Your Personal Calling: Perspectives from The Alchemist

How can you live into your personal calling? What prevents you from realizing your dream? What kind of obstacles should you be prepared to encounter?

I’ve just finished reading one of my summer reading list books: Paulo Coelho’s classic, The Alchemist. This little novel has me thinking. It’s been translated into over sixty-seven languages and is one of the most widely read books in the world. What is it that appeals to so many readers?

The story is about listening to one’s dream and setting out to achieve it. In the forward, the author writes, “We all need to be aware of our personal calling…the path that God chose for you here on Earth.” Mr. Coelho explains that our dream is buried deep within our souls so as to be invisible. Many of us don’t have the courage to uncover our own dream, let alone work towards it.

He identifies and explains four obstacles that prevent us from living into our dream:

1. We think it’s impossible. We are told repeatedly that what we want to do is impossible, and layers of prejudice, fear, guilt, and cynicism bury our dream. It takes courage to disinter our dream. “Disinter” – a new gem of a word that I discovered in this book: it means to unearth, to unbury, to dig out, and to bring that which is obscure into plain view.

2. We are afraid of hurting or disappointing our loved ones. Once we dig out our dream, discover it, and consider it, we can become so concerned about the people we love that we stop there. We fear hurting them or abandoning those around us as we pursue our dream. We don’t realize that love actually is an impetus, and those who genuinely love us want us to be happy and will accompany us on the journey.

3. We fear failure and defeats. If we’ve done the work of #1 and #2 above, failures and setbacks cause great suffering. We can’t fall back on the excuse, “Well I didn’t want it anyway.” In fact, we really, really do want it and we’ve staked everything on it. We will face setbacks, struggles, and failures, but as Coelho advises, “The secret of life is to fall seven times and get up eight times.” We can’t be afraid of failure.

4. We believe that we are not worthy. If we have labored at #1, #2, #3, we may suddenly stop and abandon the dream for which we fought so hard. This stems from belief that we are not worthy of the dream. Often, this type of self-sabotage occurs just as we are on the verge of realizing the dream. Coelho explains that this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because “it has a saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.” He writes, “But, if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God, you help the Soul of the World, and you understand why you are here.” (WOW- powerful thought!!!)

The Alchemist centers on a boy named Santiago who is quite happy being a shepherd. But following several powerful dreams, he decides to set off in search of treasure buried in the Pyramids of Egypt. His journey takes him through challenging terrain, including the wild and dangerous desert. He encounters obstacles that test him, threatening to dissuade him from his journey. Key characters and events guide him on his way. Listening is central to Santiago’s journey-by attuning himself to signs (called “omens” in the book) and experiences, he begins to understand the importance of intuition and immersing oneself in the universal current of life.

Does Santiago’s journey sound familiar? It should. It is a journey that is common in myths, legends, stories, religious ritual, and psychological development. Consider Odysseus in The Odyssey, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, even Jesus or the Buddha in sacred stories. Psychologist Carl Jung identified this archetypal journey as key to psychological growth and maturity. Joseph Campbell calls it “The Hero’s Journey.”

Mary Oliver describes it in her poem, “The Journey”:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

This archetypal journey also unfolds in our own lives, IF we have the courage to take it. At Well for the Journey (“The Well”), I’ve been privileged to watch and accompany others who are on this journey. People come to The Well for a variety of reasons, but often they have become aware that something is propelling them into unknown territory, and they seek guidance and encouragement. It is hard work, and, as The Alchemist reveals, we cannot do it alone. In small groups, ordinary people serve as gentle guides for one another, often unknowingly. We learn to listen to all of life, attuning ourselves to the Source of Life that guides, inspires, and loves us along our journey. Sometimes a piece of wisdom or a personal story is offered and it is just what another person needs to hear. It has been awe-some (in the truest sense), to watch others uncover their part of God’s dream, become more enthused and live into the fullness of life, and contribute their gifts to the greater good.

Are you intrigued? Maybe it’s time for you to read or reread The Alchemist. Maybe it’s time for you to listen in a deeper way to what’s inside your own soul. Find people around you to help you listen. If you need help, come to The Well or form your own community to help you listen. Ask God (or whatever you call your divine source) to guide you. You will be led. Be prepared to confront challenges and obstacles. Don’t give up.

Blessings on your courageous journey.




Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Navato, CA: New World Library, 2008.
Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
Crowley, Vivianne. Jungian Spirituality. London: Thorsons, 1998.
Oliver, Mary. Dream Work. NY: Atlantic Monthly, 1986.