‘The Alchemist’, by Paulo Coelho, was first published in 1988. It has sold more than 65 million copies in more than 150 countries, and has been translated into 67 different languages. It is one of the bestselling books of all time, and also my favourite book of all time. It is a journey of exploration and self-discovery, as we follow the main character Santiago, a young shepherd who lives in Spain, on a journey to fulfill his personal legend and find his treasure at the Pyramids in Egypt.
Alchemy was an early, unscientific form of chemistry that sought to change base metals into gold. The novel ‘The Alchemist’ shows us how to change our lives from what they may be today into the life we have always dreamed of. ‘The Alchemist’ is full of wisdom and gentle reminders that anything is possible when we believe in ourselves.
Below I break down 5 lessons that we all can learn from ‘The Alchemist’ (note: all quotes in this post are from ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho):
1. The fear of failure is the greatest obstacle to happiness
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
What would you attempt in your life if you knew you could not fail? So often we hide behind excuses of not being able to do this or that, but the real story (most of the time) is that we’re too afraid to take a chance. It is our fear of failing or looking foolish in front of others that keeps us from being who we want to be.
“I am afraid that great disappointment awaits me, and so I prefer to dream”.
In ‘The Alchemist’, Santiago was comfortable with being a shepherd. He knew how to be a shepherd, he trusted the sheep and they trusted him, but being a shepherd didn’t truly make Santiago happy. He dreamt of travel and adventures. Eventually, Santiago sold his flock of sheep and embarked on his great journey to the pyramids. He knew that by denying himself this adventure he would be denying his happiness, and so he took a leap of faith in himself and set off towards his dream.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity. People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them. Most people see the world as a threatening place, and, because they do, the world turns out, indeed, to be a threatening place.”
2. The real treasure is in the journey itself
“There is only one way to learn. It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey.”
Take a minute to think about your past successes and the moment you realized that you had achieved something great. Was that realization the defining moment of your success? Or was it all the hard work and sweat that you put into achieving your goal? As the saying goes, life is a journey, not a destination. The same could be said for success or happiness. It is in the journey where you will find your true self.
“Every search begins with beginners luck and ends with the victor being severely tested.”
Santiago’s dream was to make it to the pyramids, but the adventure that he found himself on in order to get to those pyramids taught him more than he ever thought possible. By the time he reached the pyramids his life had changed forever. Through the journey he found who he truly was, and he found his true happiness.
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure. You’ve got to find the treasure, so that everything you have learned along the way can make sense. “
3. Everything is possible no matter what was said or done in the past, because today you decide it will be possible
“The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better.”
Too often we get bogged down in our past, and in memories of events that we think define us and restrict us from moving forward. The truth is, however, that we can decide today who we want to be. We may have some baggage, and we may have future dreams, but today is the only day where we can define who we are and what direction we want our lives to go.
“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”
The only life Santiago knew was being a shepherd, but one day he made a decision that he wanted to know more. He wanted to get out of Spain and see the rest of the world, and from there the rest of the story develops. The same goes for all of us, in that the rest of our stories are based on the decisions we make today – we decide to be better, we decide to be happy, we decide to be successful. It all starts with that decision.
“When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
4. You already know what you need to know
“Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life.”
When was the last time you asked everyone else what to do, even though you already knew what you wanted to do, but you just wanted someone else to say it? We already know most of what we need to know. Just because you consciously don’t think so doesn’t mean it’s not there. I once heard a statistic that the ratio of our unconscious knowledge to our conscious knowledge is 1,000,000,000 to 1. Yes, our unconscious mind knows 1 billion times more than our conscious mind does. All we need to do is trust ourselves and find time in our day to listen. Listen to the sound of the wind in the trees. Listen to the birds singing. Listen to what you already know, and trust yourself.
Santiago had to learn this lesson along his journey. He spent days upon days on the back of a camel, traveling across the vast emptiness of the desert. This left only time to listen to the sounds of the desert, and to listen to what was within him. We don’t all have days in a desert to do this, but taking a moment to be still could turn out to be the best part of your day.
“All you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand, and you will see in it all the marvels of creation. Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there.”
5. It is up to you alone to live your greatest life
“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.”
We all make choices every day about who we are and what we are going to do with our lives. Think back to your last conversation today. Did that conversation reflect who you really want to be? Was your tone kind and understanding? Or were you impatient and harsh? We make thousands of decisions in a day, why not consciously make the most important one – what can I do to ensure I am living my greatest life? No one else will provide this to you. This is something you have to own and be accountable for. You alone can live your greatest life.
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
Santiago made one decision to pursue his dream. He took control of what he wanted his life to look like and he followed that dream. That doesn’t mean his path was easy. In fact, it was very difficult at times, and there were moments where he even thought about buying another flock of sheep and returning to be a shepherd. But his resiliency won out, and he continued on. Hard times will come to us all. This is a fact. But if we carry on and commit to living our greatest life no matter what, at the end of the journey we will look back with no regrets.
“When you really want something to happen, the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true”
So, have I convinced you to read the book yet?