Monday, February 7, 2011

Chris Guillebeau's Suggestions for Real Life U

As written in his book, The Art of Non-Conformity. There are certain things I agree with Chris on, some that I don't think would be worth it and many other items that I would add, but it's a good start for people thinking about personal development. I would emphasize building relationships and meeting new people a lot more. Bold = things I think would be important, Strikethrough = things I don't think would be worth the time.

The One-Year, Self-Directed, Alternative Graduate School Experience

Subscribe to the Economist and read every issue religiously. Cost: $97 + 60 minutes each week. 

Memorize the names of every country, world capital, and current president or prime minister in the world. Cost: $0 + 3-4 hours once. 

Buy a round-the-world plane ticket or use frequent flyer miles to travel to several major world regions, including somewhere in Africa and somewhere in Asia. Cost: variable, but plan on $4,000. (Check the “Online Resources” section for more information.) 

Read the basic texts of the major world religions: the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the teachings of Buddha. Visit a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a temple. Cost: materials can be obtained free online or in the mail (or for less than $50) + 20 hours. 

• Subscribe to a language-learning podcast and listen to each 20-minute episode, five times a week, for the entire year. Attend a local language club once a week to practice. Cost: $0 + 87 hours.

• Loan money to an entrepreneur through and arrange to visit him or her while you’re abroad on your big trip. Cost: likely $0 in the end, since 98% of loans are repaid. 

• Acquire at least three new skills during your year. Suggestions: photography, skydiving, computer programming, martial arts. The key is not to become an expert in any of them, but to become functionally proficient. Cost: variable, but each skill is probably less than three credits of tuition would be at a university. 

Read at least 30 nonfiction books and 20 classic novels. Cost: approximately $750 (can be reduced or eliminated by using the library). 

• Join a gym or health club to keep fit during your rigorous independent studies. (Most universities include access to their fitness centers with the purchase of $32,000 in tuition, so you’ll need to pay for this on your own otherwise.) Cost: $25-$75 a month. 

Become comfortable with basic presentation and public speaking skills. Join your local Toastmasters club to get constructive, structured help that is beginner-friendly. Cost: $25 once + 2 hours a week for 10 weeks. 

• Start a blog, create a basic posting schedule, and stick with it for the entire year. You can get a free blog at One tip: don’t try to write every day. Set a weekly or biweekly schedule for a while, and if you’re still enjoying it after three months, pick up the pace. Cost: $0. 

• Set your home page to Randompage. Over the next year, every time you open your browser, you’ll see a different, random Wikipedia page. Read it. Cost: $0. 

• Learn to write by listening to the Grammar Girl podcast on iTunes and buying Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Cost: $0 for Grammar Girl, $14 for Anne Lamott. 

Instead of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, read The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs, a good summary. Cost: $15. 

TOTAL COST: $10,000 or less


  1. Hi Brett,

    Looks great and thanks for posting this. As mentioned in the book, the idea is to modify the plan to suit your own needs - which looks like what you've done here. All the best and I hope to see you somewhere.


  2. Interesting list, even though I am with you that relationships are conspicuously absent. So is, I'd say, writing. All of this reading and consuming you'd do would be mostly worthless in a short time if you don't take the effort to write down notes, organize them, and then write your reflections and connect the things you learned to other ideas.

    And on blogging, I hope you will get around to more than once per week soon because you have a keen eye for what's interesting, I'd say.

  3. Personalizing and prioritizing is exactly what it's all about. Nice one. Glad to mention your especially self-directed approach in my own post on the subject dated 2011.05.06.
    Let us know when you "graduate" :)

  4. Hi Brett,
    Did you edit this list and follow through? Just curious how it is going if you have.

  5. I followed through on some but not others and added some things. Shoot me an email at brett [at] and we can talk about it in more detail.