[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Madeleine Henry guest post on the site today. Take it away Madeleine!]
- Ranked in the top 20 bestsellers of all time.
- Sold over 65 million copies.
- Has more than 10,000 reviews on Amazon.
- Holds the Guinness World Record for Most Translated Book by a Living Author.
Yep, I’m still obsessed with The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
It’s the story of shepherd Santiago’s journey to find hidden treasure in the desert. Along the way, he learns lessons that have inspired millions. Most important, he comes to believe that everyone has a unique dream—a “Personal Legend”—in their heart which they should pursue at all costs.
The first time I read The Alchemist, between freshman and sophomore years in college, I was at a survival skills camp called “BOSS,” Boulder Outdoor Survival School, in Utah. This 28-day field course is an intense trek through desert wilderness. A former teacher of mine had recommended it to me over email. I’d always been interested in physical challenges, so I signed up.
On the trip, each of us in the small group was only allowed to bring: a knife, a water bottle, water purification drops, a poncho, and—this one book, The Alchemist. At first, the book seemed oddly out of place. Why is this novel so important that it’s one of the five things I can bring?
But I had more pressing concerns. For the first three days of the course, we had to forage for our own food. As it turned out, there was not much to eat in desert Utah. (The camp had warned that we may lose 15-30 pounds each on the trip.) One morning, the first week, I woke up to a scorpion crawling on the sand near my sleeping bag. Another time, as I filled my water bottle from a puddle on top of a boulder, I asked the guide what species that long worm was, squiggling in the puddle. He said it was a hookworm parasite and that I should avoid it.
In this state, as I read The Alchemist, Santiago’s desert adventure was not unfathomable. Still, the story didn’t resonate with me back then. I didn’t know what my Personal Legend was. I kept carrying the book with me, but I focused mainly on surviving the trip.
I didn’t read the story again until years later when I was working on Wall Street and nurturing dreams of quitting to write and practice yoga. I picked the book randomly off my shelf and, that time, the story clicked.
The main theme of the book is to chase your dreams. On his journey, Santiago learns that we each house a tension: our heart vs. our fears. While the heart is eager to dream and take risks, fears urge us to stay on one of the safe paths followed by others. While the heart loves, dares, and imagines, fears want us to hide, imitate, and doubt. The Alchemist favors living by the heart, as this is the only way to a full life:
“Don’t give in to your fears,” Coelho writes. “If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”
“Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.”
The book encourages people on the heart path to believe that positive outcomes are not just possible, but very likely, even certain:
“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”
When I reread The Alchemist, I was in my mid-20s and preparing to make a drastic lifestyle pivot out of New York City finance. Coelho echoed lessons I’d been learning in my yoga practice at the same time: follow your heart. He didn’t invent that idea, but he explores its nuances and articulates them precisely. His simple style makes the words stick. I was taking his quotes to heart—literally thinking them and similar phrases of yogi wisdom as mantras—when I left my safe job in finance.
Now, a year later, several steps forward since my time in the desert, I have my first novel coming out this summer and share my yoga practice on @MadeleineHenryYoga. And I am still obsessed with The Alchemist: I keep the book on my shelf and live by its lessons as much as I can. It hasn’t been easy, but The Alchemist offers advice to those facing challenges on the heart path, which I’ve also repeated to myself as mantras. He writes:
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”
“Every search begins with beginner’s luck and ends with the victor’s being severely tested.”
Since Utah, I’ve come to understand that BOSS allowed this book on its course because these beliefs are just as helpful as physical tools in the wilderness. Optimism in the face of hardship is crucial to flourishing—as useful as a water bottle in the desert.
About the Author:
Madeleine Henry worked at Goldman Sachs and in investment management in New York City. She graduated from Yale in 2014 where she wrote comedy for The Yale Record, America’s oldest college humor magazine. Now working on her second novel, she shares more information about her life, writing, and yoga practice on @MadeleineHenryYoga. Breathe In, Cash Out is her debut.
Breathe In, Cash Out by Madeleine Henry, out today!
In this sizzling debut for fans of The Devil Wears Prada, Wall Street banking analyst Allegra Cobb plans to quit the minute her year-end bonus hits her account, finally pursuing her yoga career full-time. But when she forms an intense relationship with the #InstaFamous guru who may hold the ticket to the life Allegra’s always wanted—she’s not sure if she’ll be able to keep her sanity intact (and her chakras aligned) until bonus day.
Allegra Cobb’s resume: Straight-A Princeton grad, second-year analyst at a top-tier bank, one-time American Yoga National Competition Champion. Allegra Cobb’s reality: Spends twenty-four hours a day changing the colors on bar charts, overusing the word “team,” and daydreaming about quitting the minute her year-end bonus hits her account. She has no interest in the cutthroat banking world—she’s going to launch her very own yoga practice.
But her plan isn’t quite as perfect as the beachfront yoga pictures she double-taps on Instagram. On top of the 100 emails an hour and coworkers already suspicious of her escape plan, Allegra’s hard-driving single father has always expected fiercely high achievement above all else. That his daughter works on Wall Street means everything to him. Still, she marches on, taking it day by extremely caffeinated day.
But after (1) unknowingly sleeping with the man now leading her banking cohort on one of their biggest deals to date and (2) meeting the #blessed yoga guru who might just be her ticket to the life she’s always wanted, it really hits her: her happy-ever-after will be harder to manifest than she thought.
Fast-paced, laugh-out-loud funny, and totally irresistible, this is the story of a fearless young woman determined to center herself in the life she truly wants.