In their book Late Bloomers (Macmillan, 1985, $15.95), journalist Carol Coleman and psychiatry professor Michael Perelman have outlined three stages involved in achieving one's potential "at any age." "It's important for people to realize the steps flow into each other," says Coleman.

*Realization. Most of us, say Coleman and Perelman, have reached this stage: You decide you want more out of life than your present situation provides. The potential process of "blooming" begins.

*Quest. You have to decide what it is you want. It can be a rewarding experience, as you may discover talents and skills you never knew you possessed. Some of us may already know what we want, but for various reasons are not doing anything about it. It is important, say the authors, to be receptive to outside input, as well -- seeking and getting advice. To progress, you must commit yourself and move forward with a renewed sense of confidence and determination. "You either . . . get back in touch with an old dream, or you find something completely new," says Coleman.

*Fulfillment. This is an ongoing process; once the goals are set, you should move toward them each day. Successful bloomers do not leave fulfillment of dreams to chance; they decide to do something and find the means to do it, identifying and overcoming the obstacles that have prevented fulfillment.

"You become directed when you find out what it is you want," says Coleman. "It has an amazing effect on you. Then you begin to figure out a way to make it happen. You break down the tasks into much smaller tasks. You take the law boards, you don't start fantasizing about Harvard or Yale."