A couple of weeks ago on a long run I listened to Paulo Coelho’s interview with Krista Tippett for her NPR show “On Being.” I was struck by much of what Coelho said, but my week became busy and the words sifted out of my mind. Yesterday, when I donned my iPod for yet another long run, I saw that I’d forgotten to update it and the same interview sat there. Faced with a 2+ hour run, I decided to listen to the interview again. (I love music, but anything gets old after 2 hours). As it turns out, I enjoyed the interview even more the second time. You’ve probably heard of Coelho. He wrote the bestselling book The Alchemist, which has been translated into 80 languages. The book was required reading for my son in seventh grade and so I read it as well. In the book and in his life, Coelho urges people to follow their personal legends, their dreams. He says in the book that when you want something the whole universe conspires to help you.
I love that concept, even when it’s difficult for me to fully have faith in it. What I hadn’t realized from reading the book is that Coelho’s own journey was neither clear nor easy. His parents discouraged him from writing, even institutionalized him. It wasn’t until he was forty years old that he decided he must follow the dream to write. Even after writing the book, the path remained challenging. The book didn’t sell and his publisher let him go. In the interview with Tippett, Coelho shares that after the publisher let him go, he realized that he could not give up. In the interview, he says, “I have to honor my words. I have to be an example.” He found a new publisher and nearly fourteen years later, the book became a bestseller in the United States.
In the course of the interview, Coelho spoke of the difference between being a builder and a gardener. The garden, he said, never sleeps. “And it’s by its constant demands it makes of the gardener’s life a great adventure.”
The interview reminded me of something I’d read on brainpickings.org about Charles Bukowski: “…the year before Bukowski’s fiftieth birthday, he caught the attention of Black Sparrow Press publisher John Martin, who offered Buk a monthly stipend of $100 to quit his day job and dedicate himself fully to writing.”
Again on brainpickings.org just yesterday morning, Maria Popova posted a letter of gratitude from Leonard Bernstein to his mentor. In it Bernstein says, “I have been able, for the first time, to concentrate completely on my main purpose, with a glorious freedom from personal problems.”
Aside from the obvious message that it’s never too late to follow your dreams, it seems that in Bukowski’s case and Bernstein’s, the universe was indeed conspiring in their favor. But you know what else? They worked hard. They showed up. They were gardeners, never resting, always tending to their creations. I can hear you protesting: but I’m not Bukowski or Bernstein or Coelho. This does not matter. You are you and you have a dream. Go tend to it.
(photo of Paulo Coelho by Philip Van Volsem for onbeing.org; paulo coelho quote from wordsonimages.com)