“This is a direct, honest, and truly scary book. I hope you have the guts to listen to what Chris has to say, and not become one of the monkeys he warns you about.”

-- Seth Godin

“Chris Guillebeau is the Indiana Jones of career experts. With his signature insight and humor, he tackles a critical question: How do we forge the life of our dreams in the face of overwhelming pressure to conform and avoid risks? Chris adds a fresh perspec­ tive, drawn from his non-conforming adventures, to the lively debate.”

-- Gretchen Rubin

“The Art of Non-Conformity is like a lightning bolt to the head. Read it and your brain will spark and sizzle.”

-- Neil Pasricha


“If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?”
Think for yourself instead of following the crowd.

But one day, you grow up, It’s almost as if they are asking: “Hey, everyone else is jumping off the bridge. Why aren’t you?”.

I wrote this book to help bring the childhood message up to adulthood application. Screw those people jumping off the bridge. Make your own decisions. Live your own life.

Asking “why?” to everything like a three-year-old is helpful in making sure you don’t jump off the bridge.

When you ask why and the answer comes back, “Because that’s what you’re supposed to do,” you know you’re looking out over the bridge again.
The presence of the bridge and the expectations of other people are somewhat unavoidable. Whether you jump or not, however, is entirely up to you.

PART I: The remarkable life

It’s your own life, so why not set your own rules? You can do good things for yourself while helping other people at the same time.

1. Sleepwalkers and the Living World

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


The purpose of this book is to transform your thinking about life and work. You’ll benefit from the transformation if you’re in a season of life where you’re getting ready to make some changes.

Success, Motivation, and the $32,000 Lesson

In the battle between hope and fear, hope usually wins out in the end.

I realized that roughly 80 percent of the assignments I worked on had little or no value. The projects were simply “busywork” designed to keep students working on some­ thing so that the system could sustain itself.

My motivation is to help people challenge authority and live unconventional, remarkable lives.
You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.

Important! I Do Not Want to Waste Your Time

Four principles to agree with:


I don’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.

-- John Cage

Whether it’s this book or any other resource, almost nothing you encounter will ever be 100 percent relevant to your situation. The goal is to focus on what is relevant and apply those key ideas to your life.



  1. Accept what people tell you at face value.
  2. Don’t question authority.
  3. Go to college because you’re supposed to, not because you want to learn something.
  4. Go overseas once or twice in your life, to somewhere safe like England.
  5. Don’t try to learn another language; everyone else will eventually learn English.
  6. Think about starting your own business, but never do it.
  7. Think about writing a book, but never do it.
  8. Get the largest mortgage you qualify for and spend 30 years paying for it.
  9. Sit at a desk 40 hours a week for an average of 10 hours of productive work.
  10. Don’t stand out or draw attention to yourself.
  11. Jump through hoops. Check off boxes.

If you want something different from the life of quiet desperation, keep reading.


Our past may be somewhat responsible for defining who we are at present, but it does not need to define our future.


I believe that most of us want to work hard, but we want to do the kind of work that energizes us and makes a positive impact on others.
That kind of work is worth working for.

Who Am I to Tell You All This?

I chose freedom as my highest per­ sonal value and learned to construct a life around that choice.

The Five Monkeys and the Clear Alternative

Five monkeys are thrown in a cage by a sadistic mon­ key-hater. Enough food and water is available at the bottom of the cage, saving them from starvation while forcing them to lead a boring life of staring through the glass every day. The food at the bottom is bad, but sufficient. At the top of the cage, however, a large stalk of bananas alluringly waits. Conveniently, a ladder to the top has been provided by the sadist.

one of the mon­ keys scales the ladder and reaches for a banana.
not only him—all of the other monkeys are soaked as well, in an exercise of group pun­ ishment for the sins of one freedom-loving monkey.

The monkeys reluctantly accept the fate of living a life without bananas.
The sadist takes one monkey out of the cage and replaces him with another one.
the new monkey lunges for the bananas, gets pulled down, and adapts. After five days, no monkey from the original troop remains, and no monkey has ever been soaked with cold water—but every monkey knows they are not supposed to climb the ladder.

Where We’re Going

The tragedy of life is not so much what we suffer, but rather what we miss.

-- Thomas Caryle



our lives become most meaningful when we combine our own desires with an active strategy to help other people at the same time.


breaking out of the cage can be harder than falling in line with the rest of the monkeys— but you’ll usually have a choice.


life does not begin at age 65.

