Is There a Quest in Your Future?

Happiness of Pursuit bookOr maybe there’s a better question to decide whether The Happiness of Pursuit will resonate with you. Are you a compulsive person?

This is the latest book from Chris Guillebeau, the author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Start-up. I breezed through both of those books and have recommended them to a lot of people on this blog and in workshops or lectures I’ve done. I have to admit this one was tougher for me to get motivated to finish though. That’s probably not a reflection on the book but rather a reflection on me. I’m either not driven enough or not bats%!t crazy enough to relate to many of the subjects and their pursuits.

I’m certainly familiar enough with the kind of “drop it all and pursue a goal with an unguided focus” quest since it’s so prevalent in the writing world. As editor of Perceptive Travel, it seems each week I get a few queries and a few book review pitches from someone biking across Africa, circling the globe on a motorcycle, hiking across the USA, and on it goes. (I’ve often joked that I’m going to do a story on biking all the way across Luxembourg. No support van!) Half the time the pitch is accompanied by a Kickstarter campaign beg to fund it. You can’t blame them though: if they can just add an “After my divorce…” beginning to it, there’s a good chance they’ll end up with a bestseller and a movie deal.

Most of these people profiled aren’t opportunists doing it for money though. Sure, there are high-profile cases you may have heard of, like 16-year-old Laura Dekker who sailed around the world solo (after suing the Dutch government that tried to prevent her from going). There’s Miranda Gibson, who lived in a tree in Tasmania to protest illegal logging. Plus Jia Jiang, who practiced “rejection therapy” for 100 days and posted all the no encounters on YouTube. And of course there’s Chris himself, who completed his goal of visiting every country in the world a few years back. But the goal wasn’t publicity or riches. They just had an itch they had to scratch. A really big itch.

Chris Guillebeau

The media loves these stories of course, from narrative travel stories in magazines where the writer is on some kind of quest to the wacky ones the cable news channels love to run at the end of the half hour as either a feel-good triumph story or for light comedy. The quickest way to get on TV is to take on something that seems either wacky or impossible.

The producers would certainly drool over some of the stories in this book. There’s the guy who decided he just has to take and publish a million photos to reach his goal. There’s a woman who felt compelled to spot every species of bird on the planet. One man decided he wasn’t going to go anywhere he couldn’t walk to (what’s wrong with a bike?) and then when that wasn’t radical enough, he stopped talking too—for 17 years. Another decided that his calling was to read the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica in one year. Yes, there’s a chapter called “Self-Reliance” because, well, can you just imagine the conversations they were having with their significant other? In many cases there wasn’t one because, well, there’s this quest you see and…

In the end though, this is a book about setting a goal, overcoming adversity, and doing what many people think is either nuts or impossible. So even if you’re not one cut out for knitting 10,000 crochet hats (Robyn Devine) or running 250 marathons in one year (Martin Parnell), this book might provide the tips and inspiration you need to do something more modest. Like eating vegetables every day for a year. Or putting $500 a month into a savings account. Or maybe drinking every microbrew made in Chris’ home city of Portland. Hmmm, I might be psyched enough to at least get started on that last one…

There are some nice food-for-thought tidbits in here, like “Dissatisfaction + Big Idea + Willingness to Take Action = New Adventure.” And “Easy projects aren’t quests, they’re holidays from real life.”

I also like how he looks at the perceived danger in relation to the outcome. If someone succeeds in a big crazy goal, he or she is called “brave, courageous, confident.” If something bad happens and someone gets hurt or killed, the words change to “stupid, risky, naive, arrogant.”

If you have it in you to pursue some crazy, audacious quest you can’t get out of your mind, there are plenty of tips here on funding, planning, and what happens when you’re done. It’s an entertaining read and the author really did a lot of legwork tracking down subjects and getting their why and how stories. Follow this link to get it in hardcover, Kindle version, or audio book at Amazon.

  1. Louisa

    I haven’t read the book, but I do know Chris G’s work, and I don’t think your reaction is much about you. His writing seems targeted to a younger reader, or one who hasn’t lived that expansively. People like you and I have already been self-employed, traveled extensively, lived in another country, etc. I took Lifespring in the 80s, and it too was all about pursuing one’s quest, so I don’t think I need a rerun. Besides, Chris’ dream of visiting every country on the planet when he openly acknowledges he’s not interested in the cultures is not an inspiring example for me.

  2. Jimmy B.

    I bought this book because I liked his others and was encouraged by all the positive reviews on Amazon. Like you though, I had a hard time getting through it. I thought a lot of the people profiled were just OCD and self-absorbed to the point of parody. So much time spent on totally pointless tasks! If they put that energy into creating a thriving business or running a non-profit that solves a problem (like the Charity: Water guy very briefly mentioned), they could really change someone’s life besides their own. It reminded me of when I used to read through the Guiness Book of World Records and imagine how many years some people wasted just trying to get mentioned in one line of one book so they could say “I did it.” Then somebody breaks their record the next year…

  3. Adam

    Going on quests is an amazing idea … beats the heck out of the same old routine each day for 50 years, no?

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