Sublime: What is your personal element?
Ken Robinson: My element is working with people. When I come back from work my wife can always tell what I’d been doing all day. If I have to do administrative office work I look thirty years older when I get back. When I work together with people though, I feel energised. When someone is in their element they get energy from it rather than feeling tired and worn out.
S: Are you passionate about everything you do?
KR: No, that’s not realistic. We all have to do things we don’t like. The importance is to try and shift the balance so that in the end people do more things they like than things they don’t. Also, people’s element doesn’t necessarily have to be their profession. Some can’t or don’t want to make a living of their element. For them it’s still crucial that they find it, do what they love in their spare time and find the right balance that way.
S: Why is it so important for people to find their own individual element?
KR: My argument is that people are happier if they find their element. If one asks people what they would like in their life, most say they want to be happy. It’s a universal thing. Sadly levels of happiness are very low as surveys suggest. For a long time happiness was associated with material objects. Then the rich would be the happiest and the poor would be the saddest. There is no evidence for this whatsoever though. Also, the level of poverty is declining, the world is getting wealthier – but people are not getting any happier. Happiness isn’t a material state, it’s a spiritual state. That is why finding one’s element is vital.
S: What holds people back from determining their element?
KR: There are several factors that play a role in the discouragement of people. One is our education system, which keeps children away from discovering their true talents. Human talent is tremendously diverse but schools’ focuses are very narrow. What also gets in people’s ways are cultural frameworks. Some behaviours or activities are considered worthwhile, others aren’t, some are encouraged, others aren’t. A further aspect are social boundaries. We live in roles that the community we grow up amongst sets up for us. Last but not least reasons for not trying to find one’s element are internal. They are called fears. The level of people’s anxieties is extraordinary.
S: Is self-fulfilment the ultimate goal in people’s life?
KR: It should definitely be one of them. But self-fulfilment is not the same as self-indulgence. Happiness is not only found by looking inwards but by doing something that is meaningful and has a purpose. Often that means finding some sense of compassion with other people.
S: Is it people’s own fault if they are not happy with the life they lead?
KR: Being in one’s element is not only about aptitude and passion. It is also about attitude. Dreadful, absolutely devastating things happen to people. These terrible circumstances don’t determine the way one’s life is going to be though. It’s not so much about what happens, it’s much more about what you make of what happens, about your outlook on the world. It’s easy to blame circumstances but if you think differently about them a lot can be changed. People have to take responsibility for their own lives.