…by Prill Boyle

How does one discover a calling? The honest answer is, I\’m not sure. For the majority of us, I suspect, the seeds appear in childhood. (My interviews with late bloomers bear this out.) But other than that, I can\’t really say.

What I have noticed, however, is that serendipity often plays a role.

Take one of the first late bloomers I ever interviewed, Linda Bach, whose chance encounter with a medical student at a bar in the Cayman Islands changed her life. As Linda and the young man got to chatting, she confessed that she\’d always wanted to go to medical school. “Well, why don\’t you go now?” the man said. She was in her forties. Surely, she thought, no school would want her as a student. But when the man assured her that schools today accept older applicants, she opened up to the idea. That one brief exchange launched her medical career.

A similar encounter prompted me to quit my teaching job. I was steps away from the Human Resources office at a local community college, application in hand for a full-time position that had opened up (I\’d been teaching part-time), when I ran into one of my students. Pointing to a job announcement sheet posted on the bulletin board next to the office, he asked me if the large envelope I was holding contained my application for the new position. “As a matter of fact, it does,” I said.

He looked me straight in the eye. “You shouldn\’t apply.”

I was floored. “Why not?” I asked.

I don\’t remember his exact answer, but the gist was that he thought I was a great teacher, but not “living large” enough. (His words, not mine.) I\’d been feeling this myself, and to have those thoughts validated by a virtual stranger stopped me in my tracks.

In my gut, I knew that I not only didn\’t feel good about applying for the promotion, but I wanted to quit the job I already had. What I really yearned to do was to write. Every time I imagined attending faculty meetings and being on various committees, my energy drained away. But when I thought about plunging into book writing, my heart soared.

The problem was, I\’d convinced myself that I didn\’t have what it took to be an author. I kept thinking, You have a great idea for a book on late bloomers, but no clue how to proceed.

It turns out that all I needed was a little outside push, which is where my student-and serendipity-came in.

Of course, there were lots of details to sort through-mostly financial. (A topic for another column.) But the point is that this simple conversation with my student propelled me to move forward with my dream.

The stories go on and on. But the moral of each is the same. Stay open. Leave some wiggle room in your life. Who knows? A chance encounter could usher you into a whole new world.

Prill Boyle is the author of Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women (Emmis Books, 2004). To read more inspiring stories, tips, and anecdotes, go to Prilll\’s blog: http://defyinggravitynow.blogspot.com.