The Element

Put your periodic table away, kids. I am not referring to Radium or Zinc. The Element is a book by written by Sir Ken Robinson. Robinson defines the element as the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When individuals arrive at the element, they feel most themselves and most inspired to achieve at their highest levels. Robinson states, "We're not simply talking about laughter, good times, sunsets, and parties. When people are in their element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of identify, purpose, and well-being."

We all have the capacity to be in our element. While it manifests in each of us differently, the components of the element are universal. Despite being available to each and every one of us, what keeps us from finding it?

Robinson identifies 4 factors. The first limitation is our understanding of the range of our capacities. We are each born with the powers of imagination, intelligence, feeling, and physical and sensory awareness. For the most part, we only use a fraction of these powers (some not at all) therefore never reaching our full capacity.

Second, we think that our minds, our bodies, and our feelings and relationships with others operate independent from each other. The truth is, our minds, bodies, feelings and relationships with others have an organic nature and relate to each other holistically.

Our third limitation is in our understanding of how much potential we have for growth and change. Most of us view life as linear. That is, we move along on a busy one-way street, thinking there are no other alternatives but to keep going forward. If we miss something the first time, we can't double back  and take another look because it takes all of our effort just to keep up with traffic. Life is not linear.

Robinson illustrates this point by exploring the life of artist Chuck Close. After a blood clot in his spinal column caused Close to become a quadriplegic, he was left unable to grasp a paintbrush. Instead of settling for the path he was headed on, Close got creative. Using his teeth to hold a paintbrush, Close discovered an entirely new form of artwork.

Lastly, a major limiting factor for everyone is education. School systems are focused on critical analysis and reading. Mathematics, science, and language skills are placed at the forefront while the arts usually rest on the bottom of the hierarchy. More than ever, children are under intense pressure to perform at higher and higher levels on standardized tests. "This stratified, one-size-fits-all approach to education marginalizes all of those who do not take naturally to learning this way," Robinson says.

As we grow older, our limited view of our own capacities is compounded by our peer groups, by our culture, and by our own expectations of ourselves. Many people set aside their passions for a better paycheck or because of expectations from family and friends. People spend years working in a job that they despise simply because it provides a sense of security and familiarity.

Time passes differently when we are in our element. It is doing what you genuinely love and not being able to imagine doing anything else with your life.

Is it ever too late to find our element? "We all know people who feel locked into their lives...Perhaps you feel that it's too late - that it's unrealistic to pivot your life suddenly in a new direction," Robinson says. He goes on to describe human lives as organic and cyclical. Different capacities express themselves in stronger ways at different times in our lives. Because of that, we get multiple opportunities for new growth and development. So, is it too late? Absolutely not.

While I am nowhere near discovering my element, I am looking forward to further exploring the activities that ignite my passion for life.