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Book Summary: Finding Your Element – How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life

If you want to live a meaningful, happy life, you must live in your Element. As the name of their book suggests, authors Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica teach you exactly how to find your Element. In this book summary of Finding Your Element (2013), you’ll explore who you are and what you’re meant to do with your life by examining what you’re good at, what you love to do, and how your attitude affects your life. The journey of life is easier and more fulfilling when you’re in your Element, so now is the time to find yours.

Book Summary: Finding Your Element - How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life

Live a fulfilling life by being who you are meant to be and doing what you are meant to do.

READ THIS BOOK SUMMARY IF YOU:

  • Want to live a fulfilling life grounded by your passions
  • Are searching for the key to sustained happiness
  • Want to discover your dreams and take the steps to fulfill them

Content Summary

Genres
Introduction
Finding Your Element
What Are You Good At?
What Do You Love?
What Makes You Happy?
What’s Your Attitude?
Where Are You Now?
Where’s Your Tribe?
What’s Next?
Conclusion
About Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast

Genres

Motivational, Psychology, Inspiration, Personal Development, Creativity, Psychological Self-Help, Self-Esteem, Teaching, Education, Business Cultural, Philosophy, Spirituality

Introduction

Two young trout were swimming upstream one morning when an old catfish swam past them and called out, “How’s the water?” One trout said to the other, “What is water?” The takeaway from this brief exchange is that the fish lived so deeply within their Element (that is, water) that they took it for granted and didn’t even recognize its presence.

Finding your Element is crucial if you want to understand who you are and what you should be doing with your life. But finding your Element doesn’t come easy. Our internal resources are similar to natural resources: They’re buried deep beneath the surface so that you must mine for them. Finding Your Element will help you tap into these buried resources.

This summary outlines Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica’s approach to understanding your natural aptitudes and recognizing your passions. This will feed your spiritual energy and increase your happiness, as well as create change. The quest for your Element is a journey that’s both inward, as you explore what’s deep inside you, and outward, as you seek opportunity. This book will help you find your way through this journey.

Finding Your Element

Ken Robinson is often asked what his Element is and how he found it. Robinson’s Element is communicating and working with others, but this wasn’t initially apparent to him. As a child from a boisterous and sociable family, he developed polio at a young age and was much quieter than his siblings. He spent a lot of time alone, solving puzzles, assembling models, and playing with Legos. When a brother asked Robinson to introduce a family comedy act at a gathering, he was terrified, but he found that he actually enjoyed the task, so he began acting in plays in high school. He soon discovered that he settled in quickly when speaking in front of others and felt completely relaxed. Naturally, an international public speaking career followed. Robinson had found his Element.

You can also find your Element if you’re willing to set off on the quest to find yourself. There are three core processes that will lead you to your Element:

  • Turn down the noise. The first step is to get to know yourself better, which requires you to turn down the “noise” of the external world, especially other people’s opinions about you. Such noise causes you to lose sight of who you really are. To tune out this noise, create time and space to be alone. Meditation is very helpful for this.
  • Change perspective. You will also need to change your perspective in a way that allows you to see yourself differently. You may believe that you have no aptitude or passions, but you’re wrong. Don’t let stories you tell yourself or ideas you’ve absorbed from others get in your way. You can reflect on your natural abilities and find your passions by engaging in mind mapping, assembling vision boards, and practicing automatic writing.
  • Try new things. Finally, if you’re to discover who you really are, you need to be bold and try things you’ve always wanted to do but never got around to. If something intrigues you, try it!

Finding your Element, like living life, is not a linear process. We’re all unique, creative individuals, engaged in creating our own lives. This is an organic process, meaning you cannot predict your life. Life is largely improvisational, and we all encounter unexpected twists and turns. But you can make sure you’re open to new experiences and possibilities as you make your way in the world.

What Are You Good At?

Robinson’s brother, Derek, has always been great with engines. By the age of 10, he was taking motorcycles apart to study how they work and putting them back together so that they worked even better than before. Within a couple of years, he was working on cars, where he honed his ability to diagnose any engine problem and easily identify the solution. Derek has a natural aptitude for how things work.

