The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is a short novel about a boy who follows his dream to find hidden treasure across the seas—only to discover that the treasure he sought was actually right under his nose where his dream first originated.
It’s a strange and magical story for restless souls looking for “where their heart is.”
The introduction by the author is especially helpful because it lays out four obstacles that keep us from following our God-given dream (which for Coelho could also be translated as “personal calling”). Here are four tips for following your dream inspired by Coelho:
1. Find your hidden treasure. Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” What things in this life do you most treasure? What makes your soul sing? Time and the practicality of becoming “grown-up” have a way of burying our treasure and rendering our dreams invisible. Coelho says we must “disinter the dream” first. What thing did you once want to do with your life that over time you’ve come to think was simply impossible to do?
2. Slay the dragon of people pleasing. Our love for our family and friends often stands in the way of stepping out in pursuit of our dream. We are afraid to hurt our loved ones or fall short of their expectations for us. In reality, though, this fear is an illusion. True love will set us free. Scripture says that perfect love casts out fear. If we love those around us, one of the best things we can do is follow our personal calling, even if that calling does not accord with the expectations of our loved ones. When we pursue our dream, we also allow ourselves to be truly loved in terms of who we really are, rather than in terms of others’ perceptions of us. Love, according to Coelho, should stimulate our pursuit of our dream not stand in the way.
3. Accept the reality of failure and suffering as part and parcel of achieving your dream. Coelho views fear of failure and/or difficulty as a third major obstacle to following our dream. There is a risk involved in pursuing our dream after all: not if but when we fail, we don’t have the excuse or consolation that we didn’t really want the thing we failed to obtain. Here is Coelho: “We do want [the dream] 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.” Acknowledge that suffering and failure simply belong to the journey.
4. Do not let fear or guilt about realizing your dream stand in your way; “believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get.” Coelho believes this last obstacle—fear and guilt about the fact that our dream is actually coming true when those around us may not be achieving their dreams—is the most difficult to overcome, in part because “it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.” This last obstacle may be an especially hard hurdle for many Christians who are taught that following Jesus means self-denial and self-renunciation. (I would also add here my suspicion that Christian women in mainstream American Christianity find this hurdle especially hard to scale: many of us have grown accustomed to hearing that the sky is not the limit and that our duty as submissive wives, mothers and daughters is.) But when we begin to pursue the dream that makes our soul sing, we will actually be following Jesus rather than others. Coelho puts it this way: then “you become an instrument of God, you help the soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.” You are worthy of achieving your dream because God made you and put the dream in your heart. That is the only justification you need for being your truest self.
So, what do you think? Are these tips helpful? Are you pursuing your dream? If so, what have you found to be helpful in that pursuit?