On the plane from Aspen to NYC, I listened to an On Being podcast in which Krista Tippett interviews Paulo Coelho. It was so good, I listened to it twice. Download the podcast here.
Achieving your goals does not result in joy.
It is compelling to think that completing your goals will result in joy, but it’s often not true. Getting closer to goals—being on the path to fulfill a purpose—creates joy. Reaching the end goal can lead to sadness, because your journey is over, completed. Paulo Coelho describes how he experienced sadness when he completed his pilgrimage, reaching Santiago de Compostella.
“If I knew, in the first hours of the morning, what I was going to do, what was going to happen, what decision or attitude I should take… I think my life would be deadly boring. […] What makes life interesting is the unknown. It is the risks that we take every single moment of our day.”
Start every day without expectations.
Being a pilgrim means being open to life, being open to what the day brings you. “Every single day we have the chance to discover something new. Get rid of things that you are used to, and try something new.” This is a very powerful concept for me—seemingly opposite to the idea of having daily to-do lists and big hairy audacious goals.
“From the moment I was not scared of manifesting my love, my life changed, and changed for the better.”
Follow your personal legend.
Your personal legend is your dream. It is something that gives you joy. The word “legend” does not refer to a heroic tale necessarily—your legend can be any story you are proud to live. Your personal legend can consist of gardening; raising a family; writing a book; creating a safe space where people can convene and grow; making paintings.
“Either I move forward, or I die. I die probably not physically, but spiritually.
The hardest choice in life is to fulfill what you are here to do.
“You want to do something that is against the plans that other people have for you. There you face a very hard choice. Either you start living the dreams of someone else, or paying the price of your dream.” In his books he describes the process of not following your dreams as one of “spiritual death”. That’s something to fear.
Try many different paths.
Coelho says he was a Buddhist, a Hare Krishna, a hippie, and a Christian. This is also what pilgrimage means: trying different things. That can be hard to embrace for young people—that following your personal legend includes uncovering your path. The only way to do so is to try a lot. This relates to Deepak Malholtra’s thought-provoking HBS speech on quitting (added at end of post).
“Who am I?” is an eternal question… you will infinitely struggle with it.
At the end of the interview, Coelho confesses, and then laughs about, the fact that even at his age he does not really know who he is. Powerful to keep in mind.
Malholtra’s HBS speech: