Today I finished reading two books: Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” and Paulo Coelho’s “The Alchemist”. On November the 15th I wrote about the concept of comparative reading, which is quite interesting. Normally, you take two books about the same topic or person and read them at the same time. Notice what is left out in one, what is stressed in the other. Focus on how the voices are different telling these stories.
These two books I read are not in any way about the same topic, and yet… They both had a great impact on my thinking. Books always resonate with me for a few days, sometimes months. In rare cases years. They have to be either very good or very bad. However, I have only read two books in the last three years that I really didn’t like. That’s fortunate.
Let’s dive into these two tales and extract some of the things that left me in awe.
I started to read Obama’s biography of his earlier life in an attempt to understand what his story was, what is behind this man who became the president. Where did he summon all this energy from, where did he found his beliefs and values? He is a fantastic writer and the most touching part for me was the one when he described his social work. The challenges he had to face. All the people working against him on his path to try and give people better lives. All the doubts he had, that I suppose everyone after school is facing. I often said aloud to my book: Look, it’s going to be fine. You don’t know it yet but you will be the president. Just keep on working.
Just keep on working. He has such an endurance and strength that I can only admire. Which is essentially the message of “The Alchemist” in the end. Everyone has a personal legend that one has to follow. If one has this desire, this mission, the universe will help with all its power to ensure it comes true.
There is an underlying language in this world which everyone understands. In “The Alchemist” it is love, so says Santiago to the wind and the sun. It’s a reoccurring theme. The Englishman in the book has learned the “world language” Esperanto and yet, he isn’t able to understand the voice of the world. Because it is not in words that these messages are spoken in. The alchemist always tells the boy to look deeper and listen to his heart. “Wherever your heart is, there you will find you treasure.” Isn’t that beautiful? Through listening to his heart, the boy begins a journey that goes along the way of his personal legend. He overcomes many obstacles and in the end… he arrives home again. Maybe that’s the place where we belong after all our journeys.
You can see that in “Dreams from My Father”, too. He always searched for the place he belonged, for the stories of his family. Who his father really was. He thought about traveling to his family all the time when he was working in Chicago. His entire life, really. Just before Harvard, he went to Kenya to meet his family, to finally get to know the stories that he always wanted to know. With this knowledge, he could return home. A more complete man than before, because he had found a different part of himself.
I’m moved by these two books as they tell the stories of dreams and passions, of roads to success and personal happiness. They are positive books, showing that change is possible. That one can find a purpose in life and follow it. Despite the odds which are never too difficult to overcome. It’s sometimes nice to believe that a path has been set out. That we just have to follow it. On the other hand, that can also be limiting. Led by our own curiosity we will, sooner or later, find our personal legend. If we are brave. Coelho pays a lot of attention to his descriptions of courage in the book. They appear in the little things: Santiago leaves his sheep behind to search for a treasure. He has the courage to stand up for his own words, what he has seen in the desert. This leads the alchemist on his path. His courage is valued, only through its power, he is able to go on. Complete his journey.
“To be creative you must have courage. Do not ask for opinions. Just do it.”
That’s a quote from Coelho that I as an artist enjoy particularly. He is so right. How often have I discarded projects simply due to fear? How often have I wondered what others might think? How often ripped sketches in pieces, how often deleted words and pages already written…
If we let ourselves be overcome by fear, we don’t see our paths in front of us anymore. We have all experienced that. Fear turns you blind, it makes you run with your eyes closed. In the completely wrong direction. Fear is not a good leader in life. It drives you forward of course. The fear of failing, of embarrassing yourself, the fear of dying. The fear of being alone. There are many fears we have to face in our lives. But they are not there to lead us but to be overcome on a greater path. We should be driven by our love, by our passions, our curiosity, our courage. Those are the companions you would like to have on your journey. Those are the friends to search for. Fear always comes back to us, we don’t have to search for it. It’s humane to live with fear. It shouldn’t consume us, though. If there is too much fear, we will stand still. Anxious of taking another step. Start moving backwards, retreating. Do you want your life to be a hide-and-seek game with your own brain?
Showing the world love always guides love back to you. Believing in yourself, in your luck will always help you achieve wonderful things. There was a line in “The Alchemist” that struck me: There was a monk who the alchemist gave some gold for his hospitality. The monk said that it is far too much for his services. The alchemist answered: Don’t say it was too much because life might listen. And the next time you will get less.
This is not a demand to be selfish. He is telling us the importance of acknowledging our own value. A friend told me that you let yourself be hurt by others just to that extend in which you harm yourself. If you are very insecure, you don’t stand up to the ones that hurt you. Because you see your own value too low to be able to fight. That realisation hits deep. I’m guilty of lowering myself, having huge insecurities. It’s fear in its most tragic appearance.
What do we take from all this? Find your dream, find you personal legend. Do whatever it takes to identify it and then follow it. With every last bit of courage you can summon. You would not want your life to be dominated by fear. I know it seems unbelievable but there is always a way out. However difficult all the challenges seem you face, there are always people there for you. Who will lead you through the desert to your own treasure. Who will wait for you to come back home. Who will cheer for you on your paths and who will walk together with you for a while.
In his book, Obama described his rebel teenage years. Where he didn’t want to go to school, was discouraged and hopeless. Lost. He found his way again. He found his family. He made their stories his own. He followed his path to help people. He worked hard despite fear and people not valuing his work. Then he became the freaking president of the US. That’s a life path!
Be courageous, admire the wonders around. This earth is so beautiful! We only have that single one. Stop for a minute in whatever you doing and say in your head, what you are grateful for in this world. Who has guided you, who has encouraged you to go on. Write them down and look at them every now and then. You are a wonderful human being and you deserve all the love you are given.
If you feel discouraged, listen to Florence and the Machine and let her tell you:
“Hey, look up. You don’t have to be a ghost here amongst the living. You are flesh and blood. And you deserve to be loved and you deserve what you are given. And oh, how much!”
Oh, how much…
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