Robinson points readers to their ‘Element’

Everyone knows the story. A boy who loved tinkering with things founds a technology company. A girl who can’t sit still in class becomes a famous dancer. A boy who doodles instead of paying attention in class grows up to be a cartoonist. A college student attends a lecture and is inspired to start down a previously unconsidered career path. Every day we witness the success and fulfillment of people who follow their passion, often in defiance of the normal path and without community support.

In his book “The Element,” Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D. (yes, he has both a knighthood and a Ph.D.), seeks to enlighten readers, as the subtitle says, “how finding your passion changes everything.” Robinson illustrates this with true stories of people who found happiness and success through pursuit of what they love. Drawing inspiration from the popular phrase “in his or her element,” Robinson defines the “element” as the place where one’s natural inclination and abilities intersect. People who have found something they enjoy that they are also good at have found their element.

Robinson, whose 2006 TEDTalk went viral and made the rounds on Facebook a few months ago, emphasizes the importance of personal approaches to education and concepts of intelligence. Rightly, he calls into question the idea of a universal intelligence, one some people have and others do not. Instead, he advocates for multiple intelligences — rather than asking “how intelligent are you?”, Robinson would have us ask “how are you intelligent?”

He argues that there are as many personality types as there are individuals in the world, and career ponderances are less matters of whether someone has anything to contribute and more matters of what he or she has to contribute.

As a polio survivor with multiple physical handicaps, Robinson knows what he is talking about. In the 1950s and ’60s, children with disabilities went to different schools from able-bodied children and were not expected to achieve. Despite this lack of faith from his parents and teachers, Robinson became a world-renowned expert on education and creativity.

If Robinson is to be believed, we are all much more creative than we have been led to believe. Years of education have taught us one way of thinking, but not necessarily the one for which we are best suited.

“The Element” is an engaging and enjoyable read. College students and anyone else feeling lost or unsure or torn when planning for the future should read this book. It is fast-paced and easy to read. Robinson is proficient with language and shapes it to his topic well; his stories are gripping and his examples are illustrative and inspiring.

As far as self-help books go, “The Element” is at the low end of the spectrum for preachy drivel and the high end for quality. Every word in “The Element” is carefully chosen and necessary. This is a must-read for anyone who has not already found his or her “element”; by Robinson’s estimation (and mine), this is most of us.

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