The Teachings Of "The Alchemist"

I took the time over the weekend to read Paulo Coelho's first book: "The Alchemist". I wanted to read it for a long time now because I heard so much good about it and it's deeper meaning although it's only a short book of roughly 200 pages.

The story is about a young Andalusian shepherd who travels to Egypt to see the pyramids and find his Personal Legend. Triggered by prophetic dreams and strange encounters with a gipsy woman and a king he starts his journey to find this promised treasure. On his way he is robbed, becomes a master crystal seller and travels with a caravan through the desert. The book title comes from the last "teacher" he meets, which is the Alchemist. Someone who mastered the language of the world and helps the young shepherd to fulfill his destiny.

The story teaches us big ideas in small packages that are exceptionally esoteric and spiritual in their nature. If you can look past that and take it as a universal tale, you can find a lot of modern applications and just plain good advice for life in general within the story.

I recommend you pick up a copy of the book and read it for yourself, depending on your reading speed you can be done in 2-3 hours but reflecting on the book might take a bit longer to really grasp the message within.

Here are some ideas that are presented in the book that could be taken from modern business arcticles, although Paulo Coelho wrote it almost 30 years in advance.

Intuition is a thing

"Trust your gut" is probably one of those things you hear from others when you have to make a difficult decision. What the young shepherd learns to do is to listen to his heart, understanding signs and omens that guide him. At the beginning of his journey we hear his thoughts and reasoning and it seems very rational at first. By the end of the book you won't find any doubting thoughts in his mind he embraces his intuition and follows his heart.

An important lesson for us is to also trust more in ourselves. Looking at your daily decisions, being private or professional decisions, there is almost never a 100% pure correct answer. You can never really know if your decision is right, although you try to make it as logical as possible for yourself.

The safest bet you can make is to go with your gut when the bet itself does not ruin you. We hear the shepherd multiple times say to himself "I can always go back to being a shepherd...". So what has he to lose? Of course his flock, but he can buy back sheep by sheep and he will be back at his normal life soon enough. This is actually pretty assuring and helps to make braver decisions. Just think about it. If you are an accountant, you can travel the world for 5 years, come back and find a new job as an accountant. Jobs don't just die out like that and in the current generation of start-ups there is no shortage of open job positions for people with real life experience.

The journey is the reward

During his journey the shepherd realised he'd learnt things he would've never picked up on his usual job. The people he met and the knowledge he gained about himself and the world is invaluable to him. I totally agree with that. By doing something out of the norm and unusual for you, you will learn and grow quicker and be less afraid of change in the future.

Expanding your comfort zone will give you a better understanding of yourself and it will help you adapt more quickly. I'm not someone who likes to travel a lot, but when I travel I always find a new experience on the way that I would have not had in any other instance. Having a dream or a goal in the future will also help you to define the way to this goal, because you can ask yourself: "Will this help me get to where I want to be in x years?".

Coming back to our accountant example: While you travel, you could fall in love and because of that, learn a new language. After a few months you might be able to become an accountant in another country, so why would you return home then?

Every experience makes us "richer". There is always something new to conquer.

The universe wants you to succeed

I've written about this before, e.g. when you are on stage, people want to be entertained, they want you to succeed. The shepherd is told by an old king that he should watch out for the omens to guide his journey. Meaning that by observing his environment he is able to make the right decision. He kind of "feels it". In one scene he sees two falcons fight in the sky in the desert and interprets it as a sign that the oasis he currently lives will be attacked by bandits.

In modern terms I think that it comes down to preparation and observation. Everything comes down to filters. Did you ever notice that after you bought something new, a red car or a white phone, suddenly you see so much more people driving red cars or using white phones? You ask yourself, how is this possible? Well, your brain has a new filter and now you are primed on those things, it pretty amazing.

So, setting your mind towards a goal will help you see opportunity where there would've been none before. Suddenly everyone is talking about this particular problem or looks for that specific product.

It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why I enjoy meditation so much. If you want to be more calm and focused, you have to create the environment for it and train your mind. You sit down and you make time for the excercise and you will experience a different version of yourself.

In the end...

don't let spiritual topics or esoterics get in the way of looking beind the curtain and seeing the bigger picture. Stories will always stay better with us than direct speech, so exceptionel story tellers like Paulo Coelho will continue to use stories to deliver ideas. We only have to listen closely and read between the lines to get something out of it, no matter the time we live in.

Thanks for reading!