I’m listening to the audiobook version of The Alchemist by Paul Coelho right now. Early on, the book talks about the idea of personal legends, which are what every person most wants to have happen in their lives — their real, visceral hopes and dreams. Here is an exchange between an old man and the book’s main character, a young shepherd:

“Why do you tend the flock of sheep?”

“Because I like to travel.”

The old man pointed to a baker standing in his shop window at one corner of the plaza.

“When he was a child, that man wanted to travel too. But, he decided first to buy his bakery and put some money aside. When he’s an old man, he’s going to spend a month in Africa. He never realized that people are capable at anytime of their lives of doing what they dream of.”

“He should have decided to become a shepherd,” the boy said.

“Well he thought about that,” the old man said. “But bakers are more important people than shepherds. Bakers have homes, while shepherds sleep out in the open. Parents would rather see their children marry bakers than shepherds.”

The boy felt a pang in his heart, thinking about the merchant’s daughter. There was surely a baker in her town.

The old man continued. “In the long run, what people think about shepherds and bakers becomes more important for them than their own personal legends.”

At first this passage seems to be against saving up money for the future, but that’s not really the case. It’s actually against saving up dreams for the future. It’s against living life in fear of “what people might think”; against being afraid to be who you really are and do what you really want to do.

The unwillingness to be who you really are and do what you really want to do is frequently tied to personal finance. After all, if what you really want to do is travel the world, you don’t need to squeeze that travel into a two week annual vacation, because you don’t need to have a “real job”. If you’re willing to forgo the conventional notion that you must pay for expensive schooling so that you can spend your life working to buy a car, a house, and all the latest gadgets, you can spend your life living your dreams instead of someone else’s reality.

Just writing that caused me to imagine a mental chorus of people saying things like “well that’s fine for some people, but I have a family and responsibility” or “Oh I could never do that”. The thing is, if you believe that, then you’re right. But money should be a tool that helps you achieve your dreams, not one that delays them or causes them to disappear. Only by being willing to go for our real dreams, even though it might mean acting unconventionally, can we truly be happy.

Like the book says, you have to choose between something you’ve become accustomed to, and something you want to have. It doesn’t have to be traveling — it could be wanting to be an artist, a counselor, a programmer, or a mom. Use your finances to help you achieve your dreams, not to get in the way of your dreams.