Paulo Coelho Gets Out of the River

Paulo Coelho was knocking on doors.

He was 41. To make his parents happy, he’d done one year of law school, then dropped out. He’d tried his hand writing songs, made good money, but made it without joy or meaning. Finally, he did the thing he wanted to do: write.

Mr. Coelho wrote one book. It went largely unnoticed. But his experience of writing was shot through with joy. So, in a two-week gust, he wrote another book, a metaphor about walking towards your calling. He wrapped it up in a fable about a young shepherd. And he called it The Alchemist.

A small Brazilian publishing house picked it up. But it only sold 900 copies in the first year. I can make more money in the stock market, the publisher told Mr. Coelho. And the small Brazilian publishing house dropped Mr. Coelho’s book.

Which would be the normal time to accept defeat. But the thing was, Mr. Coelho had included this not-normal line in his fable: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” He wrote that. He believed that. Now, he determined, he’d have to be true to that.

Plus, “you drown not by falling into a river,” he thought, “but by staying submerged in it.”

So, Mr. Coelho took his dropped book – not a manuscript that stood a chance of being successful, mind you, but a published book that had already been unsuccessful – and went out into the universe to knock on publishers’ doors.

A publisher eventually bought The Alchemist. The Alchemist eventually hit the bestseller list. And the bestseller list was where The Alchemist eventually stayed for over 300 weeks.

All because Mr. Coelho got out of the river. And into the universe.

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