In his book, ‘The Element’, Sir Ken Robinson tells the story of a young boy with a rather odd ability.
Bart Conner had an unusual talent, he writes. From the age of eight, he could walk on his hands as easily as on his legs. Soon after, he somehow discovered he could climb up and down a flight of stairs using his hands as feet; a talent which was put to good use the moment the occasional house party began to dull.
It was when his mother took note of his odd ability that Bart got his first taste of a gymnasium. In an interview years later, he would describe himself as having felt ‘intoxicated’ at his first sight of the treasures within; the tight rope, the trampoline and all the other equipment. 18 years later, he represented the United States of America in athletics at the 1984 Olympics. He married a fellow Olympic gymnast from Romania and they now run a gymnastics training school together.
If not yet obvious, gymnastics was Bart’s calling.
For him, what began as a quirky habit grew into something that gave him — and coincidentally even his country — a lasting sense of pride and joy.
This was his Element.
Your Element is what gives you that feeling of intoxication. It is what you do best. However, it is not enough just to be good at something. You have to love doing it. In other words, your Element is the place where your natural aptitude meets your interest. It is where you come into your own.
Such has been the source of all innovations and ideas that have changed the world. They have been the progeny of inspired and passionate minds. Now, imagine a world where everyone loved their work, and was extraordinary at it. Such a world would surely be one of ever-heightening achievement and progress, where each individual could contribute to driving the race forward.
Sadly, this is easier supposed than realized. Often, our Element is elusive. It is unconventional, as with Mr. Conner. The place where you ‘find yourself’ may be Atlantis in its own right.
Then why embark on a seemingly futile search for something so difficult to find?
This is because the destination makes the hardships of the journey worthwhile. The discovery of your Element offers you a new way of looking at the world. You experience it more fully, more organically and more closely. You become aware of a feeling of potency; a new spectrum of possibilities that the world has to offer you. In fact, your Element isn’t a destination at all, but a doorway to a new beginning. Once you have found it, there will be no turning back. Your actions will originate in purpose and be driven by passion.
This does not mean that your life will be easy. It will come with its share of hardship. The only difference is that you will see challenges not as a burden, but as an opportunity for learning and growth.
Look at it this way: Until you find your Element, it is as though you are living in a bubble; looking at the world through a film. The finding of your Element allows you to pop this bubble and step outside its boundary.
Now, things could have turned out very differently for Bart. Rather than taking him to a gymnasium, his mother could have told him to get out of his useless habit and ‘grow up’. Had that happened, perhaps Bart would have remained a stranger to that feeling of intoxication all his life. Perhaps today, the USA would not have been two Olympic gold medals richer.
There are many who never discover their Element. They are the ones who spend their lives wanting more; wondering if all they have is all there is. They spend their lives feeling like misfits, and never realize why.
This is what makes the discovery such an essential prerequisite to living a fulfilling life. By being the best that you can be, you are making your biggest contribution to society. The finding of your Element, therefore, is your tribute to yourself and to the world.
If you haven’t found yours yet, it’s time to start looking.
Life is short. Use it well.