I’ve noticed quite a few of those I follow on Twitter talking about this new book by Chris Guillebeau titled “The Art of Non-Conformity.” He is an accomplished writer who runs a very popular website dealing with personal development and life planning.
The Art of Non-Conformity (AONC) project chronicles my writing on how to change the world by achieving significant, personal goals while helping others at the same time. In the battle against conventional beliefs, we focus on three areas: Life, Work, and Travel.
The key theme that links each of these topics is nonconformity. I define non-conformity as “a lack of orthodoxy in thoughts or beliefs” or “the refusal to accept established customs, attitudes, or ideas.”
I was curious, so I checked out his blog.
Note: I have not read his book. I only read a few of his blog posts. But something was already stirring in my head as I read my very first blog post of his, so I thought I would write about it. It has little bearing on the actual content of this writer’s work. If you go on Amazon, the book gets fantastic reviews. I do intent to check it out because so many of my friends are excited by it.
What started my brain cells moving was this post, “The Decision to Be Remarkable,” specifically the opening paragraphs —
re•mark•able [adjective]: worthy of being noticed, especially as being uncommon or extraordinary
If you want to break out of the mold of average, the first thing you need to do is to make a decision to be radically different. Most remarkable people are people of action, and for a good reason: if you don’t take decisive action, nothing will ever change.
But this first step is entirely mental. It calls for a clear decision to rise above the culture of mediocrity. And then, of course, it calls for action.
Right off the bat, I was getting an insight into the mind of the writer. He was presenting a world of two levels: average and remarkable. Imagine a step ladder with two rungs. On the bottom is the average, stuck in a “culture of mediocrity.” One step above this is the second rung — those who broke free and are now “radically different.” These are the ones unchained from the shackles of orthodoxy.
This is not a new approach to selling an idea. Throughout history, philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche have presented a hierarchical world of blind idiots stuck in the mud and visionaries who broke free after buying some sort of book. I’ve always wondered why nobody gets insulted from this thesis. In some ways, the writer/thinker is calling YOU — the potential buyer of the book — a boring, average, loser, schmuck, a monkey stuck in a suburban home with 2 kids and a dog, who can never be original until you follow someone else’s idea. Perhaps that is what boring people need — to be told that they are mediocre — sort of a tough love to help yahoos to move out of their dull, unimaginative life.
“What the f*ck is neilochka ranting about now?” you might ask. “This post is terrible.”
I’ll tell you.
I read that passage about conformity and being remarkable several times, and it just wasn’t speaking to me. And it was bothering me that this popular, inspirational author was causing me to draw a blank.
And then it occurred to me. He wasn’t writing his blog for me. This blog was geared for those who considered themselves stuck in the middle, trying to move to another, higher rung in the world. The vision presented in this scenario was not my own. His was a two step world of mediocre and remarkable. Who would want to live in such a world? Wouldn’t all the remarkable people feel lonely living in a world where 95% of their co-inhabitants are mediocre? Who cares about “world domination” if you rule over a bunch of morons?
My world view would be more like this — a step ladder with three rungs.
Let’s keep “Remarkable” at the top rung. Clearly there are some who are born leaders or have a brilliance that makes them exceptional: Beethoven, George Gershwin, Lou Gehrig, Oprah…”
I wouldn’t be so crude to badmouth the middle rung as “mediocre.” I would call this rung “normal.” Hard-working parents who raise happy children have accomplished a wonderful achievement. It might not get them into People Magazine, but would you really call this “the culture of mediocrity?” Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur or artist, so why set up a false hierarchy just to make those who read the book feel superior?
I would place myself on the lowest rung. I’m having trouble giving it a name, so let’s go with “Visionary/Insecure/Weird.” This category is absent in the two rung remarkable/mediocre world.
I don’t consider myself mediocre at all. I am fascinating. I love being with myself, even though I am a kvetch. However, sometimes I WISH I lived a more normal, traditional life, and my mind just relaxed. I’m a bit of an oddball. I live in my head. I don’t need to free my creativity. My creativity RULES me. It will one day bring me to my knees or cause me to a nervous breakdown. It is this insecurity and lack of confidence that puts me in the third rung.
Now many of you will not want to join me on this bottom rung, thinking it the equivalent of living with the homeless. But those who are in the bottom rung usually have no choice. If you are on this third rung, you know it. And you are not ashamed of it. You see it as a badge of honor. You are so creative, that reality doesn’t stop us. You simply turn the world upside down, so the bottom rung is now at the TOP of the step ladder, and the remarkable ones are on the bottom, living silly lives, stuck in a world without whimsy.
The problem is that you are only remarkable in your own mind. It is hard to get out there and tell the world. You are not like those on the first rung, shouting out your own name during sex.
I don’t thrive to be remarkable. I am already remarkable. The main difference between me and the guy on the top rung is that I’m insecure and uncomfortable with the ways of the world. Those on the top rung climb mountains. Those on the bottom rung dream of the mountains, in Technicolor. Those in the middle rung, the responsible ones, are essential to both. They buy the books of those on the top rung and assist those on the bottom rung when they are in debt, in jail, or in rehab.
Those on the bottom rung need help refraining their creativity, molding it — so they can better survive in the real world.
What I — and others like me — need is a self-help book for those on the bottom rung. We want to embrace our unique, bottom-rung remarkableness that is inherent to our souls, powerful, but flighty, even debilitating at times.
We need a book to be more normal, somewhat closer to the second rung, while at the same time maintaining our uniqueness. I don’t want to “break the rules.” I want to learn the rules of how things are done. How do I make a decent living doing what I’m doing? Who are the people I should be meeting? How do I juggle relationships and work? How do I love without falling apart?
I need a little more normal. Not to climb mountains. I already climb mountains every day in my head.