Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element

“It’s about doing something that feels so completely natural to you, that resonates so strongly with you, that you feel that this is who you really are” (ix).

In his first book, Sir Ken Robinson said that not everyone may find their element. I get that, but I also thought it was a shame because there are so many talented people out in the world that don’t know they’re talented in some way. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the introduction was prompt in giving the thesis of the book: “The aim of this book is to help you find your Element” (ix). Straight to the point.

“One way is to create time and space to be alone with yourself, to experience who you are when no one else wants anything from you and the noise has stopped”(7).

One thing I noticed between the books and the speaking events was that his voice reads distinctly different but he had a collaborator “from start to finish” so that’s not that surprising. It is a bit disappointing because Sir Ken has a very unique comedic voice and the book reads very clinically. In any case, he dives right into strategies that can help someone find their Element. My favorite is what he calls automatic writing, which in the English writing and composition world that’s basically like free-writing. For those who wonder what to write in free-writing, Sir Ken Robinson asks a lot of questions in the book itself that could help as writing guides. I had the thought that free-writing, journaling, keeping a diary were so similar to automatic writing but that the use of terms have changed quite a lot in recent decades. Keeping a diary was seen as a domestic sphere activity for so long, meaning that it was something women primarily did. Now, with men pursuing education beyond K-12 less and less, it may have seemed appropriate to modify the term to make journaling less feminine because it has been proven to help.

“Finding your element means being open to new experiences and to exploring new paths and possibilities in yourself and in the world around you” (27).

One of the next interesting clarifications Sir Ken makes is between aptitude and abilities. The distilled way he makes the distinction between the two is nurture versus nature. He says, “Understanding your own aptitude is an essential part of finding your element” (33). How exactly does one know these things about ourselves other than journaling and taking time for yourselves? Sir Ken then ventures into the lengthiest portion of the book: the tests. *Insert dramatic horror music here. I grew up in the “No Child Left Behind” era of the DOE, so I had to bite my lip reading about the different types of tests that any given person could take. It was like those pharmaceutical commercials with the disclaimers at the end that take longer than the actual commercial. In Sir Ken’s defense, I don’t think his intention is to sell the tests to anyone. In fact, the opposite is more true. His review of them serves to highlight that this era’s need to replace one box for another has reached almost comedic levels. There is so much natural diversity in humanity that it may seem better to study the tests for what they measure and how they measure it. Regardless, not enough attention is paid to learning styles and models because, inevitably, fostering personal growth is key. I think it’s safe to say that the reason so many experts emphasize the importance of the The First Five Movement is because this is a crucial moment in a persons life. Not that adults can’t find their Element, but time is a precious commodity. A child has the most drastic, exponential learning curve within the first five years of his/her life, and I think it is no small coincidence that it is also the most play centered time. Sir Ken goes on to explain: “Also, many children are bored and restless in school not because they have a condition but because they are children and what they are required to do is actually boring… When they’re doing something that they love, they’ll focus for hours and hardly look up. It might be anything from writing music or poetry to working with animals or doing experiments” (73).

“In some almost tangible way, finding and exploring your passion puts you on a different path – a path that, while hardly free of difficulty or hardship, seems easier to take” (108).

Moreso than his first book, I’d say Finding Your Element is a great book for new parents or parents with young children. The overall advice is definitely counterintuitive: let your child play and remain at distance observing. The brain is a computer built for critical thinking and problem solving; it’s a muscle like any other that does well in environments that give it space to work out. But, what would anyone look for? Sir Ken gives a list with explanations: Sensitivity, Intensity, Activity, Adaptability, Approach or Withdrawal, Persistence and Attention Span, Regularity, Distractibility, and Mood (161-163). After wrapping up his thoughts on children, Sir Ken redirects his attention to us adults. He encourages us to take on challenges and push beyond the frontier of what we already know. He reminds us of one of my favorite quotes; Mark Twain once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than the ones you did do.”

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life that was true to myself, not the life others expected of me” (239).

Work Cited

Robinson, Ken. Finding Your Element. New York: New York; Penguin Books, 2013. Print.

2 thoughts on “Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element

  1. Loved your post, and you’ve basically made me want to check out this book. I myself employ Morning Pages, a technique by Julia Cameron, which is the same as the automatic writing technique used here. And I too believe that finding your gift is different from finding your passion, and that we all have our own unique gifts to offer the world, but not necessarily so if we were to only pursue our passion.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

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