TEN YEARS ON
I remember receiving a letter from the American publisher, Harper Collins, which said that: “reading The Alchemist was like getting up at dawn and seeing the sun rise while the rest of the world still slept.” I went outside, looked up at the sky and thought to myself: “So, the book is going to be published in English!” At the time, I was struggling to establish myself as a writer and to follow my path despite all the voices telling me it was impossible.
And little by little, my dream was becoming reality. Ten, a hundred, a thousand, a million copies sold in America. One day, a Brazilian journalist phoned to say that President Clinton had been photographed reading the book. Some time later, when I was in Turkey, I opened the magazine Vanity Fair and there was Julia Roberts declaring that she adored the book. Walking alone down a street in Miami, I heard a girl telling her mother: “You must read The Alchemist!”
The book has been translated into 67 languages, has sold more than 65 million copies, and people are beginning to ask: What’s the secret behind such a huge success?
The only honest response is: I don’t know. All I know is that, like Santiago the shepherd boy, we all need to be aware of our personal calling. What is a personal calling? It is God’s blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth. Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.
There are four obstacles. First: we are told from childhood onwards that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea, and as the years accumulate, so too do the layers of prejudice, fear and guilt. There comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible. But it’s still there.
If we have the courage to disinter dream, we are then faced by the second obstacle: love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue their dream. We do not realize that love is just a further impetus, not something that will prevent them going forwards. We do not realize that those who genuinely wish us well want us to be happy and are prepared to accompany us on that journey.
Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. 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.”
We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.
I ask myself: are defeats necessary?
Well, necessary or not, they happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.
So, why is it so important to live our personal calling if we are only going to suffer more than other people?
Because, once we have overcome the defeats – and we always do – we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure. Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.
Having disinterred our dream, having used the power of love to nurture it and spent many years living with the scars, we suddenly notice that what we always wanted is there, waiting for us, perhaps the very next day. Then comes the fourth obstacle: the fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.
Oscar Wilde said: ‘each man kills the thing he loves’. And it’s true. 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. We forget about all the obstacles we overcame, all the suffering we endured, all the things we had to give up in order to get this far. 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.
This is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest. But if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World and you understand why you are here.
Rio de Janeiro
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa