A Personal Legend and How It Affects Its Seeker

A Commentary on 'The Alchemist' by Paul Coelho

According to Paulo Coelho, a “Personal Legend” is the calling that every individual has; one that is the highest accomplishment in their life. The protagonist of The Alchemist, Santiago, changes as a result of taking this journey by not only learning about himself in every step of the way, but the universe as well. This change often occurs when a person abandons one life for another, discovers what their Personal Legend is, takes risks and experiences obstacles and learns from these experiences, continuously improving beyond their search.

To begin this embarkment on this journey, an imperative, and oftentimes difficult step for people, is to leave the comforts of everything familiar to them. In the beginning, one of the first elements of Santiago’s journey to finding his Personal Legend is through his ultimate decision to leave his family home to live the life of a shepherd, traveling to various parts of Spain with his flock of sheep. At first, his father insists on Santiago staying, stating that their “countryside is the best.” This implies that leaving would mean abandoning the perfect life. However, his son still insisted on his choice of lifestyle. As a result, as described in the text, “his father said no more. The next day, he gave his son a pouch that held three ancient Spanish gold coins.” From this, it can be concluded that in order for people to begin to discover their Personal Legend, they must have the ability to do so with a wholehearted passion. Oftentimes, this is through straying away from the familiar and into the unknown. From there, learning about one’s self can begin through that sense of ambiguity, as well as by slowly forming a sense of courage.

The next step in an individual’s mission to find his Personal Legend is discovered when they learn what such a thing is. This occurs when Santiago encounters the Old King, who explains the concept to him. Initially confused by what a Personal Legend was, Santiago becomes skeptical of it. Thus, the Old King states that “It’s what you always wanted to accomplish.” This fascinates and inspires Santiago, and so the King continues with “Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.” Based on this elaboration, it becomes clear it is possible that all people are given a special purpose by an almighty force, though it is in the hands of the seeker to find it for themselves. Moreover, it seems to imply that dreams are generally the omens that are providing hints as to direct people towards true happiness. Thus, by discovering what a Personal Legend entails, the journey has its true start.

In addition to knowing of their Personal Legend, people also experience hardships along the way. For Santiago, the first of many is when he is robbed of all of his money in Tangier. As he wallows in pity, he begins thinking that “he was no longer a shepherd, and he had nothing, not even the money to return and start everything over.” Although it may seem fulfilling on the surface, pursuing a Personal Legend also demands that the seekers be tested with the most dire of times. At this point, they must prove that they can live through these shortcomings and continue onwards towards their dream. This is where most would fail by surrendering and never again seeking for their hidden treasure. Similarly, Santiago is also willing to take risks during his journey, trusting omens to save his life from mortal danger. For instance, upon seeing the hawks duel in the sky near the oasis, he has a vision that a tribe’s army would break the rules of war and attack the oasis, which was seen as a neutral zone. When he foretells this to the chieftains of the area, they are careful to heed his word, and do not plan to break any of their policies until they deliberated and warn Santiago that ‘“If at least one of [the arms] hasn’t been used by the end of the day tomorrow, one will be used on you,’” which makes him fearful for his life. There is a sense of sacrifice that seemed to linger from those series of events, which adds to the sense of danger previously aforementioned. Nevertheless, Santiago reveals a sense of courage with this gamble of his life. He would have been satisfied if he died that very day, for as it is he lives every day in the present, and “he would have seen more than other shepherds.” This, in itself, is a concrete element of having a Personal Legend; willing to sacrifice everything based on hunches one is positive to be part of their overall destiny.

However, from these hardships and risks experienced, a seeker can gain significant insight on the universal language and omens. This first occurs to Santiago during his tenure in Tangier, “he had learned some important things, like how to deal in crystal, and about the language without words…” With this information, he also begins to learn more “about omens.” Here, the message is that good is meant to come from the pitfalls encountered during the discovery of one's Personal Legend. In ways such as learning the trades, communication with the world, and trusting hunches, people can reinforce themselves physically and mentally, which allows them to persevere. Thus, they become stronger, as well as much wiser, and gain a larger understanding of the signs that point them to what they seek.

Perhaps the most important step in a person’s search for their Personal Legend is that even if they learn from these challenging times, there is still constant self-teaching. When Santiago regains his footing financially, he still has much to learn about himself. As he joins the expedition to Egypt, he recounts his life as a shepherd, and how vastly strange and unknown a life he is leading is. In his words, he thinks to himself, “‘I understand sheep; they're no longer a problem, and they can be good friends.” However, with this reassurance, he worries that “On the other hand, I don't know if a desert can be a friend, and it's in the desert that I have to search for my treasure.” Subsequently, like life itself, people never seem to cease learning new perspectives and attributes of the universe. With more vital life lessons revealing themselves, they come closer to achieving our Personal Legend. Even when it is finally found, it seems that an understanding of the world will continue to evolve as one ages, though they must become more aware of the subtle cues given to them via the universal language. That, in itself, is the hidden treasure as described in the story.

Beyond having found his “treasure,” Santiago has now become all the wiser in navigating through the world and his own soul. One of the first of these effects is how to make decisions for himself. When he is speaking to the king and asks for his guidance, the old man simply replies with, “if you can, try to make your own decisions. The treasure is at the pyramids; that you already knew. But I had to insist on the payment of six sheep because I helped you to make your decision.” Based on this statement, it becomes evident that Santiago begins to put more trust into himself and his abilities. Therefore, he begins to grow and pay more attention to his actions and world. Subsequently, Santiago also discovers that his journey is not predictable. In the desert, during the expedition, he thinks to himself that “when someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” Through this thought process, Santiago now comprehends that his journey, like all of his life, is not firmly established, and adds to a sense of mystery to his adventure. This also provides the drive to continue on with his future ventures and goals. Finally, Santiago begins to be capable of resisting temptation. When he is about to give up his quest for Fatima, his newfound love, the Alchemist reminds him that “You must understand that love never keeps a man from finding his Personal Legend.” A critical point made in this quote is despite how challenging it may be to give up everything, it is imperative to focus on the overarching task. From there, that temptation would become the reward upon completing it, making the journey all the more satisfying of an effect.

In essence, I am a staunch believer in having a Personal Legend. I am born with a creative mindset, and I wish to utilize it in an artistic manner, particularly through filmmaking and the dramatic arts. They are something I have always had a passion for and I wish to use it to make an impact on the world. In light of Santiago’s journey, I too have had to make critical decisions in terms of how to execute my crafts and what message I intend to bring to my audience. Most often, it is shrouded in mystery until it is critiqued, and there are times where I self-deprecate and become tempted to abandon a project, but I ultimately regain the esteem to resist it. Not only are these skills applicable to a potential career path, but they are essential to learning from life experiences, so that every day is fulfilling and meaningful. If one does not experience challenging events, self-improvements, or even discovering a Personal Legend, then their purpose in the world loses its meaning.

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