“My dear, your father is an engineer. He’s a logical, reasonable man with a very clear vision of the world. Do you actually know what it means to be a writer?” ~ Paulo Coelho’s mother, upon his informing her of his intentions to write.
Born to an engineer and homemaker in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1947, Paulo Coelho knew from a young age that he wanted to be a writer. He had “gotten the bug”, and understood without a doubt that this was what he wanted to do.
His parents, however, had a different idea, and his artistic inclinations were not well received. Why not something more dependable– something in line with his father’s occupation as an engineer?
When Paulo refused, insisting instead on pursuing his dreams, his parents ultimately ended up sending him to a mental institution. For three years. (Paulo has remarked, in retrospect: “It wasn’t that they wanted to hurt me, but they didn’t know what to do… They did not do that to destroy me, they did that to save me.”)
Regardless, none of the attempts at forced conformity worked. And thank God they didn’t. Twenty-five years later, at the age of 41, Coelho would pen what would go on to become one of the best-selling books in history, setting the Guinness World Record for the most translated work by a living author: The Alchemist.
The timeless story about fulfilling your “Personal Legend” and following your dreams has now been on the New York Times Bestseller List for over 350 weeks, and shows no signs of going anywhere.
However, The Alchemist didn’t come to its fruition in the marketplace so easily. In its opening week, the store where it was selling… sold one copy. It would be another year before an American read the book and helped Paulo translate it to English. After that, it slowly began its rise to the heights we find it at now.
In the years since, it has been spotted in the hands of such figures as Bill Clinton, Madonna and Pharrell Williams, with countless other celebrities attributing some of their success, in one way or another, to its timeless lessons.
And one can see why. The simple tale of a young shepherd trying to follow his dreams is filled with plenty of important lessons and quotes. Here are a few.
On finding your Personal Legend:
“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone when they are young knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their Personal Legend.”
When we’re young we dream of becoming astronauts, professional athletes, actors and writers, captains and firefighters, but as we grow older, and move through the education system and society, it’s continually suggested that we ‘think more reasonably’ and consider things such as job-security -– like how Paulo’s parents suggested he become an engineer.
As Paulo shows us though, sometimes it’s best we don’t listen to the voices of suppression, and continue to dream big throughout our whole life.
On fate and freewill:
“What’s the world’s greatest lie?” the boy asked, completely surprised. “It’s this: that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become completely controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”
Many times when an event occurs in our lives, whether good or bad, we will tell ourselves, “it was fate”. We like to give the universe its power and convince ourselves that we have no control over what happens – but we do.
The world’s biggest lie is when we, or others, tell ourselves that we don’t have control over our lives. We do. We are each in full control of our inner lives, our reactions, and our ability to consciously surrender –- and until we stop believing in that lie, we won’t be able to reach our full potential; our Personal Legend.
“For her, everyday was the same, and when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognize the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises.”
What Paulo suggests here is an idea similar to that of hedonic adaptation. We reach a certain level of happiness, we become comfortable with our routine, and we stay there, content, but never as happy as we could be. We don’t recognize all the amazing life around us, and all the possibilities out there; we conform to our daily routines and stay ‘content’.
On the Universe:
“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
This is the underlying message throughout The Alchemist. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask permission from the universe when we want something. We can ask for it, and we should help the universe as much as we can to achieve it.
“We have to take advantage when luck is on our side, and do as much to help it as it’s doing to help us. It’s called the principal of favourability, or beginner’s luck.”
Similar to the aforementioned, it is no coincidence that the harder we work the luckier we become. And similarly, when we have that luck come our way, we have to continue working hard, and in return, the universe repays us.
“Life is the moment we’re living right now.”
Another underlying theme in the Alchemist is living in the present, and not focusing on the past or future. It’s when we focus on the past or present that we forget about the life we’re living in the present.
“He learned the most important part of the language that the whole world spoke – the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love.”
The universal language.
“I must have no fear of failure. It was my fear of failure that first kept me attempting the Master Work. Now I’m beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But I’m happy at least that I didn’t wait twenty years.”
It can be argued that we act the way we do out of fear. But, as Paulo suggests, only pushing through that fear will allow us to reach our potential.
The number of times we tell ourselves we should start a certain project, only to give ourselves a number of reasons why we should not or cannot – that’s fear.
Start now, and years later, you’ll be a lot happier that you did.
On the secret of happiness:
“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve upon the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.”
Similar to the aforementioned, right now is all that exists; the only way to improve on the future is to improve upon the present. Instead of worrying about the future, begin improving your circumstances right now, and the future will sort itself out. Religious or not, realize that each day is a new day, and being the best person you can today is the only way to achieve a better tomorrow.
On fulfilling our dream:
“Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that we learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, ‘one dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared in the horizon’. Every search begins with beginner’s luck. And every search ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”
The hardest part of any goal worth achieving comes in the moments when you think it has become an impossible task, but in reality, you are so close to achieving whatever it is that you have asked the universe for. It’s about persevering through those tough moments, and continuing your journey, that will help you realize your dreams. As Paulo says,
About The Author
This is an original article by Ryan Covel. Visit Ryan at www.ryancovel.com or follow him on Instagram and Twitter @ryancovel.