"If I had to give you one piece of advice, it would be this: don’t be intimidated by other people’s opinions. Only mediocrity is sure of itself, so take risks and do what you really want to do. Seek out people who aren’t afraid of making mistakes and who, therefore, do make mistakes. Because of that, their work often isn’t recognized, but they are precisely the kind of people who change the world and, after many mistakes, do something that will transform their own community completely."
Hot off the presses! In this bi-weekly Influential Books post, I’m introducing Aleph by Paulo Coelho.
Aleph describes the author’s pilgrimage along the Trans-Siberian railroad. This journey of self-discovery is deep, introspective, spiritual, and inspiring. In other words: classic Coelho.
Author Profile: Paulo Coelho
Brazilian author Paulo Coelho is one of the best known and most successful international authors of our time. His most popular work The Alchemist has sold over 65 million copies worldwide. Once upon a time on Twitter, he was the #2 most followed (nevermind that he’s since fallen between prolific thinkers like Snooki and Zayn Malik from English group One Direction).
I wish I discovered Coelho earlier. My friend Drew first introduced me to him several years ago through The Alchemist, a book I recently reread on my flight to Iceland in June [See: Desire + Decision = Magic]. Coelho’s stories of personal journeys, self-discovery, and following dreams speak to the soul. It’s obvious Coelho writes from his.
Who Should Read This
- Anyone who enjoyed The Alchemist.
- Anyone who loves to travel or longs to travel.
- Anyone interested in the concept of a pilgrimage.
- Anyone open to reading about concepts like reincarnation, meditation, and other metaphysical topics.
How This Resonates With Me (with quotes from Aleph)
1. Just when you think you have things figured out, the universe challenges you (again).
"I have learned and unlearned how to live hundreds of times…I go through a period of euphoria, which gradually dissipates."
My journey through Europe has seen a lot of ups and downs. There are times I feel like I understand life, the world, and myself. I’m on top of the world and everything seems to fall into place. And then the universe seems to wave its finger, look down at me mischievously, and shout “Awww, hell no!”
"But then my universe doesn’t really help, it keeps expanding and won’t allow me to know it entirely"
I guess that’s what makes life interesting. If we understood it entirely, would there be a reason to continue?
2. Embrace the present moment. It’s all we have.
"It’s what you do in the present that will redeem the past and thereby change the future.”
There are things in life we regret. Maybe it’s our career choice, a past relationship, or even how we greeted (or didn’t greet) a stranger ten minutes ago. But there’s no use in dwelling on the past. Instead, embrace every new moment as an opportunity to be the person you want to be. Remembering this philosophy gives me peace of mind.
While traveling, sometimes I don’t like the way I approach certain situations. Maybe I didn’t engage someone in the best way. Or I found myself lost in my mind instead of enjoying the sights around me. Or maybe I defaulted straight to English instead of showing respect and trying to make friends by practicing Croatian. Remembering that I can change my future using the present moment is empowering. And so instead of dwelling on past mistakes, I’ll just ask the next Croatian I talk to: “Da li pričati Engleski?” (Do you speak English?)
3. Traveling and embarking on a pilgrimage is a powerful tool for self-discovery and transformation.
"After weeks on the road, listening to a language you don’t understand, using a currency whose value you don’t comprehend, walking down streets you’ve never walked down before, you discover that your old “I,” along with everything you ever learned, is absolutely no use at all in the face of those new challenges, and you begin to realize that buried deep in your unconscious mind there is someone much more interesting and adventurous and more open to the world and to new experiences."
In my mind, this is the most important lesson in book. I plan to write an entire post on the concept of a pilgrimage, so I’ll more deeply articulate my thoughts there.
The act of a pilgrimage for transformation and self-discovery is as old as humanity. I see my current journey through Europe as a kind of pilgrimage. Back in January, I realized the need to shake myself up, get out of my routine, and get back in touch with myself. There are other ways to accomplish this, but for me, traveling was the answer.
"To live is to experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life."
4. But when travel itself becomes a routine, it loses it’s power of transformation.
"Well, the truth is, I’ve always traveled like a mad thing, ever since I was young. Recently, though, I seem to be spending my life in airports and hotels, and any sense of adventure has rapidly given way to profound tedium."
I love how traveling makes me come alive, but it loses it’s power when it becomes routine. This is how I felt about traveling for three years straight as a consultant. Travel became a commute, not an opportunity to discover the world.
