The Alchemist is by far one of my most favourite books. You can find many important life lessons that you can apply to your own life. The book itself is a story of a young shepherd named Santiago seeking his own personal legend, in other words, his purpose in life. While on his journey he is faced with overbearing obstacles and challenges hidden with a deeper meaning. Here are the things I found most inspiring.
FINDING YOUR PERSONAL LEGEND
The book starts with Santiago, a young Spanish shepherd’s repeated visions of a hidden treasure near the Egyptian pyramids whenever he dozes off while grazing his flock. Sensing there has to be a significant meaning to his visions, he goes to a Gypsy fortune teller for advice, in which he is instructed to go to Egypt to find his “hidden treasure”. The boy is hesitant, but after realizing he’ll never be happy if he doesn’t at least try, he finally decides to go forth in search of his “hidden treasure”.
We all have a sense of emptiness from time to time, as if we could be living our lives more healthily, or more happily. It’s a feeling you and I both can’t shake away despite our attempts to accept mediocrity of life. The book perfectly describes of the visions we ourselves have from time to time reminding our true passions in life, otherwise referred as “personal legend” in The Alchemist.
NO VALUE WITHOUT SACRIFICE
The boy soon finds himself in a dilemma, a) to play it safe and dibble dabble or b) trade half of his flock of sheep for valuable information. He ultimately decides to trade half his sheep; now he’s really in the game and can’t go back.
There is no value in something unless we sacrifice time, effort, and resources. People appreciate the things they worked hard for to achieve. This could otherwise be referred to as “burning your boats” so that you have no plan B; it’s do or die. It’s an extreme example, but you get the point. Without certain amount of commitment and sacrifice, you won’t keep yourself accountable to finish what you started since you risked little to nothing.
THE PRINCIPLE OF FAVOURABILITY
The principle of favourability, is the stroke of beginners luck we experience in a given instance. If you think back in your life, you might have had success with something you never thought you had any skill in or something that allowed you to pursue what you always wanted, which motivated you to learn more and do more.
Santiago comes across someone willing to buy his remaining sheep for a handsome price so that he could finance his trip to Egypt. He believes it will be smooth sailing, but he is in for so much more. Beginner’s luck doesn’t always last for long though, soon enough you find yourself facing a big block in your progress.
DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH THE DREAM
After losing everything the boy had due to unfortunate outcome of events, he decides to give up on his personal legend and go home. It was not what he had hoped for, but without money, friends, and resources, he learns that he will never be able to see the pyramids.
He must first however purchase his return ticket and soon finds himself having to work for a Muslim crystal merchant to get home. Santiago is fairly successful and after some time has enough money for his return, but his boss shares a story that sends chills.
Since I won’t be able to capture the beauty of the message in a short summary, here’s the quote from the book.
“When I was young, all I wanted to do was to put together enough money to start this shop. I thought that someday I’d be rich, and could go to Mecca. I began to make some money, but I could never bring myself to leave someone in charge of the shop; the crystals are delicate things.
At the same time, people were passing my shop all the time, heading for Mecca. Some of them were rich pilgrims, traveling in caravans with servants and camels, but most of the people making the pilgrimage were poorer than I. “All who went there were happy at having done so. They placed the symbols of the pilgrimage on the doors of their houses. One of them, a cobbler who made his living mending boots, said that he had traveled for almost a year through the desert, but that he got more tired when he had to walk through the streets of Tangier buying his leather.”
“Well, why don’t you go to Mecca now?” asked the boy. “Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch and dinner at that same horrible café. I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”
The crystal merchant had always wanted to go to Mecca for his hajj, and his business was just a means for him to finance his trip, but as time went on, it wasn’t long before his personal legend became more like an unattainable dream than a possibility.
How many of you know someone who’s in a similar position as the crystal merchant? Someone who only talks and talks about his or her dreams while never taking any necessary action to make it a reality?
