Book Thoughts: Finding Your Element
I admit, when I first encountered Finding Your Element by Sir Ken Robinson, I assumed it was some touchy-feely, aura-seeking manifesto: “Discover what heavy metal corresponds to your zodiac sign” or some drivel like that. It is not. Not at all. Rather, it is an actionable text to help you lead a happier life, starting with Chapter 1.
The thesis of the book is simple and, because of its simplicity, incredibly powerful. It resides in the definition of its title: a person’s “Element" is the activity or profession for which he or she has both passion and talent. In other words, it is where what you’re good at (your aptitude) meets what you love (your passion).
The text oscillates between more conventional “self-help” advice—like how to navigate through a Meyers-Briggs evaluation—and specific, real-world examples of the theory in action. The examples range from the seemingly mundane—like when the woman who was an avid reader found her Element as a school librarian—to the more dramatic, like the story of film composer Hans Zimmer, responsible for the scores of Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean, and other blockbusters. From an empiriatical perspective, anecdotal evidence doesn’t prove that discovering your Element leads to happiness, but from a narrative point of view, it makes for a fast-paced and engaging read.
Was I convinced? Despite his abandonment of the scientific method, yes, actually, I was. Although Robinson makes clear that your Element doesn't necessarily coincide with your career, most of his examples showed people quitting unfulfilling day jobs to pursue their dreams. I won't deny that this is both romantic and alluring--but it also makes sense. Most people, myself included, spend upwards of 40 hours--or one-fourth of--a week "working." If you don't enjoy that activity, it stands to reason that you will be unhappy at least a fourth of your life, not taking into account work-induced anxiety that spills into your leisure activities.
If you manage to merge your Element with your source of income, however, you regain that forfeited quarter of unhappiness. It took a little quantitative inference, but by the time I was finished with Robinson's book, I found myself recommending passages to friends and family, while inwardly struggling to unearth my own, perhaps subterranean, Element.