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This is What I Learned From Reading the Alchemist

While the world wrestled with the uncertainty of COVID-19,  I took off across the US to shake off the feeling of melancholy I was getting tired of being cooped up in the house for months with no end in sight.

Before COVID I had a lot of travel plans. But with lockdown and travel restrictions, I had to come up with a more refined version of what travel meant for me.  Amtrak was my transportation of choice.  This slow way of traveling gave me the opportunity to read and contemplate my life.

As a new empty nester at the time and having left my job that year, I had a lot to think about.

One of the books I read on my journey was the Alchemist.  It tells the story of a shepherd boy in search of a treasure near the pyramids.  The boy met many people along his journey.  He had both good and bad.  He even found love for the first time.  

And his curiosity and a desire to find his purpose lead the boy to make friends with an Alchemist.

This is not a review of The Alchemist.  I’m sharing what I learned from this story.  I express the feelings reading this story evoked in my own spirit. I hope you read the book as well. When you do, you’ll find your own path as you embark on your journey of discovery.

The overarching thing I learned is that we each have our own journey.  But unless we take that journey our lives will remain unfulfilled.

And you will always wonder what could have been.

How My Journey Began

On August 10, 2020 I boarded a train from New York Penn Station.  I traveled across the US stopping in Chicago, Denver, and Sacramento before landing in Seattle.  I’m on a journey of self discovery.  I wanted to travel without felling like I had to rush back home for a long time.  I’ve always been a wandering spirit.  I spent most of my life from the time I was 14 years old moving from country to country and city to city.  

So so traveling seems familiar to me.

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.”  ~~Tony Robbins

Even though I lived in this same city for the prior 13 years, my heart always yearned to travel.  The era of the coronavirus has caused me to reconsider how and where I travel. However, the dream has not diminished.  I still want to travel the world. I still want to talk to strangers. To make friends with someone new. 

The fire burns unrelenting in my soul no matter what challenges threaten to hold me at home.

The Alchemist tells the story of a shepherd boy, Santiago  in search of a treasure near the Pyramids.  The boy met many people along the way and experienced good and bad.  He even experienced love for the first time.  Curiosity and a thirst for his purpose lead the boy to make friends with an Alchemist.

I can relate in some ways to Santiago. My life has been a long journey of searching for my own “treasure”.  The treasure can be different for everyone.  But in the end we are all seeking. 

Here’s what I have learned from reading this book:

People will try to talk you out of taking your journey.

Only you can put a vision to the desires in your heart.  No one else can.  Yet, teachers, parents, and well meaning friends will try to talk you out of your journey — the purpose you and only you can fulfill. 

The boy’s father tried to talk him out of his journey.  He also met people along the way who thought he was foolish for traveling so far to find something he wasn’t even sure existed.  He was told that others had been on the same journey and had failed.

But why should you care about other people’s life journey?  You can only walk in your one shoes.  Don’t let people deter you from your purpose.

Some people are content with the life they have.  Like the sheep in the book they are happy with just food and water.  

But there are some of us who have recurring dreams about our life’s journey.  There is a reason the longing and desire deep in your heart keeps you awake at night. Even when it seems to be buried by life’s challenges.  The yearning never disappear.

The journey can be more valuable than the destination.

Whenever he was enroute from one place to another, he was able to look at his life with a little more objectivity than usual.  It was often on trips that he thought most clearly, and made the decisions that he could not reach when he was stationary”.   ~~ Paul Bowles.

While traveling, I took the time to contemplate my life.  I thought about the past, the present and the future.  But I spent a lot of time thinking about the present.  

What am I doing?  Is it safe to travel right now?  Where will my present journey take me?  Physically? Mentally? Emotionally?

I consciously tried to stay in the moment.  When we got stranded for 8 hours in Denver, I didn’t spend much time fussing about the delay. In the past I would get impatient and wax righteous about how much money I spent only to waste time sitting around.

But I realized that the delay was an opportunity for learning and growth.

I used the time I had to travel around the city.  Seeing it.  Seeing people.  Shopping at Whole Foods.  Taking pictures.  Just living.

I learned a lot about myself. Rather than sit on the train and stew, I put boots on the ground.  I can now say I’ve been to Denver.  And what a beautiful city it is!

Just because you encounter difficulties during the journey doesn’t mean you are on the wrong journey.

“Transformation is a process, and as life happens there are tons of ups and downs.  It’s a journey of discovery — there are moments of mountaintops and moments in deep valleys of despair.”  ~~ Rick Warren

The night I landed in Victoria, I got a text and had missed several calls from my landlord.  The toilet had flooded. But there were others at the house.  At first I panicked. I was sure I had to get back on a plane and head home. And then what?  

Two things made me hesitate.  One, there will always be obstacles.  I can’t panic and backtrack just because there’s a problem; and two, my sons were quite capable of handling the problem.  That was one of the reasons I took this journey. To give them some room to breathe.  To be adults.

