We began our Nourishing Heroes series to feature individuals and organizations who inspire us by nourishing body, soul and planet. For this installment, we’re shining the spotlight on Chris Guillebeau, creator of the Art of Non-Conformity Website and author of the brand new book by the same name. Chris gives both inspiration and a soft-yet-pragmatic kick-in-the-butt to people (including me) looking to live life a bit differently. If you don’t know Chris yet, do yourself a favor and check out his website, buy his book, learn through his Unconventional Guides or join him for a meetup on his tour. You’ll be glad you did.
Do you know a Nourishing Hero we should feature on Nourish Network? Let us know who inspires you!
LH – When did the light bulb go off in you that you had a ‘big message’ to share?
CG – It was after I moved back to the U.S. following four years of volunteering in West Africa. In addition to the experience of working in post-conflict settings, I had also been self-employed for most of my life, and I was beginning a new personal project to visit every country in the world. All of those things were fine and well, but I felt like I didn’t have a good convergence point to everything. I wanted to create a platform to help other people live their own unconventional lives, and I wanted to be a writer.
While I was in grad school in Seattle, I thought about it for the better part of two years before actually starting. Then it took me a while after that to find my writing voice, but I kept at it and made sure I never missed a scheduled post. Sometimes the message comes as you work at a project over time, so I always tell people not to wait unless they have a good reason.
Did any ‘gremlins’ try to tell you otherwise, and how did you overcome them?
Most definitely. I think the most powerful gremlins are the internal challenges of fear, insecurity, and anxiety. I wondered if what I had to say would be relevant. I looked around at other people who had been blogging for a long time — would I still be able to grow an audience? Would I be able to stick with it? And so on.
Thankfully, in the end I was able to prevent fear from making my decisions, and I pressed onward. I’m so glad I did! The past two years have been fun, challenging, and meaningful — all good things, I think.
You’ve obviously inspired boatloads of people through your site and, now, your book. Can you give me a story of someone whose life has changed because of what you’ve written?
I want to be careful when talking about change and my influence, because I think people often come to AONC when they are already discontented with the status quo and ready to make changes in their life. So I see myself more as an amplifier than a catalyst in that way.
That said, every day I hear numerous stories, all of which are fun and unique. There is a guy who took his wife to Paris for their 10th wedding anniversary as a result of the travel hacking tips I write about. They had never been out of the country before and were previously planning to go to Georgia — I thought that was a good story.
There are also a number of people who have quit their job and become self-employed (in various ways, from starting a whole business to freelancing) out of their engagement with AONC. Sean Ogle, whom I wrote about in the book, is one of them.
Finally, there are also a lot of fun little-and-big projects that were inspired through the site. In New York last week I met Amy Cao from Stupidly Simple Snacks, who told me about reading AONC and deciding to create a video series of her making easy snacks from her home kitchen. These and many other stories serve as very effective motivation to keep going, and also to keep thinking about how we can make things better and more accessible.
I’ve long believed—and I love that you hold this philosophy too—that in many ways our biggest effect on people comes from simply living authentically and being who we’re meant to be. Can you comment on how you’ve seen that ripple effect build in your life? Can you look back to a single point when you realized this power?
Yes, I agree. I think in my case it started to come in the early point of the blog when I began to hear from readers about the connections that had come about just while I was writing about my own travels. Then I hosted my first group meetup on a visit to New York. I thought maybe 5-10 people would come out; instead, 50 people came, all with interesting stories about how they had connected with the project. That’s when I realized, you know, I think we’ve got something very significant here, so we need to make sure we have a long-term plan.
Do you see food as a way to connect to a culture when you visit? If so, how do you use food to plug in?
Sure! Or at least I should say, I have done that — these days I have a few restrictions in terms of the workload I attempt to manage when on the road and the meetups I do in many cities. I’m also vegetarian, which is almost always workable but does limit me in terms of trying new things. But despite the limits, I do usually meet at least one of my readers and we go on some kind of city tour in more than 20 countries each year, which usually involves food.
In some cases it involves markets; in others it may be more of a cafe culture. In Kuwait it involved a trip to a shopping mall, which may sound odd, but that’s where Kuwaitis go to hang out. I just go along for the ride and try to learn something.
This is a tough one … What’s your favorite dish—from anywhere?
You’re right, that is a tough choice! Wow. Indian food is my favorite overall cuisine, in many different countries, because I can almost always find good options. I’ve had some really great falafel plates in Jordan and Greece. I can always count on good noodles in Hong Kong and apple strudel in Vienna.
But if I had to pick one single dish, my favorite Thai dish is phad kee mao, and the best place I’ve ever had it is from Jhan Jay in my old Seattle neighborhood. I’ve had it for post-marathon food, weekend nights out, and even for takeout lunch during the week. Highly recommended!
Chris … these Veggie-Laden Drunken Noodles are a version of Phad Kee Mao just for you!
Meet our other Nourishing Heroes:
- Paul Greenberg, author of Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
- Kelly Masini, San Jose, Calif.-based community garden activist
- Rebecca Katz, author of The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen
- Curt Ellis & Ian Cheney, documentary filmmakers (King corn and Truck Farm)
- Ana Sofia Joanes, director/producer of FRESH: The Movie