The Art of Nonconformity (book cover)This is my quick book summary of The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World (by Chris Guillebeau). The book is available on Amazon.

Summary notes below. All emphasis mine.


“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with their song still in them.” – Thoreau

You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

Come join the living world of adventure!

“The tragedy of life is not so much what we suffer, but rather what we miss.” – Thomas Carlyle

Life is short, Time is Limited.

It’s usually better to do something than not to do it.

Start thinking about your legacy immediately. Then, begin living your life with that vision in mind.

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.” – George Bernard Shaw

“The great pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do.” – Walter Bahegot

“Don’t look for the meaning of life. Instead, seek out the experience of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell

“Whatever your dreams are, start taking them very, very seriously.”

1.) Create your ideal world. Goal: wake up knowing there will be something new/exciting/unknown at work

2.) Radical goal setting

  • 1 year goals – writing, health, business, family, service, travel, income and giving
  • 5-year goals, lifetime goals

3.) Planning for serendipity

  • All the time you want for the people you love
  • As much time as you need to think or plan
  • Work that is fun, fulfilling and challenging
  • Financial independence
  • A few “adventure goals”
  • Travel goals
  • Things that other people “don’t get” but that make perfect sense to you

Get rid of:

  • drama and whiny people
  • busywork, or any work that ultimately lacks value
  • schedules set by other people
  • unnecessary obligations or things we do out of a sense of guilt

You never need to apologize for pursuing your own ideals and dreams.

  • What needs can you meet?
  • Who looks to you as a leader?
  • What bothers you about the world?
  • How can you make things better?
  • What can you offer the world that no one else can?

Choose abundance over scarcity. Scarcity involves hoarding, while abundance involves sharing.

When faced with uncertainty, take the leap.

Intelligence is not a prerequisite, but determination is.

You can have unlimited dreams and goals, but not unlimited priorities.

Momentum is on your side. But first you need to be clear about what you want and where you are going.

Your Life, Your Terms

Start understanding what you want to get out of life. In the end, it’s not about you. Most of us want a life that leaves a personal impact on others.

“The absence of fear is not courage, the absence of fear is mental illness.”

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is continually feeling you can make one” – Elbert Hubbard

3 most common fears: Fear of Failure, Fear of Change and Fear of Success

“They say time changes things, but actually you have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” – Paulo Coelho

Apply the “no regrets” mind set.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie

“People don’t want you to be an actor. They want you to be yourself.” – actress from L.A.

Asking yourself: “What’s the worst that can happen?” puts things into perspective

How to Fight Authority and Win

  • “The question is not who is going to let me, but rather who is going to stop me.” – Ayn Rand
  • A critic is a man who knows the way but can’t drive a car.
  • People will always try to stop you from doing the right thing if it’s unconventional.

Marginalization and the Department of No

Deploy the underdog strategy: change the way the game is played

“The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person doing it.” – Chinese prov.

Typical gatekeeper argument: “everybody is doing this, so why shouldn’t you?”

What You Don’t Need:

  1. Experience. The past belongs on a resume
  2. Years of preparation
  3. Paperwork
  4. A mentor. You can’t outsource the responsibility of planning the course of your life.

What You Really Need:

  1. Passion. If you’re not absolutely passionate about what you believe in, chances are you haven’t discovered it yet. Keep looking.
  2. Vision and a task. Vision tells you where you’re going. Task tells you what you need to get there.
  3. Answer these questions, and you’ll be ahead of everyone else:
    1. What do you really want to get out of life?
    2. How can you help others in a way that no one else can?
  4. You need commitment to stay the course. 10,000 hours or more!

Reclaiming Work

Competence is your security.

Memorize and follow this never-fail recipe: Get started. Don’t quit.

Option 1: Self-Employment (online, location independent):

GOOD BusinessBAD Business
Creates assets that sell on their ownTrades time for money
Independent of economic climateDependent on economic climate
Flexible hours, flexible locationRigid schedule (shop or service)
High profit margins, regular cash flowLow profit margins, irregular cash flow
Founder owns the IPSomeone else (i.e. franchise owns the IP)

Option 2: Change the rules of employment – “boss hunting”

Don’t just escape from something – escape to something

“Some people get an education without going to college; the rest get it when they get out” – Mark Twain.

“Colleges are like old age homes, except for the fact that more people die in colleges.” – Bob Dylan

Relate your education/learning to what you actually want to do when you finish!

The Power of your own Small Army

“I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, become more, then you are a leader” – John Adams

“The price of greatness is responsibility.” – Winston Churchill

  1. Recruit your small army
    – Identify the platform(s) from which you will speak to them. Blog, social networking profile, etc. Communicate with at least 2 mediums.
    – Establish a “Reason Why” you’re looking for their help. They’re going to think: “It sounds cool, but what does it do for someone like me?”
    – Create a welcoming environment. “Come join us. Be part of something bigger than yourself. There are other people who see the world in a similar way.”
  2. Train and reward your army
    – Motivation: Inspiration (most important), education, and entertainment.
    – Be yourself: show your failures and successes on a personal level
    – Rewards: write 3 personal notes or thank you letters every day. Do the unexpected.
  3. Ask your army for help
    – Basics: join an email list, subscribe to blog, complete a survey
    – Help you spread the word (let them bring more prospects to your campaign): “please tell someone about this” or “please pass the word to three other people”
    – Help you connect with anyone
    – Provide financial support (1000 true fans as patrons of your work)
    – Grow your business – instead of focusing on selling, focus on solving problems. Customers = true fans
    – Join the cause (literally)

Warning: if you don’t do what you say you’ll do, or don’t apologize when you make a mistake, say goodbye to your army.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

Your Personal Finance Journey

“I’d like to live as a poor man, with lots of money.” – Pablo Picasso

  1. Happily exchange money for the things you value
  2. Don’t exchange money for the things you don’t value
  3. Value life experiences over physical possessions
  4. Investing in others is at least as important as long-term savings

To get serious about saving, focus on increasing income more than cutting expenses.