In the Alchemist, the boy was robbed several times.  It seemed every time he took a step forward, someone or something got in his way.  There were times he wanted to quit and go back to what he knew best.  At times he voiced his frustration.  But there was always someone there to guide him and teach him to learn from these obstacles.

I also remember the trip to New York several years ago when I moved there.  There were so many obstacles to get on the actual trip.  The trip itself took twice as long as it should because I got lost so many times. Yet the move was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

Give Your Best. Even When You are Stuck Tending Someone Else’s Vineyard, Play Full Out.

After being robbed and left with nothing, the boy took a job with a merchant.  He wanted to make sure he had the money he needed to continue his journey.  But he didn’t just work for the merchant.  He began to think of ways the merchant could sell more of his products.  The boy approached the merchant on several occasions about ideas he had for improving sales.  The merchant who was stuck in his ways was reluctant to implement the boy’s plans.  Eventually the merchant acquiesce and he began to succeed.  

The key to remember is that the boy in turn made more money for his journey.  Even though your sight is in your dreams, it’s ok to help someone along the way. Find ways to help them be more.  Give your best where you are. You may have a job you don’t like or don’t fulfill you but still do your best and when you leave do so peacefully.

Because the Golden Rule still applies whether or not you believe it.

Keep an open mind. Be willing to learn new things.

“A man, though wise, should never be ashamed of learning more, and must unbend his mind”. ~~ Sophocles 

Many things can go wrong when we embark on a journey.  But that is never a reason to not go.  Especially when the journey will help you discover your purpose and fulfill your destiny.

Searching and learning is where the miracle process all begins”. ~~ Jim Rohn

We can learn a lot on our journey towards our goals.  But sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned.  Often you have to change directions or endure a delay because of circumstances beyond your control.  But we can still successfully reach our goals despite the roadblocks.  There may be a block but don’t forget there’s still a road.

Sometimes we reach our destination a bit wiser because of something we learned from those roadblocks along the way.  When our 3 hour delay in Denver was extended to 8 hours.  I didn’t panic or became agitated.  Even though it meant I missed a planned dinner with friends in Sacramento. 

Progress Happens When You Step Out of Your Comfort Zone.

Despite his doubts, fears, bad experiences the boy didn’t give up on his dreams.  He realized that even though difficulties came he learned a lot along the way.

No one would wish for the kind of life I’ve had. But each time I look back there’s nothing about it I would change. Because that experience made me who I am today.

My trip across the US and Canada changed me in many ways.  Before I started I was very much an introvert.  But spending time with strangers in Friday Harbor and Victoria, as well as with the people I met on Amtrak opened my intellect in a way that many books couldn’t.

Regardless of your experience your journey will help you become a better version of yourself it you let it.

Learn to apply the new knowledge even if you may have to change direction.

“In order to complete our amazing journey of life successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.

~~ Anthon St Maarten

In the book Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, the successful characters were the ones who were not deterred by obstacles.  They were successful because they used their negative experiences to learn where to find the necessary resources so they could move forward.

The boy in the Alchemist had to change his thought pattern several times because of new information he received on his journey.  He also had to adjust and recalibrate some of these methods because of difficulties he encountered or specific instructions (or omens) he received from someone he met along the way.

This is the hardest lesson for me.  When I make a plan and it doesn’t work out I don’t like changing directions.  Even when I plan to walk or drive somewhere I hate to take a detour.  But I’m learning that a change in direction doesn’t mean failure.  You never know what you avoided by heeding the detour sign.

Don’t allow fear to keep you from finding your treasure.

“Men go to greater length to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire”. ˆ~~ Dan Brown

You may be scared to start or continue the journey to find your purpose.  Do it anyway.  Do not be afraid.  And even if you are. Do it anyway.

Don’t let fear stop you from obeying what’s in your heart.  

Fear can be more powerful than reality.  So fight through that fear.  Invoke the tools and strategies at your disposal to help you overcome fear of failure. Your goals, dreams, and desires are too important.  You must pull out all the stops to bully your way through fear.

The boy got really scared several times throughout his journey.  At one point it seems he was going to be killed.  But his courage kept him alive.

I can’t swim so I avoid going on water transport.  I avoid going on a cruise because of the fear of drowning.  It’s not a realistic fear of course but it’s a fear nonetheless.  But I didn’t let that fear stop me from riding the ferry from Seattle to Friday Harbor. Or from Vancouver to Victoria.  I was pleasantly surprised how enjoyable and relaxing traveling by water can be.  I still look for opportunities to ride the ferry when I can.

Sometimes what we are searching for is already inside us. 

For the longest while I used the term “finding purpose”.  But the truth is purpose isn’t lost  somewhere. It’s within us. But sometimes taking a journey may be the only way to discover what our purpose is.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  ~~ T. S. Elliot

At one point in the story the boy realized that the closer he got to his purpose or Personal Legend the more that purpose became his true reason for being.

I was surprised by the ending of The Alchemist.  But the ending taught me something I’ve always thought: we already have what we need.  We just need recognize what that is and build on it.  I once told my son that God gave us a blank check.  It’s up to us to decide what amount we will fill in.  The blank check is our life, our gift, and purpose.  How we develop and fulfill each is up to us.  

