A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of Chris Guillebeau’s new book, The Happiness of Pursuit. I’ve previously touched on The $100 Start-Up and I’ve also enjoyed his first book, The Art of Non-Conformity. Chris’ books have the unenviable distinction of being classified as self-help books, but do not come off as such. The message is not that if you follow this method you will find happiness. Rather it presents a collection of alternatives that are worth considering.
The subject of this book is quests. What are quests and how might you benefit from one? The author’s own quest was to visit all 193 countries in the world which took him a little over ten years to complete. This wasn’t always his quest. Like many good quests it evolved. Having a love for travel and finding over 40 unique stamps in his passport, his first goal was to hit 100 countries, but as he neared that goal he decided to tackle them all. And while Gullebeau’s quest is interesting enough, his curiosity about quests led him to investigate about 50 other such “questers” with their own goals. Some were successful, some were not, but few give up completely instead opting to restructure their quest when the initial vision didn’t pan out.
Through the stories of these individual quests, the reader is able to take away some of the lessons learned from the obstacles and rewards of quests as well as how to identify what sort of quest might be right for him or her. Julie Johnson, who has been blind most of her life, decided she would tackle the task of training her own guide dog, despite the fact that it would be easier to acquire an already trained dog. “Probably the biggest reason is that it felt right,” she said. “I needed to do this Big Thing. I didn’t know then that it was a Big Thing, I just knew it was something that I needed to do for myself. If I didn’t, I’d always wonder about what could have been.”
The quests range from highly physical (bicycling from Alaska to Patagonia), to creative (cooking a meal from every country in the world), to academic (completing the 4-year MIT computer science curriculum in one year), and if you’re the type to do things your own way, they are bound to get you thinking about what kind of quest you might want to take on. Additionally there are a handful of exercises suggested for identifying your own quest, such as drafting your own “bucket list” (if you haven’t done so already).
My biggest criticism of this book might be the sub-title, “Finding The Quest That Will Bring Purpose To Your Life.” I’m not sure all quests should define the purpose of your life and I don’t feel that all the quests examined within brought that purpose to each quester. Some reviewers have been critical that Mr. Guillebeau spent too much time talking about his own quest, but I quite enjoyed the intermittent “Dispatches” that detailed small slices of his quest to see each country, and if I had accomplished such a feat, I’d probably share quite a bit about it too.
Admittedly I was an easy sell on this book as these are the kinds of things I think about often. I’ve long considered attempting to break a world record. Once I sang “The Song That Doesn’t End” for over an hour just to see if I could (and maybe to annoy some folks). I maintain a list of BIG IDEAS full of creative projects I’d like to tackle one day. Now this book has got me thinking about some of those ideas and how I might incorporate them into a quest or two. I’ve got a few ideas and for better or worse the one the excites me the most is also the scariest and most dangerous. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime if you’re thinking a quest might be good for you, check out The Happiness of Pursuit.