Sir Ken Robinson, author of ‘Finding Your Element’ Give Tips for Uncovering You and Your Child’s Creativity
You might have seen Sir Ken Robinson on TV or in Time magazine or caught him in a TED talk in the last few weeks. He’s the creativity expert and also the popular author of The Element. That book has a new sequel out called Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life.
This all reminds me of the movie The Notebook. The main character, Allie (Rachel McAdams), realizes that she has stopped painting since she’s been with her new rich boyfriend. She used to paint all of the time before she broke up with her first love. Who does she choose to be with at then end? (Duke, Ryan Gosling’s character, of course!) She winds up painting in the nude on her front porch!
Allie knew what her passions and talents were, but what if you don’t? Sir Robinson says it’s imperative that you find out what they are not to start living a happier and more fulfilling life. It doesn’t matter how busy you are–there’s always time for what you love to do. I sent Sir Ken Robinson some questions via email. He gives tips for finding your Element–and helping to foster your child’s passion and creativity, too.
KK: You say our traditional schools can stifle creativity. How can parents with young children encourage it at home?
KR: If parents reading this have two or more children, I’ll make a bet that their children are completely different from each other. All children are unique. As a result, there are two main ways in which schools can stifle creativity. If there’s a narrow curriculum it limits opportunities for children to explore their individual talents and interests. If there’s too much emphasis on standardized testing, it can inhibit imagination, play and original thinking, all of which are at the heart of creativity. Parents can help by providing a range of activities outside school that stimulate and engage their children’s imagination and creative energies. They can help too by watching for and encouraging the different sorts of activities that absorb them as individuals.
KK: In Finding Your Element, you suggest practical exercises for figuring out what makes you tick. One of these is very simple—just defining “what you are good at” and making a diagram of circles around your name. How important is it for moms to find their elements while they’re busy working and raising young children?
KR: I think it’s vital for you to do this. Among the sleepless nights, frantic activity and constant multi-tasking of being a parent, raising children can be wonderfully rewarding. At the same time, it can be easy for parents to lose sight of other things that may fulfill them and that are essential to a balanced life of their own. It’s important in all stages of our lives to develop our own talents and passions, and to take care of ourselves as well as our children. Part of the safety announcement on airplanes says, “Before helping others, put your own oxygen mask on first.” There’s a basic truth in that for our lives in general.
KK: Do you think making the diagram of circles with your children’s interests could eventually determine what their calling in life might be?
KR: Yes, I do. My original book, The Element, explains that the Element is where your natural talents meet your personal passions. When you’re in your Element, you feel that you’re really “in your skin:” that you’re doing something you were just made to do. I wrote the sequel, Finding Your Element because of the various questions people asked when they read that first book. One was whether it’s possible to have more than one Element. Of course it is, and your Element can change over time too, as you discover new talents or your interests and enthusiasms evolve. The same is true for your children. Encouraging your children to go back from time to time to review their talents and passions is a good way of not only finding their Element but of staying in it as they grow.
KK: Parents can be micro-managers of their children’s lives. How do you suggest we step back and learn to let children find their own element while also offering encouragement?
KR: There’s a definite temptation for parents to over-program their children and have them dashing from one activity and social gathering to another. For the reasons I’ve given, it’s important to give your children a range of opportunities to explore their talents and interests. It’s also important not to overdo it. We all need time to be ourselves, away from the pressures to conform or perform. So do your children. They need time to rest and to play, to read, doodle, experiment, make things and to go wherever their imaginations may take them. If you keep a watch on them, you’ll begin to see what sorts of activities they’re most drawn to and that’s often the time to look at other opportunities you can provide to enhance and extend those interests.
KK: If your child excels at several things, how do you help them hone in on one area? What do you do if your child is better at something they don’t love than something they do love?
KR: As children grow up, their interests naturally evolve. Some may take the place of others and new ones form too. Often some interests do naturally come to dominate the others. It’s not necessary to force this process. It’s better, to guide and advise. I’m often asked what to do if someone is passionate about something they may not be very good at. In my experience, passion is the driving force. A moderate talent combined with powerful enthusiasm will normally take you or your children further than a strong talent with little passion. You should remember too, that ability grows with practice. The more you love something, the more you do it and the better you’re likely to become. That’s all part of being in your Element.