Maktub: A Book & A Word That Changed My Life

Maktub an Arabic word that stands for, it is written.

I first discovered this word when I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. To say that the moment I read this book was timely is an understatement.

I received the book at the very crux of discovering what I wanted to strive towards. I was a junior in college, going through the same struggle that all of us go through at the peak of our adolescence. This peak being the challenge of figuring out what I want to do with my life.

I was studying music theory at the time, struggling with the curriculum I was being taught. As I was lamenting over the daily experiences, a dear friend of mine told me I had to read this book. The main reason was that they cared for my sanity and knew that it would help me one thousand times more than it did her if I had read this book before graduating.

I read this book with no definitive expectations. I’m truly indebted to her for the lessons I learned from this reading this book. I don’t often read a book more than once, but with this one, in particular, I find that I always learn something new after each read.

A brief intro to Paulo’s masterpiece

The story is about a boy reaching adulthood in Egypt. The main character searches for a treasure he cannot find.

The main character ends up meeting many mentors that are wiser than him. Through his tutelage, he realizes that his mentors aren’t necessarily teaching him lessons he needs—he’s realizing through his own actions, what the main character already knows about himself.

The mentors teach him about the omens of the world—the daily opportunities and distractions that surround us on a daily basis.

The first mentor he encounters eventually tells him about a journey he must go on, a journey that the boy saw in a dream.

It’s important to learn the language of the world

The “language” or “Soul of the World” is mentioned several times in this book. The author uses this phrase as a central tool to explain how the protagonist is able to intuitively avoid conflict and seek out the opportunities before him. I believe that the language is a reference to our own intuition. Certain things cannot be learned by reading books, only life experience can teach us the most important lessons in life.

The protagonist is well read, having attended university before the journey in the plot even began. But he learns fairly quickly that cognitive ability shouldn’t be confused with maturity. Just because one could be “book smart” doesn’t necessarily ensure their success when faced with life’s many trials.

One of my favorite themes that is derived from the language of the world motif is that of attaining knowledge from oneself—without relying on academia. More importantly, the character’s ability to tune into this language of the world increases in potency as he as eventually begins to experience failures along the way. The failures he experiences help him train his intuition and powers of observation.

Challenges should be welcomed

The true test of one’s character doesn’t come from when he succeeds but, from how he reacts to failure. It’s also important to note that the ideal reaction to failure is the ability to step back and learn from it. The protagonist in the story finds himself consistently challenged when he begins his journey towards and through the deserts of Africa. Among his many trials, there was a specifically amusing one that struck a chord with me.

Without providing too many spoilers, someone who befriends the main character ends up lying to him. After this event occurs and the protagonist is fully aware of what has transpired, he begins to lament his situation. What he soon realizes is that even with all the time in the world, worrying really doesn’t benefit him at all. Instead of giving up and going back home, he finds a way to collect his thoughts and set a plan of attack moving forward.

Failure will always be a presence in our lives, and if we are attuned to that fact—the failures we experience will be more palatable (especially as we experience them in the moment). When we face our challenges head-on, even if we fail, the sheer fact that we took the time to at least try makes us better people. More importantly, when do this it also affects the people around us. One of my favorite quotes of the book is on page 150 when the Paulo Coelho writes, “That’s what alchemists do. They show that, when we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

You are a part of a network of people and with that fact in mind, whenever you try to improve yourself you indirectly improve the network you are a part of as well. People learn not only through action, they also learn from observing others. When we take the initiative to deliberately put ourselves in uncomfortable situations we help expand our collective consciousness (the consciousness which we have within ourselves and that which we share with others).

Related: Failure Is Your Friend & You’re Going To Fail A Lot

No matter what happens, follow your personal legend

“No matter what he does, every person on earth plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn’t know it (page 158-9).”

Individuality is necessary as we grow if we forget what makes us who we are—if we do not assert ourselves against the world—we won’t be attuned to the opportunities that present themselves to us every day. Our lives are defined not only by the opportunities we take but, also by the opportunities we miss. As we navigate our careers and daily lives, it’s important to always remember what we are working towards.

Goal setting only works if you:

  1. Track your progress on a regular basis.
  2. Ensure that your goals prioritize maximizing happiness.

Optimal goal setting isn’t possible if we set our goals and dreams based on what others want from us—family, friends, or society. Furthermore focusing on what other people’s goals are (or personal legends as they are referred to in the book), is a trap. You should only measure your own progress and no one else’s. You’d be wasting valuable energy that could be used for planning and execution if you’re trying to juggle your attention between your life and someone else’s.

Paulo is an amazing writer and I’m sure that if you read this book, you’ll learn some of these lessons yourself and see some that I might have looked past.

If you do read this book, or already have, I’d love to hear from you. What did you learn while reading it? Is there anything I’ve written here that you don’t agree with? Let’s talk in the comments section below or send me a message!

Maktub my friends.

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