The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: a gift that keeps on giving.
I had never been good at finishing books I started to read. Twenty years on and I still haven’t finished all the Harry Potter books. Yes, I know, it’s a sin but please NO SPOILERS – Dumbledore is alive in my world. (Just kidding, obviously I’ve watched the films a gazillion times.)
Anyhow, a good friend of mine gifted me a book before my big move across the pond a couple of years ago. I had heard of it, and of the renowned author but never thought to read it. I was always more of a movie buff than a reader. Reading tends to make me sleepy. I remember hearing some advice when I was in school that said an effective way to revise is to read the textbook for 15 minutes and have a five minute break, but for me it was more like read for five minutes and take a 15 minute nap.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
This would be the book that would make me fall in love with reading all over again – it pulled me in from the very beginning. There were so many parts that really resonated with me and made me think to myself about the way I was living my life.
Without giving too much away, here are three key things the book taught me:
I needed to express more gratitude and stop evaluating my life based on only the big things that happened
No matter what other people thought I should be doing with my life, they’re not the ones living it
Overcoming a problem and making a change isn’t always the hard part – sometimes consciously making the decision to do so is the hardest part.
“…for her, every day was the same, and when each day is the same as the next, it’s because people fail to recognise the good things that happen in their lives every day that the sun rises”
This pretty much summed up how I was feeling at the time of reading the book. I was in a little rut again. I was too busy solely focusing on work and making money to pay the bills that I wasn’t allowing myself to enjoy even the little things that occurred in between my shifts. Wake up, go to work, go home, eat, sleep, repeat – that was my life.
Time was flying by me but I wasn’t able to differentiate between the days – it all blurred into one big clump, which bearing in mind I was living on a visa and wanted to be making the most of my time in this new place, this wasn’t how I wanted to look back on this supposedly exciting chapter of my life.
In the age of social media, we often measure how accomplished we feel based on big life events: a vacation, a new car, an anniversary; and can feel disheartened when we see these things happening for other people, but not for ourselves. Sometimes, we forget to acknowledge the small wins in our everyday lives.
So I decided to start focusing on the little things that made me smile. I started waking up earlier – rather than just before my shift – to fit in a bit of time to do something that made me smile and I started writing down at least one thing that I felt grateful for that day.
This helped me individualise each day and made me appreciate that, no matter how ‘normal’ the day felt, each day was memorable in its own way. Maybe it was just a day when I had a delicious lunch, or my colleague made me belly-laugh or my housemate made me dinner (yes, it appears I am always grateful for things I can eat), but by doing this, it made me appreciate how much I actually have to be grateful for. After all, it is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.
Expressing gratitude is such a simple thing to implement into your daily routine. It’s something that has definitely changed my outlook on life and I now find myself smiling a lot more.
“Everybody seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
This is so true! I myself am guilty of doing this too. It’s easy to look at someone else’s life and go ‘ohh if I was them, I wouldn’t do that’, ‘if it was me, I would do such and such’.
But just because someone has an opinion on how I should be living my life, doesn’t mean they themselves have their sh*t together. This goes back to trying not to live in a world of comparisons. Just because one person is living their life a certain way, doesn’t mean that it’s right for me.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent’. And she was right.
When I was working in a coffee shop, I used to get tired of people asking me when I was going to get a ‘real job’. But you know what, working there proved to be my favourite job to date, where I was the least stressed and the most happy I have ever been in my adult life. Is that not something to strive for, regardless of how much you get paid?
So I stopped putting so much importance on what other people thought I should be doing, and started focusing on what I thought was right for me. And I tell you what; it’s amazing how liberating that can make you feel.
“He was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.”
There were so many things I wanted to tick-off on my life’s to-do list, both big items and small, but I just wasn’t getting them done. From learning to make pasta from scratch, to booking my first solo trip, I knew exactly what I wanted to do but alas, it remained as just an idea. Reading this book inspired me – I had a decision to make: I could either start doing the things I wanted to, or I could not.
When you think about it like that, it’s that simple. Then and there, I didn’t need to think about the logistics of anything, or how things would come to pass, I just had to decide: Was I? Or wasn’t I? And that was enough to get the ball rolling. A lot of the time, as the saying goes, we make mountains out of molehills. It’s not always as difficult as we think to overcome our obstacles once we make a conscious decision that we want to do so.
Instead of always just saying ‘there’s no time like the present’, I decided to finally act on it, and that was just the start of a beautiful adventure.
Life is meant to be lived.
The alchemist is a beautiful story that I cannot stop recommending to people. There are so many nuggets of wisdom within, and like me, you might end up getting from it more than you bargained for.