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Review: Finding your Element by Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica

elementThis review first ran in the June 30 edition of the Hamilton Spectator.

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

By Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica

Penguin Books

$18

My kids did something this month that they’ll still be talking about with their grandkids.

They were among a cast of 100-plus kids, tweens and teens who danced at Hamilton Place before a packed house of proud parents, family and friends. They hung out in backstage dressing rooms with their classmates and dance crews.  The recital was their reward for 10 months of practice at the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts with great teachers who were even better role models.

My kids had a blast. They were also in what author Sir Ken Robinson calls their Element. “It’s about doing something that feels so completely natural to you, that resonates so strongly with you, that you feel that this is who you really are.”

The Element is where natural aptitude meets personal passion. “Finding your Element is about discovering what lies within you and, in doing so, transforming what lies before you.” If you’re in your Element at work, you look forward to Sunday nights and Monday mornings.

Robinson wrote Finding Your Element as a sequel to his bestselling book The Element. It’s for people who think they have no special talents or passions, who believe they’re too young or too old for a career change and who worry that they won’t even realize when they’re in their Element.

While there’s no 10-step program for finding your Element, Robinson says there are three elemental principles to guide you on the journey:

  1. Your life is unique. “You can learn from the experience of other people, but you cannot and should not try to duplicate them.”
  2. You create your own life and you can re-create it. “In doing that, your greatest resource are your own imagination and sense of possibility.”
  3. Your life is organic, not linear. “You can’t plan the whole of your life’s journey and you don’t need to. What you do need to plan are the next steps.”

Robinson sets out a series of exercises to help you figure out what you’re good at and what you love doing. “Whatever your aptitudes, the greatest source of achievement is passion. Aptitude matters but passion often matters more. If you love doing something, you’ll be constantly drawn to get better at it.”

My kids found their passion on the stage of Hamilton Place and we have an opportunity to help a lot of other kids do the same.  The day before my kids’ recital, a different kind of dance happened across the street at City Hall. Councillors began looking at a new way of funding local arts organizations. Some of those organizations lobbied hard to keep their share of the pie. Other organizations pushed for a bigger pie with more slices to go around.

So what if we gave a generous slice to arts programs that engage disengaged kids and teens in our code red neighbourhoods?

What if we had professional dancers, musicians and artists work with these kids, instilling self-discipline through practices and boosting their self-confidence through performances and exhibitions?

What if we gave these kids the opportunity to shine on the stage at Hamilton Place or Theatre Aquarius and showcased their work at the Art Gallery of Hamilton and in James North galleries?

What if we used the arts to transform lives by helping kids discover their talents and passions and develop a strong sense of purpose?

“Finding your Element won’t guarantee that you’ll spend the rest of your life in a constant, unbroken state of pleasure and delight,” says Robinson. “It will give you a deeper sense of who you really are and of the life you could and maybe should live.”

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