The Alchemist – not to be mistaken with the uptown entertainment joint by the same name - but rather the book by Paulo Coelho, is among a handful of books that have changed my perspective on life.
I had a light bulb moment once I was done reading it for the very first time.
“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much,” Tyrion Lannister - A Game of Thrones.
It is the lessons I picked up from the 34-year-old book that I would like to share with you for the next few minutes.
Books are like movies in that any lessons embedded within them are subjective to the reader/viewer. However, when it comes to the Alchemist, some of the ‘truths’ that lie within it could be argued to be universal.
For example, the importance of enjoying the proverbial ‘journey’ as opposed to getting obsessed with the destination.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. For those that haven’t read the book yet, here’s a short summary, before we get to some of the lessons I picked up from it.
It tells the story of Santiago, a young boy who sets out to find treasure in the Egyptian pyramids after having a recurring dream about it.
Along the way, he meets mentors, falls in love with a girl named Fatma, and, most importantly, learns the true value of who he is and how to better himself and focus on what truly matters in life.
In one sentence – It’s the story of a boy who follows his dream quite literally and finds gems along the way.
One of the best lines from the book is – When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.
The author - Paulo Coelho, revealed that it took him 2 weeks to write the book, adding that this was possible because the book was already ingrained in his soul. He had it in his dreams.
It didn’t do well at first but then the universe conspired to make Paulo’s dreams come true and the book just blew up, selling over 65 million copies to date.
It now holds the Guinness World Record for the most translated book by a living author.
Now in the book, Santiago (a shepherd) keeps having one dream repeatedly each time he sleeps under a Sycamore tree outside of an old church building in his home area.
Just the same dream over and over again.
In the dream, he hears from a child that he must go to the Egyptian pyramids to seek a treasure.
He decides to go out and try and find out what it means. This is when he runs into a gypsy woman who tells him to go to Egypt. There is also an old man named Melchizedek who tells him the same thing, only this time the old man tells him he has to pursue his ‘personal legend’.
That is when he decides to sell his flock and use all the money he has to make his journey to Egypt via Tangier in Morocco and across the Sahara.
The rest of the book just paints a picture of his journey and the disappointments along the way. For example, the moment he got to Tangier, and all his money was stolen.
Now closer home, this told me one thing. We all have our own unique and ‘personal legends’ that we must pursue at all costs.
It's as one-of-a-kind as you are. You might already know what it is and just need the courage to go after it. Whether it's a career, family, health, or other goals, we must overcome everything that is holding us back in order to pursue our biggest dreams.
Once you start, the entire universe will work together to make it happen. But that doesn't mean you won't face challenges. Just like Santiago.
I knew I loved to write. I knew that I wanted to write. I have had dreams which involve some very weird and geeky acceptance speech at some global writer’s award. But I kept putting it off.
I kept questioning my own abilities. Questioning the meaning of it all until one day I just decided to do it.
It started out with a personal sports blog in which I’d go after anyone who didn’t believe that Arsenal was/is the greatest team in the world. It was fun.
I then started coming across opportunities in writing. In my head, this was the universe conspiring to help me achieve my dream and I have never looked back since.
Have you ever heard of the Baader-Meinhof (pronounced badder minehoff) phenomenon?
It’s a phenomenon that occurs when something you've just noticed, experienced, or been told about suddenly crops up constantly.
It gives you the feeling that for some unknown reason, pretty much everyone and their friends, as well as cousins, are talking about the subject. You're seeing it everywhere you turn.
For example, you finally get just enough money to afford the Mazda CX8. Your dream car.
Suddenly, the car is everywhere. It's parked in front of your house. Your boss's husband has one. You see two of them next to you in traffic on your way home from work. The car is even popping up in commercials smack in the middle of your favorite programme
So what exactly is happening here? Did this car suddenly become the coolest thing in Kenya? Or is your consciousness playing tricks on you?
Now, this is what is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, or the frequency illusion.
