The Alchemist: #4-6 The Obstacle of Fear

The Alchemist Posts

Paulo Coelho’s words about the third obstacle we encounter when pursuing our dreams helped me stay strong during my own struggles.

The Alchemist“Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old excuse: ‘Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.’ We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” (vi-vii)

It’s not just fear, but the fear of defeat that prevents us from moving forward. I know this fear too well. What if what I write doesn’t matter to anyone? What if no one reads my blog? I’m just fooling myself; no one cares what I have to say. I am a nobody who will only experience a painful rejection if I put myself out there.

If those fears aren’t enough to stop us from moving towards our dreams, it seems obstacles are thrown in our path constantly, seemingly to stop us from moving forward, but in reality to build the stamina we will need to persevere, and, in some ways, to test our passions for the dream.

I have encountered many obstacles attempting to block my writing goals over the past seven months.

First, we canceled our baseball trip. I’ve written about this vaguely, which will have to do for now, but my travel blog’s URL, 32in32.com, became meaningless. The money I spent on the domain name, the name that represented our great baseball journey across the country became null and void. I almost quit before even starting my dream to become a writer over this fact alone. But I remember sitting with my dear friends, Jamie, Sandy, and Brittni, and they encouraged me to persevere, to not let this stop me. They helped me refocus my blog for a new purpose, appropriately christened 32in32: Keeping the Dream Alive. They helped me see that it didn’t matter what the URL said; what mattered was that I wasn’t giving up on my dream.

While my vision of our future was shattering back in December, my laptop was stolen by strangers who crashed a party my daughter had while we were out of town. As foolish as it sounds, my life was on that computer. It had pictures from Ian’s baby years on up that are now lost forever. All of my notes, thoughts, and drafts of future posts that I never printed out were on that laptop. I was devastated. In the midst of that pain, I was able to let go of it, thanking God that my daughter was safe. I started using our home computer, refusing to give up.

On the day I was going to publish my first post, a beloved student committed suicide. My world was turned upside down. I didn’t want to pursue my dreams anymore. I felt like a failure; obviously, I couldn’t impact my physical world with optimism, how could I dare to think I could influence the blogosphere? Instead of publishing on January 17, Ian’s birthday, a day that marked the celebration of Ian’s life, I published my first post the next day. With Jenny’s death an invisible current through that post, I published, not giving into my fears, but pushing forward, hoping to spread optimism through my sphere of influence. It worked with me first. I could not change the past; I could not prevent Jenny’s death. But I could work to prevent sadness and depression in others; counting my blessings pulled me out of the depths of despair. I hoped my posts would inspire others to count their blessings and feel the release of pain through choosing thankfulness over pain and regret.

Unbelievably, in the midst of an outpouring of ideas and writing bursts, I lost my home computer a few weeks later. At this point, I couldn’t believe that the universe was conspiring in my favor. How could it be? Everything that I needed to be a writer was being attacked or taken away. I was tempted to throw my hands up in defeat and walk away. But then, I was reminded of this Alchemist quote, and my resolve returned. All of the obstacles that I overcame up to this point made me stronger than I had ever been. I borrowed a laptop and continued to write. I was learning “to have patience in difficult times.”

Over Spring Break, I did a seemingly innocent activity that lead to months of unbearable pain: I went roller skating and fell hard, resulting in compressed and turned vertebrae in my neck. Essentially I had whiplash, leaving me unable to hold my head up for any length of time. I was in excruciating pain by the end of my teaching day, which left me unable to write or do anything when I got home. I went into physical therapy for two months. After a few adjustments, I was able to sit at my computer with a neck brace for short bursts of time. What did I choose to do, even while in pain, with these borrowed moments? Write. It was a clear indication that writing was my passion.

“Well, necessary or not, [defeats] happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” (vii).

No matter the circumstance, I pursued my dream. The obstacles, the fear, the defeats all lead to a greater conviction to pursue my dream. I fell five times, but I’ve gotten up six times. I won’t quit because I know I’m making a difference; even if it’s in my life only and no one else cares what I have to say, I have changed a life.

