids leave home and go, "What else have we accomplished? Anything?"

I didn't travel much for the first two years after my daughter was born, but I wrote my first book when she was in diapers, we got her a passport when she was three, and I quit the corporate world for good when she was four. Now we live in Mexico and she's going to school here---in Spanish. If you make the choice to have children---and for most first-world parents it is indeed a choice---it still doesn't mean you have to live a conventional life in a paint-by-numbers manner.

Jacob B.

Friday 29th of October 2010

This sounds like a great book to check out. It's not easy turning off the peer pressure/parent pressure/society pressure. But when you do, it can be really liberating. Something tells me the author doesn't have a Jewish mother like I do though.


Friday 29th of October 2010

Amen, Tim. Another outstanding missive. You've got this way of distilling philosophies, concepts and premises into useful, pragmatic and provocative conclusions.

Thanks for sharing.