Tying it back to Santiago - if you want something badly enough, you tend to start seeing it everywhere you turn.
As I mentioned earlier, Santiago lost all his money the moment he got to Tangier, Morocco.
Things got so bad for him that he got to a point where he offered to clean the windows at a crystal merchant’s shop, in exchange for food.
This then turned into a permanent gig and after doing the math, he realized that he needed to work and save up for at least 1 year in order to have enough money to get to Egypt.
A whole year seems to be too long so Santiago gives up on his dreams. He resolves to make just enough money to head back home and buy more sheep.
He works for the crystal merchant for about a month. It's not exactly his dream job, but he's making enough money to save up for his sheep.
It is during his time at the crystal merchant shop, doing a job he doesn’t really like that Santiago’s mindset evolves.
He suggests building an outdoor display case to attract more customers, but the crystal merchant isn't buying it at first. He eventually caves in and lo and behold, his glassware is selling like hotcakes.
Next, Santiago gets the bright idea to sell tea out of the glasses. Again, the merchant is reluctant at first but Santiago is persistent and the idea takes off and the two make a fortune.
Almost a year after arriving in Africa, Santiago has saved enough to get back to Spain and buy double the sheep he'd had the year before.
But then he realizes that he can always go back to being a shepherd, but he has to keep chasing after his dream and learning new things.
He decides to go back to his original plan. Head to Egypt and find his treasure. This meant meeting even greater challenges and facing failure again and again.
However, he just kept at it.
Now, this will certainly raise some eyebrows but one of Santiago’s biggest obstacles to him realising his dream was his love for a girl named Fatima.
It came to a point where he had to choose between going after his Egyptian dream or staying with her. Everything within him wanted Fatma, and it took a lot of convincing from a wise alchemist for him to leave her behind, but he did.
I remember putting the book down at this point and thinking - what a douchebag this guy is! How can he leave Fatima hivyo tu - the beautiful Arab girl he met at a well in one of the oases in the desert.
But at the end of the story, I got the whole picture.
Love is one of the things that could hold you back from going after your dreams. Hear me out for a second before running to the comments section.
If we stop to listen to that voice inside of us that is pushing us to pursue our calling, we will then turn it away for love. We don't want to abandon those we care about in pursuit of our dream.
“We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream. We do not realise that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent us going forward.” Paulo Coelho.
And hey, Santiago and Fatima ended up together in the end.
She supported his quest, even though it took him away from her. In my head, she represents true love, selflessness, and unconditional.
At the end of the narrative, Santiago returns to Fatima. This confirms what the Alchemist said about love: Santiago is able in the end to achieve both his ‘personal legend’ and find his true love.
There are many other gems in the book such as the importance of enjoying the journey as opposed to getting obsessed with the destination.
Take Santiago’s stay at the crystal merchant’s shop in Morocco I mentioned earlier as an example. He knew that that was not where he wanted to be but he made it work and never lost sight of his dream.
At the end of the story, when he finally makes it to Egypt, he realises that the treasure he has been pursuing is buried under the sycamore tree he used to lie under back in his hometown in Spain.
This tells me that everything I need to succeed is in and around me right now. Your network can open doors that no degree or hours in the library can. Use it wisely.
In the end, Santiago discovered that everyone is sent to Earth to live out their 'personal legend'. I like to think of it as a calling.
What sets your soul on fire? What are your deepest desires, beliefs, and dreams? Coelho describes it as “God’s blessing” and the “path that God chose for you here on earth.”
I can’t help but think of Santiago as a version of myself. Someone who knows there's something bigger than himself out there, and his heart won't stop beating until he drops everything to go after it.
He pursues his dreams in a variety of ways, and while he falls repeatedly, he never stops learning. And neither should you.
I have read lots of books as it’s the only way to get better at writing. If you’d like to get more gems picked up from books that touch on personal growth and finance, let me know in the comment section.