“The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself.” – The Alchemist
My new friend Pauline and I went out recently (she’s a writer, too; you can check out her blog here) and we got to talking about the book, “The Alchemist.” I’d started to read it a few years ago but couldn’t get into it. But after a tipsy conversation Pauline and I had at an Irish pub before she went home to Colorado, wherein she told me what effect the book had had on her life, I decided to pull it off the shelf and give it another shot.
I know now why I couldn’t read it before. I wasn’t ready for the message.
The book, which I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, is an allegory about a shepherd boy named Santiago who goes in search of his treasure. On the journey, he learns lessons about life, personal calling, and love.
In this new (scary, undefined) season of my life, it’s applicable because it not only holds a mirror to show me where I’ve been and what’s been holding me back, but also shows me that there is more beyond the reflection, and that I am the only one keeping me from stepping through the looking glass .
It got me thinking about what someone referred to as this security blanket of fear and insecurity that I seem to have wrapped myself in; this friend noted that it might make me feel safe but also holds me back, adding, “We are running out of time in this great thing called life…if you don’t throw that security blanket away now then it will be never and that would be really sad…”
This friend is right. And it’s a little scary that, despite what has felt like progress these last months, someone still saw it. Because I’m not secure at all and I don’t want to be held back anymore.
But wanting to move and knowing where to go are not necessarily the same thing. Do I have dreams? If someone came to me today and said I could have one of my dreams come true, I don’t know that I’d even know what to ask for. I don’t have a dream job. I don’t have a passion. Do I?
God knows I tried to explore some of that last year. Dog training? Job at the animal hospital? Starting (and stopping) various writing projects? Not only did none of it make me happy, most of it made me feel miserable, because I failed at it all. Not because I’m bad at the things I tried, but because none of them are my dream and none of them made me feel fulfilled.
I was at my happiest 8 or 9 years ago, when I was doing publicity for a local band, mentoring a few musicians (including John, my son I never had), volunteering for local causes, and even going on that trip to Mexico. (Yes, friends, for those of you who don’t know this story, I – who hated to fly, couldn’t speak Spanish, didn’t know sign language and once almost killed myself with a folding chair - flew to Mexico to do construction at a school for deaf children. Twice.)
I was giving and giving and giving, and it was the act of giving that renewed me. It was a wonderful season in my life.
So what happened? The season changed – the band moved to LA; John died; my work in Christian music became empty; the volunteer projects changed; the well started to run dry and rather than stand back and refill, I kept giving.
I tried to find another band to work with, I volunteered for other projects, I started a writing group with a friend, but in truth I was exhausted. Eventually I was starting to feel annoyed in the company of other people. But rather than taking time to reflect on why that was or the dangers of not addressing it, I simply redirected my (exhausted) energies.
Somehow, I had convinced myself that helping other people was not enough; that I had to turn it into something with my fingerprints on it. A book, an article, a … whatever, as long as it was something that would prove to the world that I had been here and made a difference.
I tried desperately to bring in income through my writing, but when it was financially successful it exhausted me creatively, and when it was creatively fulfilling I felt like I was writing in a vacuum.
Other areas of my life were also struggling, and while I recognized it I had no ability to change it. Fortunately, when most of your life is fulfilling and positive, you’re able to manage the parts that aren’t much more easily. But when you let failure and defeat creep in, you begin to see the dark shadows that have been lingering in the corners, and rather than shed light on them you invite them to take up residence.
In the introduction to “The Alchemist”, Coelho writes:
“I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal – when it was only a step away.”
Yup, that was me. I had forgotten my calling. I had forgotten that the ability to make people laugh is a gift, or that being able to introduce Person A to Person B so that they can make their dreams come true is, in itself, priceless. I was blind to the fact that I lived in every dream I made come true for someone else.
I have this quote written down in my notebook; I don’t know who Sonny Melendez is or where I saw a video, but here’s what he said:
“Our job is to first find our gift … then when you use that gift to give back, without asking or needing anything in return, that’s when you’ve really arrived. That’s what makes you who you are rather than what your title is.”
Perhaps, like me, you’re trying to find out who you are. Perhaps, like me, you convinced yourself for too long that a dark cave was the safest place to be.
Perhaps, like me, you’ve recently decided that, consequences be damned, you will not just exist but live, and that while you’re still not sure which direction to move, you’re willing to just move in order to simply feel the sun on your face and the wind at your back.
If so, consider this: “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.” It really may be that simple.
This is a new season. My drought is over, washed away by laughter and love and renewing of the spirit. And I believe, as Coelho writes, that the Universe is conspiring in my favor.