path to yesThe last of three posts about the Books That Matter giveaway.

The path to “yes” runs through the middle of “no”

Despite getting to bed around midnight without enough time to sleep before rising a flight at 6:00, when I woke at 2:15 from a dream, I knew I had to capture it:

I was working in a business startup being built by none other author of The Power of Unpopular, Erika Napoltetano. It felt like a dream gig (yeah, yeah, groan away). All I remember about what I’d be doing is that I would be a Chief Medical Officer or some such exec, doing what I do best. It all seemed good until Erika wouldn’t let me hire the person I wanted for the job reporting to me. She had someone else in mind and I agreed to interview him. But then there’s another guy she wants to involve, about whom I don’t have a good feeling. He seems smart, but vaguely smarmy, and Erika wants me to work under him, not her. My feeling is that puts me in the wrong place in the organization to make the difference I otherwise could. So, too many red flags. I woke up as I was telling Erika that it just wasn’t going to work for me.

Holy crap, turning down a chance to work with someone I admire so much? What was I thinking?? But then, here it is, the thought fully formed as I hit consciousness:

If the offer is wrong for you, even if it’s the smartest person in the world making the offer, it’s still wrong for you.

Yep. Ya gotta know what’s “no” or you’ll never get to “yes.”

The Alchemist

If The Power of Unpopular is about learning the boundaries of “no” – defining what you’re not before you can define what you are – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is about what happens when you say “yes.”

And, when you want something, the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.

The Alchemist tells the story of Santiago, a shepherd boy who meets an old man who challenges him to have the courage to follow his dream. Along the way Santiago encounters obstacles, seemingly insurmountable, and yet keeps going. Often the path seems a dead end, only to pick up somewhere completely new and unexpected. Still the path moves inexorably to the fulfilment of the desire deep in his heart.

Here’s what Coelho writes in the introduction to the 10th anniversary edition:

Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend. However, we don’t all have the courage to confront our own dream.

Why not? Coelho says there are four obstacles. First, we’re told from childhood on that what we want is impossible. How many times were you discouraged, how ingrained was the simple aphorism: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” One of our kids put that to bed one day with

What’s the point of having a cake if you can’t eat it?

Enough said.

If we dig out from under all that discouragement, Coelho says, the second obstacle is fear of hurting those we love by risking everything to pursue our dream. We fail to realize that true love is simply an impetus to further our path. If we manage to realize that, we encounter the third obstacle, fear of the defeats we’ll meet along the way. Fear of failure. Fear of roadblocks. Fear we won’t be able to stay the course, and get up again after falling down. Coelho isn’t sure if defeats are a necessary part of the path, but he notes, “they happen.” Inevitably.

If we persevere, last comes the fourth obstacle: fear of getting what you’ve always wanted, fear of realizing your dream. Nowhere is that fear more manifest than in the guilt the average person feels when they face the “mere possibility of getting what we want.”

The Alchemist, in a simple, entrancingly written parable, tells the improbable story of Santiago achieving his dream. It’s a story of what happens when against all the odds we say again and again, “Yes!”

So you want to call bullshit?

Ok, go ahead. But no, it’s not magical thinking. It’s intention. It’s what happens when you show up, dig in, and do the work needed to know what it is that you really want. It’s what happens when you put out there in the world your deepest wish, and then walk toward it. And keep walking.

Think you know what you want? Try this experiment: write down 101 things you want. You have to write them down, and they have to be different. Go ahead, start your list now, and come back when you hit a place where it gets hard.

Most people start to freeze up pretty early in the list, assuming you didn’t fill it with trivial, or ill-defined, things that don’t really matter to that much. Why? Because as the book I borrowed this from (The Aladdin Factor) says, we are trained almost from birth that wanting is selfish, and that wanting anything important leads to disappointment.

Getting to what we really want, to our personal legend, our purpose, takes conviction. It takes showing up. It takes digging in. It takes work.

The payoff? You get to go from “Yeah, sure” to waking up more mornings than not thinking, “Fuck yeah!”

Because “Yeah sure” just isn’t good enough.

Dr. Les Kertay

P.S. My purpose, the thing I love more than anything? Helping you know that it’s never too late to kindle your fire. Never. Ever.

Related posts: