What MBA Students Can Learn from The Alchemist

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” E.E. Cummings

In Paulo Coelho’s brilliant work, The Alchemist, the young shepherd Santiago undertakes a long, difficult journey to find his Treasure. Along the way, he is presented with many opportunities to give up his pursuit in exchange for safety, wealth, comfort, and convenience. Each time, Santiago must make a choice: Give up his dream for immediate satisfaction or press onward into the unknown, risking everything.

Every day we are confronted with this choice. Most of us are just not as attuned as Coelho’s protagonist to the fact that we are making decisions every moment of every day, regardless of whether we choose to act or not. Every time we turn down that opportunity that sounds so interesting but asks too much of us we are making a choice. When we decide to put off that graduate degree because it can wait until next year when it’s more convenient we are choosing to put off our future. It’s easier to be complacent in that job we don’t really like because it pays well or to live in the town that is familiar to us than it is to try something new.

We all had dreams when we were young. Somewhere along the way between school, family, and our professional lives perhaps those dreams were forgotten. Day after day the world tries tirelessly to make us be like everyone else and forget that we once had dreams of being special and unique. We dreamt of doing the impossible and we believed everyone when they told us it couldn’t be done. When did we let others dictate our goals to us? Can any of us even remember when we stopped living for our own dreams and started living how others wanted us to live?

There are still many of us out there who strive for the impossible every day. There are people throughout history who made the impossible a reality and envisioned a better world. Even if they didn’t change it completely, they left it a little better than they found it. These are people who make the choice every day to continue the pursuit of their Treasure, even when they are told they are being foolish and they should stop and enjoy the life they already have. We know who these people are, and each one of us has someone we look up to who never lost sight of their dreams and their passion.

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” As Santiago learns, the journey is the real Treasure. The experiences we have, the people we meet, and the places we visit are the things that make us who we are and give us the real value in the pursuit of our dreams.

Somewhere in the course of my MBA program I realized that I had forgotten about my dreams. I became comfortable in my life and relentlessly held onto extrinsic rewards in exchange for my true Treasure. At some point I chose the easy life, even though no one with a MBA will tell you it was easy. With a background in IT, I am fortunate to have had a fairly successful, well-paying career. It has given me a comfortable life and a lot of tangible “things” that stood in for my true Treasure. It was easy to forget about the journey.

Of everything I have read so far for my MBA, it was the decision to re-read The Alchemist that really changed my life. I took it as a sign that in the same week I had the sudden, inexplicable desire to pick up The Alchemist I was assigned to read Bill George’s True North, in which he makes reference to Coelho’s work and Santiago’s journey. Now that I’ve opened my eyes to the signs around me I see that I must continue the journey. A comfortable life isn’t that satisfying. Extrinsic success is only satisfying for so long. It’s the pursuit of the dream that will reward you for a lifetime. I only have a vague sense of what lies at the end, and the road itself is obscured, but the beauty of the unknown is the entire point of the journey.