Books / Essentials / Self-Help

The Element – A Review. A Movement.

A bible of tiny biographies and inspirational stories.

Who am I?

A question you have likely asked yourself before. You may be asking it now. Over the past few years, I have been scouring the Internet and digital shops for an answer. Pouring over movies, video games and careers. With lack of clarity, I found myself continually falling down the rabbit hole of MBTI and Enneagram tests hoping for insight.

As of late, I have come to find little pieces of inspiration in both obvious and obscure places. It may come while watching a film, imagining the mass amount of creative effort needed to stitch together such a feat. Or it may come from listening to a podcast that I have long put off.

While taking a lunch break, I dropped by TED.com in search of some inspiration as TED Talks are usually an easy “go-to” for such things. Somehow, I came across Sir Ken Robinson’s “How schools kill creativity” talk.

Like most, I spent most of my life feeling trapped in educational facilities with uninspired curriculum that I found little value in. Needless to say, after 18 years of tedious coursework, I am not one for political agendas or discussions on the topic of education reform. That has to say something coming from an school-loathing Political Science undergrad.

However, there was something in those four words that grabbed me: “How schools kill creativity.” Was this the answer to knowing myself? Had schools killed my creativity? I watched the video and 20-minutes later, I could not help but feel I was on the right track. I wanted more

Aside: Whether you are educator, politician, parent, student or soul-searcher, this talk is a must-see.

I began researching Sir Ken Robinson and found a number of books published under his name. “Finding Your Element” struck me first. I wanted answers and this seemed to be an adequate tool in finding them. However, after reading mixed reviews of the text, I decided to put it off.

While I remained curious of his prior work, “The Element,” the subtitle deterred me from diving in: “How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.” This seemed quite the obvious statement. I did not feel I needed someone to outwardly tell me this.

Now I was mixed up. I loved Sir Robinson’s talk, was edged away from “Finding Your Element,” and had no desire to read a text on an obvious notion. However, after reading a handful of recommendations within the reviews of “Finding Your Element,” I felt encouraged to give “The Element” a fair shot. Within a matter of minutes, I had downloaded and devoured the sample.

After reading the first chapter, I realized that if I didn’t know myself, this inanimate book certainly would not. However, it would be able to set off a series of sparks, kindling a fire in my mind.

You see, “The Element” is packed with personal stories of inspiration and epiphanies. Moments when average folk that had been put off by our world’s education system find creative release for arts, mathematics and athleticism outside of their schools. Through the use of mentors and chance, they were able to tap into a wellspring of ideas and brought them to life by marrying their aptitudes and their passions.

Many of these stories hit so close to home that I began to see why I am the way I am. I don’t fault my parents for forcing me into activities I did not care for such as baseball, piano or finding a high-school job. I don’t fault them for limiting my access to the things I loved such as computers,  skateboarding or playing in bands. Many of these actions were results of the years and preachings of the industrialized culture they were raised in.

Like many of the stories in the book, the education system did little to motivate me. I learned more through social interaction and films than math problems and books. Looking back, the idea that we all learn differently did not seem to scrape the surface of institutions so firmly planted in a world of concrete results.

Echoing Sir Robinson’s thoughts, I believe the Information Age to be advancing our youth quicker than formalized institutions and standardized tests can. Access to any and all information, services that quantify sentences vs. numbers (Wolfram|Alpha) and inexpensive technology loaded with professional grade creative tools provide the masses with creative freedom.

Understandably, there are many that cling to old traditions, fearful that leaving teachers and children to their own devices will result in immeasurable progress (or lack thereof). The Dolores Umbridge’s of the world that come cracking down on imagination and reality in favor of the “tried and true.” But if the basis of truth is inspiration held at bay, there is no wonder that many seek refuge in children or cringe at the thought of another day in the retail world.

Through today’s wealth of inspirational opportunity, we need teachers to become mentors for students. They must look for potential rather than results. If a physics professor recognizes a pupil’s ability to draw, let them advocate the arts. If a physical education teacher witnesses a child walking the mile alone, ask what they would rather be doing. Be engaged and care about their world. We have truly entered an age where media such as Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society are no longer fanciful dreams but inevitable realities.

Like Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk, this book is a must read. While it is not marketed to pin-point your personal Element, it will certainly point you in a clearer direction than any personality test while giving you motive to question your own educational background. So much for my avoidance of political agendas and education reform. Maybe I’ve found my Element.

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The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything ( iBooks | Amazon )

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Kyle Starr is the writer of TheStarrList.com and The State of Gaming. Find Kyle on Twitter at @_kylestarr.

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