Blogging Superstars Part Two: Interview with Chris Guillebeau
Next to Chris Guillebeau's photo in the “about” section of his blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, is the unabashedly bold statement–
“Challenging authority since 1978.”
We must assume by looking at his photo and reading his blog that 1978 was the year Chris was born. It was also the year after I graduated from high school, a time during which I did not challenge authority one iota. Too bad for me.
His bold statement, which I'm sure he meant to be both tongue-in-cheek and partially true, made me wonder about Chris's poor mother, God bless her! He was probably a breech birth, delivered in the hospital parking lot, and he entered the world wearing a backpack and holding a passport.
I'm sure his parents, teachers and friends could tell many enlightening stories on the various and sundry ways Chris has challenged authority over the years!
What interests me most about Chris, however, is not that he has challenged authority, but that he has chosen to live life on his own terms.
Challenging authority is a natural by-product of living a bold and fearless life. And being the gentleman he is, Chris likely has worked to smooth ruffled feathers over the years, even as he has chosen a life and career that is far from the norm for your average thirty-something.
Here are some of the unconventional things this guy has done since 1978 (I'm sure most of it he's accomplished in the last 10-15 years):
- Volunteer executive for a medical charity in West Africa.
- Graduate student at the University of Washington in International Studies.
- World traveler to over 100 countries with the intention of visiting every country in the world (that is politically stable) in the next four years.
- Entrepreneur all of his adult life as a coffee importer, publisher, writer, speaker, consultant, and now founder of his blog, where he offers a variety of Unconventional Products , including his wildly successful Empire Building Kit.
- Author of the soon-to-published book, The Art of Non-Conformity coming out September 2010.
- Husband to Jolie. (Pretty conventional decision, but probably an unconventional lady if I had to guess.)
Chris was kind enough to answer my questions about his life as a traveling blog master. I think he was somewhere between Frankfurt and New Guinea when he answered these questions.
Barrie: When did you realize that you had really made it as a blogger?
Chris: One tipping point would be the publication of my 279 Days to Overnight Success manifesto—that was when I got a lot of attention for showing how I created a full-time living from writing in less than one year. Probably more important than the external recognition, though, was the internal awareness after the first 3-6 months when I realized I could actually do this, that I loved it, and had no plans to stop.
Barrie: How do you feel about your celebrity status in the blogging world?
Chris: Being a celebrity in the blogging world is quite relative. A few people have recognized me on flights or at concerts, but for the most part, I live anonymously. I like how Maggie Mason describes it: “famous among dozens.”
Barrie: How does your blogging career differ from your previous careers in terms of your life satisfaction?
Chris: I've always been self-employed and I spent four years as an aid worker in West Africa, so I've had good life satisfaction for a while. But it's true that blogging has brought me a great deal of joy, especially in terms of the new relationships I've acquired from all over the world. I'm genuinely excited to get up each day, to write, to plan the next project, and hear from people.
Barrie: How has your success as a blogger impacted other aspects of your life?
Chris: First, I don't separate my life and work—I try to do work that I enjoy, so I don't really think of it as work. But second, one interesting thing is that I'm a natural introvert and have always tended to keep to myself—but since I started hosting meet-ups with readers all over the world, I've been challenged (in a good way) to come out of my shell. I've heard so many fascinating stories of people living their own unconventional lives, and I've been encouraged many times to think bigger with my project. So in that aspect, I'm definitely a different person because of blogging.
Barrie: What has brought you the most fulfillment in your work as a blogger?
Chris: Definitely all the response from readers. I say that I get paid in nice emails more than anything else. I know that some people get overwhelmed with email or think that it distracts them from important work, but for me the email is a big part of the important work.
Barrie: Now that you have such a broad impact on other bloggers through your readership, reputation and your great products, what do you feel is your responsibility to them?
Chris: I like the word responsibility. As I see it, success (however you define it) and responsibility go hand-in-hand. I think in this case the responsibility is to a) keep doing good work, hopefully better and better as time goes on, and b) keep empowering people to do their own good work. When it comes to blogging, my message is that everyone has something important to say, and everyone can find a community who cares about their point of view. It's a great practice, whether it becomes a profession for someone or not.
Barrie: Are there any downsides to being so well-known?
Chris: Again, I'm not sure I'm well-known—I guess it's all relative. But there is sometimes the question of being misunderstood or unintentionally offending someone. It does seem that some people are inherently uncomfortable with other people who become successful. Hugh MacLeod said, “If you want to make a lot of people hate you, all you need to do is make a lot of money doing something you love.” I think the same thing is true with any kind of success, whether it's through making money or something else. Thankfully, however vocal these people are, it's good to remember that they are a small minority, usually talking amongst themselves in an echo chamber.
Barrie: How do you keep balance in your life when blogging, and all of your efforts around blogging, are so time consuming?
Chris: Well, see my answer to #4—I don't really believe in life/work balance. I'm not a workaholic, but I enjoy what I do so much that I do it every day from wherever I am in the world. I could always work in a bank and have a rigid schedule with plenty of time off, but where's the fun in that? So I'm grateful, and speaking of responsibility, working hard is a good responsibility to have.
Barrie: If you could give one piece of advice to other aspiring bloggers, what would it be?
Chris: Have a clear plan before you make the first post, and even consider creating a backlog of three month's worth of content before going live. I like to jump in to lots of things, but for a new blog, it's good to spend some time in the beginning thinking about where you're going. What's the goal for the blog? Will it still be around one year from now, or three, or ten? If so, what will it look like then?
This doesn't mean you're locked into a plan; it just means that if you are somewhat intentional about your goals, it will help when you run into obstacles or resistance.
Barrie: Do you see yourself doing this forever?
Chris: The format may change, but yes, I do. I plan on writing and connecting with people as my primary work for the rest of my life.
To avoid getting tired of something (I have the classic entrepreneur's personality of starting things and moving on), I think it helps that there are so many different forms of writing—and even different forms of blogging.
Please visit again in the next few days to read my interview with Mary Jaksch of Goodlife Zen, Write to Done, and The Daily Brainstorm.
Also, read Part One of my three-part interview series with blogging superstars, featuring an interview with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.