10 Lessons from Paulo Coelho’s Life and The Alchemist

If you were to ask me which book saved my life – I would tell you The Alchemist. I read it during a dark time in my youth and I was convinced the author was an Arab and took his teachings directly from the Quran which made the story so much more appealing to a young person trying to make sense of a complicated identity. I was young, I didn’t know any better and although both untrue, The Alchemist gave me hope. Hope that things would work out, and the belief that I had more control over my circumstance and I wasn’t just a pawn. I’ve revisited The Alchemist at different stages in my life and each time it brings a new meaning – not only has the book inspired me and millions of others, the author’s journey is exceptional.

Row homes in the South Philly area, where after 15 years I’ve returned to my youth and The Alchemist.

Musings on the lessons from the life of Paulo Coelho and The Alchemist

  1. Build Your Personal Momentum at Any Age. When you are in your 20s, it feels like your entire life is ahead of you, you have all the time in the world. Then, all of a sudden you’re in your 30s and you’re like, ok, let’s reevaluate and the notion that time is running out starts feeling very real. If you’re not where you envisioned yourself to be, it can take a serious emotional toll. Paulo Coelho faced a rejected Alchemist at age 41, but didn’t give up. He believed in the story, he believed in his vision. “When you want something the whole universe conspires to help you”, he lived his fiction and made it a reality. Sitting in a posh cafe, in any American city, you will overhear executives talking about their rising stars. Talented, energetic and mostly … young. As the Englishmen in The Alchemist states “I’m beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But l’m happy at least that I didn’t wait twenty years.” Your journey is yours alone, comparing your path to anyone else feels like quick sand. Your mind is racing but instead of moving forward, you’re actually sinking. Do not fall into the mental quick-sand trap.
  2. The Alchemist was Written in 9 Days, Stop Overthinking. My mind was blown when I listened to Paulo Coehlo’s conversation on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. 9 days was all it took for him to create this book that has influenced the lives of millions. And when I think of all the self-doubt and pressure we put on ourselves, and all that remains within us because of this self-doubt, it is destructive. We haven’t given the world a fraction of what we possibly could because of the number of times we personally quell our greatness. We quell our greatness because we are afraid of what others will say and how they will judge. Fear of judgement is detrimental to our dreams, if we are not careful judgement chips away at our confidence bit by bit until we are satisfied with the mundane and no longer seeking the exceptional.
  3. Don’t Promise what You Don’t Have. As Santiago begins his quest to fulfill his Personal Legend, this is a lesson he quickly learns. He starts promising individuals repayment once he finds his treasure before he has any of it! If you have ever been in debt, you can understand that receiving your paycheck is not as sweet when you know it’s going in 10 different directions before you even receive it – you’ve lost before you even started. Although some of that may not be any of our own fault (you do have to pay for shelter and food, of course), but avoid promising anything you do not have when you are in the capacity to do so.
  4. Don’t Let Go of Your Youth (and by extension your Personal Legend). One reason Santiago learns that youth is the keeper of the Personal Legend is because youth is the keeper of confidence. In your youth you are not afraid, you are not yet jaded by the demands of life. One of the fantastic components of educating is being around young people all the time, it keeps me energized and inspired because young people believe they can achieve and when they don’t, it’s my job to remind them they can. We all need to be reminded of who we were in our youth, otherwise, the joy fades and It doesn’t seem to make sense anymore.
  5. Champion Over Your Despair. Santiago travels to foreign lands to fulfill his Personal Legend, but in doing so loses everything. It’s the traveling to a different country and getting robbed despair. It’s the I’ve invested everything I have in my dream and its failed despair. It’s a terrible feeling, and it’s so much easier to give up the pursuit in that kind of emotional brokenness. And that’s why so many people give up, it’s easier to stop and be safe than it is to continue to pursue your dream, or in this case your Personal Legend.
  6. Perspective Changes Desperation into Possibility. So often when we are caught up in a situation that consumes our emotions, it can seem like the end of the world. However, the key to figuring it out is perspective. After being robbed Santiago felt despair but decided to switch up his view: “he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure”.
  7. The Daunting Eventually Becomes Familiar. Santiago travels to foreign land, and it’s daunting, but as he starts to settle he tells himself “just as he had conquered this place, he would conquer the world.” Unfamiliar territory, whether it’s a project, a new school, a new job comes with a learning curve. Initially it feels overwhelming but eventually the strangeness fades and it becomes familiar, if we are only brave enough to continue the journey.
  8. A Universal Language Exists. In this age of intentional misunderstanding, where walls are being built (metaphorically and physically), it’s hard to conceive there exists a universal language. Santiago discovers as he travels that verbal language is not the only means of communication. Kindness is universal, and even when you do not speak the same language, kindness can be expressed through acts – your eyes when kind can communicate safety to another who may be experiencing fear or anxiety.
  9. Living for the Future is Detrimental to the Present. Have you ever been so consumed with something that hasn’t yet happened that all you feel is an overwhelming anxiety? Yes, if I am not careful I find myself worrying about things that haven’t happened. I worry about hypothetical situations that are far-fetched but are still a possibility. Like Santiago, I’ve had to work very hard in harboring these thoughts in order to be present and not distracted so much with all the possible things that could go wrong.
  10. We are all on the Cusp of Greatness. That tiny feeling pushing you forward, nagging you to keep going, listen to it. Don’t stop because we are all on the cusp of our personal greatness, and with billions of people in the world, your tribe is waiting.
South Philadelphia mural – be brave enough to seek out people, places and opportunities that inspire.

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