The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on June 9, 2011.
Several people have told me how impressed and inspired they were by the woman I wrote about in my column last week. She’s in her late 70s, and contacted me recently about Dream Coaching because she knows she’s got some talents and gifts that she’s not using, and she doesn’t want to waste them.
“I’ve got 25 good years left,” she told me, “and I want to make the most of them.”
One of the people I heard from also sent me a link to an Associated Press article and a note that said, “Thought this might be of inspiration to your readers.”
I think so, too. The article was about Harry Bernstein, who just passed away at the age of 101. He was an author who’s had three memoirs published in recent years, and who wrote another book that’s due out next year. His first memoir, The Invisible Wall, was published when he was – drum roll, please – 96 years old!
He started writing the book as a form of therapy after the death of his wife of 62 years. He has actually written 40 other books over the years, but he destroyed most of those manuscripts after they were rejected by publishers. He knows a little about the other side of that coin, since he once – at a job where he read and summarized manuscripts for movie theaters –took a quick glance at a thick manuscript and then described it as “just another historical romance.” The book was Gone with the Wind.
I don’t know where to start in talking about the lessons and inspiration we can take from Harry Bernstein. The most obvious, of course, is that it’s never too late, and you’re never too old. Another is the fact that some of our greatest strengths and accomplishments can grow out of our deepest sorrows and difficulties. Not only did Bernstein start writing in order to deal with the grief of losing his beloved wife, but the book he wrote is about his childhood spent in poverty with an abusive and alcoholic father, while living with violent anti-Semitism on a street divided down the middle between Christians and Jews.
What broke my heart most of all while reading about Bernstein is that he destroyed most of his manuscripts after publishers rejected them. I can only imagine the poignancy, brilliance and insights that were in them and are now lost to the world. And I think of other authors and works that were rejected dozens – or even hundreds – of times before finding a publisher, as well as fame and fortune. Names like Dr. Seuss, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind was rejected 38 times before being published), Stephen King, and J.K.Rowling.
So I’m going to take this opportunity to say again the things I’ve often said to my clients, readers, friends, and pretty much anyone who will listen:
Follow your heart and pursue your dreams. Don’t allow yourself to get derailed or distracted by how long it will take, how late you are in getting started, or how many people tell you that you’re crazy, you’re wasting your time, or what you want to do is impossible.
Write about it whenever you find yourself struggling with a problem, an issue, a mental block, or an emotional upset. Writing is good therapy. It can help you put your thoughts and feelings into words, and can give you a fresh, new perspective on whatever you’re going through. Plus it may turn into a bestseller if you ever decide to pursue publication.
Ignore the opinion of others if those opinions cause you to get frustrated or discouraged, or to quit trying. There are a lot of different opinions in the world, and a lot of different reasons for them. The only one that really matters is your own.
And finally, please let me know if you hear of any other stories about people who accomplished great things later in life. I love hearing them, and I always enjoy meeting or learning of the people about whom I can say, “I want to be just like them when I grow up!”
© Betty Liedtke, 2011