“[W]hen you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” ~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Yesterday, driving from my family’s farm in south-central South Dakota to the Sioux Falls airport, I turned on the car radio and found myself listening to Brazilian author Paulo Coelho being interviewed by Krista Tippett on NPR’s “On Being” program.
Coelho was describing the circuitous journey he took to realizing his writing life. His parents disapproved of his talk of being a writer (and even institutionalized him), as did his teachers, leading Coelho to enroll in (then drop out of) law school, international travel, songwriting, being arrested for subversion, and the theater before finally coming back to what he always wanted to do in the first place: Write.
He describes a turning point when he embarked on a pilgrimage on the famed Santiago de Compostela or Way of St. James (on a related note, if you haven’t yet seen the movie The Way, which helps to explain the pilgrimage through the story of a father and son—played by real life father and son Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez—I highly recommend it):
“When I arrived at Santiago de Compostela, I understood, finally that I had to make a choice in my life. And the choice would be, I have to fulfill my dream, or I have to forget my dream forever. My dream was to be a writer. I was 40 years old, probably too old to change my path. But I said, ‘No. I’m going to change. I’m going to leave everything behind. I’m going to burn my bridges. I’m going to follow my heart from now on, even if I have a price to pay.’ Of course, I was supported by my family, my wife. She said, ‘Yes, let’s do it. Even if everybody tells us that nobody can make a living out of writing. But let’s take this risk, because otherwise you can have everything, but you’ll be unhappy.’ And so I started by writing my first book, that is The Pilgrimage.” ~ Paulo Coelho [emphases added]
The interview is thought-provoking for anyone who feels eluded by a life-long dream, regardless of whether we ever want to quit our day jobs. After The Pilgrimage, Coelho went on to write The Alchemist, which was dropped by its first publisher after a print run of 900 copies and sold only about 10,000 copies in its first three years. He says of his choice to seek another publisher rather than give up, “I had no choice. Either I move forward or I die. I die. I die. Not physically probably, but spiritually, I would die.”
The Alchemist has since become one of the best selling and most translated titles of all time, with sales of 65 million copies.