…by Prill Boyle

We are born to dream. Think about it. Where would we be, who would we be, without our dreams? Most of the great inventions of the world, much of the forward movement of human civilization, have been fueled by dreams. So it should come as no surprise that for many of us, finding purpose means putting our dreams into action.

For the past seven years, I\’ve been interviewing people who later in life have done just that. And in writing a book about the experience, I realized a dream of my own.

Analyzing what I\’ve learned in the process and how it might apply to people of all ages, I\’ve come up with what I call “The Five Ps of Finding Purpose.”

Last month I spoke about these five principles to a variety of groups in Botswana and discovered that they pertain to all sorts of other endeavors. They could just as easily be called “The Five P\’s of Becoming a True Leader” or “The Five P\’s of Achieving Success.” Although they\’re not sophisticated concepts, each presents its own set of challenges.

P #1 = Possibility. Embrace it! Almost anything is possible if we\’re willing to let go of our limiting ideas of ourselves. (Ah, there\’s the rub!) Leaders and late bloomers alike begin their journeys by envisioning a future where their dreams have taken shape. Take Susan B. Anthony, who imagined women one day having the right to vote and spent her life championing the cause. Today we have a woman who is the Speaker of the House and another who is running for President. Or consider Linda Bach, who believed it was still possible in her 40\’s to become a doctor. At age 50, she graduated from the University of Miami Medical School. (Note: If you want to stretch your vision, I recommend reading The Art of Possibility, a wonderful how-to book co-written by Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander and his wife Rosamund.)

P #2 = Presence. Pay attention! If you want to discover a passion and figure out how to pursue it, pay attention to the opportunities and signs that present themselves in the here and now. Listen to your body. (A wrenching gut is often a warning cry.) Most of us spend too much time in our heads thinking about the past and theorizing about the future. We forget to breathe in the beauty of life. In doing so, we often miss the gifts that are right in front of us.

P #3 = Passion. Explore it! Ask yourself what gives you joy. Our passions not only lead to our purpose, they\’re the propellant that allows us to surmount the obstacles that inevitably come between us and our goals. I recently saw Kelly Clarkson on a re-run of American Idol. Prior to being on the show, Clarkson couldn\’t consistently support herself with her music, but loved singing too much to give up hope. Performing Aretha Franklin\’s “Natural Woman” in front of the Idol audience and judges, she sang with her whole being, not just belting out the tune, but taking risk after risk with her interpretation. She looked like she born to be on stage. All of her competitors had talent. They wouldn\’t have made it to the finals if they hadn\’t. But Clarkson exuded more joy, more heart than anyone else there. No wonder she\’s gone on to win two Grammy awards!

P #4 = Practice. Do it! Whether you long to be a marathon runner, a writer, or a political activist, the pay-off comes with practice. Here in the States we tend to think that talent trumps all. But a study of musicians conducted by British psychologist John Sloboda suggests otherwise. To his amazement, Sloboda discovered that the performers who scored best were practicing 800 percent more than the ones at the bottom. “People have this idea that there are those who … can get further on less effort,” Sloboda says. “On average, our data refuted that.” (For the full story, go to www.gladwell.com and read Malcolm Gladwell\’s December 17,2001 New Yorker column entitled “Examined Life.”)

P #5 = Persistence. Keep at it! Most people give up on their dreams too soon. But not Ed Viesturs. Determined to climb Everest, Viesturs was forced to turn back twice just short of his goal. The third time he made it to the top, becoming the first American to summit the 14 tallest peaks in the world. You may have no desire to climb mountains; but whatever your goals are, the way to achieve them is to keep moving forward. If you\’re not progressing as fast as you\’d like or experiencing the results you\’ve imagined, take an honest look at yourself and re-evaluate. Everyone makes mistakes. Chances are, the more successful you are, the more you\’ve made. (After all, you\’ve probably taken more risks.) Learn from your blunders and move on. Detours are often part of the journey. But as Viesturs says, “There are no shortcuts to the top.”

Prill Boyle is the author of Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women (Emmis Books, 2004). To learn more, go to http://www.prillboyle.com or visit Prill\’s blog at http://defyinggravitynow.blogspot.com.