The Alchemist Book Summary: by Paulo Coelho

by Accessory To Success August 05, 2021

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The Alchemist Book Summary: by Paulo Coelho

Main Takeaway

Through the journey of a young shepherd named Santiago seeking to realize his “Personal Legend”, readers go on a philosophical journey in which searching for treasure leads to discovering oneself. This is a story about not letting life events become impediments to fulfilling a destiny. Everyone is free to follow their dreams and to do what is necessary to make them a reality. They cannot let fear, the past, monotony, inaction and struggles prevent success. The message in this book is one that entrepreneurs can take to heart as they bring new ideas to the marketplace and build their businesses.

What You’ll Learn

  • Follow your dreams, and do not let life’s events stop you
  • Fear is often the biggest obstacle and not the obstacle itself
  • A person’s destiny is whatever is a deepest desire
  • People met during a life journey can help you deepen your self-knowledge
  • Pure love can withstand separation and never keeps a person from pursuing their destiny
  • Struggle, conflict and suffering may be encountered, but keep getting back up to find success in any endeavor
  • Gratitude means finding the good in each day
  • Do not let the past define you and keep looking forward to new goals
  • Make decisions and take action, and do not let being overwhelmed drive inaction
  • See the world in terms of what you would like to see happen because that is where great achievements come from
  • Universal truths about success that can be applied to any situation, including entrepreneurship.

The Book Summary

This is a fable that tells of the journey of the young shepherd Santiago who is seeking treasure. Santiago wants to see the world because he has a thirst for knowledge and believes the most important thing he must do is fulfill his destiny. A destiny is a person’s deepest desire. Santiago became a shepherd so he could journey to pursue a dream about treasure, during which he meets a variety of characters. Each interaction with a character offers a life lesson. They include the alchemist; an old fortune teller; Melchizedek, King of Salem; a crystal merchant; an Englishman; and Fatima. Each person he encounters helps Santiago better understand himself.

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Though this is not a book about entrepreneurship, per se, it certainly could be considered a motivational guide for anyone interested in pursuing business goals. For some entrepreneurs, overcoming fear to start a new business journey is the hardest step. Once started, there will be many challenges to overcome to stay on the path of success. Challenges include people and events that could discourage the entrepreneur from pursuing goals and lead to eventual failure. Like Santiago, each person and event must be met with courage and determination to find the “treasure.” It takes courage to find greatness and success, says the author in the book Return on Courage: A Business Playbook for Courageous Change, clearly in agreement with Coelho’s advice.

The alchemist is Santiago’s guide, but he is never fully described in the book. He is not given a name, and readers never learn his age or where he came from. He is a mentor and guide who keeps Santiago pointed in the direction of reaching for his destiny. The first character Santiago meets, before starting his journey, is the old fortune teller Tarifa. She was to interpret his dream for a tenth of the treasure but is unable to do so. The lesson she delivers is that simple things in life are often the most extraordinary.

Mentorship can play an important role in an entrepreneur’s life, offering guidance as he or she builds a business and makes critical decisions. It is easy to get bogged down in details so should take Tarifa’s advice to heart. Keep things as simple as possible and concentrate on what’s important. Develop a lifestyle and attitude that brings joy as you work towards achieving goals is the similar advice in the book Big Dreams, Daily Joys. The mentor can help in this area too and the result will be joy found in pursuing dreams.

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Melchizedek is the character that convinces that Santiago to embark on his journey and introduces the concepts of destiny and beginner’s luck (principle of favorability). After he gets robbed, Santiago works for the crystal merchant for a year to make more money to buy sheep. The merchant is satisfied with his life and says he has never journeyed to Mecca because dreaming is his reason for living. To fulfill a dream would mean losing his reason for living.

Entrepreneurs always believe they are pursuing their destiny, and it is discouraging when something makes them stumble. Santiago is robbed and must put his journey on hold for year, but he never quits and turns back. Building a business takes resolve and a willingness to learn from mistakes and overcome adversity. In the book, What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars, the author describes losing his fortune and reputation in one fell swoop due to poor investment decisions. Success is as much due to psychological factors as it is external events. Entrepreneurs must recognize the influence of the psychological factors and analyze situations with care.

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The Englishman and Santiago travel together in a caravan, where they meet the alchemist. Until that point, the Englishman never paid attention to the desert and only read his books. After interacting with the alchemist, the Englishman is no longer content to just read. The life lesson for Santiago is that he must take action and not have a fear of failure. Knowledge gathering alone does not foster true wisdom. Life must be experienced through action. It is precisely what successful entrepreneurs do. They take action, are not fearful of potential failure and learn along the way to reaching goals. This is a similar message found in the book Discipline Equals Freedom – do not procrastinate, maintain discipline and compromise with others but not yourself.

