The Alchemist - Why is this book a Life-Changer for so many people? - What I Learned

At first, I am going to give an explanation of the book written by Paulo Coelho for those who maybe do not remember or those who have not read it.  I may have some of the details wrong.  I read it very quickly and enjoyed the journey it took me through.

The book opens up with a young shepherd named Santiago.  He is independent, ambitious and mostly content with his nomadic lifestyle.  For him, there was a lot to learn about the world and instead of becoming a monk like his father insisted, he chose to travel and see what the infinite landscapes had to offer. 

Santiago as a shepherd

Santiago as a shepherd

Early on in the book, Santiago was having the same dream over and over again.  Which in this case was to find his great riches at the pyramids of Egypt.  This is no short journey, you see, because he could not fly or drive.  This story's setting was about a thousand years ago and there was no such thing as technology at the time.

This is where things get interesting for him.  This nagging dream eats away at him and he feels he must do something about it.  No doubt, we've all felt that way at different times.  In his case, it was an actual dream.  Over the next year this ate away at him.  He met a girl and wanted to impress her.  He thought following the dream would give him the shot to get the girl.

He meets a Gypsy woman who reads palms who tells him what the dream means.  He now has a path to guide him.  He meets a man who claims to be a king.  The man gives him stones and appears to have magical powers.

And when you want something all the earth conspires to help you achieve it.
— The Alchemist

The King tells the boy that he will only give the boy advice if the boy gives him some sheep in return.  The boy gives the King sheep and the King offers the boy an explanation of what the boy should be looking for and how to go about achieving what he is after.

This is where I will stop with the explanation.  There are cliff notes on line if you want to know the rest, but I recommend giving it a read if you have not read this book before.  Now I will get in to why I think this book changes so many lives after the person reads it.

From the very beginning, it is clear that Santiago thinks highly of himself.  He is independent and has desirable traits.  He lives his life with his own purpose, but he only chose the shepherd lifestyle as a lack of better options.  He did not choose it because he loved it.  It was not his dream to walk around with sheep, but he definitely learned a lot by doing so.

Santiago meets the Gypsy

Santiago meets the Gypsy

What good is money if you’re going to die? It is not often that money can save someone’s life.
— The Alchemist

Santiago had dreams.  His parents had dreams for him.  His life was not bad, but it was not really what he wanted.  This sounds pretty much like a standard life.  Someone would love to have his job, but it was not him.

After deciding to go after his dream he goes through a series of scenarios that risk his life and future.  Such as, selling his sheep and traveling alone.  About two hours into his adventure he was robbed.  He was deeply discouraged, but decided to continue anyway, but in order to do so he would need to save up a little more money to rent a camel.  He even chose to think of what happened in a way that I appreciated. 

He thought (I'm paraphrasing) "I could think of this as a good reason to turn back, but I have now traveled more than any shepherd I've ever met.  A better way to think about it is that I am two hours closer to my dream of going to the pyramids."  This was a great way to think of it!  With that, he decided to get a job and save up some money.  He spent a year working and saved up quite a bit.

He left his employer with a new skill that he could make money off of.  This told him that if he failed at his dreams, he now had two options as a career if he wanted to give up.  With the excitement of learning something new, he decided to continue on his journey to see what else he could learn.  He traveled across the desert and along the way met many people and went through a lot of things (including meeting the woman of his dreams).

Tell your heart that fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.
— The Alchemist

The parts of this book that I didn't like are also simultaneously some of the best parts of the book.  What seemed to be random and unnecessary additions to the book in part also added a sense of realness to the book.  Life is full of random happenstances and this book has no shortage of them.

By far, the best part of the book is when he met The Alchemist(hence the name right?).  The Alchemist was the most fascinating character in the book to me.  He was much smarter than the other people in the book and had a really deep perspective about life.  When approached with what seemed insurmountable odds, he took on the challenge and did so without fear. 

About this time in the book, you start to see how much the main character Santiago has changed.  He has been robbed twice and while doing so, he learned a lot of life lessons.  He now trusts that things will work out, believes the world will provide for him and that the journey to his dream is in itself a reward too. 

Santiago meets the alchemist

Santiago meets the alchemist

People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.
— The Alchemist
The Alchemist written by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist written by Paulo Coelho

When he achieves the dream he knew he could, he discovers the most important part of the adventure was journey to it and the riches he found were mostly unimportant.  It was the person he became in the pursuit of his dreams that was the main reward.  For now, he could travel without fear and sell with ease and if nothing else worked out he could be a shepherd again.

The reason I believe people's lives are changed by this book is because they feel just like the main character.  For example, they feel they are living a simple repetitive life that is not their specific dream.  The story alludes to a grander life if we would only just step beyond the edge of our comfort zone.  In turn the world would open up to us. 

Have you read this book before?  I'm eager to hear what you think of the book.  Please tell me in the comments.

Respectfully,

Martin J Glennon

Owner of Angel Insurance in Hobart