Have you found your element?
“Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius. What a beautiful thought. Sir Ken Robinson, the author of the excellent book Finding Your Element, believes that to find your element (talents, passion and purpose), you must go on a quest, an old term for a journey of discovery. When you embark on a quest, you’re not sure what you’re looking for or where to find it. It’s all about exploring and taking risks. You can never be sure that you’ll find what you’re looking for, but your journey, whether successful or not, will yield insights. “So, this quest to find your element is a two-way journey. It’s an inward journey to understand more about yourself, to learn more about what lies within you, what your aptitudes are, the things that excite your energies. And it’s an outer journey to find new opportunities in the world around you to test these things out and to create circumstances in which new aspects of yourself are revealed,” according to Robinson.
Aptitude is a capability; ability; innate or acquired capacity for something; talent. And many of us don’t really know what our aptitudes are because they can be buried very deep. You may have undiscovered talents because you assume that you don’t have any particular aptitudes. Or maybe you’ve told yourself (or others have told you) that you aren’t good at something that you would like to try so you don’t for fear of failing or looking foolish. To find your aptitudes or talents, you may need to challenge other people’s assumptions about what you can do and your own assumptions about yourself. Robinson points out three factors that affect our attitudes toward aptitude. The first factor is our school systems.
Our educational systems should work to help us identify our aptitudes and grow them into abilities, yet today’s schools are based on a narrow view of our academic skills. As budget cuts loom larger and larger, curricula in many schools are getting narrower and narrower. The arts, public speaking, humanities and other courses that feature in a broad, generalist education, are suffering. Instead of encouraging students to explore a wide variety of subjects, which could give them a better opportunity to discover aptitudes and hidden talents, many courses are being cut because they are no longer deemed as valuable as core subjects. (Warning: I’m a generalist, so I’m likely to be biased on this aspect.) The second factor is the cultures we live in.
The cultural systems in which we live can also discourage us from exploring our aptitudes. For example, certain cultures may frown upon trying different jobs or exploring various opportunities because of our current roles, responsibilities, gender or age, especially the latter in my case. Many cultures pressure us to take safe courses that lead to prestigious careers, whether we have any interest in them or feel compelled to pursue them. I think Robinson’s quote hits the nail on the head. “What you make of what lies within you is affected by the culture you are part of: by what it encourages and discourages, permits or forbids.” The third factor is how we learn.
If we have different aptitudes and think differently, then it’s only natural that we learn differently. Some of us can sit happily at our desks, analyzing problems with our computers for hours on end while others find this a fate worse than hell. They want to move around and work with people. It’s often said that some people learn by seeing, some by hearing and some by doing when in reality, it’s usually a mixture of all three. Consequently, one of the reasons we may think we’re not good at something is because of the way we’ve encountered it. I always disliked history. To me, it was nothing more than names, dates and places – boring! That is until I had a history teacher who brought textbooks and facts to life through his unique way of storytelling. From that point onward, history became one of my favorite subjects, and I did quite well in it.
Robinson says it’s these three factors – narrow educational systems, limited cultural opportunities and our style of learning – that make it possible that we don’t know what we’re good at or have overlooked it. He recommends digging more deeply in different areas, trying things you’ve never tried before and revisiting things that you think you weren’t good at the first time you tried them. Where do you want to go on your quest to discover your aptitudes and hidden talents? Once you understand the three factors impacting your assumptions about yourself, the journey can begin. Linda Ellis wrote in her poem The Dash, “Whenever you see the dates of someone’s life and death on a tombstone, the most important part is the dash in the middle. In between those two dates is life – the life of a person.” That little line says it all. What did they do to fill the dash? More importantly, what are you doing to fill in your dash?