The difference between successful business people, entrepreneurs, athletes, authors — anyone, and those who are not successful is not talent. The difference is the guts to move forward, to take intelligent risks, to try, to work harder than anyone else to become a true professional.

It is a fact that every industry has its share of immensely successful people, its share of abject failures, and a whole lot of people in between. The individual success of the people in most industries can be plotted on a classic bell curve, where the great percentages fall directly in the middle. Exactly how, then, does someone move from the majority in the middle of the pack to that select group who have reached the top of their profession?

Professional athletes will tell you that the difference between first place and second place or success and "failure" is incredibly small. At the Daytona 500, the premier NASCAR stock car race, between 1995 and 2004, the average margin of victory was only 0.241 seconds! The difference between first place money and second place money — a whopping $452,116. That means the additional prize money for finishing first was an astounding 68 percent. In the Winter Olympics in 2002, the difference between a gold medal and NO medal in the men's downhill skiing event was 0.65 seconds. Small improvements can make a huge difference.

So, how can you become a successful professional in your job and your life? It starts with small improvements. You simply need to focus on the five fundamental P's.

1. Purpose: Seeking, and recognizing, opportunities to serve others is your starting point. Start by figuring out who you work for. It is your company? No. Is it your manager? No. Is it your boss? No. It's your spouse, your family, your customer, or your co-workers. Human beings are social animals and have a fundamental need to contribute to something greater than themselves. Your job, whatever it is, is about providing a product or service to other people for their benefit. Your joy and success will come when you know that you have helped someone else out. Sit down and write out your goals. Are they about you or are they the results of serving others?

2. Preparation: Be the best you can be! Read everything you can. Learn from others. Learn something new every day. Listen, you might learn something. Keep an open mind. The time to prepare is before your opportunity comes. Once that opportunity has presented itself, it's too late to prepare.

3. People: Surround yourself with good people. Your performance and your reputation are, most often, determined by the people with whom you have aligned your life. Your bosses, co-workers, subordinates, mentors, coaches, teammates, and friends all have a huge impact on your ultimate success. Choose those people wisely and be fiercely loyal to them. They will be the foundation to your ultimate success. Show them you care about them by asking them about them! Then shut up and listen to the answers. Care about them and they will care about you.

4. Priorities: Focus on the fundamentals and the results will take care of themselves. Start each day with a simple written list of what you plan to accomplish - today. Make time to do the things that contribute to your purpose and your goals. Remember that if you don't have time to do it right, what makes you think that you have time to do it over? Learn to adapt to your changing environment. Maintain a controlled sense of urgency. Being prompt, being reliable and contributing to your team will go a long way to ensure your success.

5. Persistence: Maintain a positive mental attitude. Your attitude is a choice you make each and every day. Choose to be positive. Don't get bogged down in negative thinking. The past is just that — passed. The future is always a question mark. What, specifically, can you do TODAY to continue toward your Purpose?

How many people do you know that wake up in the morning and ask themselves, "how can I fail today?" Probably none. People fail because they haven't focused on their Purpose. Or they haven't prepared themselves to take advantage of the opportunities. Or they have made poor choices in the People with whom they associate. They may have lost sight of their Priorities. Or, they've given up and failed to be Persistent.

So, "professional," in any endeavor, is spelled with 5 p's — Purpose, Preparation, People, Priorities, and Persistence. Focus on those 5 p's and you will find the success you seek.

James Bain, MBA, is an author, speaker, consultant and coach. He is the founder of the Falcon Performance Institute, a consulting and corporate training firm focused on productive performance. Look for Bain’s soon to be published book, "Never Pass on a Chance to P — A Roadmap to Success." For more information, visit http://www.fpiteam.comor call (352) 854-4015.