Continuing on his way, Santiago meets Fatima, a young desert woman. He falls deeply in love. Though he wants to stay with her, the alchemist tells him that he and Fatima will be miserable if he does not finish his quest for treasure. The lesson is that a pure love will endure, even through separation. This is a common issue for all business people. Are family and friends supportive of the entrepreneurs journey? When pulled between personal and business lives, it can get difficult to stay on course.

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Everyone searches for the meaning of life at some point, and the quest for fulfilling a destiny can become long and tedious and filled with obstacles. The alchemist tells the young shepherd Santiago that he must fulfill his destiny to give meaning to the life experiences endured up to that point. He also tells him what life will be like if he ends his quest to meet his destiny. The obstacles prove to be many, including being robbed, a tribal war and being arrested. He must let urgency conquer fear and take bold risks, as the author advises in Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose.

Coelho’s story is filled with vivid imagery, fantasy and cultural elements. For example, the King of Salem can write Santiago’s life story in the sand even though it is a first meeting, and gives him forms of divination permitted by God – Urim and Thummim. The shepherd calls upon the desert, the wind and the sun and “the hand that wrote all” to turn himself into the wind. There are references to different religions, cultures, languages, places and structures like the Pyramids of Egypt. This adds a universal quality to the message.

This fable has many elements that may seem familiar. It could remind you of the old movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” in which the character George Bailey learns through a guardian angel that his suicide would change life for his wife and the community or Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” that tells the story of a miser who gets a glimpse of where his past life is leading him. These stories and fables like The Alchemist are all about people finding meaning in their lives by choosing their path to a destiny, like Santiago did with the encouragement of the alchemist.

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The Alchemist is a book that makes you think about what you really want in life and how much effort you are willing to make to achieve goals. Entrepreneurs are often visionaries and innovators who believe in their destiny. The book Stumbling on Happiness discussed the human ability to imagine the future. Entrepreneurs take risks but always with the belief the risks are manageable and future success will deliver satisfaction. This book has an unexpected ending because what Santiago seeks was at home all along, but it took a long journey to learn where the treasure was really buried. The entrepreneur’s “treasure” is made up of the creativity, ideas and determination that he or she carries inside at all times.

The author sees this story as one of spirituality and believes people must make their own decisions about their destiny. He is not trying to do anything more than provide a life guide.

About The Author

Paul Coelho de Souza was born in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro. Raised by devout Catholic parents, he had an independent spirit even as a child. At the age of 17, his parents committed him to a mental asylum to address his rebelliousness, believing it was a sign of madness. He ran away from the asylum several times, only to be committed each successive time for the same reasons. Coelho de Souza forgives his parents while acknowledging the best of intentions can lead to destructive decisions. After getting out of the asylum the last time, he tried law school but decided being a lawyer was not for him.

Coelho always took charge of his life. That quality is what led him to experience different lifestyles and participate in a variety of events that became the foundation of his books. He dropped out of law school and became a 1970s hippie. Coelho traveled South America, Mexico, Europe and North Africa. That was when he began writing song lyrics for Brazilian musicians who were protesting Brazil’s military. He composed lyrics for Rita Lee, Elis Regina, and Raul Seixas, a famous Brazilian rock composer and singer. The lyrics Coelho wrote for Seixas were considered left-wing and dangers. Coelho’s continued rebelliousness led to him being jailed three times for political activism, during which he endured torture.

At the age of 39 in 1986, Coelho visited Spain where he walked a 500 mile Catholic pilgrimage on the Road to Santiago de Compostela. During this time he experienced a spiritual awakening, documented in an autobiographical account in The Pilgrimage, published in 1987. Coelho became a full-time writer at that point, realizing he needed to follow his dream.

In 1988, Coelho wrote the book The Alchemist in two weeks. It did not get a lot of attention until a French language translation reached bestseller status on various lists in French. The allegorical novel was then translated into a variety of languages. It has sold more than 35 million copies and is the most translated book in the world by a living author.

In 1996, the author founded the Paulo Coelho Institute which is dedicated to providing support to the elderly, children and hospitals. He started the Paulo Coelho and Christina Oiticica Foundation. Coelho had married Oiticica in 1980, and her works, along with Coelho’s books, are displayed at the Foundation. Coelho maintains a blog on the Paulo Coelho writer official site.

Since the publishing of The Alchemist, Coelho became a prodigious author, writing a new book approximately every two years. He has written 30 books and sold 230 million copies in 81 languages. In his quirky way, Coelho begins writing only after he finds a white feather in January of an odd year. The feather is a sign sent by God that reminds him to not procrastinate like he did before launching his writing career. He calls himself a “self-problem” writer instead of a “self-help” writer.

Some of his many books include the New York Times bestsellers, Brida (1990) and The Winner Stands Alone (2008) and international bestsellers, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (1994), Eleven Minutes (2003) and The Devil and Miss Prym (2009), to name a few. In December 2016, Richtopia listed him as number two on the list of the 200 most influential authors.

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