At times on my current journey, I’ve settled into periods of routine. When I notice travel ceasing to be exciting and transformative, it means it’s time to try something new and shake up my routine. That could mean finding a travel partner (or ditching a travel partner), spending time in the country (or spending more time in a city), or taking time for solitude (or forcing myself to be more social).
5. Take advantage of dissatisfaction, frustration, and tragedy: they bring about necessary change.
"When a sense of dissatisfaction persists, that means it was placed there by God for one reason only: you need to change everything and move forward."
Feelings like dissatisfaction and frustration get a bad wrap. Instead of letting them get you down, maybe it’s better to use them to bring about a needed change.
The same goes for tragedy. When my friend Shannon passed unexpectedly in January, I used that as a sign for me to start living more intentionally. I no longer wanted to be a passive participant in my life. The next week I resolved to do something I always dreamt of: travel and live in Europe for an extended period of time on my own terms. Tragedy is the reason I’m here today.
"Only two things can reveal life’s great secrets: suffering and love."
6. There are consequences to not following your dreams and listening to your heart.
"They say that in the second before our death, each of us understands the real reason for our existence, and out of that moment, Heaven or Hell is born. Hell is when we look back during that fraction of a second and know that we wasted an opportunity to dignify the miracle of life. Paradise is being able to say at that moment: 'I made some mistakes, but I wasn’t a coward. I lived my life and did what I had to do.'"
This is just a great reminder why we need to listen to our hearts and follow our intuition. Let’s avoid the regret of living a life that isn’t true to ourselves.
"We will always need to be humble enough to accept that our hearts know why we are here."
7. Sow seeds for the future — a future where you personally may not reap the rewards.
“I’m reminded of Giordano Bruno. He was respected by the Church as a learned man but was burned alive in the center of Rome itself...The murderers vanished from the map, but Giordano Bruno continues to influence the world with his ideas. His courage was rewarded. After all, a life without a cause is a life without effect."
While I was in Krakow, Poland’s Wawel Cathedral, I saw a 1630 mausoleum of St. Stanislav, the 11th-century bishop murdered by King Boleslav II. A couple hundred years after St. Stanislav was martyred, he was canonized a saint. I stood in front of the mausoleum and contemplated this for a while.
I’m not exactly sure what St. Stanislav did to get on the King’s bad side. But here’s a man who acted as he felt compelled to act, which eventually led to his death. Little was his worldly flesh & bone self aware that one day he would become a saint and be remembered throughout the remainder of written history.
I’m not saying we need to become martyrs. But I am suggesting that maybe we need to think about our actions in terms of the long-term impact — sometimes so long-term that we ourselves will never reap the seeds we sow. Our children, grandchildren, and humanity as a whole may be the ones to benefit from our actions. I can’t help believe that following your heart ensures you’re doing what you’re meant to do on this earth, for the greater good of humanity.
"We simply have to trust and follow the signs and live our Personal Legend; sooner or later, we will realize that we are all part of something, even if we can’t understand rationally what that something is."
8. Life is a journey for the right people.
"People meet when they need to meet."
Every day, I meet people of all walks of life. Locals, travelers, beggars, and all-of-the-above. When I feel like I’m listening to my intuition and following the right path, I find myself in the presence of someone I felt destined to meet. They either give me an answer I was looking for, provide an ounce of inspiration, or even hand me a Euro when I’m short.
This lesson goes far beyond this current journey. Opportunities presented to us always come in the form of people. That’s why we need to embrace chance encounters and always try to understand why certain people happen to come into our lives. I believe having an open mind and an open heart helps us understand.
While in London, I was fortunate to meet the individuals behind London start-up Escape The City. In the video below, Co-Founder Rob Symington articulates this point very well in terms of finding a dream job:
Other great quotes from Aleph:
"It’s an extraordinary story, but for me, writing is, above all, about discovering myself."
"Anyone who knows God cannot describe Him. Anyone who can describe God does not know Him.”
On The Kindness and Help of Strangers:
"I would never be lost as long as there were people willing to help."
On Travel Being a Personal Journey:
"Don’t think about what you’ll tell people afterward. The time is here and now. Make the most of it."
Aleph is available on Amazon: Aleph by Paulo Coelho
Have any of these lessons resonated with you? Let me know in the comments!
Do you know someone else who would appreciate this book? Please share with friends!