I just finished re-reading one of my favorite books, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In it, a shepherd sets out a on a quest from Spain to the Pyramids of Egypt to find his treasure.
As with most stories of travel, it contains adventure, challenges, love, self-doubt, and ultimately perseverance. But more than a tale of one man’s journey to realize his goals, this work of fiction offers a useful vocabulary for all who wish to pursue their dreams.
Santiago, the shepherd, knows that his treasure exists at the Pyramids because of a recurring dream. He is pushed by other influential characters to realize this dream, thus following his ‘Personal Legend.’
I know of no better term to express the idea of trying to find yourself, your purpose, so as to add meaning to your own life and the lives of others. It’s a search for authenticity and self-awareness.
It’s how I feel about travel. I remember having an intense desire to see the world, from as early as age 11. A friend and I talked on the phone late into the night, looking at our respective atlases and plotting our future adventures around the world.
The Alchemist also speaks of ‘omens,’ which serve to point you on the path toward your Personal Legend.
During my first semester of college, three events happened within a week of each other which cumulatively, encouraged me to redirect my life path.
- My favorite professor spent an entire lecture period showing us a slideshow of pictures from his recent trip to Europe. He encouraged us all to take advantage of every opportunity to travel.
- I finished the book Eat, Pray, Love. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to get a severe case of travel fever from this memoir.
- A representative from International Student Volunteers visited my psychology class, and did a quick presentation about volunteer positions in places like Thailand, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.
At this point, the omens were very clear to me. I turned to my two friends and said, “Guys, I’m so doing this.” They agreed that the program sounded interesting, but didn’t seem to be nearly as excited as I was. I tried to explain, “No, really. I’m going.”
And I did. That summer, I was in the Dominican Republic, helping in the light construction of a school and teaching subjects like English and math.
Two years later, I spent three weeks volunteering in Cambodia.
More recently, I returned from a 17-month trip in Europe and Southeast Asia.
All I can say is, I’m following my Personal Legend.