“Because, once we have overcome the defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure.” (vii)

I know I am “worthy of the miracle of life.” I’ve never had more confidence than I do now. I’ve found my voice, and I like how it sounds. I’m excited about every day and look forward to the joy it will bring. I continue to stumble and struggle, but I am not afraid of what my future holds. I will overcome any obstacle that comes my way.

“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.” (vii)

I have seen and lived with people who are entrapped by that bitterness. I will never become one of them because I have freed myself from the “bearable” suffering of pushing my dreams aside. Langston Hughes asks “What happens to a dream deferred?”

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I am happy to say that I am no longer deferring my dream. I am free from the “what ifs” that once burdened me.

How about you? Look around you. Do you see the bitterness? Do you feel the pain of a generation who has deferred its dreams? When you look in a mirror, do you see it in your eyes? When you sit in the silence, do you feel it in your heart? It’s not too late; but be ready to conquer your fears of defeat. It is truly worth it!

Are you ready to follow your dream?
Photo by Carol Linn Hawkins

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10 Responses to The Alchemist: #4-6 The Obstacle of Fear

  1. Sandy says:

    I won’t say much, but that was a beautiful post. So many quotes and reflections that just scream at reader. Live your life, live your dream. Thank you Pauline. Just beautiful.

  2. Jessie says:

    I like how you said that you just care that your writing is affecting you positively. That even if the only life you’re changing is yours thats enough. I liked that a lot. I think what people often forget is that their lives are worth changing, I forget that. Its easy to feel like the world’s victim, like utterly helpless but you didn’t let that stop you. You didn’t let any of these things stop you and that’s a great thing. I really liked this post because I’ve been meaning to ask you about how to look at blessings. If you look at the people who do commit suicide or just participate in self-defeating patterns of living, its not always that they don’t see their blessings, rather that they consider themselves unworthy of them. So what I was meaning to ask is where does that strength come from? How do you stop in a world full of change and uncertainty, where the things you value most can be taken from you in an instant? Even grief doesn’t last. Things just go on and they keep going- blessings change, dreams change. For some people this is comforting, it promotes the growth and strength that you’ve shown. Fear makes us cling to constants, fear makes us want everything to stay the same. When things change we feel challenged, we get depressed, we give up sometimes. How do you get to a place where you can feel deserving of your blessings? Like is there a magic button inside of us somewhere? Is there something that just some of us are missing? I’ve always felt like there was some magical perspective I was just born without. As lucky as I am to have a beautiful child and friends who instantly show up at my house the second they think I need them… I can’t shake that I’m not good enough for those blessings of mine. And I know you’ve shared similar issues in your past that you have blogged about already. I was just wondering how you get from there to where you are now. Where is the magic button? What are you seeing that I can’t? I’m sorry this is so long and personal.

    • Pauline says:

      Jessie,
      Those are great questions. It’s not a magic button; it’s the power of choice. I hope I don’t sound flippant about it because it’s not as simple as “I choose to be happy today” and boom, I’m happy. I make choices to be thankful, even when I want to be angry; I choose to forgive, even when I’m hurting. For example, I tried to forgive my father for years, but I was horribly unsuccessful. Finally, this year, I chose not to try anymore and just do it. I was sick of feeling like a victim. I was tired of giving my power away to the memories that had control of my life. I chose to give more weight to the man he was; I chose to see that his wonderful characteristics, whether I saw them or not growng up, were passed on to me and my brothers and our children. I cried while writing that post as I finally gave up my pain and replaced it with positive memories of my dad. At first I felt naked in a way: Who was I without my poor-abused-child mantra? I had to build a new identity for myself. With every choice I made to look at what is good in my life instead of what is bad, I chose my new identity. I am a blessed woman. I didn’t see it before, but I do now. I have made choosing to be positive a habit, so it is coming more easily now. I’m not perfect at it, by any means, but I don’t stay in negativity for very long anymore.
      Add to the power of choice, my desire to pursue my dream, and I have rebuilt, or better yet, rediscovered who I was truly created to be. Choosing to be positive, counting my blessings, pursuing my dreams without letting defeat discourage me (get knocked down six times, get up seven times), all have created that “magic button” that’s not really a magic button, it’s just starting to look that way. I refused to give up. I am valuable because I’m a living, breathing person on this earth, regardless of whether I was told that or not growing up. I know it to be true now and that makes all my past suffering beautiful because it freed me today.
      I also have faith. Faith in a higher being. I know religion has screwed people up, but I don’t have faith in religion; I have faith in a supreme being. I believe I was created by a loving Creator for a wonderful purpose.
      All of these things are working together in my life to fill me with joy. It doesn’t mean I don’t get angry. I do, but I choose not to stay there.
      I hope I answered your questions. Please ask more or ask for clarification on anything I said. I love having these conversations with you 🙂
      Pauline

