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Book Review: ‘Finding Your Element’ by Ken Robinson

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Ken Robinson’s The Element created something of a paradigm shift.  The book focused heavily on the one-size-fits-all educational system that teaches children notions of success that aren’t right for everyone. The book encouraged educators and parents to find ways of helping children identify their own element – the true potential that everyone has to identify and work within their own passion. 

Though The Element was inspiring and motivational, it didn’t really provide specifics about how to go about finding exactly what your element is.  As the titles suggests, this is exactly what the “sequel,” Finding Your Element, is designed to do. 

It’s not necessarily to read The Element first, but it does go a bit deeper into the cultural context of our lives and how we’ve gotten to the stage where so few people are actually working in their “element”.  Finding Your Element does provide a fair amount of background in the introduction.

The many exercises and anecdotes will make the ideas concrete. Finding Your Element is primarily a workbook full of practical exercises designed specifically to get readers to explore their own passions, skills, challenge their identity and identify key values, preferences, and areas of excitement.

As is always the case with all of Robinson’s work, his writing is down-to-earth and very accessible. There is never any snobbery or overt complexity. Everything is put in as simple a way as possible, with lots of anecdotes and stories, many from Robinson’s own experiences.

One particularly nice aspect of the book is the way in which readers are encouraged to try different types of exercises to find one that suits their own learning style.  In other words, it practices what it preaches – we all have different ways of working and learning. For some people, using crayons, paper and lots of visual imagery like mind-mapping or vision-boarding is perfect.  For others, it’s more of a verbal process, where reading, talking or working through options by writing them down work best.

The reader is able to pick and choose from the many tools, links and ideas that are presented and all of them are carefully explained with practical examples and templates that can be used.  This book is also designed to appeal to people who are different ages and at different stages on the path.  It can be used by homeschoolers, or for older readers. Robinson makes a very strong point that we’re always changing and growing, and that it’s never too late to find a deeply satisfying life of purpose and pleasure.

The book helps readers explore such things as how to find one’s own unique (and often dormant) talents, the type of work that provide happiness and joy, the importance of attitude, setting goals, finding a ‘tribe’ (supporting group), and making sure that you’re really in the right element.  One of the main premises of the book is that we can always change, and that we not only deserve to enjoy our lives and live creatively and powerfully, it’s our responsibility to try to do so.

If that seems facile or new-agey, it certainly isn’t.  It’s very easy to go down a specific career path and begin building up an image that is self-limiting and unsatisfying.  Doing the exercises will take readers through a range of life areas including one’s career, one’s social life, one’s financial needs, one’s physical well-being, spirituality, and the community.

Robinson, who is clearly working in his own element, doesn’t soft-sell the difficulties.  Some of the examples in the book are, like those in The Element, of people who have been super-successful without trying too hard, but others have had to struggle through years of difficulty to find their element. The tools provided in this book, from meditation to mind mapping, online quizzes and character analysis, to counselling, playing games, and trying out different activities.  Some of these are simple and some harder, but they are all designed to open the mind, and teach the most important lesson of all – that of paying attention, listening to ourselves, and staying open to what Robinson calls “new paths and possibilities in yourself and the world around you.”

If you are one of the lucky people who wake every morning knowing that you’re spending the greatest proportion of your time on wonderful, creative activities that feed your soul as well as your family, then Finding Your Element will probably be little more than an easy, enjoyable read that confirms you in your path. For the rest of us, this is an important adjunct to The Element, offering some very practical examples, tools, worksheets, exercises, and links and ideas, not only to find your own “Element” but to continue to find and expand it in your own ever-evolving life. 

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About Magdalena Ball

Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.