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How the Penguin Lady Found Her Wings and Launched a Dream

Valerie Young

By Valerie Young

At 32, Dyan deNapoli decided to pursue her childhood dream of working with fishes so she wanted the best 55 gallon fish tank. Despite fears that she wasn’t “smart enough” to handle the rigorous math and science courses, the self-employed silversmith took a chance and returned to school for a degree in animal science. Not only did she pass, but she graduated with flying colors.

After interning at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Dyan was hired as the Senior Penguin Aquarist. One of the highlights of her career was playing a key role in the rescue of 40,000 penguins from an oil spill in South Africa.

After nine years, though, Dyan realized she’d gone about as far as she could in her job. Besides, the physical demands were taking a toll. When her mother passed away, it was a kind of wake-up call.

Dyan was still committed to somehow working to protect endangered species. However, she now yearned for the freedom and flexibility she’d known back when she was her own boss.

But how on earth does someone go about becoming a self-employed penguin expert? That was the question Dyan asked five years ago when she arrived at my Work at What You Love workshop.

Something Magical Happens Whenever You’re In the Company of Dreamers

If you’ve been to one of my seminars, or any seminar for that matter, then you know what can happen with the right guidance and support. You begin to realize that anything is possible.

Little wonder it was in that very room where Dyan says she had her “aha moment!” She’d create a traveling penguin-education show to teach children and adults about the biology and conservation of penguins and their habitats!

As exciting as that was for me to hear, I’ve heard hundreds of equally exciting and entirely doable dreams. Sadly, I’ve watched many profitable business ideas die for lack of attention.

But Dyan stuck with hers. Within a matter of months, she’d branded herself as “The Penguin Lady” and given the first of what would be many talks at schools, libraries, assisted living facilities, and civic organizations.

Like I said, a lot of people “talk” about their dreams, but relatively few act. So I invited Dyan back to speak to a new group of dreamers the following year.

I was so proud of her. Yet, as I listened to Dyan tell her story, it was obvious to me that she’d only scratched the surface of what was possible. Don’t get me wrong, the local events she was running were terrific. But Dyan had a dream that begged to be bigger. So I pulled her aside for a “bump- it-up” pep talk.

“Think about it,” I said. “When people meet you, they don’t say, ‘Oh, you’re one of those ‘penguin ladies’ you hear so much about.’ You are THE penguin lady. If you really want to make a difference, Dyan, you should be operating on a national and international stage. You’ve got to bump it up!”

At the end of every workshop, I ask participants to state an intention in front of the entire group. With a hundred people as her witness, Dyan stood and said: “Next year I’m going to be the onboard penguin expert on a nature cruise to the Galapagos Islands.”

PenguinLess than three months later, she wrote to tell me she’d arranged to do just that. Shortly after, CNN interviewed her on-air about a mass penguin stranding off of Brazil. Next, the operators of an Antarctica cruise called to see if she’d “possibly be interested” in being an on-board educator on a 14-day, all-expenses-paid cruise. Boy was she!

And two years later that South African oil spill rescue operation Dyan worked on turned into a six-figure contract with Simon and Schuster. How? One word: Action.

Dyan asked her friend Kate Victory Hannisian from to help her polish her final book proposal.

Next she registered for an annual Boston area writers conference called Muse & the Marketplace ( which is where she met the agent who got her the big book contract.

Then she sat down to write the biggest and hardest paper she’s ever written… one word, one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter at a time… and hundreds of edits later, The Great Penguin Rescue was born.

Make no mistake about it — Dyan is special. At the same time, the only thing that makes her different from anyone else with a dream is that she took a single step and then followed through. If you’re ready to find and spread your wings, decide on one small action you will take today — then do it!

To learn more about Dyan deNapoli and The Great Penguin Rescue visit


A New Direction

I decided to take the Work @ What You Love Workshop and also work one-on-one with Valerie. The workshop explored so many unusual and unexpected solutions to my specific questions. I made so many new connections to what clearly works for me in crea...

Julia Raymond
Curvology Studio

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