“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.” ~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
I didn’t always look for omens, particularly not on discarded bits of jigsaw puzzles.
I recently resigned from my job, packed up everything I own and set off for the other side of the world with nothing but a backpack and a dream.
I walked away from a good life; a six-figure job, a burgeoning indie theatre career, dozens of incredible friends and family members—all in the city I’ve loved since I was a child.
It was a big, wild move and, as we so often need in those times, I found a great deal of comfort and direction in one of the smallest things: a book.
Skyping with my best friend Meghan in my apartment in Brooklyn the night before I flew to Bangkok to start this journey, she asked—among other things— what books would I be bringing with me?
I had packed meticulously, determined to bring only a small backpack in order to stay nimble. But I’m a total bibliophile. It pained me to leave my rather extensive book collection behind, like some heady tomes I was halfway through; The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku or Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. They sat there with bookmarks peeking out, waiting patiently for me to return to them, and I frowned with guilt wondering if I ever would.
And the ones I had not yet even cracked open seemed to stare at me with a superior knowing, like Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan; “I will read you one day,” I promised in a hurried whisper like some wayward lover. “I know how important you are and I’m a bad feminist for having not read you yet, but I will, I will!”
But it wasn’t until I was chatting with Meghan that I realized the importance of the one book I would take with me. I told her I was going to pick one with barter value, as my plan was to trade off whatever I was reading with another traveler or local. But the night before I left, this essential decision was still hanging.
“Be sure to text me which one you decide on,” said Meghan, her eyes gleaming. “You will always remember the book you brought with you. It will set the tone for the whole trip—it will inform your entire journey.”
She’s right, of course. The information we give our minds determines our experiences—or, at the very least, our attitude toward those experiences.
Like reading Cheryl Strayed after a breakup or Dale Carnegie when you graduate, books are one of the tools that can align your mindset with your goals for moving forward. I couldn’t exactly bring my vision board with me on the plane, but a good book could help me focus on what I wanted to get out of this journey.
After much internal bargaining, I settled on Katharine Hepburn’s memoir, Me. It felt good—she’s such a badass, she basically made it sexy for a woman to be strong (not sure where would I be without her.) But it wasn’t perfect—the glamour of Hollywood in the 40s isn’t exactly akin to backpacking around South East Asia.
The next day, at JKF airport, I browsed through the Hudson Booksellers collection, “just to look.” It was there I picked up The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
The back cover declared to me: “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.”
I had, of course, heard of this book. People speak of it with a sort of reverence, and while everyone seems to draw a different lesson or story from it, the book seems to resonate with everyone who picks it up.
What I did not realize is this is the perfect, perfect novel for when you’re standing at the precipice of a big journey, taking a risk on yourself, giving up all you have to chase your dreams.
I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone considering taking a big chance on him or herself.
As Coelho writes:
“People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them.”
And he helps us see the falsity in that mindset.
For those of you unfamiliar, The Alchemist is a story of a young boy in search of his destiny. It’s a simply told story, not trying to disguise it’s own allegorical nature. The main themes as I saw them are to follow your heart, and learn to listen to the omens. (The omens from God, or the Universe, or what have you— those pinpricks of light from the divine whatever-it-is that guide us in the most essential matters.) Inherent in both these goals is an active sort of listening—the type of listening that comes from deep inside you, ignoring the ego and learned behaviors, and trusting what is eternal and wise within each of us.
Less than two months into this trip of a lifetime, it’s yet to be seen where this journey will take me, and whether or not it will bring me any closer to my destiny. But, thanks to Coelho, I’m now of the mindset that “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
I’m spending lots of quiet time listening to my heart and keeping my eyes peeled wide for guidance from “above.”
So far, I had one omen that seemed particularly auspicious—sitting at a ramshackle bus station outside Bangkok in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for the tuk tuk bus to whisk us off to the ferry to Ko Chang island, I spied four little puzzle pieces on the cracked stone table between my boyfriend and I.
One said, in clear English, “type.”
Not a bad sign for two aspiring novelists, eh? After all,“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”
I didn’t hold on to the book; I traded it for the next one as my plan always was. But the lessons will stay with me. And if this is setting the tone for the rest of my journey—hey, a girl could do worse.
Author: Alison Preece
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Photo: Dylan Luder / Unsplash