I have just read ‘the element’ by Ken Robinson and found it stimulating and enlightening. I have précised some of his key points in this article – here’s what the back cover of the book shares: A teenage boy goes through school, and nobody thinks he has any particular musical talent. He goes on to be one of the most famous musicians in the world. A nine-year-old girl is thought to have a learning disorder. A psychologist thinks otherwise and opens the door to an extraordinary life in dance. A young girl in Greece dreams of academic life and becomes one of America’s leading political commentators. Paul McCartney of Beatles fame, Dame Gillian Lynne (English Ballerina) and Arianna Huffington (Co-founder of the Huffington post) all took different paths to discovering their element and each was changed profoundly by the experiences.
We all possess creativity: We are all created in the image of God and that means that we are all creative in one way or another. There are so many varieties of creativity, so let’s not get bogged down in thinking only of painting a beautiful picture, arranging a vase of flowers, or decorating a shop window. Creativity is all about imagination and so every sphere of life requires some creativity including science, maths, engineering, running a business and being a mother! We are all given creativity to develop our passion or our ‘sweet spot’, that brings life to us. This is our element where we can spend multiplied hours without getting tired.
Many people are unaware of their own natural capacities, and often don’t take a wholistic view of their lives – minds, bodies, feelings, and relationships – in order to discover what working in their element really is. There’s no formula for finding your element, it’s different for everyone. Some feel a passion for certain activities, others find an aptitude for a sport, or a job that fulfils them more than anything else. There seem to be four guiding words – aptitude, passion, attitude, and opportunity.
The power of imagination: Imagination sets human beings apart from every other species on earth. If I ask you to think of your best friend, your last holiday, or your meal last night, you can bring those pictures into your mind with ease. That’s the power of our imagination. With this same power we can imagine our future, and doing something that we love and being fulfilled in our element. This takes a positive attitude, as generally, passion filled opportunities don’t just fall in our laps. We need to take steps towards them with intentionality.
Discovering your element: Many don’t find their element because it requires you to discover what you have an aptitude for, or even if you have an aptitude, there hasn’t been the opportunity. We need to explore different activities, step out of our comfort zone, and do something different. Like the book by Dr. Seuss, ‘Green eggs and ham’, you can come up with all kinds of reasons why you don’t like it but it’s only when you try it you realise – ‘this is nice, I like green eggs and ham.’
Part of the discovery of your element is thinking back to times when you experienced being in ‘the zone.’ You know those times when you were actively doing something, and the hours slipped by without you realising it. You were focused, engaged, fulfilled and in your zone. It was thirteen years ago when I suddenly realised that I love writing articles. I was asked by a leader in YWAM to write an article about what I had just spoken on. In doing so, I realised that I enjoyed it more than the actual speaking. I had time to shape my words rather than try to be spontaneous. I could come back to those thoughts hours later and improve on them. Those articles became the leadership letters that I have been writing every month for the past thirteen years. I’m sure you have been aware of how involvement in activities that you don’t like, can drain you in minutes. Being in the zone doesn’t take energy away from you, it gives it to you. For me, writing has given me a deep sense of fulfilment.
Our greatest enemy: Finding your element can be challenging. One of the greatest enemies of discovering our element is within ourselves. Our fear of failure, lack of confidence, comfort zoning, and simple lack of perseverance. Sometimes it’s the people close to us, who don’t see our passion within and discourage us from ‘doing anything stupid.’ We do have to take some risks to enter our element and others won’t necessarily encourage us. But find your tribe, those who love the same thing, and you suddenly have your spirit lifted that encourages you to pursue what is in your heart. It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes you have a go at something you think you will really love only to discover that it is definitely not the element!
I was involved in the chemistry labs at school for most of my high school years and so chemistry was the subject I took at university. One of my placements was research and development. In my mind’s eye, I thought this would be so fun and enjoyable. But when I got there, I found it tedious and boring. Chemistry wasn’t my element!
The importance of attitude: Being good at something and having a passion for it are essential to finding your element but not enough. It also takes attitude. There are many stories of people who have what some would call ‘good luck’ and hearing about their successes can be a bit depressing. They say, ‘When it comes to me – I just don’t have that kind of luck!’ Richard Wiseman writes about his study of four hundred exceptionally lucky and unlucky people. He found that those who considered themselves lucky tended to exhibit similar attitudes and behaviours. Their unlucky counterparts tended to exhibit opposite traits. The lucky ones maximise their chance opportunities and listen to their intuition and anticipate a positive outcome. They persevere even when the circumstances aren’t all positive.
Attitude & Perseverance: For instance, in 1931 John Wilson, at the age of twelve had an accident in the chemistry lab that caused him to be blind. He didn’t look at the incident as a tragedy and knew he had the rest of his life to live. He learned braille and continued his education in law at Oxford. After receiving his degree, he worked for the national institute for the blind. While in Africa he found there was rampant blindness caused by a disease that could be treated. He formed the British empire society for the blind where he served for 30 years. He travelled 50,000 miles a year. In 1950 he lived in a mud hut in Ghana to seek a treatment for river blindness that was affecting 10% of the population. Under his direction the organisation conducted three million cataract operations and treated twelve million others at risk of becoming blind and was active in so many more projects. He was knighted in 1975 and some have compared his accomplishments with those of Mother Teresa. He lost his sight and found a vision. But it took a positive attitude and a lot of perseverance.
Amateur & Professional: We have the terms amateur and professional which basically separates those who do something for a hobby and those who do it for a living. There is also a connotation that the amateurs are second rate, performing below professional levels. There can be a significant difference in the quality and expertise but it’s also possible for people to perform at a professional level but are involved in their spare time. To be in your element, it isn’t necessary to drop everything else and do it all day, every day. For some it would be impossible to leave their current job and pursue their passion full time as they wouldn’t have the income, or it just wouldn’t be practical. Many have a hobby that is their passion that they create space for in their weekly schedule. The fulfilment, satisfaction and excitement of the hobby can give energy to do their 9-5 job which is simply to provide the money to live! The involvement of your element in your hobby or recreation time, if it’s not in your day job, provides a balance between making a living and making a life.
I discovered my element at thirty-eight years of age. Through a conversation with a leader from Navigators, I recognised my love for developing leaders, took a master’s degree in leadership development and have been running courses and speaking on the subject for the last thirty years. However, I have another passion that has been with me from the age of thirteen – a love for music and song writing. Over the years I have wondered whether I should have gone into music full time and sometimes feel a sense of regret. However, I have made it a hobby of worship leading and playing the piano whenever I have the opportunity. Playing helps me to feel alive and transports me into another zone!
It may be that an average office worker receives more financial security than I receive as a missionary focusing on leadership development and relying on support, but the question is ‘does the role you are involved in really matter to you and is it fulfilling?’
Faith & Presumption: There is a fine line between believing for your dream to come true and trusting for the impossible. We do need to have a reality check to acknowledge when some of our dreams really do move into the realm of the impossible. I will never be a famous musician but in my retirement years, I could still be in a band of sorts! There are aways a multitude of things that are in our reach with a lot of help from God, our friends and divine contacts who are able to open doors of opportunity for us.
Are you in your element? If not it’s never too late. What do you enjoy? What has the Lord anointed? What has been fruitful? When do you feel like you are in your zone? What brings a sense of fulfilment? Why not take a retreat and ask some of these questions and see if the Lord highlights some things for you. If nothing comes, step out and do something different, explore, be open for new directions and take some risks.
Discovering your element doesn’t promise to make you richer or more famous but it will bring a new richness to your life.
May you all have the joy of discovering your passion and start to live in your element.
Until next month