Life Is Short (Don’t Forget)

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

most people don’t begin to think about leaving a legacy until they reach the end of their lives. If you’re fortunate enough to begin from any earlier point in life, start thinking about your legacy immediately.
Then, immediately thereafter begin living your life with that vision in mind.

What motivates you? Why did you pick up this book?

2. Setting the Terms of Your Unconventional Life

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


He had recently ended a seven­ year relationship, and shortly after that painful separation, his father was killed in an accident. After reflecting on these events during a long walk one day, the idea came to him: “I should leave my life in New York behind and bike across America.”
At the end of the trip, Bernard relocated to Chicago with a feeling of invincibility.
the bicycle trip “has forever changed my life as it allowed me to reach my full potential and discover the real me.”

Discovering What You Really Want

Most of us have lottery fantasies from time to time. I don’t think they’re necessarily harmful; I just think there’s a better alternative. The alternative is to write your own winning lottery ticket, not by the sudden accumulation of wealth but the gradual reduction to what you decide is essential for your life.
creating your own life isn’t quite like winning the lottery. It’s better.

“People say that what we’re seeking is a meaning for life,”
“I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. What we seek is an experience of being alive.”

-- Joseph Campbell

What Do You Really Want to Get Out of Life?

There’s nothing wrong with planning for a big, meaningful day; I just think it’s even better to plan for a big, meaningful life.

Life planning begins with an unfortunate fact: many people have no idea what they really want to do or accomplish over the course of their time on earth. Instead of moving toward a destination, they become mired in “life avoidance” by ambling around without a clear sense of objective or purpose.

The lack of understanding and self-awareness hurts us more than anyone else. It holds us back from greatness and keeps us living unremarkably average lives. To break out of the sleepwalking pattern, we have to define what we want and then find a way to make it happen.

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

-- Barbara Sher


In this classic exercise, you write out your idealized, perfect day in great detail, beginning from what time you get up and what you have for breakfast all the way through what you do for each hour of the day and who you talk to. The more detail you can add to the plan, the better.

Then you begin to make plans to adjust your life to get closer to the perfect day you’ve imagined for yourself. If you take this exercise seriously, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.

The first weakness is that in the end, it’s not all about you. You have to do more than create an ideal world for yourself.
Second, this exercice doesn't include goals setting.


a “life list” of things you’d like to do at some point in your life. a long list of anything and every­ thing you’d like to accomplish before you die.

from the trivial (“try 100 fruits”) to the difficult (“camp on Ant­ arctica”).

One-Year Goals
I break this list down further into specific categories. Some of mine are Writ­ ing, Health, Business, Friends, Family, Service, Travel, Income, and Giving.

Five-Year Goals
the “big things” you hope to do in the near future. Note that as some of the goals on the one-year list are completed, other goals from the five-year list shift down.

Lifetime Goals
everything that you want to do, but either don’t have a timeline for or will take a long time to accomplish.

The interesting thing about setting big goals is that once we get serious about planning for them, they tend to be achieved much more quickly than we initially expect. This is because we tend to overestimate what we can complete in a single day, and underestimate what we can complete over longer periods of time.

What’s In:

What’s Out:


we’re not as super-disciplined as you think. Really. What many of us have done instead is create a structure around our work that allows us to improvise. We do take the goals seriously and do work hard, but any discipline that comes about is usually a result of building a good structure to begin with.

“Try setting the goals.” I think you’ll like seeing how much you can do when you really try.
If anything, when you work toward getting what you really want, you’ll have more time available to be spontaneous,
and more energy for the “fun” things you like to do.

You and the Rest of the World

Principles of Unconventional Living

Intelligence is not a prerequisite.
You will, however, need to be fairly determined.

“Wow! I wish I could do that.”

Many people are uncomfortable with change and different ideas, and they’ll work hard at rationalizing their own choices when they come across someone who has made different ones.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for someone to prioritize a life around working at the office and buying things for their home; I’m just suggesting that they openly acknowledge that as the priority.

If you get a few things in order, the stages of growth are exponential.
It takes many small businesses a long time to make $1,000 a month.
But to go from $1,000 a month to $5,000, it’s usually only about twice as hard.

Sometimes the smalles decision can change your life forever

-- Keri Russel

Your Life, Your Terms

Bernard Lopez, the cubicle dweller turned cross-country cyclist, described his moment of transition as an “indispensable decision.”

Bo Bartlett, a professional artist who spent 20 years painting for free before his paintings started selling for $50,000 each…

“It is not the decision you make that is most important; it is the degree of commitment with which you make the decision.”

-- Bo Bartlett

If you’re up for the commitment, victory is on your side in the long run.

what will be the terms of your unconventional, remarkable life?