Feature Friday Interview: Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity

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Feature Friday Interviews spotlight rare and wonderful individuals who embody characteristics of The Liberation Artist: living outside the status quo, while writing their own rules, carving a unique path to self-defined success.   This week it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to a genuinely remarkable example of a Liberation Artist, Chris Guillebeau.  

Chris is an author, blogger, travel hacker (who from ‘02-‘13 visited every country in the world!), free thinker, and the founder of a small army of extraordinary individuals set on ‘world domination’ – a goal nowhere near as threatening as it sounds, that is, actually, quite unfathomably awesome.  You may have already encountered Chris on NPR, CNN, the NY Times, Huffington Post, Business Week, Entrepreneur, or one of many other media outlets.  Today you will enjoy learning a little bit about how this Liberation Artist thinks.  As for that world domination bit – sit tight.

First, some history: I discovered Chris through his blog, “The Art of Non-Conformity,” where he writes of changing the world through achieving significant personal goals, helping others along the way. Regular readers here will recognize that this is the entire point of my work with Momdoulary, so you can understand how deeply Chris’s work resonated with me. It reflects all I do, say, and AM, to the core. Needless to say, AONC quickly became a fave in my reader.   Timing played a role for me, as well: to read of his travels as I too was making my way across the globe (though nowhere near as far and widely as Chris did) was intriguing. It added an interesting layer of reflection when juxtaposed against my own experience, more so as Chris and I had so many values in common.

I must admit, his work stunned me.  Breathtakingly often, Chris wrote the same ideas I write, live, and embody.  What a delight, what joy!   This is why I encourage you to speak up, to lend your voice to the global conversation.  There are others out there like you, and right now they too are likely looking for a voice that resonates.  I sure was.  For me, at that time, Chris was that voice out there in the ether, another individual who genuinely ‘got it.’   There were others, as well – you have met some of them on these pages.   However, Chris’s words resonated far more deeply than any other.   

So it was with utter fascination that I watched his body of work grow.  His book catalog expanded, his entrepreneurial selections such as the clever “The $100 Startup,” soon reached the NY Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller lists.  I quietly cheered Chris on, thrilled to see such a reception of his ideas, his values.  

I must admit, though – perhaps my greatest fascination was watching him gear up to release his Brief Guide to World Domination. I understood instantly the spirit of the project, I knew this wasn’t going to be the work of a megalomaniac, but rather a fascinating approach to creating an extraordinary life for yourself while creating positive change in the world around you, sourced from a space of gratitude and purpose.  Everything Chris embodies.  AND…The reflection of my own deepest core values, as I’ve already mentioned.  So, I was eager to see what Chris would offer up.   Let me tell you – he did not disappoint!

Quite honestly, I could write more about Chris – his achievements are many, and his ability to cut through the noise and genuinely take ownership of his life is remarkable, which makes for plenty of story to share.   However, it will be far more interesting for you to hear for yourself the “Why?” behind Chris Guillebeau.  In true Liberation Artist fashion, let’s discover how it is he came to choose the path he has at the exclusion of other options, and the values which have shaped his choices along the way.   Without further ado, I introduce you to Chris Guillebeau.

THE INTERVIEW

Chris, you are the perfect example of what we call here a Liberation Artist, living the unconventional life, stepping outside the status quo and genuinely mastering the art of life.   Your accomplishments are impressive.  How did this journey begin?  Were you a non-conformist in your youth?  If no, please share how this began?

Thank you—you’re very kind. 

As for how the journey began, I guess it depends on where you’d like to start. I grew up in a number of cross-cultural situations, which helped me be more aware of the world. I was a high-school dropout, because I was more drawn to independent learning. I was a juvenile delinquent, but that didn’t turn out very well. 

I suppose it was a few years later, after I stopped trying to build a career as a car thief, that I started thinking a bit more directly on what I hoped to achieve and who I hoped to become. Even then, though, the process was hardly linear. There were a lot of false starts and misdirections. 

Did you ever have a sense that you were different, or of not fitting in, or rather did it simply feel natural to be Chris, no matter what others thought or did?

