Thursday, March 08, 2007

Personal Legend

I recently started reading The Alchemist, a book that teaches that each one of us has our own Personal Legend that it is our destiny to fulfill. The book tells the story of a young shepherd who is visited by a King who tells him this secret and inspires him to leave his sheep and set out for the Pyramids of Egypt in search of his Personal Legend. The King tells the shepherd that when we pursue our Personal Legend all of the universe conspires to help us achieve it. I love the idea of the whole universe conspiring to help us along our destined path.

At one point in the story, the shepherd appears to have fallen off course from pursuing his Personal Legend. Immediately after arriving in Africa, after a two-hour journey from his home in Andalusia, the shepherd is robbed of all his money and then learns that though he has reached Africa he still must cross an entire desert to reach Egypt. Having no money to buy his passage back home, the shepherd gets a job working for a crystal merchant. He works hard and saves his money, but is told that even if he worked for years he would still not have enough money to get to Egypt. With his dream seeming so far off in the distance, the shepherd begins focusing on a different goal, to return to his homeland a successful man with money enough to buy double the amount of sheep he once owned.

After a year, the shepherd is ready to leave the crystal merchant's shop, and he's about to start his journey back home when he thinks to himself that he could always go back to being a shepherd, but he might never have another chance to get to the Pyramids of Egypt. Thinking about how far away he still is from the Pyramids of Egypt, the shepherd realizes "that there was another way to regard his situation: he was actually two hours closer to his treasure . . . the fact that the two hours had stretched into an entire year didn't matter."

This is certainly an appropriate time for me to be reading this book. I don't know if I'm pursuing my Personal Legend by leaving my job, and I worry that the direction I'm going - to another firm - might be a detour off of the path that I'm "supposed" to be taking. I'm afraid that like the shepherd in his time of uncertainty I might have got thrown off course. But another message of the book seems to be that even detours and obstacles may bring you closer to your Personal Legend. The author writes that whatever detours and adjustments the caravan moving through the desert makes - a metaphor for one's search for his or her Personal Legend - it continues to move to the same compass point. Meaning that whatever directions we take in our life - even a seeming detour - our life's path will ultimately still take us towards the fulfillment of our Personal Legend.

Right now, I feel a little like the shepherd after his year of working for the crystal merchant. He worked for the crystal shop for a year and I've worked for my firm for two and a half years. All though all of that time has passed, I've travelled only a small distance. I'm still far away from attaining my Personal Legend. On the other hand, though I'm still far away, I would like to believe that I'm at least a little bit closer.


Gregory A. Becerra said...

I'll make two separate comments here. I'm fairly new to blogging and have been looking at several blogs to get a feel for what people are doing. Most don't have much there. I have to commend you for writing about interesting topics. I also see an overall storyline developing on your blog which is also interesting. So I find myself coming back here to see how things turn out. Good work!

Gregory A. Becerra said...

In my opinion, there are two main theories of knowledge. I actually have been thinking about this lately and made a brief comment about it regarding a movie I recently watched (

The first and oldest is Platonic. Plato believed that people begin with all knowledge contained within them but forget it when they are born. (He then rambles for a long time about caves, mud, and poetry.) So people spend their lives remembering what they already knew. Most religions are based on this idea and I believe this is the primary mindset of those in the U.S. Like the book you comment on, ideas that we are destined for a particular future or have some inherent disposition for something (e.g., born talents) is based on Platonic knowledge.

The other theory is Kirkegaardian. Kirkegaard did not subscribe to people being forgetful know-it-alls. He believe people actually did learn knew things. He believed that when a person did learn something new, they actually became something (someone) different. Franz Kafka imaginatively illustrates this idea in his story The Metamorphosis. In this story George Samsa wakes up one day to find he has turned into a large insect. While we might not turn into bugs, this theory says we do become someone new.

These two ideas are important because the concepts of destiny and free-will are linked to these respectively. The book you describe seems to advocate that each of us has this Platonic career-planning embedded in us. This mindset might argue that if we stay true to our nature, then the world will unfold before us. The Kirkegaardian based viewpoint would say something like you can be anything if you gain the right knowledge. One can focus on goals to such a high degree that his/her instincts will tend to react in such a way to lead that person closer to the goal. The difference is that the book (and Plato) would see control/direction coming from an external agent whereas Kirkegaardian based reason would see control/direction coming from the individual.

Personally, I think Kirkegaard was right. It is comforting to think that the world will help us if we stay true to our nature, but my experience says otherwise. The world moves toward entropy; a person who does not exercise his/her will is eaten up and spit out. Any personal growth comes from individual action (though sometimes accidental action). It's OK to be something different than what you started out to be, just decide what you want and actively pursue it. Don't wait for the world to give you permission. You can still be a nice person if you choose, but a nice person who gets what he/she wants.

InterstellarLass said...

I'd never heard of this book two weeks ago, and now I've had three or four mentions of it. Must be a sign for me to read it.

I've been on some sort of path, but don't exactly know where it's taking me. I feel like I'm being led, but to what I don't know. Before I ever had a clear vision of where I wanted to go, I had priorities that absolutely had to be tended to. And I struggle with living up to expectations, both of other people and my own. Life is a strange journey. Destination Unknown.

Buttercup said...

Gregory, I'm glad you've found something hear that interests you. :) I've not yet finished with "The Alchemist" but my sense is that the book advocates each one of us taking action to pursue what is in our heart (our "Personal Legend"). The concept of destiny in the book is an external force that is like a mirror of your heart's wish, so that you are destined to do what you trully want to do. It's kind of circular, but what I've gotten from the book so far is this idea that it's important to listen to ourselves and that we should follow our dreams. If we follow our dream (and pursue our Personal Legend), supposedly then the Universe will be on our side... But certainly one can't wait around for destiny and the universe to do all of the heavy lifting.

Lass - It's worth a read. Please let me know what you think of it. I struggle with my expectations for myself and to a lesser degree the expectations of others. I agree that it's a stranger journey, but I think I'm making progress so for the moment I'm quite happy with how things are and the direction they're moving in.