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Coelho and his wife, Christina, in Venice, 2012.


OPRAH: So let me get this straight. Was your journey across America part of your journey to discover your Personal Legend?

PAULO: One of them. My Personal Legend was to be a writer. And I started to be freer from that moment on. In 1982, I was already married to Christina, and I had a good job. But I was not happy. It was the enthusiasm thing. So I said, "Christina, we have everything that people dream of except joy. At least, I don't have joy." We had a few apartments and $17,000. So I said, "Let's take the $17,000 and try to find the meaning of life. With that much money, we can travel for two years."

OPRAH: Because you believed that our only obligation is to honor our Personal Legend.

PAULO: Absolutely. So we set out to travel. It was during that time—I was 39 years old—that I decided I had a dream I could no longer live without fulfilling. It was killing me. So I quit everything to write full-time. I had been worried about hurting my wife and my parents. But I realized that they wanted to see me happy.

OPRAH: And you published The Alchemist in 1988.

PAULO: Yes.

OPRAH: But you know what? I think not everyone knows what their Personal Legend—their purpose, their calling—really is. People are always saying to me, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my life."

PAULO: They know. It's very difficult, Oprah, to accept that you know what you're supposed to do when you are not doing it. Because from the moment that you know, you have to either leave a lot of things behind or live aware that you are not fully treasuring the miracle of being alive.

OPRAH: Like the merchant who didn't go to Mecca in The Alchemist. Who always wanted to go, but kept postponing, and finally realized he was never going to go.

PAULO: Yes. In my life, I think I learned this.

OPRAH: So the reason that many people never pursue their Personal Legend is because of their fear of failure. I love this quote from The Alchemist: "'Don't give in to your fears,' said the alchemist, in a strangely gentle voice. 'If you do, you won't be able to talk to your heart.'"

PAULO: Every heart is fearful. A heart is like a flower, you know? It can be very brave, but it can be easily hurt.

OPRAH: Mmm-hmm.

PAULO: I've been defeated many times. And I fear a lot of things still. But the point is not to give up.

OPRAH: All right. So when you were younger, you wrote this in your diary: "Every day it seems harder to achieve my great ideal: to be famous and respected, to be the man who wrote the Book of the Century, the Thought of the Millennium, the History of Humanity."

PAULO: [Laughs] Well, I was always a little bit megalomaniac!

OPRAH: Oh, my gosh. First of all, who writes that about himself?

PAULO: Someone who needs to go to a mental institution!

OPRAH: [Laughs] Did you know then that the universe would rise up and conspire to help you? That you really would publish the book of the century?

PAULO: Probably not. But I wasn't the only young person who writes things like this. If you think small, then your world will be small. If you think big, your world will be big. Having said that, a self-fulfilled prophecy like that is quite difficult to explain.

OPRAH: I can't get over it!

PAULO: But Oprah, you want to know: Did I write The Alchemist? I'm not sure. I am sure that I was a good instrument. That I went through all these experiences—crazed, outcast—and then wrote a book that is, let's be honest, much better than I am. So you follow your heart, and then one day you manifest something. This is the real alchemy.

OPRAH: Yeah.

PAULO: And everybody has this possibility.

OPRAH: Wow.

PAULO: For years I wasn't so crystal sharp—to use a metaphor from The Alchemist. I had a dream, but had not yet dared to fulfill it. But then you start paying attention, and there is a symbol here, and one there, and if you put the puzzle together, you will understand.

OPRAH: The alchemist teaches Santiago, "Listen to your heart. It knows all things..."

[Thunder claps loudly in the background; a storm is moving in.]

PAULO: This is a moment. It's a sign. Don't cut it from the interview!

OPRAH: [Laughs] We won't! God must have liked that quote. Okay. So the alchemist teaches Santiago that the heart "knows all things, because it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there."

PAULO: Yes.

OPRAH: But as Santiago searches for his Personal Legend, he also meets forces beyond his control. I love how you write that when he's out in the middle of the desert, he has to go around dunes and avoid obstacles and tribes who are at war. But as long as he gets back on course, he will end up in the right place. Our lives are like that, too.

PAULO: Absolutely.

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