Bernie Swain


Reading the Book of Life

by Bernie Swaine

Success and accomplishment don’t happen in a vacuum; they rise from our most profound experiences—if we’re paying attention.

I credit Alex Haley, the author of Roots and one of the most compelling people we’ve had the privilege to represent, for helping me to recognize that. One day in the late eighties, Alex showed up at our office unannounced. He was like that—even though he was one of the best-known writers in the country at that time, he would just walk into our office and sit with us for an hour or more, talking and sharing stories. That day, Alex repeated one of his favorite sayings: “When an old person dies, it’s like a library burning.”

The phrase stuck with me, and as time passed, I began to understand more of what he meant.  Each life—the famous ones we’ve heard about, the millions that go uncelebrated—is defined by experiences that present choices and offer lessons. They shape who we are, and they fill us up, like pages in a book.

The most important pages in your book, and mine, are turning points. Who or what has influenced your life the most?  How have you been changed? What are your lessons learned?

These key experiences start in childhood, of course, with our parents. They accrue in school, during our first romance, and in college or the military. And from career moves, marriage and kids. Those are the turning points that we set in motion. Others are unexpected and often unwelcome. We suffer from injury or illness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job. We experience adversity, failure, misfortune and crisis.

The closer you pay attention to these experiences, the stronger and wiser you become—and the more successful and accomplished you can be.

As we get older, one book of life follows another, filling shelf after shelf with volumes that contain everything we have gone through, and learned from (or should have). Ultimately, each of our lives becomes a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge, its own library, stuffed to the rafters.

But before putting each book on the shelf, you would be wise to study it closely.