Roughly a year ago, a friend of mine, let’s call her Nina (she’s not called Nina), told me now was the time for me to read a book called The Alchemist. So I did.
The Alchemist was written by a Brazilian chap called Paulo Coelho, and published in 1988. It has gone on to become a wildly successful publication, translated into 74 languages, selling 65 million copies.
But here’s the thing; it’s quite short, it’s quite simple, and not a particularly interesting read (IMHO). So what’s the appeal? I’ll come back to that later.
This is the fifth post I’ve written on this blog, and it’s the first one where I haven’t started with a clear direction on where I wanted to go with it. The first four posts were easy to write; I smashed them out in 4 days (although the decision to publish ‘Bare with Me‘ was much harder than the writing). Since I started writing last Monday, the words have been flowing out of me like Bruce Willis’ tears during his ‘Friends‘ cameo. Every spare minute has seen me log back into WordPress to type a paragraph, or make some minor amendment. I’m (quite possibly temporarily) obsessed.
I’ve started doing this thing where I’m constantly on the lookout for blog topics. I’ve already drawn up a 20-odd long list of future potentials. I’ve also found myself mentally drafting sentences whilst doing menial tasks, sat on the train, or just walking.
It’s only been a week, but it’s already clear to me that writing is something I should have been doing more of. My brain likes the process of writing down its thoughts. Where have those thoughts been going when I wasn’t writing them down? Hmm…
I’m not alone on this: the advice to keep a daily journal is often touted, but even more ignored. I can see now that it provides the opportunity to reflect on what’s going on in your life, process what happened, what went well, what didn’t, how to improve, etc. I’d be interested to hear if any of you out there keep a journal going and what benefits you derive from it.
I’m aware it may sound like I’ve gone off on a tangent there, trust me, I haven’t.
The Alchemist’s basic premise is that the universe will show you what you should (and shouldn’t) be doing with your life. It is up to you to keep your eyes open, look for those clues, and take action when you see them. Once you realise what your purpose is, strive with everything you have to make it so, do not waver.
I.e. Follow your intuition, peeps.
Most new parents realise this shortly after they have a first child. From that moment on, they have a new purpose in life and strive with everything they have to be good parents. They do not need to be told this. It comes naturally.
To tie these two themes together, I’ve got a nice example to share…
So here I am at 34, realising that I really enjoy writing. I’ve always suspected that I would, but I’ve never really tried. Don’t get me wrong, I wrote a lot during school and university, as we all did, but that was never me writing about what I wanted to. This is a whole new ball game.
According to ‘The Alchemist’, the universe will have been telling me I should be writing (maybe not professionally, but writing nonetheless).
I was fortunate that my parents pushed for me to go to a local, highly-rated grammar school. I had a tutor for a short period who brought my maths, English and non-verbal reasoning skills up to speed. 700 bright-eyed, young lads took the entrance exam. 120 were fortunate to be awarded places. I was blessed to be one of them, it was a truly excellent school to attend. I later found out that I had scored in the top 1% for the English entrance exam. Apparently I was the only kid out of the 700 who chose to answer the question topic of describing a walk on an autumnal day. There was obviously some sort of raw talent there.
English at school – I’m not going to bleat on about this: it was just my favourite subject. From 11-18, I looked forward to language and literature classes, and my grades were consistently decent. Ironically, my second favourite subject was biology. Here I am at 34, keen interests include reading (and apparently now writing too) and human health.
So what did I go on to study at university?
That’s right folks. Economics.
Why did I study economics at university? I think I can put this down to two key events.
Firstly, I became motivated by money once I started working part time in shops and restaurants as a teenager. Growing up, we weren’t poor, but my parents divorced when I was 11 and money was fairly tight. I loved the freedom having my own cash provided, and this created a desire in me to be a wealthy adult. Studying economics and then building a fast-paced career in finance became my goal. Not because I wanted to work in finance. Purely because I wanted to be wealthy, and that seemed as good a plan as any. I recall a conversation with my Dad in my early teens. It went along the lines of this:
Dad: “What do you want to do with your life, son?”
Me: “I want to be rich! I’m going to earn £100,000 a year!”
Dad: “Haha, you won’t earn £100,000 a year”
Ironically, I achieved this goal in my 30th year. Proved the old man wrong. Tick, hit the target, realised I wasn’t happy, quit, and moved to Australia. There’s a pretty obvious lesson in there. I’m not regretful; it’s all part of the ongoing personal growth journey that is life.
The second event was this: I had a conversation with a struggling journalist, whilst queuing up overnight for Centre Court tickets at Wimbledon. I think I was 17 at the time, half a lifetime ago – I remember it vividly. This late-twenty-something journo had been scratching out a living working for a local newspaper for 5 years, he was earning less than I was serving tables at TGI Fridays on weekends. He was still living with his parents. He was down on his luck.
If this is what being a journalist meant for my life, I wasn’t interested. I don’t remember any conversations with my parents or teachers about what I would pursue at university. I think that single conversation cemented my decision. I was going to be a super-rich banker. That was the end of it.
Oh, the stupidity naivety of youth.
How crazy that seems when I look back on it now. I made that decision based on my limited understanding of a stranger’s experience. Instead I pursued a ‘safe’ career for the end. The dollar. The irony here is that I spent 2 years working in finance after Graduation, and fiercely disliked it. Then the GFC hit, and I found myself working in Technology.
The universe gave me two clear signals, and probably countless others that I failed to notice. Unfortunately, I was not wise enough, and/or not ready, to interpret and take note.
When you fail to listen to your intuition, you are quite likely to cause stress in your life. Physical red flags like developing anxiety may slowly creep into your life, because your intuition is trying to communicate that you need a change. A good test for this is going on a holiday. If you have an ailment which miraculously disappears when you take time off, but it comes back when you return home/to work – your body is sending you a message, make a change. It’s up to you to listen to it, and work out the course of action.
I had an experience such as this last year, when I took a week off to travel Northern Queensland on my own. I had been struggling with my health at that point, but removed of all stress, I spent a week in a blissful, chilled state. Fast forward two weeks, back at work and all the physical complaints came roaring back. It’s easy to pass this stuff off as normal: “everyone feels better with a holiday, just get on with it”. That may well be the case, I have utmost respect for stoicism as a concept, but I also believe that if you ignore your intuition for too long, you will pay the price, eventually.
By coincidence, last night I googled Creative Writing courses in Sydney. The top-rated one is located around the corner from Bronte beach, which if you read my first post, was the scene of where I had that mini-meltdown that led to the creation of this blog. It’s a funny old world.
Keep your ears pricked, the universe is talking.