The Happiness of Pursuit
Historically, personal development has been a big part of Get Rich Slowly. Back in 2012, founder J.D. wrote, “I'm a firm believer in personal development. Self-improvement is part of living a rich life. In fact, when I started this blog … the self-improvement category was one of the first I implemented.”
But not so long ago, I'd never read a self-help or personal development book. In fact, I avoided that section of the bookstore — it was all too woo-woo and mushy for me. Then I got hooked on yoga, and I read a lot of woo-woo titles, like “Living the Mindful Life” and “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.” Gross, right?! (But I loved them both.)
Fast forward to today, and I've read a lot of personal development books, even non-yoga ones. I've paid for several online business courses that also tackled issues like how to stop feeling guilty and how to stand tall and own your pricing.
I estimate that I've paid thousands of dollars for self development at this point. And it's hard to quantify the results, but I did reach my goal of quitting my day job. I'm more aware of the stories I tell myself that hold me back. I'm more likely to pause before I react. I'm far from perfect, but I am happier with each passing year.
So today I want to share the latest self development book I've read, “The Happiness of Pursuit.” Written by Chris Guillebeau, the founder of The Art of Nonconformity and author of “The $100 Startup,” this book is about finding a quest that brings purpose to your life.
The gist of it
In case you aren't familiar with Chris's quest, he set out to visit every country in the world by the age of 35, a goal he reached last year. During his quest, he met a lot of people with their own quests — some travel-based, but many that were not. What the quests had in common, though, was that each of them were enriching the person's life in some way.
So Chris wrote “The Happiness of Pursuit” as a study of these quests, drawing on hundreds of interviews that reveal people's motivations, how they dealt with roadblocks, how they funded the quest, how they handled logistics, and more.
Section one: Beginnings
The first part of the book is made up of five chapters about the beginning of a quest. First, Chris defines what a quest is:
It has a clear goal and a specific end point.
It presents a clear challenge — not easy, but not impossible.
A quest always seems to require sacrifice of some kind, even if it's not immediately apparent.
It's often driven by a calling or a sense of purpose.
It requires a series of small steps toward the bigger goal.
According to the book, one way many people found their calling is by paying attention to the crazy ideas they couldn't stop thinking about. For instance, Sandi Wheaton had always wanted to travel Route 66 and take photos of the trip. When she was laid off of her job at General Motors, she wasn't very excited about finding another job. So she decided to be serious about her crazy idea, and she took the plunge. After her trip, her photography landed on the cover of an art magazine, and she started receiving offers for speaking engagements. Eventually, it led to a new career in the travel industry.
Chris says that many quests begin like Sandi's — from a sense of discontent. “Add action to that discontent,” he writes. “Find a way to do something about the uncertainty you feel.”
This section of the book also includes a chapter called “Defining Moments” that discusses the moment people decided to take on a quest. In most cases, it came from an emotional awareness of mortality (i.e. “I know I will someday die”) versus an intellectual awareness of mortality (i.e. “I know that no one lives forever.”)
“This new awareness may come in response to an external event, such as the death or sudden illness of a friend, or from confronting a serious health problem,” writes Chris. “Other times, there's a stirring of the soul that increases in tempo until it's impossible to ignore. Whatever it is, the more we're emotionally aware of our own mortality, the more we feel compelled to live with a sense of purpose.”
Section two: Journey
The second section of the book covers topics like how to believe in yourself, what to do if you're risk-averse, creating structure for your quest, accounting for time and cost, examples of how people funded their quests, and dealing with monotony and misadventures.
But my favorite part from this section is the story about Sasha Martin, a young mother who used to travel the world, but was now stationary in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Travel was pretty much out at the moment — she and her husband had a six-month-old baby and they lacked the funds.
“The big idea she settled on was to embrace culture through cuisine,” writes Chris. “Stovetop Travel was Sasha's project to introduce meals from around the world into her home kitchen. If it sounds simple, understand that it was no ‘buy a wok and learn to make stir-fry' weeklong task … Sasha chose to cook an entire meal from each country's cuisine every week, following the alphabet in A-Z fashion for a total of 195 weeks.”
Each week consisted of researching, consulting friends around the world who started following her journey, and creating a complete meal — at least one main course and generous number of starters and side dishes. She would even play music from the country of the week.
“Missing the travel experiences of her youth, she hoped to rekindle a sense of foreign connection by dicing peppers and baking pastries,” writes Chris. “Meanwhile, [her daughter's] first solid food was Afghan chicken. By three years old, [her daughter] was equally comfortable using silverware or chopsticks.”
A few years into the project, Sasha's quest is being replicated by other families, and she's given talks at schools and in other forums.
Section three: Destination
The final section is about what happens after a quest: the ways it can change you, how to explain your big quest to others, and possible next steps after completing something so big.
“Quests do not always tie up well,” writes Chris. “Sometimes the ending is glorious, and sometimes it's bittersweet. Either way, take some time to process all you've been through. When you're ready, choose a new adventure.”
There also are three appendices, including the big takeaways from the book, a chart that details the quests featured in the book, and ideas for quests that don't require relocating to another country or completing 100 marathons. (Just typing “100 marathons” makes my knees hurt.)
For the last year, I've been in a huge rut. I've questioned the purpose of pretty much everything. And it all stemmed from the emotional awareness of mortality that Chris talks about in his book — which was a result, exactly as he says, of the sudden death of a friend. So, all that is to say that I might not be the most unbiased book reviewer. Fair warning.
But I felt inspired by “The Happiness of Pursuit.” Even if you can't (or have zero desire) to travel to every country in the world, there's a lot of great stuff in the book for shaking up your routine and trying something different.
As for what I'll do with it? I like the idea of a cooking-related quest or something around sustainable living — I'm not exactly sure yet.
But what about you, readers? Have you ever taken on a quest? Do you have a crazy idea you can't stop thinking about?