Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Robinson, Finding Your Element

A side trip today from the standard fare, thanks to NetGalley. Are you where you want to be in life, both professionally and personally, or—as with most people—is something missing? Ken Robinson’s Finding Your Element: Living a Life of Passion and Purpose (Viking, 2013) challenges the reader with a series of questions, each a chapter title. What are you good at? How do you know? What do you love? What makes you happy? What’s your attitude? Where are you now? Where’s your tribe? What’s next?

First, what are you good at? “Being in your Element takes both aptitude and ability. It involves finding your natural talents and honing them in practice.” (p. 36)

How do you know? “To find your Element you may have to challenge your own beliefs about yourself. Whatever age you are, you’ve almost certainly developed an inner story about what you can do and what you can’t do; what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. You may be right, of course. But … you may be misleading yourself.” (p. 76)

What do you love? This “raises a whole series of other questions,” such as, What if I have no passions? What if I love something I’m not good at? (p. 78) Well, you’d better have passion. “You do need some aptitude for what you want to do, but passion is what makes the real difference. After all, … ‘There are plenty of extremely talented people who never do anything, really.’ … Mastering any discipline takes time and effort. If you’re on the right path, much of the pleasure is in the process.” (p. 102)

What makes you happy? “One of the paradoxes of our times is that on the whole, people seem less happy than twenty or thirty years ago in spite of rising levels of affluence over the same period.” (p. 113) Recent Gallup research underlines the importance of career well-being. “At a fundamental level … we all need something to do and ideally something to look forward to when we wake up every day. Yet only twenty percent of people in the Gallup study can give a strong yes in response.” (p. 125)

What’s your attitude? “As the political activist Antonio Gramsci once said, ‘The man who does not want to act says that he cannot.’ But if you are inclined to act, self-belief and determination are a match for the most unpromising beginnings and the most challenging circumstances.” (p. 165)

Where are you now? “As you look around and take stock of where you are now and where you might like to move next: How easily can you take a risk? What are the biggest hurdles? What would it take to get over them? What would happen if you did? What would happen if you didn’t? Will your loved ones support you or oppose you? How do you know? Are you ready?” (pp. 186-87)

Where’s your tribe? “There’s something encouraging about how people who share the same passion will help each other, even if they’re potentially vying for the same customers. This is one of the most valuable traits of a tribe: the love for the pursuit tends to outweigh the instinct to protect one’s turf.” (pp. 201-202)

What’s next? And, a related question, “If you couldn’t fail, what would you most like to achieve?” (p. 236)

In his final chapter Robinson quotes Anais Nin’s short poem, “Risk” in which she “uses a powerful, organic metaphor to contrast the risks of suppressing your potential with the rewards of releasing it” (p. 242):

And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to blossom

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