This week I bring you my interview with the newest internet superstar, Chris Guillebeau. Since launching his blog, The Art of Non Conformity (AONC) in 2008, it has risen to become one of the 5k most read blogs on Earth. No mean feat given that there are over 135 million blogs currently in existence. There are very, very few blogs that have had such a meteoric rise as this.
Chris writes on the subjects of life planning, personal development, travel, entrepreneurship and unconventional living. He blogs about his own life, his own learnings and perspectives and invests a hell of a lot of time into helping others to live their dream life too. In his own words:
My mission is to help people live unconventional lives, make their own choices, and change the world.
Chris is living the life that most of us dream of. He is totally self-employed and earns the money he needs while he travels, and is aiming to visit every country in the world. He’s currently at 117 of the 197 countries.
He was somewhere travelling between French Guinea and The Cook Islands when he answered my questions, so I am very grateful for him taking the time out to do it! Here’s the interview:
Ross Interviews Chris Guillebeau from The Art of Non-Conformity
You have been on a remarkable path of discovery since you launched AONC. Where did it all start?
It started in two places. The beginning of AONC started when I turned 30, returned from Africa after four years abroad, finished grad school, and began thinking more seriously about what I really wanted to do with my life.
But before that, the foundation for everything else definitely began with the decision I made with my wife to go to West Africa in 2002. We ended up staying until 2006, volunteering for a medical charity, and those experiences helped me define how I see the world.
I’m a huge believer in taking the time to think about and craft the life you want – what steps did you take to define and design exactly what you wanted your life to be like?
Me too – and it’s important to note that this is an under-practiced skill. People of all ages write me every day, and many of them talk about how they have just begun thinking about building the life they want. For me (and many others) it began with a) clearly understanding what I wanted, and b) focusing relentlessly on making that happen.
Since launching AONC you have lived the life that most people would consider a ‘dream life’ – but most people don’t think that they can do it, and don’t actually take the very straightforward steps to start moving in this direction. What is it, in your opinion that is holding most people back?
Fear is what holds most people back. There are essentially three fears: the fear of failure, the fear of success, and the fear of change in general.
You’re a man who faces these fear regularly. Firstly the fear of failure and the scary possibility of going it on your own and launching AONC, and then fear of the unknown as you travel the world to some pretty exotic locations and I’m guessing some pretty scary situations (I imagine to most of my readers visits to Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Jordan would be scary). How do you manage fear and do you believe that it is something that can be used positively?
In terms of travel, I’ve had a lot of experience and I know that there are very few places in the world that are actually dangerous. Jordan, for example, is an extremely safe and hospitable country that I wish more Westerners could have the chance to visit.
In terms of other things, though – writing, working on the book deal, building a brand around nonconformity, and so on – I have definitely experienced a great deal of fear. The answer of how to overcome fear could be a whole manifesto (or book!), but one of the things I’ve continually thought about is the “would I regret this if I didn’t do it?” question. One of my strongest personal motivations for trying to visit every country is that I know I would regret it if I didn’t try. The same is true with AONC, my book, etc. The attitude is, I may fail, but I won’t hold back from trying as hard as I can.
One of the statements from your 279 Days to Overnight Success manifesto that struck a chord with me is that you deliberately set out to live your ideal life, of which financial reward really is a means to an end. You goal appears not to be financially rich, but rather it is to travel, enjoy new experience and positively effect the lives of others. Was this a big distinction for you? Did you consciously put aside the desire to chase financial reward and look for other reward?
That’s correct. This is something that’s difficult for most of us, including me, to get used to. The reality is that money has no real value by itself. The value comes only in terms of what we can exchange it for. I see nothing wrong with making money, generating wealth as an entrepreneur, etc. The question is just, what is it for? I don’t make a huge amount of money right now, but I feel like I pretty much do everything that I want. Since I don’t feel limited, why should I feel the need for more money? I value experience more than possessions, in other words.
I love your concept of writing your own annual review each year and setting your goals for the next year. What impact do you believe that this annual goal setting has had on your life?
It’s had a tremendous impact. I highly recommend it.
And as part of your review back in December last year I recall that you set some quite lofty health goals, how did you go?
So far so good. I still haven’t run my marathon this year – hopefully I’ll get to that in October. I do run about 30 miles a week and practice yoga at least twice a week.
And lastly onto health (this is a health blog, primarily, after all!) one of the questions I get asked most frequently by my readers is how to stay healthy on the go, when travelling or away from home. As someone who is away-from-home for a considerable proportion of the year, can you give any advice on how to keep fit and healthy on the go?
Well, I don’t claim to be perfect in this area – I struggle with optimal health on some of my long journeys. On the good side, I do try to exercise on the road, I’m vegetarian wherever I go, and I don’t drink much. On the bad side, I sometimes skip meals, sleep poorly, and spend a lot of time on planes which is not good for my legs. I’m sure if I took things a bit more slowly it would be better, but I have a lot of places to go and I don’t like to be away from home longer than two weeks at a time.
Finally, what and who inspires you?
On a personal level I feel inspired by God, my wife, and a few people who were in my life at critical moments and challenged me to be better than I was.
On a professional level I am inspired by all of the people who read my site. They are incredible, remarkable people from all walks of life, and I enjoy hearing from them. I feel extremely honored that they care about what I have to say each week.
I really, really recommend you check out some of Chris’s writings. Here are a selection of my favourite posts from AONC that I really recommend you read:
- Why You Should Quit Your Job & Travel The World
- Ever Feel Like Giving Up?
- A Short Collection of Unconventional Ideas
- How to Write a Life List
- How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review