According to Goodreads, the most quoted fragment from the best selling book The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo is:
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”
This being the most popular quote is clear proof that people only remember the good and uplifting stories. Also, one of the reasons why “The Alchemist” is dismissed by serious critics who consider it easy reading, a “chicken soup for the soul”-like motivational book.
Way less quoted(80 times less frequently) is this other crucial fragment:
“Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.”
Don’t worry if you’ve never read the book. This post isn’t really a review. It tells the story of a young Spanish shepherd who, following a dream of a remote treasure and the advice of vagabond, decided to sell his flock and travel to Africa searching for his dream.
By following the “signs” and just saying “Yes” to new opportunities, he gets lucky quickly, which helps him in his quest. However, while enjoying his luck, he soon forgets about his quest, settling in for years in new jobs and places. Eventually, he remembers about his journey and keeps moving.
Slowly, as the hero gets closer to the destination things start to get more difficult for him – until the trip becomes the challenge of his lifetime – the “test” that the Soul of the World puts him to, before offering up his award.
A long time ago, without having any particular dream or goal, I started to say “Yes” to all kinds of opportunities that life was giving me. It got me farther than I’d ever dreamed of, living incredible adventures, and meeting important and interesting people.
Then, without even noticing, I stopped saying yes. I had gotten too busy; I had other things to care for. I was also, slightly afraid of the risk that I might lose everything I had achieved in the meantime.
Instead, I started to say “No“. “Sorry, I’m too busy” became my default email answer.
It allowed me to focus. To be happy, and content, and peaceful. With plenty of time to enjoy. Many years passed. Slowly, things started to become difficult. Money started to flow more and more slowly; and opportunities stopped knocking.
Then, when my baby girl was preparing to come into our world, desperation kicked in. Realising that I’d have another mouth to feed, that in order to support my growing family, I’d have to earn more and achieve more, I decided to start saying “Yes” again.
It took incredible effort and energy to fulfil the new commitments I had started. But it worked. Once more, my life took an incredible turn for the good.
In one year I had quadrupled my income from the one before. The next one increased it even further. I was rich. Tired, overworked, but rich.
Slowly, I started saying “No” again. And, once again, things started to cool down. I was, once again, happy, and content, and peaceful. With plenty of time to enjoy. But peace and tranquility came with a price.
See, the lesson I’ve learned, and the one I’m sharing with you, is that success needs commitment and effort and saying “Yes” to pretty much everything you can. Just like the shepherd in “The Alchemist”, in order to reach farther than before, you’ll have to follow the signs – blindly. Say “Yes” to all kinds of crazy things. You’ll have to take risks.
But you can’t do so forever. You’re not a god. You also have to learn to say “No” when you get tired. To take a break. To slow down when you’re tired, to settle a bit. Because the road to your treasure will get more and more difficult and the challenges will grow bigger.
Rest, sleep, meditate. Gather strength. And, when you’re ready, go back in the game.
Then, when you’re ready, start saying “Yes” again.
Also published on Medium.