The Alchemist was first published in 1988.
Since then, it’s sold over 65 million copies and become the best-selling self-help/spirituality book of all-time (excluding religious texts like The Bible).
Furthermore, it is THE most translated book in the world by a living author, with versions available to read in 74 different languages.
The author, Paulo Coelho, has lived a life worthy of the adventures of the book’s main character, Santiago.
Born in Brazil in 1947, he was raised in a strict Catholic family and attended a school run by Jesuits.
He rebelled against this upbringing, presumably rejecting the path his parents wished him to pursue. Shockingly, this resulted in him being committed to a mental asylum by them on three separate occasions.
Once an adult, further clashes with authority ensued. Instead of pursuing the law degree for which he’d enrolled, he left university and started writing song lyrics for Brazilian musicians.
These songs were political in nature, protesting the country’s military rule. As a result, he was jailed on three separate occasions and, while imprisoned, tortured by the guards.
Despite this treatment, Coelho never stopped dreaming. Once freed, he experienced a spiritual awakening while walking the famous Camino trail in northern Spain.
After this, he committed to his dream of becoming a writer and, one year later, penned his masterpiece.
Paulo Coelho knows both about the importance of pursuing your dreams and how to achieve them.
The subtitle of The Alchemist is “A Fable About Following Your Dreams” and many people (including Bill Clinton and Julia Roberts) cite it as an influential work. However, the focus of this blog post is less on the book itself, and more on a brief 4-page prelude to the main work which comes included with the 2012 edition.
In this essay, Coelho offers insights into the subject he’s most qualified to write on – the pursuit, and achievement, of one’s dreams.
He claims there are only 4 obstacles to be concerned with when taking on this seemingly monumental challenge.
Below, I will break each one of these down, offering further insights, and explaining why the life of your dreams could be within your grasp.
Coelho writes, “we are told from childhood onwards that everything we want to do is impossible.” As a result of hearing this from parents, teachers, the media, friends, our peer group, work colleagues, bosses and religious leaders, “There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible.”
We live in a system that encourages mediocrity.
One of the life lessons we’re taught from our teenage years is that dreams rarely come true.
As a result, it’s considered a far safer route to study hard in school, get a place at university and then secure a well-paid job after graduation.
At least this way you’ll live a comfortable and secure life. Barring an unforeseen accident or illness, nothing much will go wrong.
However, what happens if a “normal life’ isn’t good enough for you? What happens if you can still hear your “personal calling” and hold out the smallest hope that it’s more than just a fantasy?
If this is the case then you must unplug from the system.
Stop listening to, and avoid, the people who tell you your dream is impossible to achieve. Remember, what they’re telling you is an outright lie.
Unless your dream is to be the first human to make contact with an alien species, it’s likely that whatever you want to do, no matter how outrageous it may sound to others, has been done before.
THEREFORE IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE.
Realise this and understand that it can be done. Then, if possible, connect with the people who have achieved what you’re aiming to do.
You’ll benefit from their perspective, and knowledge, and this should get you a quarter of the way to your destination.
Although there are similarities, obstacle two is different to the first. It’s more direct, involving the people around you – the ones who are closest to you – and the influence they can have over your decisions.
We all need connection. However, what happens when our need for connection requires that we play small and ignore our need for exploration, expression and meaning?
It’s a difficult situation to be in. Coelho writes, “We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream.”
For fear of being called selfish and for fear of being isolated and alone, we’ll sacrifice our dreams so we can have harmony at home.
But how long will this harmony last?
Sure, your spouse, parents and kids may feel better but how are you going to cope with living half a life?
Fortunately, Coelho has a solution.
He flips the situation on its head by writing that love shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dreams but, instead, propel you towards them.
If someone truly loves you, they want you to be happy. Therefore, if some of that happiness is dependent on you exploring your personal calling then they’ll support you on your journey.
Of course, in every relationship there’s a degree of compromise involved. However, try to think of ways to let the people you love know that you pursuing your dreams is a win-win for everyone.
It’s a great example to your kids, it could lead to some very proud parents and your spouse gets to enjoy the best version of you.
If you’re considering, or are already, following your dreams, there’s something you must understand.
The path you walk is different to 99% of the population. Although you have a chance to enjoy life’s greatest rewards, you’re also confronting life’s greatest challenges. As a result, it’s more than likely you’ll experience some heart breaking failures.
Coelho writes, “We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old excuse, ‘Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.'”
You must face the pain of putting everything on the line and still failing. However, if you can get through this, victory is assured.
Coelho writes, “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get back up eight times.”
He also mentions that ignoring your dreams carries its own form of suffering. This is more subtle and, “eats away at our soul,” eventually becoming impossible to deal with in older age.
So, don’t allow the fear of failure or the potential for suffering to deter you from pursuing your dreams. These are inevitable experiences and are actually a key part of the process to becoming successful.
Embrace them and understand that you CAN overcome any obstacle.
You are now three-quarters of the way towards living the life of your dreams. However, the final obstacle you face is, perhaps, the hardest to understand.
Coelho writes, “The mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt. We look around at all those who have failed to get what they want and feel that we do not deserve to get what we want either.”
Humans are social animals. We like to feel connected to others. Therefore, when faced with the prospect of succeeding on a level that far exceeds anyone we know, we fear isolation.
Coelho writes, “I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal when it was only a step away.”
The sickness of mind known as “playing small.”
We falsely assume we’re being virtuous if we stay like everyone else. As Coelho writes, there’s a, “saintly aura” about, “renouncing joy and conquest.” Society promotes the false narrative that the best people are the ordinary ones who work hard, keep their heads down and give to others.
While there is merit in this approach, it ignores our need to be inspired, realise our potential and live life to the fullest.
These needs can only be met if we have examples of dream achievers to emulate.
Ironically, we don’t always serve others by playing small so they can escape feeling inadequate. Instead, sometimes the best way to serve others is to let our light shine so they have permission to do the same (to paraphrase Marianne Williamson).
So, don’t for a second feel guilty about your success.
You living your dreams can ONLY be a good thing for those around you and the world at large.
If you want to discover a passion you can make a living from and overcome the fears that are holding you back, check out my free course 30 Days to Escape The System. Click here to get the course right now! (You’ll find the tips on developing belief and self-confidence fascinating!)