Qualifications and Tradeoffs

From a Google+ forward by Thorn Coyle comes this website titled “The Art of Non-Conformity – Unconventional Strategies for Life, Work, and Travel” by Chris Guillebeau. It’s another example of a person who has rejected the mainstream world and is living life his way. His blog entry today is titled “Qualifications” and he gleefully lists his own lack thereof, which hasn’t stopped him from doing what he wants to do.

I have very mixed feelings about messages like this.

On one hand I’m happy that someone has found a way to make a decent living doing what he loves – in this case, travel the world. His success is a testament to the fact that magic works – magic in the sense of Aleister Crowley’s definition of “creating change in conformance with will.” And if he motivates someone to walk out of a dead end job and start doing something less soul-sucking or even rewarding, great.

But I still remember that there are dirty jobs that someone has to do. I don’t think anyone dreams of working in a factory or picking up trash or standing behind a cash register at McDonald’s, but I’m glad some people do. And I’m very glad there are qualifications and gatekeepers for doctors and teachers and health inspectors. Some things really do require formal training.

Beyond that, there is an element of privilege in Guillebeau’s method. He couldn’t do what he does if he had a parent with a chronic illness he had to care for. He couldn’t do what he does if he had small children who needed to be in school.

He couldn’t do what he does if he was rotting in jail for stealing cars at age 14. One wonders if his life might be very different if his skin was darker… But in fairness, that’s more a comment on our society than on Guillebeau himself.

I’m skeptical of “motivational speakers” – in part because most of them make their living by selling you something, whether it’s their books, CDs, or “life coaching” services. Guillebeau is upfront about who he is and what he does. Dig into his site a bit and he says he expected to make $48,500 in 2009, while traveling the world. That’s a nice income for doing what most people would pay to do, but it’s hardly getting rich. He’s not claiming you can be a millionaire next month.

What his approach comes down to is this: we all make tradeoffs in life. He decided that experiences were more important than material possessions. That’s a lesson I learned a bit late… and even now I haven’t taken it to anywhere near the extent Guillebeau has.

But he made his tradeoffs consciously. That’s more than most of us can say.

I like his e-pamphlet A Brief Guide to World Domination. He talks about deciding what you want most, figuring out what you can offer that no one else can, setting goals, and then doing the hard work of making it happen. Here’s a very important paragraph:

If you want it badly enough, and are willing to make some changes in your life to cause it to happen, you too can take over the world… or do anything else you really want to do. Yes, you really can have it all. The only things you’ll need to give up are assumptions, expectations, and the comfort zone that holds you back from greatness.

That’s not entirely true. You can have or be or do anything you want – you just can’t have everything you want. You have to make tradeoffs. The question is whether you will trade away what mainstream society says you should want, or if you will trade away the desires of your heart.

We all must make our decisions. Make yours with your eyes wide open.

"Yes, I am participating in that one."

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  • Really great post. Thanks!