4 Things I Learned About Life

By Wan Muhammad Zulfikri

haven’t read The Alchemist.

Yeah, I know. For someone who writes an article about Paulo Coelho AT LEAST I should read the book that made him a success.

But the only book I read was Aleph and it was really good. After reading it, I had an image of him as a very spiritual and calm person.

To learn more about Paulo Coelho, I read his authorized biography, “The Warrior’s Life,” which was written by Fernando Morais.

The most interesting parts of the book were the stories of his youth, which were far from what I had imagined. They were inspiring and made me reflect upon my life.

Read further to know the four life lessons you can learn from Paulo Coelho’s youth. Trust me – it’s worth it.

1. If you have a weakness, learn to compensate for it with your strength.

Paulo was weak physically.

According to his biography he was “very thin, frail and short.” He had a nickname – Pele – which means ‘skin. It was given only to those who were always being bullied by their classmates.

Considering his physical weakness, it was hard for Paulo to gain the respect of his peers. Yet he found out that despite his weakness, he managed to gain their respect.

How?

I quote: “By knowing things no one else knew and reading stories none of his peers had read was one way of gaining respect.”

The lesson: If you think you have a weakness, you don’t necessary need to remove that weakness. Some weaknesses, especially physical ones, are hard to get rid of. A more effective way would be to find your strengths and work on them until you are at least above average.

Or better yet: Be so good they can’t ignore you.

2. Rejection doesn’t matter. What matters is what you do after being rejected.

Paulo believed in himself. He believed that he was a good poet and that his poems were not suitable for small magazines. So he sent his poems to the ‘Escritores e Livros,’ a reputable literary column in a newspaper called Correio da Manha.

After a week, Paulo looked at the newspaper and read the following:

“To all young show-offs who are desperate to get themselves a name and publish books, it would be worthwhile recalling the example of Carlos Drummond de Andrade, who only published three volumes totalling 144 poems in 15 years.”

Like any normal person, he took it personally, but managed to regain his confidence and write his own version of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If…”.

If you ask your friends and enemies for a chance.

If you can hear a ‘no’ and take it as a ‘maybe,’

If you can start from the bottom and yet still value the little that you have.

If you can improve yourself each moment and reach heights without succumbing to vanity.

Then you’ll be a writer.

The lesson: Rejection always hurts. Some say that rejection shouldn’t be taken personally, but honestly, I don’t think that advice helps. We value ourselves and the things we create, thus rejection brings a cognitive dissonance inside our minds.

Two conflicting thoughts, self-belief and self-doubt, wage wars to determine who will stay and rule the kingdoms inside our heads.

When there are two conflicting thoughts, we need something to guide us on what to do after the rejection. If you don’t know what to do or what to believe in, most of the time the evil side will win the war.

In the case of Paulo, his self-belief won and this is because of a certain obsession of his.

Paulo Coelho quotes

3. Be obsessed with your dream

Paulo was obsessed with the idea of becoming a famous writer. Yet, it was funny that the obsession only bore fruit in his later years.

This is because he was always changing his art: from poetry to acting, directing, writing about the occult, and lyric writing.

Although he gained success in some of his ventures, he kept reminding himself that he wanted to be a famous writer. That obsession made him what he is today.

The lesson: Sometimes, we think our dream lies buried under a pile of work or studies. I’m the same. I am going to a medical school, but I know being a doctor is not my dream. I want to be an entrepreneur.

For several reasons, I can’t cancel my entry to medical school. It looks like I don’t have a choice, but I actually have one: to choose to stick with my dream no matter what or to succumb to the path people ‘forced’ me to go on.

The same thing goes for you. Be obsessed with your dream and don’t let it die easily.

4. Your ‘horrible’ past doesn’t make you a failure in the future

One word sprung up inside my mind when I read about Paulo’s past – horrible.

Paulo failed in his studies, almost killed a boy because of his driving, was forced to stay in a psychiatry clinic because of his escalating problems, took drugs, was kidnapped by a secret organization and embraced Satanism.

There was more, but you get the picture.

Looking at his past, I was amused by the stark difference between his past and future selves. It shows how someone’s past is not a good predictor of his future because he is capable of changing it if he is willing.

The lesson: The problem with most of us is we focus on things we can’t change. It is true that our past can influence our future, but we don’t want to let that influence spread too much and work of its own accord.

We should stop doing that: Stop letting the past be our fortune-teller. What we need to do is to focus on the present and take control of our future.

Why?

We are the fortune-teller.

Conclusion

Let me leave you with a quote from the man, Paulo Coelho, himself:

“At a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie.”

Thanks for reading.