What’s your crystal shop? A lesson from The Alchemist

The Alchemist.jpgTonight I’m thinking about the crystal shop in Paolo Coelho’s book The Alchemist. It’s been over twenty years since I read the copy I “borrowed” from my cousin Matthew (!!!) so I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but here’s what I remember: the protagonist is on his journey (the Hero’s Journey, the monomyth), and at some point he ends up asking a crystal merchant for a job.

It turns out he’s pretty good at selling crystals. Not only that, but he ends up coming up with all sorts of excellent business ideas, and things are going great.

…except that our hero didn’t set out from home to do a great job selling crystals. If anything, hanging out with the crystal merchant has made him a bit complacent, and the reader wonders if he’s completely lost sight of his goal.

At one point the protagonist is trying to figure out why his boss, who keeps talking about his big dream of going to Mecca, isn’t doing anything that would help him actually get there:

“Well, why don’t you go to Mecca now?” asked the boy. “Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all the same, these mute crystals on the shelves, and lunch and dinner at that same horrible café. I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”

Of course you want to just shake the guy: “What are you waiting for?! You’re not getting any younger, Mecca isn’t going to come to you!”

But you can’t very well judge, because you know that you’ve been in that exact place yourself. 

I can point to so many times in my life where I’ve been comfortable, I’ve been complacent, things have been easy. “Why not stay here a little bit longer,” I tell myself, The voice in my other ear, however, is sounding the alarm: “this isn’t what you wanted, there’s something more waiting for you… if only you’ll get out of your comfort zone, take that leap of faith.”

The problem with working at the crystal shop is that it’s usually something we’re good at, something that impresses people, something that brings validation, acknowledgement, money, fame… even if we’re not particularly proud of ourselves when we’re working there, even if we know this place is a diversion from the path we meant to tread, that we only meant to stop there for a wee while before carrying on again.

What’s your crystal shop, the seductive rut that you find yourself in when you stop paying attention, where your ego gets fed but your heart knows you’ve lost your way? What does it take for you, like the boy in The Alchemist, to remember your quest and get back on track?

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