It felt natural to feel different, if that makes sense. As far as I can remember I always questioned authority and was attached to the idea of making things happen on my own. 

Clearly you must have guiding principles that drive your life.  I have yet to meet a non-conformist who doesn’t 🙂  Could you share with us a bit of what those are?

Sure. I’d pick freedom and independence as the overall guiding principles, hopefully underwritten by the value of gratitude. I always want to be responsible for myself, work for myself, and so on. But I hope to contribute something positive to the world as well. 

Why non-conformity?  What is the value?

As I see it, non-conformity is about asking why and questioning motivations. The central message of my work is: you don’t have to live your life the way other people expect. You can do good things for yourself and for others at the same time. 

What are the risks of non-conformity, and what makes taking those risks worthwhile?

The main risk is that not everyone will like you or understand. Fortunately, not everyone will like you or understand no matter what you do, so you might as well do something for yourself. 

Perhaps a secondary risk is that it’s hard to go back. Once you’ve seen another side of life or realized that it’s possible to take another path, you won’t be satisfied doing things the way you used to. For some people, that’s a hard reality to accept. 

Think Big

Were there times where you questioned your sanity, safety, or security, taking this path?  How and where did you find the confidence and courage necessary to embrace the life of a genuine non-conformist?

Sure, of course. One thing I’d say about this is that experience produces confidence. I didn’t know anything about the outside world, so I picked the world’s poorest country (Sierra Leone) and moved there for two years. I was an introvert and afraid of speaking to groups, so I went on a 50-state book tour. The more you do these kinds of things, or even smaller things, the easier it becomes to conceive of bigger challenges. 

How does your lifestyle impact the ways in which you engage with others, and they with you?  There must be a lot of hellos and goodbyes?  Do you stay connected with people?

I’m constantly traveling and constantly connected. Wherever I am I’m fortunate to be able to engage with amazing people. It’s not really a lot of hellos and goodbyes so much as it is a lot of “See you again soon” and “Oh, hi!”

At the Liberation Artist we often discuss the economy of life, the idea that we are born with a treasure chest filled with our one real asset, our life moments, which we are literally ‘spending’ as we shape our lives, and we never know when we are nearing bankruptcy.  As such, we focus on the import of using one’s moments well, not in terms of productivity as much as squeezing every drop of life out of them.  How do you assess or filter the things you bring into your life, both materially and in terms of commitments and activities you pursue?

I love that paradigm and I see things a very similar way. I’ve noticed that many people who pursue quests share an emotional sense of their own mortality. This is different from the intellectual sense – we all know we’re going to die one day. But when this translates into the emotional awareness, we tend to take action on it as you describe.

You clearly use a different bar by which to measure success.   How would you define success, not just in work, but in life in general?

Success is continuously improving my circumstances and the circumstances of others. I’m motivated by challenge and creating — that’s what I want to do every day. Effort can be its own reward if you let it. 

You have clearly walked a courageous path, rejecting the ‘safety’ that comes with gently folding into the status quo.  Do you have any words of advice or encouragement for our readers, on pursuing the life uncommon?

First up: You are not the only one. Whatever it is you want to do, or however you view the world, you are not alone. 

That’s a good start, but perhaps the second part is: we need you. You have something to share with the rest of us, so please don’t hold back.  

$100 Startup-- Los Angeles

I encourage you to explore Chris’s work further.   His blog, “The Art of Non-Conformity” is a great place to begin.  However, don’t miss his excellent selection of “Unconventional Guides” – genuinely practical resources for world domination.  If you are sure you’re ready to build your own empire, you may want to just start big, and go straight to his “Empire Building Kit.”  Finally, if you want a re-cap of Chris’s travels ‘round the world, check out this page here.  These resources will give you a solid introduction to the world of Chris Guillebeau.   Who knows?  Maybe you will become intrigued enough to hit up his next World Domination Summit.
Remember, folks – create amazing!  You are writing the story of your life, moment by moment, with every action and inaction alike.  Make it a great one!