Oprah Learns the Secret to Paulo Coelho's Timeless Wisdom
PAULO: I'm 100 percent convinced. Which is totally different from believing that every person is going to fulfill his or her Personal Legend. But I do believe that we know our reason to be here. We don't know if we are taking the exact right steps toward it. But if you are honest enough, God will guide you. Even if you take some wrong steps along the way, God will recognize that you have a pure heart and put you back on track.
OPRAH: The universe will rise up to meet you.
OPRAH: So early on in The Alchemist, Santiago is told of the world's greatest lie. What is that?
PAULO: That you don't control your life—that there is a system, an establishment, that doesn't allow you to control anything. You buy into the world's greatest lie the moment you agree to obey rules that are not your rules. When you say, "I have to." So many people say, in that moment, "Am I going to be different? Am I going to make people upset? No." I'll tell you my experience. When I decided to be a writer, my parents tried everything to dissuade me.
OPRAH: What did they want you to be?
PAULO: An engineer. They tried to bribe me. Then they cut off all the money they gave me to buy, I don't know, soft drinks. Then they tried a psychiatrist. Then they lost hope and said, "This guy is crazy. We love him, but he's crazy." And they put me in a mental institution.
OPRAH: They put you in a mental institution because you wanted to be a writer?
PAULO: Because I wanted to be an artist. Artists, you know, they starve to death. They are homosexuals. They drink.
OPRAH: Wow, so they put you in a mental institution.
PAULO: Three times, actually, because I escaped! But Oprah, let me tell you, they didn't do it out of hatred. They were trying to help me. They really thought I was crazy. Brazil was a very regressive society. We lived under a military dictatorship. They were scared about everything. And here I was, telling them I was not going to university.
OPRAH: So what did you learn about yourself while you were in the mental institution?
PAULO: Well, it was very liberating. I realized that I'm crazy, so I can do anything I want! And if something bad happens, I can say, "Sorry, I was just in a mental institution. Forgive me." So when I escaped, I became a hippie.
OPRAH: Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll?
PAULO: Yes, and traveling. That was my first contact with your country. I flew to New York and then traveled to San Francisco with $200 in my pocket and no English. Because you had these two institutions—I don't know if you still have them—the YMCA and Greyhound bus.
OPRAH: Yes. [Laughs]
PAULO: I would ask the man at the bus station for a ticket to someplace eight hours away, because I needed to sleep.
OPRAH: Oh my goodness. So was it during this time that you actually became a writer?
PAULO: I had determined to write, but at that time, it was still impossible. My parents had said that, and for the moment they were right. So I started writing songs. I became a songwriter. And I started making a lot of money. And then my parents relaxed because I could be crazy and still make money.