“To realize one’s Personal Legend is a person’s only real obligation.”
These were the words with which Paulo Coehlo stole my heart.
My world is far too full of I cant’s, but’s, and if only’s. I hear these words all the time from friends, from lovers, and from family. I heard these words from the woman who introduced me to this book: “I wish I could do what you did and travel, but I need to work.”
Essentially, Paulo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist” pivots around this idea of “I can’t.”
This book exists to convince you: “You can.”
Is the Alchemist “too mainstream?”
This is a book which has been recommended to me dozens of times, by people all across the spectrum. From literature nerds to scene chicks to frat bros, no one seems to have a bad thing to say about this novel.
It’s good. It’s really good.
The book tells the tale of Santiago, a simple Spanish shepherd, whose dream is to travel. He feels a pull to travel to the Pyramids, and he sets out to satisfy that urge. As the journey unfolds, Santiago discovers his treasure was really inside— blah, blah, blah. The book is admirably clear about what it wants to communicate about life, without ever feeling too trite.
It has a strong message about chasing your dreams. It’s written in a simple, approachable style. It doesn’t hide profundity behind big words and dizzying sentence structure, the way some authors lock away their insight, accessible only to those with intellect.
Really, if there’s a reason so many people recommend this book, it’s that it’s easy. I could read this book cover-to-cover in about two or three hours. So could you, even if you don’t read much.
That’s the issue here: everyone has read this book. Few have taken its lesson to heart.
I was recommended The Alchemist by one of fraternity brothers.
“I loved it,” he said. “My sister says it’s too mainstream though.”
The brother graduated with his degree in Accounting. He spoke of traveling the world after graduation, but when last I talked with him, he had a girlfriend and was well on his way to accepting an accounting job with a local firm. “All these opportunities just fell in my lap,” he said, confused. “And I don’t have the funds to travel right now.”
His sister had taken the leap after her own graduation, moved to South Korea and taught English for several years.
Does reading this book and simply thinking: “Oh, I’d like to chase my dream, too” do anyone any good?
Ultimately, no. It’s no more productive than hashtagging your mundane pictures with #wanderlust on Instagram. As the book reveals throughout, chasing your dreams doesn’t come easy. Ripping up your roots, cutting loose the bowlines and taking off might leave you heartbroken and alone in a foreign airport, as it did me.
It might leave you broke, and it will undoubtedly leave you frustrated.
But if you read “The Alchemist” and go back to your office job the next day and do it all the same as you’ve done before, you didn’t properly read “The Alchemist.” And far too many people experience this book that way.
This is what led the sister to say “‘The Alchemist’ is too mainstream.”
An inspirational message, gone unheeded, wasn’t very inspirational, now, was it?
So here’s my challenge to you: read The Alchemist. Really read it. Buy a copy, so you can read it twice. But don’t just put it back on your shelf and move on with your day, the way it would be so easy to do.
Ask yourself the hard question:
What is my Personal Legend?
And how do I spend my life in pursuit of it?
Mine sits atop this website. I hope you can see my fulfillment of it, every day, in the content I write and the stories I share. I certainly feel it.
I encourage you: condense yours to a sentence. Write that sentence down. Stick it to your fridge.