Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity

book review career personal development self-help the art of non-conformity warrior spirit

The subtitle is pretty enticing: Set your own rules, live the life you want, and change the world. It's pretty safe to say that we all want those things, and if you don't you're probably pretty dull. It seems to recall Timothy Ferriss's The 4-Hour Workweek, however, and I was a little worried that there wouldn't be anything new to learn. I was happily proven wrong.

Two Different Ways to Break Free

4HWW was a very pragmatic book, but it was also a bit restrictive in the way it suggested one should grasp for freedom. It also failed to acknowledge that some people might actually want to work more than 4 hours a week on something that they rely on for their income. Some who have read Ferriss' book also mentioned that the tone was pretty arrogant, which I can relate to (though if you're living a life like that, I think you can get away with being a tad arrogant).

The Art of Non-Conformity (AoNC), on the other hand, is much more universal in its application. Where 4HWW spent a lot of time on the nitty-gritty and very little on the important ways of thinking and being that get you there, AoNC dedicates the bulk of its pages to challenging the way you think. The book is aptly named; it literally introduces the reader to non-conformist thinking and living.

Stop Jumping Off the Bridge

The basic premise is that most people go through life as sleepwalkers. They do what they are expected to do, even if it doesn't make them happy.  The book opens with a discussion of the age-old advice, "Just because everyone else is jumping off a bridge doesn't mean you should," and demonstrates that, despite the ubiquity of this statement, most people will nevertheless spend their lives doing what everyone else is, simply because that's how it's supposed to be done. In everything from work to play to relationships, most of us just do what everyone else does. And when we try to be different, everyone else gets pretty worked up and drags us back in line.

The book is divided into three parts. The first section, The Remarkable Life, talks about the mindset that remarkable people have developed in order to live their remarkable lives. It covers topics like dealing with the fear of setting out on your own and creating a roadmap in order to get where you want to be. This section is pretty inspiring on its own. Chris retells the stories of some amazing individuals who did everything from quit their job to bike across the country, to facing down ExxonMobil, to uprooting their families to raise their kids abroad. Just seeing what kinds of lifestyles are possible can do a lot to help you question the necessity of the drab day-to-day existence you might be leading now.

The second part of the book, Reclaiming Work, discusses the particularly insidious trap of money and employment. More than any other area of life, our society does an excellent job of undervaluing our abilities and tying us down with debt and the pointless requirements of a 'real job'. Chris explains that it doesn't have to be that way. However, instead of advocating the admittedly anti-social approach introduced by Ferriss, Chris encourages us to approach our jobs with the same willingness to question as the rest of our lives. There are other ways to make money that don't limit our freedom.

The bulk of this section is actually taken up with discussions of alternative modes of supporting yourself financially. An entire chapter is dedicated to challenging the notion that college and higher education, as traditionally thought of, is a valuable use of time and money. I found this section especially interesting, since my most popular blog post was on this very topic, way back in the beginning. Chris' basic premise here is that the university system is designed to keep itself running and to provide students with lots of busywork to give the illusion of learning; 80% of the work you do in higher education is useless, so focus on the 20% that is valuable. Alternatively, he provides a rather clever 'Alternative MBA' program, which is much cheaper and seems like it would be more useful.

Bringing it All Together, Or What it's All About

The last section of the book is entitled The Power of Convergence. This is, appropriately, where is all comes together, and this is where Chris stands out from all the other 'break free' bloggers and writers. After you've crafted the life you want and freed yourself from an oppressive job, you ought to do something to make a difference. In the end, AoNC asserts that it isn't all about you; it is about what you can do for others. That is what will make you happiest and make you feel fulfilled. So the last section of the book is dedicated to providing ideas and examples of how people are living the lives they order to better the world.

The author's own background is full of volunteerism and charity work. Within his book there is the idea that most of us want to help people, if only we had the time and resources. Well, here is the way to get the time and resources, and actually do something to make a difference. You can't change the world when you are worrying about your own happiness, and you will be more effective at solving problem when you are at your best.


Chris acknowledges that this may not be for everyone. There are probably a number of people out there who don't care about helping others or changing the world; they want to escape their 9-to-5 in order to sip margaritas on the beach all day. This book is not for those people, and the author states that pretty early on. I think that is what most distinguishes AoNC from other books in its genre. It is consciously not for everyone. If you want it easy, this book is not for you. If you want mediocre, this book is not for you. If you are not dissatisfied with the status quo, this book is not for you.

I suppose that would be the biggest downside to the book, that it would only appeal to a certain subset of individuals. If you want a step-by-step guide, this book probably won't be your cup of tea (I suggest 4-Hour Workweek, though even that will require a lot of tweaking). Chris doesn't spend much time helping you get over your own reservations; if you come to the book skeptical, you will probably make up a lot of your own excuses as to why nothing in the book will work for you. There is no hand holding, and I know that might be problematic for some people.

If on the other hand, you are the kind of person that connects with the idea of the Warrior Spirit, the idea that you should expect a lot from yourself and live a life of purpose and excellence, then this book is probably for you. Which is why I'm reviewing it for you.

I strongly recommend The Art of Non-Conformity to anyone with nagging questions about what it all adds up to. If you've just finished college, or are about to, read this book before you start down the path of corporate enslavement. It was at that point in my life when I felt the most pressure from the status quo to lock into the system ASAP. I reacted the right way (by panicking and bolting) but I had no idea what the alternative was at the time.

I believe strongly enough that this book is vital to my generation's young Warriors that I will give a copy to the first five people to share this post, or any other of my posts, with their friends via e-mail, Twitter, or Facebook. Yup, I will buy you a book just for sharing my blog. Just leave a comment stating how and what you shared, and I'll get in touch via e-mail.

In the meantime, start questioning everything!

- (**