An Evening of Non-Conformity

I went to Powell’s Books Thursday night to hear Chris Guillebeau speak. For those of you who don’t know, Chris writes a blog called the Art of Non-Conformity (AONC) and recently published a book by the same name. One of his goals in life is to create a movement (yes, a movement) that questions the status quo and encourages people to lead unconventional, remarkable and meaningful lives. Chris lives in Portland (though you might ask, in Portland, where being weird is normal, is it really non-conforming to not conform?), so when I heard that he was coming to speak at Powell’s, the last stop on a 50-state book tour, I figured it would be interesting to hear what he had to say.

I stumbled across the AONC a couple months after starting this blog (the non-conformist title is completely coincidental) and found that he had some ideas about life that I could relate to. One of the things that really attracted me to his writings were his ideas about traveling. Chris has a goal in life to travel to all 192 countries in the world by 2013 and he’s already made it to 149. He seems to understand the joys and new perspectives that traveling brings, something I could really relate to. In addition to the book, he wrote a useful guide about traveling unconventionally that I am still working to put into practice.

Chris Guillebeau

After an introduction by JD Roth, author of the “How to Get Rich Slowly” blog, Chris spoke for about 25 minutes. He posed the question that his book tries to answer: “How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” and then shared a few stories of people who are doing just that, including his own.

There were three points that I took away from the talk. First, efficiency can be overrated and you should seek meaningful adventures in your life. Don’t always take the fast or easy way because you miss things—it might be more efficient to fly from Portland to San Francisco, but you won’t get to see that charming small town along the way and create a memory. Taking the bus from Walla Walla to Portland is another example of choosing adventure over efficiency.

The second thing that Chris said was that we are very privileged to be able to choose the way we live. Some of us might not feel this way all the time, but if you’re able to go online to read or write a blog, you have a good life compared to many people. Because we have this kind of life, we have a responsibility to contribute to society in some way, to help and encourage others in their search for a meaningful life.

His final point was one that all of us can relate to. Chris said he often hears from people who lament that they are “too late in life” to start something. I think we can all relate to that feeling. I sometimes think, “I’m 34 years old (almost), why didn’t I start this project earlier? or, Is it too late to be successful?” Chris’ response to that is “yes, you’re right. The best time to start was probably last year, but failing that, today will do.” Good advice for all of us. If we are trying to create our own paths in life, it’s best to get going. Don’t worry so much about what you haven’t done, you’ve got time to get something done today.

I left the talk encouraged, thinking hard about how to make Caffeinated PDX more interesting and meaningful for you, my readers. While I’ve got some ideas, I’d like to ask for your ideas too. What do you like about CPDX? Is there anything you’d like to see in the future? How could we make Caffeinated PDX part of something greater? Feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email at Thanks!