What it means to be in your element

2018-07-02T10:56:39+00:00April 8th, 2018|

I was having a bit of a clear out at home the other day and came across an oil painting I’d done as a teenager (the bird of prey shown above). At the time I was considering an art-related degree but I got turned down by the college running the foundation course. Apparently, the quality of my work was good but they were concerned there wasn’t enough of it – an indication that my heart wasn’t in it. 

They were right.

Here I am years later and I’m like a pig in mud, working as a storytelling consultant and trainer. I ran a workshop in Copenhagen recently for one of the world’s leading consulting firms and a delegate said of the session, “Andrew was clearly having fun!”.

It took over 4 decades but I finally realised I was in what Sir Ken Robinsondescribes as my ‘element’. It’s the theme of his book of the same name (above), when someone discovers something they love doing, for which they also have an aptitude. In his experience, many people are highly competent at their job but it doesn’t feed their soul. It’s a way to earn a living but they’re waiting for the weekend to arrive.

Thinking back to those years studying art, I was good at copying things but it felt like hard work and perhaps it wasn’t the kind of creativity I craved.

I suppose the point I’d like to make here is to have patience when it comes to finding your element, and a way to make a living from it. If you embrace new experiences and find the thing you do that makes time pass quickly, that’s a good indication. But you’ve got to be good at it and apply it to a problem that people need (and want) to solve. After all, you could be a world-class sleeper and make time pass by with ease, but you won’t have a queue of customers for that!

I earned very little when I started and had to supplement my living with other forms of work. I had to learn from the market about what it actually wanted (which wasn’t what I initially offered). It takes persistence but if you do discover your ‘thing’ and find a way to make it pay, you’re in a wonderful place. It gives you a sense of purpose and a satisfaction that what you do creates value in the world.

I’d love to hear your story of finding your element.