On Alchemy And Finding Your Personal Legend
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” – The Alchemist
By Courtney Powell (Founder & CEO, PublikDemand)
I met a guy at 5th and Brazos once. I was walking back to my office from lunch and he was jogging. He said he had seen me before and that he felt compelled to talk to me.
Normally I would have dismissed his comment as a super lame pick-up line but for whatever reason he seemed normal and I thought I recalled seeing him once before in the Greek restaurant I frequented. We became friends but eventually lost touch as life happened.
Four years later, I ran into him again in East Austin.
We caught up on the last few years and I gleefully told him about what I was working on with PublikDemand. At the end of our conversation, he mentioned that I should read this book that had meant a lot to him, a book that he said he felt compelled to tell me about.
The book was The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo.
The Alchemist tells the story of Santiago, a young shepherd boy whose mysterious recurring dream and encounter with a young girl he met while taking his sheep to market compels him to return to the foreign city.
On the way to meet the girl, Santiago stops in to a gypsy’s house and asks her to interpret his dream. She agrees to interpret the dream if he promises to give her 10% of any future treasure he discovers. She proceeds to tell him that he will discover a treasure in Egypt. After initially dismissing the interpretation, Santiago meets a strange man who turns out to be a King disguised as a vagrant. The King tells him of the same treasure and encourages him to follow the omens.
Santiago sells his sheep and risks everything to make the journey. It takes him years of hard work and growth to get to Egypt. He ultimately finds his treasure and although it was not what he expected it would be, he becomes whole and fulfills his personal legend.
It’s a very famous book and I’ve heard many talk about the direct impact they believe the book has made on their lives.
Looking back, I see a marked distinction in my life after I read the book. I do not believe the book had any mystical influence on me, but rather I believe it was the trigger that helped me get over the last hump of self-doubt and even guilt I harbored when I considered leaving behind my comfortable life to pursue my dream.
I’ve felt compelled my entire life. Compelled to join a promotional product startup when I was 19. Compelled to drop out of college when I was a senior. Compelled to start my own consulting firm when I was 25 and ultimately compelled to start PublikDemand when I was 27.
There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure. People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.
I was at my kitchen table with my mom and a friend the first time I realized the impact of an idea like PublikDemand. I had to accept that placing myself and my company in a situation where we helped consumers fight for justice against the world’s biggest corporations was more than a bit precarious.
Aside from the long-term threat of litigation, I had plenty of other more pressing fears that might have prevented me from pursuing the idea. But every time I came to the edge and even halfway considered giving up, a new door opened and I was forced to continue.
Although the majority of my fears were circumstantial in nature, the most crippling myth was my fear of failure and the sheer inertia I encountered as I attempted to move out of the life script I had previously accepted.
Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.
I am a 27 year-old female, single mother from Texas. Moving to California to start a company and living with three male co-founders is certainly not the norm. Occasionally, I felt the consternation of people as I told them my plans. “You already have a great life,” “Shouldn’t you think about settling down?” they would say. “Don’t you think you are too old to keep chasing your bucket list?”
I have found myself wishing that I had a little less ambition. But this year I finally realized that it’s not ambition, it’s hope. Hope that I can be a part of some small part of helping people feel better about their lives.
I’ve had to let go of the norms and traditional desires that I grew up believing would fulfill me. I no longer believe that marrying the right person, buying the right house, or having a big enough nest egg will make me whole.
It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.
For me, happiness is avoiding boredom and unabashedly pursuing a purpose that I believe is bigger than myself.
That definition may be a direct result of the dominant characteristics of my personality. According to the Enneagram personality test I am 100% Achiever and 100% Enthusiast. (If you have never heard of the Enneagram Test I suggest you try it here. My entire team has taken it and we reference it all the time in our attempts to understand and better support one another.)
When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.
Nonetheless, pursuing what I believe is my “personal legend” has opened up my mind in a way I never thought possible. For the first time, I feel as though I am exactly where I need to be. I have remarked several times on the ease with which PublikDemand has progressed. At every turn, I have happened upon meeting people who have opened doors, introduced me to other supporters, and often found myself at the right place at exactly the right time.
You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.
Sometime I still get scared. I wonder what will happen if I spend my life pursuing my dreams whether or not I will somehow miss the white picket fence that American psyches have been so programmed to seek. But then I try to think back to how I felt when I’ve done something I knew was not right for me just because I thought “I should.”
To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.
If I am wrong then I will deal with the consequences, but either way I’m glad I sold my sheep.
This post was originally posted at Courtney Powell’s blog.
About the guest blogger: Courtney Powell is Founder and CEO of PublikDemand, giving individuals a voice against large corporations and giving corporations an incentive to put their customers before their profits. Her passion for starting companies began at age 20 when she joined Boundless Network, a fledgling startup that quickly become one of the fastest-growing companies in America. She founded LeedSeed in 2009, a marketing automation firm for leading companies. Follow her on Twitter at @CourtneyPowell.