Set of scales weighing gold setting a scene for the alchemist

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

“The closer you get to your dream, the more your Personal Legend becomes your real reason for living.”
“When you want something, the whole Universe conspires to help you realise your desire.”
“Only one thing makes a dream impossible: the fear of failure.”

Those are just 3 quotes from what I believe to be the best book ever written. If I had to share every quote that resonates with me, I’d be rewriting the book, so let me tell you about my experience with The Alchemist instead.

I can’t remember when, how or by whom I was first introduced to the book. I messaged my sister yesterday asking her if she ever gave it to me as she’s always brought me books on her travels and she responded with: I might have, that sounds vaguely familiar. 

I know that when I was first told to read the book, I hesitated believing it to be too religious for my liking. See, I’m not a big fan of religion. Religions, in my opinion, are man-made – each religion being derived from a previous version. Religion isn’t necessary to have faith.

I do have faith. I do believe in “the universe” and many Gods (Ganesha, for instance, is tattooed on my right thigh). My beliefs are a combination of many faiths. I take what resonates with me, all the good things like “do no harm” and “treat others how you want to be treated”, but I don’t subscribe or conform to the rigidity that someone decided to add so they could control how I should believe.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I had my reasons to not read the book so I remember it being in my possession for some time before I gave into curiosity. When I finally did read the book it was like a light opened up from the sky and angelic voices sang “ahhhhhhhhhh”. For real.

This book is life-changing. It’s written in easy language, with no complicated vocabulary, and it just speaks to what is obvious around us but we overlook it because of its simplicity. We’re programmed to think that if we work hard and overcome challenges, and the road is rough and arduous we deserve the happy ending more. No, that’s the exact opposite of the truth.

When we follow the path that is meant for us it’s as if everything just falls into place. It becomes incredibly clear. Every decision just feels right. The universe presents opportunities that will continue to favour us, and all we have to do is take them and keep moving forward.

But we don’t, right? No, we’re stubborn motherfuckers that like the drama and chaos when shit hits the fan so we choose the difficult path. We tell ourselves “It’s too good to be true” and throw in a few obstacles to keep it real.

And this becomes our lives, constant ups and downs, feeling misunderstood or that we’re not living the life we should be, or that we have to live a certain way (you know, societal expectations). We are the cause of our misery because we shut down our dreams without trying.

Back to the book and the singing angels, when I first read it I felt this clarity that “now everything was just gonna be perfect and I’ll figure it out”… but let’s also be realistic here. This book is quite simply the key to living out your dreams and having the best life – but it isn’t a magic wand.

We have to show up for ourselves, get into the driver’s seat, and actively participate in going after our dreams.

Santiago didn’t get his treasure by staying in the same place he always was. He moved forward. He took one step after another and yes there were delays, distractions, hazards, and everything you can imagine, but he knew where he was going and that each step would be worth it.

THAT’s the secret to living your best life.

And yet, it takes us a few tries to understand this. For example, I first read the book back in the early 2000s. At that moment, I felt a clear purpose and direction and was determined to find my Personal Legend. But I also had two small children, a husband, a full-time job, lots of unhealed trauma, ADHD without knowing it, and just everyday life that quickly set aside going on an introspective journey.

I completely forgot about the book and its simple message.

Years went by and I read the book again, taking in more of the subtleties, and again I felt a sense of purpose! It coincided with a visit by this same sister of mine and we discussed a possible creative business for me. Little by little I put things together and it worked. Imagine, for years I made money exporting my sewn and crocheted goodies.

Again, life happened. The post office crash in 2015 was devastating to many small exporting businesses, add to that a divorce, a terribly sick child, and life just doing what life does, and my focus was taken off following my dream and instead back on paying the bills and doing what needs to be done.

Years went by again.

Finally in 2020, ironically aligned with a pandemic that forced us into seclusion and inadvertent self-reflection, I was on the other side of cancer as well as coming out of a terrible relationship. I needed change. I knew it had to start with me. I found a therapist and said, “I can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” And I again read The Alchemist.

It made so much sense and gave me the desire to find my true purpose, but also the strength to just be me. I’ve kinda always been this odd fish, standing out like a sore thumb – and no I’ve never wanted to fit in. I knew that from early on. But I didn’t know how to fully accept myself either.

I started properly unpacking my childhood and subsequent traumas in 2020. The tricky thing about living your dream is that you have to get all this other stuff out of the way. You can’t be dealing with abandonment issues, physical abuse traumas, and psychological damage from people who were supposed to love and take care of you (but didn’t) and expect to have the ability to truly focus on your dreams. You can’t take over the world if you can’t be real with yourself. You can’t dig deep when times get tough cause you might uncover something buried there.

Here I was again with this clarity, some of which I put to good use by buying a house and starting to set up my life, but at the same time, I was still easily distracted and looking for external validation. I allowed these distractions to take me away from my Personal Legend, running away from the soul work (I even moved to Cape Town for a six-month escapade).

No, I don’t have any regrets, I don’t live that way. Everything is a new experience, a new chapter in my life where, while I have an adventure, I’m also learning about myself. Everything we do teaches us something about who we are.

Then 2023 came along and I started the year off depressed. I was homesick in Cape Town – felt lonely without my friend group, missed my apartment even – and coming back I had to leave my sweet boy Noah behind knowing that I possibly wouldn’t see him again (this story is for another day). I marched my ass back to therapy, (this is very Eat Pray Love-ish) and committed to doing the deep work.

I also read The Alchemist again. And again. And again. And probably another five times after that. The book is short enough to read in an afternoon.

Every time I read the book I “get” something from it. A reminder of a lesson already learned, highlighting something I still need to work on, and most importantly acknowledging and appreciating that I am living a life that aligns with my Personal Legend.

I kept thinking I had fallen off the bus all the years in between having this clarity, but when I look at it, I’ve been doing the work to get me right here where I’m supposed to be. 

It’s OK to change your mind and direction. It’s OK to take a detour, deviate off the path, and explore other possibilities. It’s OK to start again. It’s OK to get lost along the way. All of it teaches us about who we are and without those lessons, we can’t fully embrace self-acceptance.

The book just puts life into perspective. Keep doing the work to know yourself, be accountable for every choice you make, and move forward. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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