To be in your Element is to live a life where your natural aptitudes — your raw potential — meet your passions. To locate your Element, you must first identify your aptitudes. You most likely already know about some of them. Most of us learn early that we’re naturally good at certain things, just as Derek did with motorcycles. Perhaps you love clothing and fashion, or maybe numbers come easily to you. Perhaps you adore animals and know how to make them feel comfortable. Other aptitudes may lie hidden because you’ve never had the opportunity to explore them.

Make a list of things you do regularly and consider whether you are good, average, or not so good at them. Which activities come easily to you? Do the things you’re good at have anything in common? What aptitudes do they represent? What sorts of roles and occupations rely on these aptitudes? If you’re struggling to determine your aptitudes on your own, you can take an aptitude test — but keep in mind that some are better than others. Additionally, understand that you may have wrong assumptions about your aptitudes if you were originally introduced to something in the wrong way. Likewise, consider whether you might have a strong aptitude for something that you’ve failed to explore because you were discouraged from doing so.

It’s hard for some of us to know what we’re good at. Take a look at the aptitude list you drew up and reconsider those things you labeled as “average” or “not so good.” It’s possible you have more aptitude in these areas than you realize.

Many feel they don’t have an aptitude for something because they didn’t do well at it in school. They may be right, but they may be mistaken — perhaps the blame for underperforming rests in how it was taught. Our educational system doesn’t generally take students’ individual learning styles into consideration when it comes to presenting material. We all learn differently, and learning styles profoundly affect whether we learn. In fact, we can fail to learn something that we have a great aptitude for simply because it’s not presented in a way that our mind can unpack. Maybe you’re truly bad at math. Or maybe you simply lost interest in it because it wasn’t taught in a way that worked for you. If you want to make the most of your abilities, explore as many potential aptitudes as possible using your individual learning style. There are various learning style assessment tools out there that you can use, and many of them, such as VARK, can be found online.

If you’re to find your Element, you can’t assume that all your beliefs about yourself and what you’re good at are accurate. If you’re doubting your aptitude for something, question where that doubt came from. Attempt things you think you lack aptitude for by approaching them in new ways. What might you be good at given the opportunity to work it out for yourself? What have you avoided doing out of the fear that you might not do it well?

What Do You Love?

Being in your Element isn’t just about aptitude. Aptitude is a necessary component of finding your Element, but you must also love what you’re good at. Passion for a field or skill fires our imagination and stokes our positive energy.

Randy Parsons was a very good guitar player, and his friends were convinced he would become a rockstar. But after college, he left music behind and found a job in law enforcement. He was great at his job but felt incomplete. One day, a vision came to him: He saw himself building guitars for his rock music heroes. He spent the next two years teaching himself to make guitars, and today, his company Parsons Guitars has an international reputation. Not long before establishing his company, Parsons had no idea he had a passion for building guitars, but he quickly discovered his passion and the aptitude to match. Parsons believed that he loved playing the guitar, but it turned out that his deeper passion was in creating them.

To discover your passions, take the list of things you’re good at and label each as either something you enjoy, something you don’t mind doing, or something you don’t enjoy. This task helps you identify what brings you joy. Also, consider things you’re not as good at because passion is more important than aptitude.

Finding your Element is a lot like falling in love: For some, like Parsons, it strikes suddenly; for others, it takes time. You may find yourself passionate about something that you ‘ve done for years but didn’t recognize as a passion. No matter how you find it, passion sets you on a path and drives you forward. When you identify what inspires you, opportunities begin to appear.

What Makes You Happy?

Ask people what they really want, and most will say they want to be happy. Unfortunately, today, we’re seeing rising levels of unhappiness. Perhaps this is because happiness is misunderstood: People think having more money, losing weight, or getting a different job will make them happy, but those things only temporarily lift the mood. Long-lasting happiness is a deeper sense of fulfillment that comes from having a purpose in life.

Yasmin Helal is one individual who was able to discover this purpose for herself. Helal is an accomplished professional basketball player in Egypt who also worked as a biomedical engineer. She excelled in both professions. But her life changed one day when some street children asked her for money — an experience that inspired her to start an initiative that funded education for underprivileged children. The project eventually evolved into a non-governmental organization called the Taleeda Foundation. Running the foundation is hard work, but Helal thrives and persists because she feels that she’s doing what she is meant to do. And it makes her happy.

