Excerpted from Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life by Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica (Viking)
In 2009 we published The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. The Element is where natural aptitude meets personal passion. To begin with, it means that you are doing something for which you have a natural feel. It could be playing the guitar, or basketball, cooking food, or teaching, or working with technology or with animals. People in their Element may be teachers, designers, homemakers, entertainers, medics, firefighters, artists, social workers, accountants, administrators, librarians, foresters, soldiers - you name it... So an essential step in finding your Element is to understand your own aptitudes and what they really are.
But being in your Element is more than doing things you are good at. Many people are good at things they don't really care for. To be in your Element you have to love it too ... As Confucius said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." Confucius had not read The Element, but it feels like he did. ...
Why is it important to find your Element? The most important reason is personal. Finding your Element is vital to understanding who you are and what you're capable of being and doing with your life. The second reason is social. Very many people lack purpose in their lives. The evidence of this is everywhere: in the sheer numbers of people who are not interested in the work they do; in the growing numbers of students who feel alienated by the education system; and in the rising use everywhere of antidepressants, alcohol and painkillers. Probably the harshest evidence is how many people commit suicide every year, especially young people.
Human resources are like natural resources: they're often buried beneath the surface and you have to make an effort to find them. On the whole, we do a poor job of that in our schools, businesses and communities. We pay a huge price for that failure. I'm not suggesting that helping everyone find their Element will solve all the social problems we face, but it would certainly help.
The third reason is economic. Being in your Element is not only about what you do for a living. Some people don't want to make money from being in their Element and others can't. It depends what it is. Finding your Element is fundamentally about enhancing the balance of your life as a whole. However, there are economic reasons for finding your Element.
These days it's probable that you will have various jobs and even occupations during your working life. Where you start out is not likely to be where you will end up. Knowing what your Element is will give you a much better sense of direction than simply bouncing from one job to the next. Whatever your age, it's the best way to find work that really fulfills you.
If you are in the middle of your working life, you may be ready for a radical change and be looking for a way of making a living that truly resonates with who you are.
If you're unemployed, there's no better time to look within and around yourself to find a new sense of direction. In times of economic downturn, this is more important than ever. If you know what your Element is, you're more likely to find ways to make a living at it. Meanwhile, it is vitally important, especially when money is tight, for organizations to have people doing what is truly meaningful to them. An organization with a staff that's fully engaged is far more likely to succeed than one with a large portion of its workforce detached, cynical and uninspired.
If you are retired, when else will you deliver on those promises to yourself? This is the perfect time to rediscover old enthusiasms and explore pathways that you may once have turned away from.
Although The Element was intended to be inspiring and encouraging, it was not meant to be a practical guide. Ever since it was published, though, people have asked me how they can find their own Element, or help other people to find theirs. They asked other questions too. For example:
• What if I have no special talents?
• What if I have no real passions?
• What if I love something I'm not good at?
• What if I'm good at something I don't love?
• What if I can't make a living from my Element?
• What if I have too many other responsibilities?
• What if I'm too young?
• What if I'm too old?
• Do we only have one Element?
• Is it the same throughout our lives, or does it change?
• How will I know when I've found it?
• What do I do help my children find their Element?
There are answers to these questions, and as the success of that first book grows, I know that I need to offer them. Finding Your Element is a wholehearted attempt to do just that. So, whatever you do, wherever you are and no matter how old you are, if you're searching for your Element, this book is for you.