…by Prill Boyle

What do you really want?

If you have no idea, you\’ve got lots of company. Researchers at the Institute for Happiness Studies estimate that only one in ten Americans ever bother to ask themselves that question, let alone act on it.

Okay, so I made that statistic up. Heck, I even made the organization up. But look around. Does it seem all that far-fetched that only a tenth of your friends and neighbors have seriously asked themselves what they really want to do? I mean, if they had, would they be living their lives the way they are?

Would you?

Five years ago, I asked the daughter of a friend this same question. Unclear about what direction she wanted her life to take, she was considering two options: getting a Ph.D. in psychology, or studying writing and directing at the American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco.

For as long as I\’ve known her, this young woman has wanted to write and direct plays. But for her, the choice wasn\’t clear-cut. Twenty-seven years old, she was tired of working at a job she didn\’t find fulfilling and worried that she would be poor forever if she went the writing/directing route. She reasoned that if she earned a doctorate in psychology, she would someday be able to open up a private practice, get out of debt, and write in her spare time.

Unable to answer the question, she hemmed and hawed.

What if money weren\’t an issue?” I asked.

“But money is an issue,” she insisted. “How can I pretend it\’s not?”

The harder I pressed, the more exasperated she got. “I don\’t know what I want,” she finally wailed.

At my wits\’ end, I said, “Look, sweetie. If I told you I\’d pay all your expenses for one summer to enroll in either a psychology program or the ACT, which would you choose?”

After a long silence, she said, “You mean, you would do that?”

“Yes,” I said, although truthfully I didn\’t know how.

And immediately, literally without a second of hesitation, she said, “I\’d apply to the ACT!”

The next morning, she e-mailed me. “Oh my God! Aeahhhh!” she wrote. “I actually cried all night. I sat in the bath and cried and cried. It was uncontrollable, strange and profound. I realized that I hadn\’t really wanted anything like this since I was a child. In other words, all of the things I\’ve been doing haven\’t been things I\’ve really wanted (not on a deep, deep level anyway). I feel like I\’ve been denying some essential part of myself that DESIRES things.”

She ended up taking a leave of absence from her job and enrolling in the ACT summer program. (My mom, as it turns out, was thrilled to pay her tuition.) It was a life-changing experience. Since then, she has written, directed and produced a play that premiered in San Francisco and co-written a screenplay that was made into a feature-length film. She\’s currently working on her second screenplay. She\’s not quite at the point where she can support herself with her writing, but at least she\’s clear that this is what she wants.

And that\’s the heart of the matter.

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.