Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

It's one of those books that you read and want to discuss with someone to try to understand better.  I'm writing about it instead in the hope that writing about it will help me understand the message better.

A year ago I quit my job to "follow my dream" of becoming an entrepreneur.  It's been an exhilarating yet tough journey.  In one of the startup blogs I read it mentioned (or I interpreted it to suggest) that it is important to enjoy the journey of entrepreneurship rather than focus on the end goal as written in the book The Alchemist.  Hence I decided to read it as we're going through a rough patch and I wanted some inspiration on how to tackle this phase.

I enjoyed the book but kept feeling that I might be missing the point or not fully getting what Paulo Coelho was trying to say.  My mom loves the book and has made my brother and sister both read it.  She says there's learning to be had in every sentence!

So I've listed below some of the learnings I can apply right now (spoiler alert: if you haven't read the book then don't read the below):
  1. Enjoy the journey: this is what I was looking for in the book.  Not obvious from reading it so I had to think about this one.  The shepherd learnt many things and had many new experiences on his quest to find the treasure.  He met many hardships on the way but came out stronger from them.  In the end the treasure was where he had started.  But would he have become what he was if he had found the treasure without making the journey?  No!  Hence the journey is as important (if not more important) as the end goal.
  2. Follow your dreams: it's really difficult to actually quit what you're doing right now and take the step towards following your dream.  I should know - it took me 6 years to finally leave eBay and start my entrepreneurship journey.  I was comfortable with a salary, was actually enjoying working at eBay and was constantly discouraged by people around me.  You also are afraid of what others will say (your family, friends etc who have always preferred security and are all professional).  In the end once I did it I had a lot of support from everyone.  Similarly for the Shepherd, he chose to give up more settled ways of life and constantly make changes to achieve his dream.
  3. Don't judge yourselves by what others thing is right: related to the point above, it's very difficult to take a path that is different from what everyone before you (your parents) have take and from what your peer (friends, coworkers) are doing.  The Baker who had a dream to travel didn't because he was comfortable and had the respect of everyone.  
  4. If you want something badly the entire universe will conspire to make it happen for you: this is true for me so far.  I needed a role model to help me make the jump from corporate life to startup world.  At the right time I found a mentor who was starting his second company; I worked with him in the initial phases and that gave me confidence that I could do so myself.  Similarly the Shepherd kept finding encouragement and support e.g. in shape of the King, the Alchemist.
  5. Love will encourage you to follow your dreams not discourage you: this is something I've experienced first hand.  Ashish was always encouraging and believes more in me than I do myself.  He also pushes me to think/dream bigger
  6. Be open to new experiences: This seems to be recurrent theme throughout the book.  The Shepherd is presenting with many new situations and he immerses himself with full enthusiasm in each case - the glass shop, the oasis etc.  We tend to inherently resist anything new (especially if the source comes from somewhere else).  I'm not sure how well I fare on this one - might be a blind spot but I feel I am generally up for new experiences.
  7. Take your time getting there: Related to the first one; don't rush to the goal.  If the Shepherd's didn't take the time to spend time on many detours he wouldn't have collected as much wealth as he did which allowed him to go further and gave him a buffer.  This is definitely something I can work on better as I usually rush through things to go faster.
  8. Pause, reflect: The Shepherd takes time at or before each new endeavour to reflect.  Again something I can work on as it will help deepen the learning and improve next steps.  Hopefully my starting to write again will help with this step.
  9. Trust your instincts: The Shepherd is always in tune with his instincts.  He is one with The Force of the world.  I sometimes feel that I've got a good sixth sense but I'm not always sure what it's telling me and how to act.  This one probably becomes harder as you grow older.  One for me to work on.
  10. Hardships: For any goal worth striving for there will be hardships on the way.  The Shepherd got robbed twice and beaten up and he continued.  This is one of the most important points.  In startup language, there are many death valleys to be faced.  The trick is to take them in your stride and continue.
  11. Perseverance - Don't give up too quickly.  Again this is one that I have to watch out for.  Already I have thought about quitting at various points in my entrepreneurial journey.  I love the story told here about the miner who had just one more stone to turn.  It's personally very inspirational for me to keep going.
  12. Achieving your destiny:  This is what it's all about.  Why are we doing any of the above.  As Paulo Coelho states: a metal will keep being a metal.  But when mankind moulds it into something useful it has achieved its destiny.  Similarly that what we are striving for.  We want to become what we were meant to be and to do.  It's difficult to figure out what that is.  If we have even a small inkling of what it might be we have to give it our everything to try and achieve it.  I guess that's what will bring us happiness!
A lot to take away from the book and tonnes that is relevant for my current situation as a struggling entrepreneur.  There are many things I struggled with in the book.  Things I missed or still have open questions about; such as: 
  1. Should he have been more aware of what's near him?  That way he wouldn't have missed the treasure next to him.  Or I guess the whole point of the book is that he makes the journey and is a better person for it?
  2. Should we really listen to heart despite its failings?  The Shepherd does mention the heart being afraid which is so true.  In Hindu scriptures it's written that we should actually conquer the heart with our mind.  Yes my heart did desire that I become an entrepreneur but on the journey my heart is the anxious one...
  3. Should we look out for and listen to omens.  Aren't we just going to see in the signs only what we want to see?
  4. The entire episode around The Shepherd trying to become wind and talking to the wind, the sun etc was a little lost on me.  I'm not sure I got what I was supposed to from it.
So I look forward to discussing the book with someone to understand it fully.

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