In this series, we put the spotlight on some of the most admirable women out there. Women with empowering stories to share. Inspiring, worthy women. In this first edition, meet Prill Boyle, author of the book Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women. Read and share with worthy women around you!
How did you find your personal best self? Describe your journey to re-energize and find your joys that keep you balanced in the business world today.
“The self” is not a stable construct. Influenced by forces both in and out of our control, we are always evolving, even when it feels like we’re standing still.
So the question is not so much how I found my personal best self, but how I kept energized and finding joy in my 30s, 40s, 50s and now 60s.
The simple but by no means comprehensive answer is that I kept asking two simple questions: “What am I doing that I want to stop? What am I not doing that I want to start?”
When I asked myself these questions in my 30s, I decided I wanted to stop being a PTA president and community activist and go to college to become a high-school English teacher. In my 40s, I experienced the fruits of that endeavor, teaching not only at McLean High School in McLean, Virginia but also at a community college in Connecticut.
When I asked myself these questions in my 50s, I decided I wanted to stop teaching long enough to write a book about so-called ordinary women who accomplished extraordinary things later in life. The fruits of that endeavor took me on a national book tour, led me to host a local TV show and give a speech at the United Nations, and culminated in a month-long trip to Africa to speak to schools and businesses about some of the women I’d interviewed and how to break down goals into manageable steps.
Now in my 60s, I’ve just completed my first novel, a process that, again, began by asking myself those same two questions. This time, I decided I didn’t want to write another book of true stories. What I wanted was to write a “defying gravity” novel, which is what I’ve done.
The bottom line: So long as we’re learning and growing and finding joy in our lives, we are our best selves.
What was your motivation to launch your business endeavor? Who inspired you?
My inspiration was a 65-year old Kentucky woman named Wini Yunker. On January 31, 2000, I read a NYT article about her. She had waited 39 years to fulfill her dream of joining the Peace Corps and was leaving that day for Ukraine. At the time I read this article I was teaching community college, and I was struck by how similar Wini was to my students. Like many of them, she was a single parent. Like many of them, she worked full-time to make ends meet. Like many of them, she went to school nights and weekends to get the degree she needed to achieve her goal. I was so inspired by this woman’s story that I decided to write a book about people like her, people who, despite numerous obstacles, didn’t give up on themselves and their dreams. My original intention wasn’t to write a book for women in midlife; my hope was to write a book that would provide role models for my students.
How do you handle a bad day? When you didn’t think you could see your vision thru, what kept you going?
Of course, sometimes even doing this little feels like too much. Most of us experience failure and rejection at some point, and the more successful we are, the more of both we’ll probably have. When publisher after publisher turned down Defying Gravity, I was demoralized, but I understood that my work would never see the light of day unless I kept trying. Eventually, my agent sold the book.
That said, it’s okay to have pity party from time to time so long as you don’t wallow in despair. There’s nothing wrong with shedding a few tears, eating a bowl of Haagen Dazs and watching a night of “Fixer Upper” on HGTV.
What I’ve come to realize is that most of us have both fertile and fallow periods, and often it’s those fallow periods that end up seeding the fertile ones.
What words of advice would you offer women on their empowerment journey to relaunch themselves?
First, be honest with yourself. As I said above, ask my 2 questions: “What am I doing that I want to stop? What am I not doing that I want to begin?” Even if you have no idea what your passions and gifts are, you’re undoubtedly clear about something in your life. Start there.
Second, take a step and see how it feels. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Signing up for a pre-med course at 40 doesn’t mean you have to commit to going to medical school. On the other hand, if you never take a step, you’ll never know what you could have accomplished. As the centenarian I quote at the beginning of my book says, “if I had known I would live to be one hundred, I would have taken up the violin at 40. By now I could have been playing for 60 years!
Third, banish guilt. Understand that it’s not selfish to follow our passions. The women in my book might not have made dinner for their families every night, but they’ve inspired their children and the people around them to defy the societal weight of age and gender and, most of all, to defy their limited ideas about themselves. Without exception, these women used their talents to help others and connect more powerfully than ever before with the human community.
Fourth, consider doing at least one bold thing a day. Eleanor Roosevelt said something similar. She said, “Do something that scares you every day.” Again, keep the bar low. For me, eating Gorgonzola cheese is being bold. So is riding my bike on a road with cars or calling someone to ask a favor. The more you exercise your bold muscles, the stronger they get.
And finally, don’t fight aging; embrace it.
How did you help finance your vision and new initiatives that enabled you to build your newest success?
Great question. I’ve been very fortunate in my life in terms of finances. I got a full scholarship for my master’s program at Georgetown and unexpectedly inherited some money less than a month after I quit my teaching job to become a writer. I was planning on taking only a semester off but ended up having enough money to finish the project.
Many, many people, however, have to be much more creative than I was in terms of financing their endeavors. One woman I interviewed got a clerical job at a community college just so she could take classes for free. Another mortgaged her family home to open a business. Again, I think it’s often best to start small. Don’t spend a lot of money on desks and chairs.
About Prill Boyle
A self-described late bloomer, Prill graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown University at age 38, landed her first full-time teaching job at age 40 and wrote her first book–DEFYING GRAVITY: A CELEBRATION OF LATE-BLOOMING WOMEN–at age 50. Since its publication, she has spoken to groups all over the world about finding passion and purpose at any age, given an address at the United Nations and had her blog mentioned in The New York Times. In January 2011, she became the host of the long-running Fairfield County television program Ageless. Now 62, she and her husband reside in Westport, Connecticut where she continues to interview and write about late bloomers.