Finding Your Element: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: May 22nd, 2013 by bobmorris

Finding Your ElementFinding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life
Ken Robinson
Portfolio/Penguin (2013)

Finding your Element is “vital to understanding who you are and what you’re capable of being and doing with your life.”

According to Ken Robinson, what he characterizes as “The Element” is not a physical location but the challenge is to locate it, nonetheless. “It’s about doing something that feels so completely natural to you, that resonates so strongly with you, that you feel as if this is who you really are.” Some people locate it in childhood, others decades later, and still others never. “Finding your Element is a quest to find yourself…it is a two-way journey: an inward journey to explore what lies within you and an outward journey to explore opportunities in the world around you.” Robinson wrote The Element (2009) with Lou Aronica who also assisted with the writing of Finding Your Element four years later. Ever since the first book was published, Robinson explains, “people have asked me how they can find their own Element, or help other people to find theirs.”

In response, this sequel has five main thematic threads that weave throughout the book, each of which is intended to help the reader reflect and focus on finding their own Element and, if they wish to, help others to do so. Robinson provides ideas and principles as well as stories and examples, stories, and other resources such as 15 exercises to complete (more about them in a moment) and clusters of questions to consider at the end of each chapter before moving on to the next. In fact, each chapter title is a question. “Although there are ten chapters in the book, Finding Your Element is not a ten-step program.” Just as Oscar Wilde once suggested, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken,” Robinson suggests that only the reader can answer the questions posed. “In the end, only you will know if you’ve found your Element or if you are still looking for it. Whichever it proves to be, you should never doubt this is a quest worth taking.” True to form, Robinson asks most of the right questions but it remains for each reader to answer them, perhaps using some of the tools that Robinson provides. I have found mind mapping to be an especially helpful technique during both an inward journey of personal discovery and an outward exploration of the world in which I live. As with answering questions, however, each reader must select which tools to use as well as when and how.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of Robinson’s coverage.

o A Personal Quest (Pages xxii-xxiv)
o Three Elemental Principles (19-27)
o True North (27-30)
o Hidden Depths (39-44)
o Finding Your Aptitudes (44-48)
o What’s Your Style? (65-71)
o Two Sorts of Energy (84-87)
o The Unhappy Truth (113-115)
o Having a Purpose, and, What Is Happiness? (117-121)
o The Meaning of Happiness (121-126)
o Seeing Through the Barriers (143-146)
o Who Are You? (147-148)
o A Question of 160-165)
o Figuring Out Where You Are (173-174)
o The Culture of Tribes (191-192)
o Moving Forward by Going Back (215-222)

As I began to re-read this book prior to composing this brief commentary, I realized that amidst all the information, insights, and counsel that Robinson provides in abundances, there were certain key points that I had missed. I strongly recommend re-reading this book, highlighting especially relevant material along the way and then reviewing that material from time to time. I also suggest keeping a notebook near at hand in which to record personal thoughts, feelings, experiences, concerns, and other professional as well as personal issues.

As quoted earlier, Robinson views “finding your Element is a quest to find yourself…it is a two-way journey: an inward journey to explore what lies within you and an outward journey to explore opportunities in the world around you.” This is a never-ending process because each of us and our circumstances change and adjustments must be made to accommodate them.

This is what Ken Robinson has in mind, when concluding: “Like the rest of nature, human talents and passions are tremendously diverse and they take many forms. As individuals, we’re all motivated by different dreams and we thrive — and we wilt too — in very different circumstances. Recognizing your own dreams and the conditions you need to fulfill them are essential to becoming who you can be. Finding your own Element won’t guarantee that you’ll spend the rest of your life in a constant, unbroken state of pleasure and delight. It will give you a deeper sense of who you really are and of the life you could and maybe should live.”

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