In an effort to tackle my TBR pile (which is quickly becoming a TBR bookcase), I finally read The Alchemist. Having heard Paulo Coelho on Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations and seeing the book referenced in a lot of self-help/psych content, I picked the book up at a charity shop ages ago but I never got around to reading it. I picked it up just after finishing Daring Greatly–Brené Brown mentioned The Alchemist and I can definitely see the link between her work and his. The above quote captures it well. They’re talking about vulnerability, and the great lesson is that being vulnerable (opening yourself up to the possibility of pain/suffering) is less painful than the avoidance of vulnerability (keeping yourself closed off and armoured up).
The most popular quotation from The Alchemist, though, is the concept of the Law of Attraction.
I’m not sure how much I believe it or buy into it. I think I used to–when things were going well, it was easy to believe that the universe was helping me succeed. After the past year and a half, though, it’s a much tougher idea to accept. Yesterday morning, for instance, I faced a school closure and a journal rejection, and it felt like the universe was conspiring against me ever establishing a career. Brené Brown talks about the inner voice “gremlins” of shame and self-doubt, and they were very loud yesterday. I was disappointed and frustrated to miss out on my (very limited) writing time, and the gremlins just shrugged and said “It doesn’t matter anyway–even when you do have time to write, it’s not good enough to get published.” Why bother? Why keep putting myself out there and getting hurt by rejections? What’s the point? If I’m not good enough, I’m just wasting my time and everybody else’s time. The gremlins make a very strong case.
The response to the self-doubt/shame gremlins is this quote above–the idea that failures and set-backs are temporary moments on the path to your goal. It’s a common message throughout the self-help/psych world and, although people talk about it, they rarely operationalise just how you go about getting back up that 6th, 7th or 8th time. People talk about the importance of perseverance–Oprah was fired at 23 and told she wasn’t a good fit for TV, Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers, Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected 30 times and his wife got it out of the trash and convinced him to keep trying. These are lovely stories rolled out to inspire, but what if they’re the exceptions that prove the rule? At what point do you cut your losses and walk away? (And my losses in pursuit of an academic career are massive–mortgage-sized student loan debt, years of not working a proper job and contributing to retirement savings, etc.). Paulo Coelho would have you believe in yourself, but what if you actually aren’t good enough? It’s like the people on American Idol/Pop Idol who dream of being the next Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, and they’ve been told their whole lives how great they are (by loving friends/family), but then they sing in the audition and they can’t carry a tune in a bucket. They are heartbroken and/or in denial when the judges reject them. I don’t want to be one of them, getting up over and over with no hope of success.
How do you know whether you’re a fired Oprah or an American Idol reject? And if you really are a fired Oprah, how do you find the inner strength to get up the 6th, 7th or 8th time?