The feeling of being “in your Element” is magnified when it feeds a greater purpose inside of you and having a purpose in life is what leads to sustained happiness. As you try to find your Element, pay attention to your emotions. What activity lifts your spirits every time you do it? What always brings you joy?

While searching for your Element, be mindful of the three main things that affect your level of happiness:

  • Your circumstances: Circumstances, which many believe will make them happy, constitute only about 10% of your happiness.
  • Your biological disposition: Your inherited disposition, which is part of your biological makeup, accounts for up to 50% of how happy you are. This means that whether you’re naturally disposed to cheer or to gloom is not something you can change.
  • Your behavior: Behavior is something you have the ability to change, and it affects up to 40% of your happiness. Engaging in work that gives your life meaning is a behavior that’s the most effective route to happiness.

What’s Your Attitude?

Attitude is important when it comes to finding your Element: It’s often your own mind that stands in between you and where you want to be.

Consider the case of Sue Kent, a renowned massage therapist whose attitude catapulted her to success. Kent has her own practice in London and has worked on athletes for the British Paralympics team. But there were obstacles on the path to her dreams. Kent was born with severely underdeveloped arms and only seven fingers — so she gives massages with her feet. Massage therapy school was challenging. It took her over a year to work out how to perform massages without the use of her arms, but she found a technique that worked for her. And the strength in her legs enables her to give firm massages, a desirable trait for a massage therapist.

Kent possesses what research psychologist Carol Dweck would call a “growth mindset” as opposed to a “fixed mindset.” Those with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence and talents are fixed at birth and can’t be changed. Those with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe that one’s aptitudes and possibilities are developed through effort. Like Kent, you may have to push your boundaries and be open to all possibilities if you’re to find and thrive within your Element. Attitude affects everything, and how you respond to the world will deeply affect how the world responds to you.

Where Are You Now?

We all start on the road to living in our Element from a different place, and we can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we currently are.

One way of determining your current situation is to use the “SWOT” analysis. Draw a large square box and divide it into four equal parts. Label the top left box “strengths,” the top right box “weaknesses,” the bottom left box “opportunities,” and the bottom right box “threats.” The top boxes deal with internal qualities; the bottom two are comprised of external influences. List your strengths and weaknesses in their respective boxes, starting with your aptitudes, followed by your passions and attitudes. Then, fill out the lower two boxes.

Consider your basic situation as revealed in the boxes. What obstacles do you face? What is keeping you from doing what you truly want to do, and what would happen if you cleared those obstacles? What resources are available to you that will help you do so?

Gaining perspective regarding where you are now is a critical part of getting where you want to be, and deep soul-searching can lead to a willingness to embrace opportunity. A change in direction is always possible. If you move toward your passions, opportunities will appear out of nowhere, and it’s up to you to embrace them. Think about how you want to move forward. Do you want to dive headfirst into a new life or just dip your toe into the water? Can you start your journey where you live now, or do you need to move across the country? To what extent can you plan for obstacles that may arise?

Where’s Your Tribe?

A big part of being in your Element is surrounding yourself with the right people by finding your “tribe.” There are many who share your passions, and you should try to connect with these individuals, as they can offer affirmation, guidance, collaboration, and inspiration.

Imagine your tribe. Picture those who are members of it and how they live. It can help to make a vision board of people and communities that you associate with your Element or passion. What does membership in that community look like?

Finding and associating with your tribe can be a powerful validation of your passion and bolster your commitment to your goals, especially when you face obstacles. You may even need to travel to find your tribe. For example, if you’re passionate about the film industry, you may need to move to Hollywood. If you love organic farming, a large city may not be the place for you to find fellow-travelers.

Some practical suggestions for locating your tribe include using the internet to locate forums, organizations, online courses, and mentors. In addition, you can visit clubs, associations or meetups, attend courses and workshops, volunteer, or find a life coach or mentor. Know that finding your tribe isn’t typically a linear process, and it takes considerable time and effort to accomplish.

What’s Next?