So many times it takes distancing ourselves to see what we possess.  I’ve learned some things about myself and my relationship with my adult sons by being away from home.  It takes some wandering out from among the trees, before you can see the forest.

We can learn from anyone.  And from the smallest experiences.  

“A moment’s insights is sometime worth a life’s experience”. Oliver Wendell Holmes

For at least a year, I contemplated leaving my 9-5.  I didn’t want to. It was a good job.  It covered what it needed to cover.  

But I had a longing for something deeper.  I felt like I was not making a difference in the world.  I later realized that this wasn’t necessarily true. However, the feelings became stronger and stronger.  

I started to experience some really abnormal phenomena.  For instance sitting at my desk I would hear someone ask “what are you doing here”?  But when I looked around there was no one there.

As I headed to the train station on my way from the spa one day, I heard someone say “you are living someone else’s’ life”. I  looked around but there was no one there.  I was puzzled by these occurrences.  And there were lots more.

But the event that really got me thinking was the morning I stood waiting for the D train in Bensonhurst, NY.  A Jewish woman  barely 5’ tall approached me.  She looked at the book in my hand and asked what I was reading.  I turned the book over so she could read the title. I was reading Hustle by Neil Patel.  

The old lady began to tell me stories about her life.  At first I thought “woman leave me alone so I can read my book”  But then it occurred to me to be polite so I put the book in my handbag, looked her in her eyes and listened attentively to what she was saying.  The train is coming soon, I thought”.

But when the train came the old lady got on and continued talking without a break in her story.  Before long the woman pointed at me and said I want you to know that the worst thing you could do in life is to not use your God-given gift.  I was in shock.  Because her declaration marked a climax to the accumulation of “omens” I got over the previous 12 months. 

The boy was very good at spotting signs or omens.  He noticed his sheep’s habits and pondered the reality of his relationship with them.  

He noticed small things such as a beetle.  He learned from small shifts in the wind.  Learning from his environment kept the boy safe. Other times it lead him to meet someone who would help him on his way.  

We can learn a lot about life from the little things.  The green shoot out of dry, cracked ground. From the simple words of a child.  Or from the stranger on your morning commute. We just have to keep our minds and hearts open.  We must always be attuned to that still small voice.

People will call you stupid. Sometimes to your face.

Near the end of his journey the boy encountered a man who told him…”. “ but instead of letting a stranger’s word upset him. He began to see that he was right to take the journey. He saw that the path was the right one for him.

I got many questions from friends and family about my travels.  Sometimes I sense the incredible tone. But I never let that deter me.

Even some strangers I meet along the way.  If I tried to interpret their tone it would mean “you’re stupid”. But who cares. 

When it comes to the end of my life I’m the only one who will give an account for it.  

Don’t be afraid to ask questions; of yourself; of others

“The only way to learn new things is to ask questions and be curious.  Find the people who inspire your curiosity because those are the ones you learn from the most”. ~~James Altucher

I was away from home for just over a month.  I went to the supermarket and as I was reaching a large plum, a guilty feeling hit me like a ton of bricks.  I made up my mind then and there to go home right away.  But as I was riding back to the Airbnb, I asked myself why I was feeling so much guilt.  It hit me all of a sudden that I’m feeling guilty because I didn’t believe I deserved to take time out for myself.  I thought I was being selfish by packing my bags and spending time in a new location doing things I’ve dreamed of for most of my life.  I had to laugh because once I had that realization, the guilt lifted.

We must keep asking the tough questions of ourselves.  And if we can’t be honest with ourselves, maybe ask someone else.  Do your research.  Ask questions.  That way you can better evaluate your goals so you can take the most appropriate action.

I also talked to my therapist about the experience.  He was encouraging and help me sort through the feelings of guild I had.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice everything you are and have, in order to get what you want and need.

“There can be no progress, no achievement without sacrifice, and a man’s worldly success will be in the measure that he sacrifices”. ~~ James Allen

The greater the success you want to achieve, the greater sacrifice it will take to achieve that success.  Success comes from hard work and preparation.  And sometimes just a little bit of luck. But the extent of your success will be determined by how much effort you are willing to exert. 

The boy experienced love for the first time at one point in his journey.  He wanted to give up his quest and settle down with his new found love.  Fortunately, she talked him into continuing her dream. She didn’t want him to regret not pursuing his dream.  Eventually, he left her to continue his journey.

I know I’m probably missing out on some things by being away from home. But this journey is necessary.  The vision I have for my life seems more real, even though I don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle.

Conclusion

So plan your journey.  Examine it from every angle.  Prepare for the unexpected.  Adjust or pivot when you meet with the unexpected.  But don’t give up.  Don’t allow difficulties to dampen your dreams and desires.

“For I know the thoughts I have towards you, Saith the Lord. Thoughts of hope and not of evil. To give you an expected end.  You will call upon me and I will answer. when you have searched for me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11-12.

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