Wednesday, July 23, 2008

SharedBliss: Interview with Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau at his World
Domination Headquarters in Seattle.

Listening to: A song Chris said he was listening to while running in Warsaw -- for exercise, that is.

Today's Bliss Formula: My only work hours at the library this week. So I'll be biking here again, which is an excellent start to any day. I'll take my lunch out by the water and read more of this, a wonderful collection of stories that, so far, centers around the author's usual theme of displacement.

Chris Guillebeau is just 30 years old and has visited 88 of 198 countries (and plans on finishing with the rest in the next five years), lived for four years on a floating hospital (with his wife*), helping to provide medical services to some of the poorest spots on this planet (for the full story, go here), has completed his Master's degree in International Studies, and is now preparing to take over the world! (Insert evil laugh here.)

Which you believe he is capable of accomplishing after spending a bit of time getting to know him. And not only do you believe he is capable but somehow that idea doesn't seem so bad -- sure he's an intelligent guy (an attribute I'm kinda partial to in my world leaders, cough cough), but more importantly, he's compassionate.

Besides, he doesn't want to take over the world all by his lonesome. No, he would like you (and me) to join him.

Chris believes -- like we do here at Blisschick -- that we are all on this planet to do so much more than what the conformists of the world (his term) want us to believe. We are here not only to find our unique purpose and live it but then to live it in a way that shares it with others.

Thus the name of his blog -- the Art of Nonconformity -- and the driving thesis of his free, downloadable manual, A Brief Guide to World Domination.

(*You can see what Chris' wife Jolie is up to right here.)

Describe the PrimaryBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

I don’t usually think in terms of bliss per se. For some people, these may be synonyms, but for me, I think in terms of purpose and life meaning.

My purpose and life meaning is to live a life of adventure, focused on achieving my own significant, personal goals while simultaneously improving the lives of others. Specifically, the individual goal I am most focused on right now is visiting every country in the world. My current focus on helping others is through writing, teaching, and working with groups. In its ideal form, my writing is a practice that fuses both of these focal points together.

I’ve learned that I do my best work when I change major life activities every two to three years. For this season, I am focusing on building up the site readership and preparing to write a book that further expands my ideas.

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

That is an excellent question and goes straight to the heart of lifestyle design. If you want to create the life of your dreams, a life that has a huge impact on others, or both, you have to be able to make hard choices and eliminate some other things that would otherwise hold you back.

I’ve never had a real job, which in many ways is part of my identity, but in other ways, it means that I don’t have a stable income. I have also gone without health insurance for several years (although I do have that now) and given up the chance to go to a graduate program so I could focus on writing.

In return, of course, I’ve received much, much more joy than I ever would have in following a more traditional path, and I have no regrets.

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

I can’t say I’m there yet, but what I’m searching for is a total convergence of life, work, community, and general interests. What I mean is that I tend to reject the current fad of Life / Work balance. While it is certainly better than a life focused entirely on work we don’t enjoy, in the end, I don’t think it goes far enough.

I’m interested in creating work that I enjoy so much that I don’t think of it as work. And at the same time, I’m planning on having all kinds of fun adventures that are part of my work life as well. It’s a work in progress. :)

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

I lose track of time while listening to good music on my iPod, going on long runs through Seattle, and of course, through my world travels. The travel is not always easy, but in the end, I almost always judge it to be a huge part of what I am supposed to do.

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

I am a non-denominational Christian, so I usually attend church services about three times a month. I don’t think of church attendance as my only spiritual practice, though. The habit of living with gratitude and focusing on others is far more important, in my opinion.

What music is your bliss?

That’s a great question. I used to listen to a lot of jazz, mostly from the 1960s bebop era. My favorite jazz musicians are Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus. Lately, I’ve been listening to more contemporary music, people like Marc Cohn, Paula Cole, and Jason Mraz. Anyone who writes music about purpose (or bliss, to use your term), I’m usually up for listening to.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

Fiction writers I like include Haruki Murakami, Kazou Ishiguro, and Ann Patchett. I also like Jonathan Franzen and John Irving, but they tend to write works that are a bit depressing at times.

I read a couple of non-fiction books a month, on all kinds of different subjects. I like so many it’s hard to single a few out, but I do think everyone interested in life design should check out the classics Wishcraft, Getting Things Done, Good to Great, and Finding Your Own North Star.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

I’d like to say something like ‘be patient, it will come.’ But I don’t really believe that’s true, because a lot of people never really discover what they’re good at or even what they love to do. If someone feels like they haven’t found their purpose (passion, bliss, etc.), that’s probably a good thing, because they realize that something’s missing. Once you start longing for something more in your life, that’s when you have to start making some of the choices and sacrifices we discussed earlier. If you are willing to work for it, it will totally come to you, but I don’t believe it will happen on its own.

Do you have a favorite quote you would like to share?

I have a lot of them, but here’s one I’ve been pondering recently:

“All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.” That’s from Adlai Stevenson, who certainly understood both progress and unpopularity.

My all-time favorite is probably from Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is this: ‘What are you doing for others?'”

The first major thing that struck me in this interview was Chris' comment about his need to change his focus every few years.

So many of us are afraid that this means something negative about us -- that we are afraid to commit, that we are too all over the place, that we are jacks of all trades and masters of none. And yet, we are not meant to live in boxes, to be cogs in a machine. The advent of the factory, I think, is what developed this idea most strongly most recently. The idea that in order to be a successful human, you have to specialize. (Yuck! That word!)

In fact, I think it's historically been thought of as quite the opposite. The concept of the Renaissance Man comes to mind. And the most successful people before that -- i.e., those who survived -- were people who could do many, many things well -- farm, build, sew, hunt, etc.

So perhaps more people living like Chris (and many of us) is a sign that we are headed back, pre-Henry Ford, to a time when a well-rounded person was thought of most highly. This makes me happy.

And I also like Chris' no-nonsense approach to finding your bliss -- you have to look for it! Like I try to emphasize, this is work in and of itself. You won't get a magical package delivered to your door one day with all the answers and explicit instructions inside. You have to put that package together for yourself, and it can be hard...but as Chris' example proves so well, it is totally worth it.


Connie said...

Great interview! I thought the same thing as you...I like his no-no-nonsense approach for finding bliss. I also liked his ideas of changing every few years. I've done that all my adult life too. I think people sometimes think I'm making things up cause I'll say "yes, when I was working as a costume designer"..."when I was an assistant to Joseph Kosuth"..."when I managed a restaurant"..."when I helped write a book on old churchs"..etc. etc. But through all my different jobs and endeavors, I've always kept the same essence to what I was doing. I was always looking for creativity and connection and bliss.

Peace & Love

blisschick said...

Connie, I too have worked so many different types of jobs. And it all made sense to me when I sat down and was finally really writing a novel. Finally I understood that I had collected all that stuff over the years so I could be that much of a better writer. It was a very cool moment!