The next step is to follow your spirit. Look inward to your innermost self and discern where your spirit is leading you. If your spirit feels heavy, that’s a good sign that you’re not in your Element. Perhaps you’re still sorting through your thoughts and feelings while looking for possibilities. To facilitate this process, review the work you’ve done thus far.

On a large sheet of paper, draw four big circles and label them aptitudes, passions, attitudes and opportunities. In each circle, write several practical statements that express actions you can take to deepen your understanding of yourself in that area. Then, take the top priority from each circle to create a list of four priorities. This list is your action plan.

Of course, there are risks associated with moving from where you are now to where you believe you want to be, but it will be worth it to take the steps necessary to build a new and fulfilling life.

Conclusion

One of the great gifts that humans possess is the ability to transform our own lives. As you’ve discovered, your resources are numerous. This means that you’re limited more by your own imagination than by your circumstances.

Determine where it is you want to go and take those first steps, bearing in mind the common end-of-life regrets of wishing you’d been true to yourself, working too hard, losing touch with friends and family, not embracing happiness, failing to honor your dreams, and not creating enough time and space for living a good life. Recognize your dreams now and take the steps to fulfill them.

If you’re to live a truly fulfilling life, you must find and live in your Element. Finding your Element requires a deep digging and probing examination of your aptitudes, passions, and attitudes. If you put in the necessary work, you’ll discover who you truly are, and feel confident setting out on the path toward doing what you were always meant to do. Your life is uniquely created by you, and it evolves organically, not in a linear fashion. Keep this principle in mind and get ready to begin planning the next steps of your life!

About Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica

Ken Robinson is the New York Times bestselling author of Out of Our Minds, Finding Your Element, and The Element. He is a renowned expert on the development of creativity, innovation, and human potential. His 2006 TED Talk on education’s impact on creativity is the most watched talk in TED history.

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, is an internationally renowned writer, speaker and educationalist. He’s best known for his books and TED talks on the value of human creativity, which he feels is the most important trait that schools should help foster. His work aims at encouraging people to get more in touch with their creative side, to improve not only their own lives but also society at large.

Lou Aronica is a novelist and the co-author of several nonfiction books, including The Culture Code and The Element.

Sir Ken Robinson | Website
Sir Ken Robinson | Facebook @SirKenRobinson
Sir Ken Robinson | Instagram @sirkenrobinson
Sir Ken Robinson | Twitter @SirKenRobinson
Sir Ken Robinson | YouTube

Sir Ken Robinson

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v
Introduction ix
Chapter 1 Finding Your Element 1
Chapter 2 What Are You Good At? 33
Chapter 3 How Do You Know? 56
Chapter 4 What Do You Love? 78
Chapter 5 What Makes You Happy? 111
Chapter 6 What’s Your Attitude? 140
Chapter 7 Where Are You Now? 167
Chapter 8 Where’s Your Tribe? 188
Chapter 9 What’s Next? 214
Chapter 10 Living a Life of Passion and Purpose 237
Notes 244
Index 251

Overview

The New York Times bestselling author of The Element gives readers an inspirational and practical guide to self-improvement, happiness, creativity, and personal transformation. You, Your Child, and School is forthcoming from Viking.

Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk video and groundbreaking book, The Element, introduced readers to a new concept of self-fulfillment through the convergence of natural talents and personal passions. The Element has inspired readers all over the world and has created for Robinson an intensely devoted following. Now comes the long-awaited companion, the practical guide that helps people find their own Element. Among the questions that this new book answers are:

  • How do I find out what my talents and passions are?
  • 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?
  • How do I do help my children find their Element?

Finding Your Element comes at a critical time as concerns about the economy, education and the environment continue to grow. The need to connect to our personal talents and passions has never been greater. As Robinson writes in his introduction, wherever you are, whatever you do, and no matter how old you are, if you’re searching for your Element, this book is for you.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“Offers life-altering insights about the discovery of your true best self.”—Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

“There is a powerful driving force inside every human being that, once unleashed, can make any vision, any dream, a reality. The Element captures that force with passion and insight.”—Tony Robbins, author of Awaken the Giant Within

“The Element is another reminder of why Sir Ken Robinson is one of America’s finest imports. With a crackling wit and deep humanity, he urges us to ignore the naysayers, bypass the crowd, and find the place where our talents and desires intersect. This is a truly inspiring book.”—Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

“Ken Robinson presents the theme of creativity and innovation in a way that makes you want to go out and make your dreams a reality. In his wonderfully easy-to-read and entertaining style he presents the stories of many who have done just that…It is a book that lightens and lifts the minds and hearts of all who read it.”—Susan Jeffers, Ph.D, bestselling author of Feel the Fear and DO it Anyway and Life is Huge!