Work toward financial independence, but never retire. Instead of trying to accumulate wealth, focus on increasing and diversifying income.

“If we command our wealth, we should be rich and free. If our wealth commands us, we are poor indeed.” – Edmund Burke

Places to give to: UNICEF / Kiva / Oxfam / Doctors without Borders

Instead of giving a one-time gift, it’s usually better to give an ongoing monthly commitment.

Once you give, let it go. It’s literally out of your hands at this point, and that’s where it should stay.

What They Say About Winners

“If you want to get a lot of people to hate you, make a lot of money doing something you love” – Hugh MacLeod

People who put down winners are energy-sucking vampires. Just because you’re winning doesn’t require someone else to lose, but most don’t understand that

“Great spirits have always been violently oppressed by mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

“Every man dies – but not every man lives” – William Wallace

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” – Albert Einstein

Achieving harmony is two-fold:

  1. Say goodbye to unnecessary tasks, obligations, expectations
  2. Welcome in a wide range of things that enrich our lives

Eliminating the Unnecessary

Keep asking yourself: “What will happen if I don’t do this?” and you will gradually learn to discern necessary from unnecessary.

Occasionally make a list of things that drain your energy and do not create any value

Live with 100 things – give away what you no longer need.

Choices, Inputs and Obligations you can usually end:

  • stop making commitments to people, events and activities that bring you down
  • give up meetings and TV
  • give up the phone as much as possible. For voicemail, just have a message with your name
  • give up e-mail.

Enriching Our Lives through Abundance – “But what do we keep?!”

At the end of the day you want to be tired, not from a grind but with a sense of “wow.”

  • Say YES to legacy work.
  • Say YES to work that leaves a deliverable (define work in output instead of time)
  • Say YES to your kind of fun.
  • Say NO to work that doesn’t leave a deliverable (unnecessary meetings, etc.)
  • Say NO to busywork.
  • Say NO to things you would only do out of obligation.

If you have a bad feeling, say NO. If you feel slightly intimidated but also excited, say YES.

Contrarian Adventures

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”

Your Legacy Starts Now

“To live, to love to learn, to leave a legacy. The need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need. To have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution.” – Stephen Covey

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein

Do something wonderful, people may imitate it.

Stop simply reliving your glory days. Think about moving on to even greater things.

  • Begin thinking about every day as the first day of your life. If you want more glory days, start building a legacy.
  • Best time to start working on it was yesterday. Today will do.

The Search for Meaning – the 2 Questions

  1. What do you really want to get out of life?
  2. What can you offer the world that no one else can?

Also, you have to really answer the question: “How will this really help people?”

VISION: How will the world be different because of this project?

BENEFICIARIES: Who will benefit from this project?

PRIMARY METHOD / MEDIUM: How will you do the work?

OUTPUT: What will be produced as a result of your work?

METRICS: How will success be measured?

Legacy projects require Legacy work.

  • Every day you’ll face a battle between legacy work and busywork
  • Good work vs. Great work. Great work is simultaneously comforting and discomforting because it pushes us to go further.

In the morning, ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What do I want right now?
  • What is the single, most important thing I can do today?

In the evening, ask yourself:

  • Who did I help today?
  • How much time did I spend creating today?
  • Did I move closer to one of my big goals today?
  • How much exercise did I do today?
  • How much sugar/caffeine/alcohol did I consume today?
  • What do I want for tomorrow?

Creating vs. Responding

Key principle of legacy work: usually involves creating something as opposed to responding to something that exists. When you create, you initiate a new project or interaction.

Measure work in output, not hours. Deliverable, not the time you spent doing it.

Create a continual metric for your most important work. If you consistently produce x of something per day, you won’t be disappointed.

Don’t compare yourself – don’t let others look down on you.

But what about process?

  • Make something beautiful that will outlast you
  • Wake up in the middle of the night with good ideas. Share them with the world.

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”

“One can resist the invasion of an army, but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.” – Victor Hugo

Leave the “real world” to those who are satisfied with it, and come join the living world.

The feeling of being alive more than compensates for the negative consequences of living life on our own terms.

A Few Dangerous Ideas

  • Change the balance of power and usefulness of university education
  • “Tent cities” / Free shelter for 1 year to fight homelessness
  • Why do charities exist after they have already solved the big problems? They should get out of the way
  • Prisons for nonviolent offenders could encourage supervised work
  • Eradicating systemic poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy

What is YOUR dangerous idea?

The Opposite of Luck

Make your own luck. Be daring, be impractical!

Failure is a real possibility, but regrets are completely optional.

If one plan doesn’t’ work, do something else. But if you don’t try, you’ll go to the grave with the song still in you.

You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

Provocative ideas that challenged authority were rarely welcomed by the people who controlled access to power and wealth.

Taking the road less travelled is a good start, but you can also build your own road.

Stand for something! Come join the living world. “The rest of us are waiting.”


Read other reviews and notes on the book’s Amazon page.