The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson first found its way in my life via a TED talk which I shared earlier this year.
Have you, like I have done, assumed that artistic and creative people grow up surrounded by the art or music they love, thereby naturally developing their rare talents? After reading The Element, you will learn that is simply not the case. Elvis Presley, Paul McCartney, and Gillian Lynne (choreographer for the Broadway play Cats, and many others) were not encouraged in their youth to pursue music and dance. On the contrary, most were told that they were not very intelligent. Mick Fleetwood is another such example. These individuals stumbled into their passions quite accidentally, and fortunately for us, they did. The world without art, dance, plays, and music is a sad world indeed. Mr. Robinson shares how they discovered their passions and how you can help your own children (or yourself!) develop theirs.
Not a creative genius? That’s okay. Your passion might be more in line with that of Dr. Paul Samuelson, an economist who describes his life as “pure fun”. Or math might be your love or maybe science! The point is, we all have a passion: an activity that so captivates your thoughts that time seems to stand still, you feel more alive than at any other time, and you are rejuvenated by that activity. That is when you’ve found your passion. It’s something that you love. Even if you’re not particularly skilled at your passion, your willingness to spend your life working at it proves that you are in your “Element”.
Mr. Robinson points out the weaknesses of the school system. The main one being that they put every child in a box. The arts are being eliminated from many schools due to funding cuts, and even when they are included, they are not a high priority. He points out (p. 81) that the power of human creativity is everywhere. “[Creativity] affects not only what we put in the world, but also what we make of it – not only what we do, but also how we think and feel about it.” Creativity is not something the school system should banish. He later shows that public schools’ endless tests and standards not only kill the students’ creativity, but good teachers find their own creativity suppressed as well. (p. 236)
What about standardized testing or personality tests? I’m sure you have heard of the Myers-Briggs test. Did you know that neither Mrs. Briggs nor her daughter, Ms. Myers, had any qualifications in the field of psychometric testing when they designed the test? Also, no one ever fits neatly into one of the categories. If you take the test over and over, you could get a different result each time! (p.98) But many companies use these tests to determine where to best put an employee, again, a way of putting people in boxes. Why not just get to know the person? I suppose that takes too much time, but it’s a much better way to gauge a person’s abilities, interests, and personality. Rather than test yourself on the Myers-Briggs scale to find your strengths, Mr. Robinson suggests to ask yourself this question: “If left to my own devices – if I didn’t have to worry about making a living or what others thought of me – what am I most drawn to doing?”(p. 102)
Mr. Robinson offers encouragement and advice on finding your passion, your Element. It’s never too late to find it, so don’t give up. Be willing to try new things, meet new people, and stretch yourself. The author sums it up thusly: “Finding your Element doesn’t promise to make you more famous, more popular, or even a bigger hit with your family. For everyone, being in their Element, even for part of the time, can bring new richness and balance to their lives.” (p.223)
This book is not written from a Christian worldview, but nevertheless, it was easy to see the hand of God in this book. As a Christian, I know that our talents and abilities come from God. I know that He directs our steps and guides us into that which we should do. I’m not sure if you can tell what my passion is, but I know, and I pray God will help me to use it for His honor and glory.
Mr. Robinson is a witty and engaging author. If you are interested in education or in finding your Element, then this book may help.