“A book that is as relevant and imperative for the parents of a 12-year-old as it is for the CEO of a behemoth corporation. And with luck it will help you to find yours.”—Vanity Fair

“Fans may glean some insight about understanding who we are as individuals and how we can have a better life that communicates our uniqueness to the world.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Finding Your Element is an accessible, actionable guide for discovering what most matters.”—New York Journal of Books – From the Publisher

This apparently rushed, thin sequel to the author’s previous book, The Element, outlines a practical path to finding your passion and turning it into a vocation. Robinson begins by encouraging readers to not only think freely about their aptitudes, but to actively muddle them—to try new activities, not for the activities themselves but for the skills and talents they may reveal or develop. Unfortunately, after introducing a new idea, Robinson often lapses into abstraction. Chapters attempt to guide readers through the “inward” and “outward” journeys of finding their “Element,” from understanding their own abilities, insecurities, and blockages to finding an outlet and community for their strengths. Most chapters begin with perfunctory brainstorming exercises bolstered with glosses on pop psychology (like lessons on learning types, meditation, and happiness studies) and inspirational anecdotes from TED-friendly celebrities like Jamie Oliver. None of Robinson’s advice is particularly motivating, as the exercises rarely encourage doing much beyond list, ruminate, or (even worse) search the Internet for personality tests. The book is brimming with stories of others finding their passion, but readers would do better looking elsewhere to locate their own. Agent: Peter Miller, PMA Literary and Film Management, Inc. (May 21) – Publishers Weekly

In addition to hard work and perseverance, there are a number of ways to achieve one’s dreams and goals. Professional mentor Carter offers 20 “breakthroughs” or “course corrections” (think following a compass) to assist readers in fulfilling their basic needs, such as finding love, understanding, and meaning in life. Carter poses questions, relies upon case studies, and guides readers through worksheets that ask them to list their priorities and strengths and their energy-givers and energy-takers (or people and activities that respectively invigorate one’s life or sap energy from it). Similarly, Robinson (The Element, LJ 12/08) believes that one can achieve self-fulfillment by meshing natural talents and personal passions. He helps readers embark on a personal quest to find their purpose in life through exercises, narratives, and autobiographical information. VERDICT Both approaches are potentially useful to those willing to delve into the exercises. But are there new answers here to the old questions that are posed? Not really. – Library Journal

Another self-help book about attaining your true potential, from Robinson and co-author Aronica. The desire to help people find a life that resonates with who they are, both on the inside and the outside, is the principle behind Robinson’s (Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, 2011, etc.) practical guidebook on discovering one’s “element” or authentic self. “Finding your element is a highly personal and often surprising process,” he writes, “that has different outcomes for each of us.” Building on ideas presented in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (2009), Robinson uses a variety of methods, such as questions and hands-on exercises (mind maps, vision boards, automatic writing and Venn diagrams are just some examples), to help readers on their quest. When followed, these prompts generate visual, progressive layers of understanding that lead readers to a place where natural aptitudes and abilities converge with one’s passions. The ultimate goal is to create a life that brings inner peace and satisfaction along with social and economic balance for the individual and society as a whole. By acknowledging one’s dreams and understanding the conditions needed to fulfill them, readers can create their own organic, nonlinear destiny and discover a lifestyle that eliminates regret and truly expresses a person’s individuality. Stories drawn from his personal life as well as from those who have followed Robinson’s other works add balance and some credibility to the process, and the books and websites mentioned throughout the text supply additional support. Mostly a rehash of The Element, but fans may glean some insight about understanding who we are as individuals and how we can have a better life that communicates our uniqueness to the world. – Kirkus Reviews

Video and Podcast

Book Summary: Finding Your Element