Book Review: The Art of Non-Conformity

One of my major goals over the past few years has been to increase my consumption of books. While most people (myself included) do a lot of reading throughout the day (twitter, news items, etc), most of that is fairly shallow in content depth. There's only so much you're going to learn from a tweet or a facebook post.

When I look back at ways I've shaped my opinions and values over the years, books are near the top of the list. There are so many lessons I've learned the easy way by reading about them in a book.

Naturally as I read a book, I highlight sentences that really strike a chord. Until now, they've stayed hidden in my Kindle app. I realized though that if I enjoy them so much, I need to be sharing them more.

With that, I want to make it a regular habit to do a mini-review of books as I finish them. Seeing as I just finished The Art of Non-Conformity, I'll review it first.

I'm going to approach this review by picking out those parts that I highlighted and explaining why they stuck out to me.

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

This quotation is what first brought my attention to the book. The great comic Zen Pencils featured it as part of their 11 Ways to be Unremarkably Average adoption from the book. It really hit home for me, as it gives permission to want things different from what others do. It doesn't mean that others are wrong, just that I don't have to match their lives.

One of my hesitations with life is not taking risks, because if those risks play out poorly, people will judge me for having taken those risks. In my mind I hear 'that was really short-sighted of you to do that' and I fear that judgement.

I must constantly remind myself that it's my life and if I want to take risks and end up making mistakes, then I'm the only person I have to answer to.

[Y]ou must be open to new ideas. This does not mean you accept new ideas blindly— but rather, that you carefully consider something before dismissing it.

I value open-mindedness as one of my ideals and I've thought a lot about whether I'm truly open-minded or not. It's really hard to have opinions on things (which I do), yet still consider yourself as open-minded.

I really enjoyed reading this explanation about what it is to be open to new ideas and think it explains it well.

What I have done, for better or worse, is chosen freedom as my highest personal value and learned to construct a life around that choice.

As part of living your own life, you get to chose your trade-offs. For some, absolute freedom isn't an ideal. As a parent, I've given up some of my personal freedom's because I value parenthood highly. This doesn't mean I've given up all of my freedom, or that the author is shallow for not being a parent.

The point is, living a life that values freedom very highly will mean giving up something else. Usually that's the "safety" of a regular job. It can also mean not owning a home or a nice car or any of those other objects that usually symbolize success in life.

Some people call this selfishness, but I tend to believe the answer is more complicated— without the energy I derive from being by myself, I know that I wouldn’t be of much use to anyone else later on.

As an introvert, I definitely empathize with the author on this. I've struggled over the years with work as I attempt a balance between being open to conversations and helping others, while still giving myself the room to be alone. Too much face-to-face time and I get burnt out. But lock myself away and I miss the value of connecting with other people.

A big struggle with this is helping others understand that I do need alone time, but to also let me know when I'm being too alone. I need help keeping that balance, for the good of everyone.

"The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one." - Elbert Hubbard

This is actually one of the many quotations pulled from other sources that the author scattered throughout the book. While I enjoyed many more of them, I hesitated to highlight them because they weren't technically the author's words.

After reading this one though, I couldn't help but mark it. It reminds me of so much that I've learnt about life by playing soccer. On the field, you have to accept that you'll make mistakes. Whether you're confident about your abilities or not, they're going to happen.

At a certain level, you have to take risks to have a chance. Playing it safe almost guarantees a loss. I was playing a game of Battlestar Gallactica last year with my wife and her brother and his wife. I had to decide whether my wife or my brother-in-law was the Cylon. They were both trying their best to convince me it was the other person.

I was absolutely uncertain on who was telling the truth and I was paralyzed for fear of picking the wrong person. Instead, turn after turn passed with me playing it safe, delaying the decision. But each turn that passed meant the humans were slowly losing their advantage.

The game tediously and painfully ended with me never making a decision. Not only did this mean I lost the game, but also that is wasn't fun for anyone. My brother-in-law was frustrated because he was helpless in the situation (he was the human). He was more upset at me for not making a choice than he would have been had I made the wrong one.

I struggle with decision making greatly. Even choosing what to eat off of a restaraunt menu causes me hesitation. There's something about the fear of making a mistake that's quite stifling. Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal covers the trouble very well.

The question is not who is going to let me, it’s who is who is going to stop me.

Another reference the author made comes from the fantastic book The Fountainhead. I loved seeing it referenced, as it's one of my favorite books out there. The quotation comes from a scene between the Dean of an architecture school and the main character (Howard).

Dean: “Do you mean to tell me that you’re thinking seriously of building that way, when and if you are an architect?”

Howard: “Yes.”

“My dear fellow, who will let you?”

“That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?”

I just love the sentiment. One doesn't need permission to create great art or build what they believe in. You shouldn't hold back on expressing yourself because you haven't been allowed to. Go out there and make your own rules.

Memorize and follow this never-fail recipe: get started. Don't quit.

Barbara Winter is to credit for this advice and it's so simple yet precisely correct. Two parts to the recipe, both equally difficult: Get started. Don't Quit.

Overall I really enjoyed the book. While it wasn't earth-shattering to hear some of the ideas, it was a great encouragement to keep doing what I'm doing (and to change those things I'm afraid to change).

It helps to hear that I'm not crazy for being unsatisfied with the standard life package or for constanstly struggling to pursue some long-term goal. I could hear the author almost cheering me on, begging me to take the leap and start living the life according to my own values, not those of others. I'm quite happy to have read the book.

Next up on my reading list is Man's Search for Meaning. I hope to have a recap of it by the end of the year.