Chris Guillebeau is an author, entrepreneur, blogger, and world traveler who accomplished the goal of visiting each of the 193 countries in the world on his 35th birthday. When not traveling, he publishes the Art of Nonconformity blog, which gives advice on unconventional living and traveling. Chris is also the author of The $100 Startup.
IDENTIFY THE CORE
Like most people in the history of the world, I’m a chronically fearful person. I’m afraid to try to speak the language when I travel. I’m afraid I’ll be irrelevant or that people won’t like me. I’m afraid I’ll run out of money as a self-employed writer. Fear and insecurity are a big part of my identity.
I acknowledge this as a big weakness, but I’m not really that concerned with completely negating it, just in finding ways to work around it. On a daily basis I try to be aware of it without letting it hold me back too much. What I've realized is that even small actions can be very powerful. Set the launch date. Start the blog. Tell the public about a personal goal. It’s scary, but it's the only way I overcome the massive inertia and fear of starting.
It’s been a long process, probably at least 10 years or so, but I no longer allow fear to run my life. There wasn't a clear tipping point for me, but rather a journey where a number of things helped me cultivate the habit of moving forward despite my fears. I haven’t necessarily learned how not to be intimidated or fearful, but I have learned to push through no matter what my circumstances are.
I think a lot of fear comes down to three things: fear of failure, fear of success and fear of change, which is especially important. Everyone hates change they can’t control. They want other people to change but from a safe distance.
Change is a good thing when electing a president or buying a Mac instead of a PC, but when it comes down to significant personal change, most of us are fearful. But we should also recognize that fear is normal. Anyone who says they aren’t afraid of anything is lying. The trick is to recognize that fact and identify the core feelings underneath the surface feelings. Discovering those latent feelings will help prevent the fear from stopping you from doing what you need to do.
THE POSITIVE FEEDBACK FILE
In the writing and entrepreneur world, I have many fears — fears of judgment, of being misunderstood, of being marginalized, of letting other people down. Each of these can be paralyzing forces if you let them consume you.
What I've found really helps me is positive reinforcement. I keep a file of nice things people have said and that file only exists for me it's only there for when I want to look at it, and I don’t look through it that often, but it’s nice to know it’s there. Even though it’s true that negative feedback is more damaging than positive feedback is affirming, as you begin to receive positive feedback, pay attention to it. It helps to ground yourself and get a sense of perspective around the negative feedback you receive.
THE TRAVELER S FRAME OF MIND
Something that gives me perspective on my fears is when I think about my track record. I say to myself, “OK, I’ve done this before, and it’s worked out all right.” I remember my successful experiences and what I've learned from my mistakes, and I realize that a great deal of what I've feared in the past has never ended up happening anyway. Why worry about something that may not happen again or ever happen in the first place?
I also travel a lot, which definitely keeps things in perspective for me. My wife, Jolie, and I went to West Africa to live and volunteer for a charity in 2002, largely because of 9/11 and because we wondered where our place was in the world during that time. Like millions of other people, I was depressed and not sure what to do. I found the answer through the experience that brought me more personal growth than anything else in my life — working in Sierra Leone and Liberia right after their civil wars ended. Working in Africa, visiting some of the poorest countries in the world, working with refugees in developing nations, these experiences were so life-changing that I draw courage from them and remember that my own life is filled with blessings compared to the lives of others in the world.
LEAVING A LEGACY
When I got closer to turning 30, I thought a lot about leaving a legacy. My wife and I don’t have children, so I wanted to leave a legacy of helpful lessons for anyone else interested in living an unconventional life. I realized up until then, all of the cool things I had done were a bit scattered and didn’t really help people on a broad scale. Thinking about leaving a larger impact is when I decided to build a career as a writer.
FROM PAIN COMES GROWTH
Working for myself, writing, and being an entrepreneur, my entire worldview comes largely from learning to work through my fear, define what I really want and understand how my life is connected with the lives of others in the world. Closely related to that is the direct correlation between pain and personal growth. I’m a firm believer that almost all personal growth comes about through, or directly after, painful experiences.
I can definitely say that I’ve learned much more through challenging times than times of smooth sailing. Everyone encounters hard times and challenging circumstances, and I think one of the things that separates people is how they deal with those challenges and whether they allow their lives to be defined by them.
I realize now that I’m free to live my life the way I want as long as it doesn't cause harm to others. And that’s the central message of what I’m trying to do with The Art of Nonconformity. As basic as it is, it seems to resonate well with certain people because there is so much pressure from external sources to be someone different than who you really are.
About: Chris Guillebeau writer about personal development and life planning, entrepreneurship, international travel, and non-conformity here.
Featured image by aloshbennet.