by David McElroy
Harry Bernstein’s first book was published when he was 96 years old. After a life in which he supported himself as an MGM script reader and as editor of a construction magazine, it wasn’t until five years before his death that anyone would take his books seriously.
Over the years, he had written 40 other books, but they had all been rejected by publishers. He ended up destroying those manuscripts. But after he finally had a first book accepted — a memoir of the anti-Semitism he experienced as a child in England — he wrote and published three more books in his late 90s.
Bernstein said his 90s “have been the most productive years of my life.”
I’d never heard of Bernstein until I came across this quote a few days ago. I’ve still never read any of his work, so I have no opinion about it and I have no idea whether any of those 40 destroyed manuscripts were lost masterpieces. But as someone whose life hasn’t turned out — so far — the way he planned, I was struck by the lesson of his life. Maybe it’s never too late to become what you always knew you were intended to be.
I’ve written before about my frustration with losing touch with the person I had once been — with somehow losing the confidence and drive to achieve that I had felt in my youth. I’ve been thinking about variations on this theme for the last few years, but it’s really accelerated in the last six or eight months. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about my fears of never doing anything meaningful with my life.
I always assumed that people who achieve something meaningful have a linear and obvious path to their success, but what I’m learning is that success looks much more obvious and predictable when you’re looking back at someone’s life, not speculating about what it might be in the future. And I’m also finally accepting that the path to something meaningful is rarely straight and obvious.