“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
While inspirational quotes offer words of encouragement and blog posts bloviate about living your best life, they universally fail to explain how to live a life with purpose. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho is a lesson on how to live. In 25 years since the first publishing, “The Alchemist” has been translated into over 70 languages and has been praised by Madonna, President Bill Clinton, Rush Limbaugh, and Oprah. This book was recommended to me by my Aunt and I’m thankful to her for sharing it with me.
“The Alchemist” has received a lot of criticism. I can understand why people want to be critical of this book. I was tempted to write a critical review myself. The whole notion of following your dreams is ridiculous to people who are struggling. How can someone follow their dreams if the dream is simply to survive? My initial take was that this is a great book for privileged people, however my attitude changed the more I thought about it. People start from different places and we have different dreams. The main principals of this book are focus, determination and perseverance. By learning and trying to be better each day you can achieve more than you ever thought possible, but success has to be earned. In “The Alchemist,” the main character, Santiago, earns that success.
I think this book pairs surprisingly well with “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. The two books could not be written any more differently, but both focus on what it means to be true to yourself. If you find yourself wanting to do something, then just do it. Mark Manson believes that goals change overtime, and if you discover that your dream of being in a rock-band doesn’t come to fruition, it might be because you don’t actually care enough to put in the work. Paul Coelho will argue that this is the time to focus on what you DO find yourself doing and follow it to reach your Personal Legend.
Through the parable of Santiago seeking a chest full of buried treasure near the Egyptian Pyramids, “The Alchemist” highlights the skills people need to develop in order to reach personal fulfillment, which the book refers to as your “Personal Legend.” When seeking your Personal Legend, you have to learn to listen to the language of the world. The language of the world speaks in omens, and the omens will lead you to your Personal Legend. Listen to the world, listen to the omens, and listen to your heart. What separates “The Alchemist” from other self-help books is that it uses a narrative to illustrate the journey we all endure. In some way we are all seeking out Personal Legend.
Seeking your Personal Legend will always start with beginner’s luck. The universe wants us to obtain our Legend and coaxes us into the journey with a fortuitous break. Sadly, in the midst of such optimism, a sucker-punch of misfortune is delivered to test your resolve. Nothing is ever easy. It’s clear that reaching your legend requires discipline. We can lose track of our Legend as happens to Santiago in Tangier, however he stays disciplined and continues to listen to the language of the world. In “The Alchemist” Santiago strikes luck by a friend offering to buy all of his sheep so he can afford to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to Northern Africa where he is promptly robbed. There will always be setbacks. Santiago is beaten by thugs, taken prisoner by an army, and turns himself into the wind on his way to Egypt. Obtaining your Personal Legend will grind away at your resolve by putting you at the greatest peril before attainment.
Most self-help books focus on the authors personal achievements. Paulo Coelho wrote an inspirational story to himself and had to act on the books principals to find a new publisher after the original pulled out. In a 2014 interview with Oprah, Mr. Coelho said "I wrote this. I have to live by these words." When he knocked on the door of large publishing house in Brazil they published it. When asked why they published it the reply was “I don’t know.” This is an example of the universe conspiring to help Paulo Coelho reach his Personal Legend.
Through Santiago, Mr. Coelho manifests the Personal Legend as a buried treasure. A vision of the buried treasure takes hold of Santiago in a recurring dream. Using a chest full of gold coins to represent the Personal Legend is intentional to give the reader a reference point. If Mr. Coelho used an abstract dream like being a rock star, it would be difficult for the reader to understand the concepts laid out through the book.
It is clear that Mr. Coelho believes in a higher power, and many people are happy to discard “The Alchemist” as foolery. I can see the appeal in refuting the idea that omens are the language of the world, however, I cannot deny that there is a serendipity in life. When you put yourself into places to succeed, amazing things can happen. In my own life, I had the pleasure of sharing an elevator with Alexis Ohanian and meeting billionaire Ted Leonsis because I found a couple events online that were interesting to me. Positive things don’t happen unless you take action. Good things are earned, and “The Alchemist” teaches you how to earn them.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Published by HarperOne; Anniversary edition (April 15, 2014)