This course includes videos from:
Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, leader in the development of creativity, innovation, and HR
Peter Thiel, entrepreneur, hedge fund manager, and venture capitalist
Tim Ferriss, podcaster and author (The 4-Hour Workweek and Tools of Titans)
Robert Greene, author and public speaker
Note: This course was produced by Big Think. We are pleased to host this content in our library.
Skill Level Beginner
(gentle music) - Finding your element is a two-way journey. The word I prefer is a quest The difference is that if you take a regular journey you may know exactly what you're trying to get to, where it is, and you'll know when you get there. We're in New York at the moment and you might set off to go to Chicago, I assume, you know where it is and you'll know when you get there. It's not surprising when you get there. A quest is a medieval term, which is rooted in the idea that sometimes we take journeys of discovery and we don't quite know what we're looking for, we don't quite know where to look for it either. And so there's a great element of exploration and of risk involved about whether you will find it or not. It's not certain that you will, but you journey hopefully, you journey mindfully, and your aim is to discover this thing. So finding your element is a bit like that and it's really a two-way quest. We all live in a world, as it was once put, that exists whether or not we exist. It's the world of other people, the world of objects, of events. It's the world that E. M. Forster once described as the world of, you can tell when he wrote this, it was in the '20s, the world of telegrams and anger. I suppose we'd now say the world of text messages and social media. But it's this other world, the world of other people, the external world of objects and things, and that that world is there whether you are here or not. It was there before you came into it. Hopefully it will be there when you leave. But there's another world that we all occupy, which exists only because we exist. It's the world of your private consciousness, the world that came into being when you did, the world that opened up when you became aware, when your consciousness started to grow. It's the world that disappears from you to some degree when you fall asleep at night and comes back into focus when you wake up in the morning. It's the world in which somebody once said, there's only one set of footprints. It's the world of your private inner life. And we see the outer world, of course, through the inner world we experienced. It's what Anais Nin, the poet, meant when she said that I don't see the world as it is, I see it as I am. That we see the outer world through this veil of ideas and values and experiences that make up our inner world. So this quest to find your element is a two-way journey. It's an inward journey to understand more about yourself, to learn more about what lies within you, what your aptitudes are, the things that excite your energies. And it's an outer journey to find new opportunities in the world around you to test these things out and to create circumstances in which new aspects of yourself are revealed. (gentle music) It's perfectly possible you don't know what your aptitudes are. Human resources are like the world's natural resources. They're often buried deep. I remember talking with a man that I was involved with in helping to launch an academy for performing arts. He was from Western Australia. He said that when he was growing up in Western Australia he lived on a farm that had been operated by his family for generations. And one year the rains failed and it just happened one year too often and they couldn't make it work, and so they had to abandon the farm. They left and moved to Perth. Under the rules of the provincial government, if you walk off the land, they take it over, they exonerate you from your debt, but they own the property. And they ordinarily do a geological survey, which they did. Anyway years later his father was ill and coming towards the end of his life and he asked if he could go and see the old place again. So they got in the car and drove out the several hours it took to get to the old farmstead. And he said, we realized after a while that the track that we were looking for was now a road, a tarmac road. And so we went down it and in the far distance we saw the old farmhouse, but it was surrounded by large buildings and trucks and cranes and all sorts of stuff. And as they got closer to it they saw a big sign that said The Western Australian Nickel Company. And they went into the reception building and said, what's all this? And they explain what had happened was they had done the survey and they'd found a huge seam of nickel that ran right beneath the surface of the farm, about 18 inches below the soil, the top soil. And it was worth millions of dollars. And he looked at his father, thinking he was going to have a stroke or heart attack. And he said, he just burst out laughing, because they realized they'd spent years, generations, picking out this thin living from this farm and right beneath the surface of it there was this treasure trove that would have set them up for life if they'd only dug down a bit. And he said, we realized that we'd been cultivating this land and our plowers had been skimming the top, like inches above this fantastic resource. We just didn't know it was there. And we would have done if we'd dug a bit. Well, the analogy is pretty clear I think that there are all kinds of talents that people have they may never get to and there are several reasons for it I think. One of them is it's education that we look to most obviously and systematically as a way of cultivating our aptitudes into abilities. But if they're not focused on certain sorts of aptitude, there's every likelihood that they'll never come to the surface. Most education systems are based on a pretty narrow view of academic ability. And especially in these newly pressured times of standardized testing the evidence everywhere is the curricular getting narrower, they're getting sparser, thinner, arts programs are being cut back from schools, humanities programs, all of those things are tending to suffer in the interest of this very narrow focus on standardized testing. So that's one reason. Another is cultural. You may live in circumstances where you're actively discouraged from doing certain things. There are plenty of examples of cultures where women, for example, are discouraged from exploring certain aptitudes or career options. So there's often a big pressure, not just in America, but in Asia too, for people to take what is seen as safe courses to prestigious careers, like medicine or the law, irrespective of whether the individual in question has any interest in those areas at all or feels any particular compulsion for them. A third one is what we talked about in the book, and not only, as learning styles. It's part of the argument that we have different aptitudes that we think differently, we learn differently. Some people are perfectly happy sitting down at a desk for hours on end doing analytical work. Other people have to get up and move around. Some people are very visual in the way they conceive ideas. My daughter's like that, she has a very visual mind. So often, I think, people find or believe they're not good at something because of the way they've encountered it. So it's those three things. It's the narrowness of education, it's often limitations of cultural opportunity, and our particular way of engaging with the world. For all those reasons it's perfectly possible that people don't know what they're good at or have overlooked it. And so one of the recommendations in the book, and we offer some ways of attacking that, is to dig a little more deeply and to try things you've never tried before or to revisit things that you think from your first experience you weren't good at. And it may well be you have a talent there that you hadn't suspected. (gentle music)