      • Jessie says:

        that makes a lot of sense actually. I’ve just been thinking a lot about choices. Does a person choose to be depressed? Does a person choose to be a drug addict? Well to an extent, yes, nothing is stopping them from changing other than themselves. Actions are choices. But can we change our perceptions? I think that what you suggest of focusing on the positives is a huge part of that. Like when I first started surrounding myself who were always pointing out my positive aspects, it was weird at first haha. Eventually I started gearing my mind toward telling myself these things. Over time it does become more natural. But I still feel like something is missing. Like as much as I now see positive stuff that is there, that I didn’t see before, I still see this absence. There is this absence of something that should be there and isn’t. I mean, is positivity overlooking sadness, absences, and negativity? Or is it accepting these things? Holding hands with the negatives and how do you accept the negatives without being overcome and rundown by them? How do you realize there is this pain in the world and often in ourselves without letting it take over your life? Sorry I’ve been in a weird mood lately. Just wondering about these things.

      • Pauline says:

        I’ve lived with depression all my life. Even after I worked through my emotional pain, I still had bouts with depression because of a chemical imbalance. Having a chemical imbalance isn’t a choice I made, but how I dealt with it is a choice. I didn’t want to get on medication; some people need it. I didn’t. What I did need, I discovered, was exercise. I try to exercise every day, even if it’s just walking. It’s made a huge difference; I rarely feel the depression now.
        I believe in being realistic, so I acknowledge the pain; however, I don’t let that pain take away my choices. When Ian was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, I cried; I was in shock; I shook my fist at God. That’s how I acknowledged my pain. I would never have chosen that for my son, but it was my reality; it was painful; I was angry, but I didn’t stay there. I chose to believe in his healing; the data showed that positive thinking has an effect on the outcome of cancer. I embraced that belief, which then became part of my everyday life. If positivity could help defeat cancer, what else could it do?
        It turns out to be a whole lot. With every new situation, I look at what I have control over and make choices to make the best of it. I don’t use Scarlet O’Hara’s mantra, “I can’t think about it today. I’ll think about it tomorrow when I can handle it. After all, tomorrow is another day!” She didn’t want to accept reality, so she put off thinking about it. I don’t agree with the denial of reality, but I agree with what she did do, which is give herself enough distance between her pain and her dreams to come up with a plan of action that would help her get back on track.
        Acknowledge the pain, but then choose to turn it into something positive.
        Does that help?

      • Jessie says:

        It does! I agree that being positive certainly helps a situation especially in the kind of situations that evoke inner turmoil. I started journaling on my own and I make it a goal to end everything postively no matter what I’m writing about it has to end on a positive note and that does make a huge difference in how I feel and live my life- just ending things positively. I do see the value in that. I also agree in finding other ways to deal with depression if that works for you. Something being chemical, like you are saying, doesn’t mean a person has to be helpless to it. I guess I’ve just been reading some books for school that have been messing with my head a bit, I have no control over what I’m forced to read for school but what people put into their minds and bodies have a huge effect on their happiness, like you’ve said, its true. But when theres a book and I read it and I recognize that the message is true and there is no way that I can analyze it positively. Well words are a powerful thing, they change the way you view the world. I like your idea of having a mantra. A good mantra that is actually positive, that could probably help a lot. Thanks.

  3. Tim says:

    Thank you Pauline! I needed to read this.

  4. Tim says:

    Beautiful

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