THE CONSPIRING UNIVERSE
WHEN YOU WANT SOMETHING, ALL THE UNIVERSE CONSPIRES IN HELPING YOU TO ACHIEVE IT
I don’t know what your religious background is or whether you believe in the law of attraction but this quote is one of my mantras. Once your beginner’s luck, or principle of favourability runs out, you are faced with a whole different level of challenges, but if you really want something badly enough, you will take chances and opportunities that present themselves, which may ultimately help you get where you want to be in life.
Santiago was a shepherd throughout his whole life, however he just knew he had to find the hidden treasure in Egypt. Though when his luck (prince of favourability) ran out, he still found opportunities and made decisions that helped him head towards the right direction.
MAKE YOUR OWN DECISIONS
In The Alchemist, Paulo Coehlo refers to the greatest tragedy of life as giving up control and letting our lives be run by fate. Making your own decisions sounds easy in theory, but in practice it’s more difficult than we think. Our friends, family, and mentors will always influence us in ways that may ultimately shape how our lives may turn out. That’s why choosing to surround yourself with the right people is of utmost importance.
The boy was given two stones Urim and Thumim by a king in case he did difficulty making any decisions. One representing yes and the other a no. Interestingly he never got the chance to really use the stones, and in situations he wanted to let a piece of stone decide his fate, he was either interrupted or a different thought occurred to him. In the end, he always ended up taking responsibility for his own decisions and actions.
DON’T MAKE YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER YOUR GOAL
Falling in love is one of the greatest joys and pleasures in life, a universal language as the book likes to refer to. I’ve fallen in love many times, from simple infatuations, friendships, short flings, to something more mature; each had its unique lessons and experiences. I, at one point in my life, was willing to give up my dreams, aspirations, and passions in life for love, for “The ONE”. After all, what’s a nobler cause to signify your undying love?
As time went on, I realized a part of me was missing, that I no longer felt like myself anymore. There was a nagging feeling of being unfair to my girlfriend and to myself as I always wanted to travel and not be bound by responsibilities or obligations. It was a feeling that I couldn’t be my best authentic self for her and in life. I found myself sacrificing my friends, my hobbies, and pieces of my “personal legend” to make the relationship work; but the more I tried, the more empty and hollow I felt with no purpose.
It’s not easy letting go of love, especially when both of you want it to work but it just doesn’t. I am always thankful that she had the strength to make the decision to part ways for me. It’s something I couldn’t do as I always fell silent whenever the words made its way to my mouth.
However, do you really wish to know whether you chose the right person to share your life with, or a even a portion of it? Simple answer is if he or she is willing to sacrifice love for you to be happy. Like me, Santiago finds himself head over heels and was willing to give up on Egypt and the pyramids for “The ONE”, but he did not expect his love to share words of true wisdom.
“You have told me about your dreams, about the old king and your treasure. And you’ve told me about omens. So now, I fear nothing, because it was those omens that brought you to me. And I am part of your dream, a part of your Personal Legend, as you call it. That’s why I want you to continue toward your goal. If you have to wait until the war is over, then wait. But if you have to go before then, go on in pursuit of your dream. The dunes are changed by the wind, but the desert never changes. That’s the way it will be with our love for each other. Maktub,” she said. “If I am really a part of your dream, you’ll come back one day.” (p. 97)
Fatima shows her understanding of the boy and of the world by encouraging him to pursue his dream rather than stay with her waiting for the war to end. She believes, as he does, that their destinies have been written, and if they are meant to be together, they will be. Thus there is nothing to fear in separating now, for as the word “maktub” is translated, it is written, and if fate will unveil itself, they will reunite.
In the end, true love is wishing what is best for yourself and your significant other, so that both of you may find your personal legends. Some may share the same ride throughout your whole life, some may change to a different ride, and some may hop on the same ride again. Whatever the outcome, each one of us are on our own journey to find our “hidden treasure”.
THE IRONY OF IT ALL. THE HIDDEN TREASURE
And do you know what the irony of it all is? No, I won’t spoil the fun for you, but I will give you a hint. Santiago does not find the hidden treasure in Egypt, but actually gets beaten and robbed by people who went searching for the same “hidden treasure”.
He returns home to Spain, to where he first had his visions, and with a sudden smirk on his face realizes the irony of it all. I don’t want to spoil it for you 🙂 Grab yours here!