The Alchemist

For many individuals across the world, the idea of departing from our everyday responsibilities is an often fantastical idea. Our lives seem to be carved out by what we believe will satisfy our friends, families, and acquaintances—what do my parents want me to be as I graduate college? Where do I see myself in 5, 10, 20 years? How will I be financially stable? Social responsibilities and standards play a significant factor in who we are, and unfortunately, it can take its toll.  

This idea of dropping everything and instead of going on a journey of self-discovery is something that people – old or young – dream of as a result of societal pressure. Yet only a few people have been to accomplish this feat. For this very reason, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is the first novel that pops into my head when thinking about the concept of self-discovery through journeying.  

Santiago, the main protagonist of the novel, is obligated to live his life as a priest under pressure from his father. However, he decides to change his own future because of his recurring dreams and with the initial help of Melchizedek, a mysterious man who tells him of what is to come (treasure!) if he goes on a journey to Egypt .  

While the rest of the novel has many layers and themes (the meaning of dreams, importance of nature, alchemy) to it that cannot be defined only by “a journey of dropping everything and finding oneself,” The Alchemist has stuck with me for so long because of that concept. Heavily allegorical and beautifully written, Coelho’s simple yet powerful  style has been one of the main reasons for the novel’s success. Santiago’s quest to find treasure ends up as a journey of making mistakes, love, and learning about himself.

On the surface, it’s exactly what I would envision if I had an opportunity to leave everything behind and go on a journey filled with magic and treasure. On a deeper level, being able to express my own joy and comfort in reading this story through the eyes of Santiago teaches me enough to ask questions about my own life: What have I learned throughout my life? Has it been valuable knowledge? Or invaluable knowledge? How much of my identity is due to what I’ve experienced throughout my life?

The Alchemist, as beautifully written as it is, poses underlying philosophical questions that are directed not only towards the main character but towards the reader. It really makes you ponder what kind of life you are living, and whether or not you enjoy it.

Running away from societal pressures is an enticing idea. But when we make it our goal to look for some sort of “treasure” that lies ahead, we lose focus of who we are and why we make the decisions we do. The Alchemist taught me that it’s not just the prize you should keep your eyes on—but the destination.

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