Paulo Coelho is one of my favourite authors and I find myself reading the Alchemist every year whenever I'm in need of a dose of inspiration. I'm not talking about the self help kind of inspiration or the go get em type either, rather a much more subtle, almost, dare I say, spiritual inspiration.
The Alchemist should be a piece of required reading before co-founding any organization or business with someone else, along with The Founders' Dilemmas. While the latter focuses on the technical and organizational aspects of founding something with another human being, the former gets at the heart and soul of drive, spirit, adventure and struggle.
With this in mind, I want to share four of my favourite quotes from The Alchemist and ponder them for a moment.
“Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World. When I first reached through to it, I thought the Soul of the World was perfect. But later, I could see that it was like other aspects of creation, and had its own passions and wars. It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse. And that’s where the power of love comes in. Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are.”
Yes, it's an argument for love and the power of love, but it is also so much more than that. To me, this quote gets to the core of creation-- building things and their implications to you, your team and the people that will ultimately become effected by your work. If you can become better-- a better person, a better teammate, a better thinker, a better lover, than what you create will naturally become better, since it is a part of you.
You may not be creating the next medical device to save millions or an education tech platform to bring resources and skills to the least developed regions of the planet, maybe you're just building a port-a-potty distribution app for music festivals, but if you strive to be better, learn more, listen to others, and yes, love, everything you do will naturally follow.
“What you still need to know is this: before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one ‘dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.’”
Resiliency. I've worked in North Korea for nearly a decade. A DECADE! One of the biggest things I've learned from the people there is an incredible sense of resiliency and dignity. No matter how difficult things become, no matter how much you may want to give up, it's always better to find another way instead of tossing in the towel.
Ideas may very well be flawed, they almost always are and its difficult to guess or assume correctly on the first try. If you always give up waiting for your initial idea to be correct, you may spend a lifetime waiting. Find a viable path and pursue it. Understand that difficulties and struggles are part of the journey and that it is hidden within the downtrodden moments that you may gleam the most important lessons. Success is illusive, the definition is illusive and the feeling even more so. The chase is real and the pursuit is both deeply personal as well as rife with struggle. Life is built on consistency, not just bursts of intensity.
“People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them. We, their hearts, become fearful just thinking of loved ones who go away forever, or moments that could have been good but weren’t, or of treasures that might have been found but were forever hidden in the sands. Because, when these things happen, we suffer terribly… Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of that search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
Fuck this is beautiful. Mostly because it is so eloquently true. I read this over and over again. The fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. Suffering is an essential condition of human nature, we learn through suffering, the most important ideas are born out of suffering, suffering makes us sharper and smarter in general, as long as we don't give up. Yes, sometimes things are hard, many times they are. As someone trying to start a business that can grow into something truly scalable, it is certainly hard. Sleepless nights and feeling wayward are part of that process as well. However, when you are pursuing something you truly believe creates value (define that for yourselves), the struggle is all that more worth it, regardless of the results.
“‘There is only one way to learn,’ the alchemist answered. ‘It’s through action. Everything you need to know you have learned through your journey...’”
This last one is relatively self explanatory. The journey informs next steps, knowledge and experience build on each other, lessons learned must be incorporated into your next moves and they are your best teachers. External validation counts for nothing, for in the end, only your own journey informs your sense of self.