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Learn How to Make Lead Useful Before Digging For Gold


I reread The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for the second time. The first time I read it was about 4 years ago, and I can confidently say that it changed my life. After reading it the second time I’ve now deemed it a necessary read every couple years to help myself focus on where I am on my journey to reaching my destiny. For those of you who have never read the book, I highly recommend reading it. It is available for free all over the internet and has been translated into 70 languages, making it one of the top 20 most translated books of all time. I won’t ruin the book but I would like to share with you some of the impactful thoughts and understandings that I took away from the book in my second reading. As a brief overview, the story’s main character and protagonist is a boy name Santiago from Spain. He is a Spanish shepard who became a shepard instead of a priest so that he could travel. He has a dream that causes him to leave his sheep in Spain and travel across the strait into Morocco in search of his destiny. Early on in his journey, Santiago was down on his luck and had no money or food. He was starving for both food and an opportunity to get back on his feet. He found an old shop owner after crossing into Tangier, Morocco who had a prime location and nice glassware to sell, but the shop was as old and dusty as the old man who sat behind the counter running the store. Santiago saw an opportunity to make a proposal to the shop owner to trade his labor for some food. Santiago hung around the shop and transferred his young, fresh energy into the store in a way that hadn’t been done for many years. Santiago and the shop owner had discussed their dreams with each other during Santiago’s stint working at the shop. Eventually Santiago’s new ideas and energy had afforded them enough money to further pursue each other’s dreams. Santiago prepared to leave Tangier, and expected the same of the shopkeeper, but the shopkeeper told him — “The difference between you and I is that I just want to dream about going to Mecca, but you want to realize your dreams.” This line makes me think about how so many people are afraid to leave what they know and what they have. Part of being free is living with uncertainty. It is natural to doubt things because when we make mistakes it is easy for us to be critical of ourselves. It is easy to say “oh well, I just can’t do it” and move on. Pushing yourself to another level is something that involves both uncertainty and hard work, and for many, can scare themselves back to safety. You all are pushing yourselves to really improve your English in an unprecedented time of economic and health uncertainty. Even if your reason is to help yourself succeed at your current job, it’s still with the intention to take yourself to a level that has not been possible before. Many of you are working with me to take yourself to a completely new level, such as a completely new job that requires English or even a new job in a new country. I can’t express in words the amount of respect I have for each of you. Your energy and drive for improvement is what gets me out of bed every day with a smile on my face. Your efforts are truly commendable. I couldn’t be more grateful to think that I might be even just a small part of the impact that each one of you will have on your world, and in turn our world. For me the toughest level to break through was the initial one as I entered my professional career after college. As you now know, I was set back 6 months from graduation without a job. But once I got a job, I found out quickly that I wasn’t quite worth what I thought I was (according to my paycheck, which is the ultimate “scorecard” of life…so they say). I found out that I needed to to be valuable as lead (the metal) before being considered gold. My current job was really where I thought I would discover myself as gold. I described my current job as “my dream job” in an email to my parent’s friend who helped me with my cover letter and resumé that I eventually sent in to apply for my current job. I recently found this email while searching for the cover letter that he helped me with to show a few of you as an example while helping prepare you all for job interviews. But here I am now, on the verge of leaving what I considered at one point my dream job just 2 years ago, and a steady paycheck/life (salary), in search of my destiny with no stable weekly income in a whole new town…and I don’t feel the least bit uncomfortable or afraid. I’m crazy, I know that for sure, but what is important is that I accept it, and know how to deal with it. I can’t think of one person in my life or the in the world that I wouldn’t consider crazy in some sense. In terms of changing the world I always tend to think of Steve Jobs, as he was my idol growing up in this technological world, and Elon Musk as well. In terms of “crazy” people that shaped my life, I can’t help but think of my high school English teacher Mr. Brown (now Dr. Brown) and my teacher Mr. Saunders who taught me 4 different subjects in college. Dr. Brown was the best player of “devil’s advocate” that I think I have ever come across. He was/is extremely open minded and definitely played a role in shaping how I think about things logically and in terms of weighing pros/cons. Mr. Saunders was a teacher who came from “the real world” unlike (almost) all of my other engineering teachers. He demanded respect in a way that is hard to describe because it was so natural. He would do anything to help his students, but sometimes, that was by making you figure it out yourself. You didn’t just feel obligated to do your best for him, you wanted to. He coined a phrase that I’ll never forget- “The best you can do is always good enough. Good enough is never the best you can do.” — Robert Saunders, University of Arkansas, Electrical Engineering He knew what the real world demanded so he demanded what would make you successful. He taught multiple classes, from the beginning levels of electrical engineering to the most advanced, but he always related each problem to the most elementary problem in electrical engineering. Essentially, Mr. Saunders was telling us that if you break every problem down to its root, it is a basic problem that you’ve already faced, and for that lesson I’m forever grateful. Gold is Only Worth Keeping if Lead Exists You can open doors for others by sharing your story, and others can allow you to see new horizons by sharing their stories with you. You don’t always have to understand exactly what they’re telling you in order to see these new horizons, you just have to listen. Always ask questions, but ask questions that are objective and that will lead the storyteller to explain what you don’t understand in a way that you can relate. The biggest mistake that you can make is to only just hear someone that is telling you a story. Hearing keeps doors closed, listening kicks them open. “The closer one gets to realizing his destiny, the more that destiny becomes his true reason for being” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist Just as gold and lead can both be shaped and formed for their perspective applications, we are shaped and formed by those who surround us and the experiences we encounter. We often see those of whom that we deem “successful” as “gold” and ourselves as “lead (worthless).” “Imagine if everyone went around turning lead into gold. Gold would lose its value. It’s only those who are persistent and study things deeply who achieve the Master Work.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist. It’s important to know that gold has held value over time because no matter how hard we have tried, we are only able to bring out 2% of the current supply out of the earth, year after year after year, for thousands of years. This insinuates that it is hard work to mine gold. However, I think that it is important to realize that we need to function more like lead until we find our destiny. Understanding that you can constantly learn and be shaped to improve your surroundings can be much more powerful than feeling like you don’t need to improve and are the most valuable asset to all of those around you. Gold is mostly kept around as a store of value, or used as a conductor, because it’s good at connecting things. But if those things that need connected aren’t functioning properly, then gold is just being kept around looking shiny. Gold has its purpose, but lead also has its purpose which is equally as valuable, if not more. “Everyone has his or her own way of learning things. His way isn’t the same as mine. Nor mine as his. But we’re both in search of our destinies, and I respect him for that.” There is a theme in the Alchemist that every time a book is mentioned someone says that all books have the same conclusion. Early on the king mentions to Santiago that they all tell a lie, in that fate chooses what you do over time, and that you won’t find/reach your destiny. I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter if other people already have/are doing something that you want to do. What is important is that you try to do what you want to do, and bring your own flavor to it. If it’s what you want to do, you will find your own unique ways to provide value to others. We each learn and do in different ways and you never know how valuable it can be to someone else to see how you think and do. If you’re trying to do something solely for the money, you will be too blinded by profit/loss to let your true self thrive in what you want to do, and in turn you won’t be able to reach your true potential. The joy that can be brought to you by doing what truly makes you happy is worth more than any lump of shiny metal on the earth. The [man] found a guy in the desert who he explained that he had been studying how to convert lead into gold all his life. The old man simply asked him “Have you ever tried?” and [the man] replied “That’s what I came here to learn.” The old man told him that he should try. As a kid growing up, especially when it came to playing sports or solving math problems, I just did things. I didn’t question what I did and I didn’t worry about failure. Only once I got to college did I begin to doubt myself, which followed me into my professional career. Thankfully, my first boss out of college encouraged me to make mistakes and be transparent so that I would learn. This helped me to quickly gain my confidence back and learn at a fast rate as I felt comfortable to ask questions and felt no shame in admitting that I was wrong. Always go after your dreams. Go for your dreams. But realize that something that you think is your dream can turn out to just be a piece of the journey. Upon realizing that, make sure you do what you need to do to make it a valuable part of your journey. Wherever you are right now, whether you’re already speaking a lot of English in your job or whether that is your aim, realize that you are in a situation where you can learn a lot. Being able to analyze a situation and understand what all of your colleagues brings to the table for you is important, and of course, it’s very important to understand what you bring to the table for them as well. You may love what you are doing right now, and you may not. If you realize that what you are doing is a learning experience no matter what, you will succeed. It may be your destiny, or it may be just a small part of your journey. This is something that is important to assess because at the end of the day, it’s your happiness on the line. “I only invoked what you already knew” — said the alchemist to the boy. I have full confidence in all of you that you know what you want to say. I’m just here to squeeze out of you what you really want to say in English. Again, the analogy that I like to make is that you speak your native tongue like a butcher’s knife that can articulate any fine point very sharply, whereas your English knife is very dull, like a butterknife. There is no substitute for sharpening your knife as there is practicing by talking.

WRITTEN BY Tony Sossong Talk With Tone Blog — Helping Non-Native English Speakers Improve in Business English and Sounding Native


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