How finding your Passion

how to find passion and purpose in life and element how finding your passion changes everything | download free pdf
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Dr.KeiraCollins,United States,Professional
Published Date:07-07-2017
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Introduction A FEW YEARS AGO, I heard a wonderful story, which I’m very fond of telling. An elementary school teacher was giving a drawing class to a group of six- year-old children. At the back of the classroom sat a little girl who normally didn’t pay much attention in school. In the drawing class she did. For more than twenty minutes, the girl sat with her arms curled around her paper, totally absorbed in what she was doing. The teacher found this fascinating. Eventu- ally, she asked the girl what she was drawing. Without looking up, the girl said, “I’m drawing a pic- ture of God.” Surprised, the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” The girl said, “They will in a minute.” I love this story because it reminds us that young children are wonderfully confident in their own ima- ginations. Most of us lose this confidence as we grow up. Ask a class of first graders which of them thinks they’re creative and they’ll all put their hands up. Ask a group of college seniors this same question and most of them won’t. I believe passionately that we are all born with tremendous natural capacities, and that we lose touch with many of them as we spend more time in the world. Ironically, one of the main12/446 reasons this happens is education. The result is that too many people never connect with their true tal- ents and therefore don’t know what they’re really capable of achieving. In that sense, they don’t know who they really are. I travel a great deal and work with people all around the world. I work with education systems, with corporations, and with not-for-profit organiza- tions. Everywhere, I meet students who are trying to figure out their futures and don’t know where to start. I meet concerned parents who are trying to help them but instead often steer them away from their true talents on the assumption that their kids have to follow conventional routes to success. I meet employers who are struggling to understand and make better use of the diverse talents of the people in their companies. Along the way, I’ve lost track of the numbers of people I’ve met who have no real sense of what their individual talents and passions are. They don’t enjoy what they are doing now but they have no idea what actually would fulfill them. On the other hand, I also meet people who’ve been highly successful in all kinds of fields who are pas- sionate about what they do and couldn’t imagine do- ing anything else. I believe that their stories have13/446 something important to teach all of us about the nature of human capacity and fulfillment. As I’ve spoken at events around the world, I’ve found it’s real stories like these, at least as much as statistics and the opinions of experts, that persuade people that we all need to think differently about ourselves and about what we’re doing with our lives; about how we’re educating our children and how we’re running our organizations. This book contains a wide range of stories about the creative journeys of very different people. Many of them were interviewed specifically for this book. These people tell how they first came to recognize their unique talents and how they make a highly suc- cessful living from doing what they love. What strikes me is that often their journeys haven’t been conventional. They’ve been full of twists, turns, and surprises. Often those I interviewed said that our conversations for the book revealed ideas and exper- iences they hadn’t discussed in this way before. The moment of recognition. The evolution of their tal- ents. The encouragement or discouragement of fam- ily, friends, and teachers. What made them forge ahead in the face of numerous obstacles. Their stories are not fairy tales, though. All of these people are leading complicated and14/446 challenging lives. Their personal journeys have not been easy and straightforward. They’ve all had their disasters as well as their triumphs. None of them have “perfect” lives. But all of them regularly experi- ence moments that feel like perfection. Their stories are often fascinating. But this book isn’t really about them. It’s about you. My aim in writing it is to offer a richer vision of human ability and creativity and of the benefits to us all of connecting properly with our individual talents and passions. This book is about issues that are of fundamental importance in our lives and in the lives of our children, our students, and the people we work with. I use the term the Element to describe the place where the things we love to do and the things we are good at come together. I believe it is essential that each of us find his or her Element, not simply because it will make us more fulfilled but because, as the world evolves, the very future of our communit- ies and institutions will depend on it. The world is changing faster than ever in our his- tory. Our best hope for the future is to develop a new paradigm of human capacity to meet a new era of human existence. We need to evolve a new15/446 appreciation of the importance of nurturing human talent along with an understanding of how talent ex- presses itself differently in every individual. We need to create environments—in our schools, in our work- places, and in our public offices—where every person is inspired to grow creatively. We need to make sure that all people have the chance to do what they should be doing, to discover the Element in them- selves and in their own way. This book is a hymn to the breathtaking diversity of human talent and passion and to our extraordin- ary potential for growth and development. It’s also about understanding the conditions under which hu- man talents will flourish or fade. It’s about how we can all engage more fully in the present, and how we can prepare in the only possible way for a completely unknowable future. To make the best of ourselves and of each other, we urgently need to embrace a richer conception of human capacity. We need to embrace the Element.CHAPTER ONE The Element GILLIAN WAS ONLY eight years old, but her future was already at risk. Her schoolwork was a disaster, at least as far as her teachers were concerned. She turned in assignments late, her handwriting was ter- rible, and she tested poorly. Not only that, she was a disruption to the entire class, one minute fidgeting noisily, the next staring out the window, forcing the teacher to stop the class to pull Gillian’s attention back, and the next doing something to disturb the other children around her. Gillian wasn’t particularly concerned about any of this—she was used to being corrected by authority figures and really didn’t see herself as a difficult child—but the school was very concerned. This came to a head when the school wrote to her parents. The school thought that Gillian had a learning dis- order of some sort and that it might be more appro- priate for her to be in a school for children with spe- cial needs. All of this took place in the 1930s. I think17/446 now they’d say she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and they’d put her on Ritalin or something similar. But the ADHD epidemic hadn’t been inven- ted at the time. It wasn’t an available condition. People didn’t know they could have that and had to get by without it. Gillian’s parents received the letter from the school with great concern and sprang to action. Gil- lian’s mother put her daughter in her best dress and shoes, tied her hair in ponytails, and took her to a psychologist for assessment, fearing the worst. Gillian told me that she remembers being invited into a large oak-paneled room with leather-bound books on the shelves. Standing in the room next to a large desk was an imposing man in a tweed jacket. He took Gillian to the far end of the room and sat her down on a huge leather sofa. Gillian’s feet didn’t quite touch the floor, and the setting made her wary. Nervous about the impression she would make, she sat on her hands so that she wouldn’t fidget. The psychologist went back to his desk, and for the next twenty minutes, he asked Gillian’s mother about the difficulties Gillian was having at school and the problems the school said she was causing. While he didn’t direct any of his questions at Gillian,18/446 he watched her carefully the entire time. This made Gillian extremely uneasy and confused. Even at this tender age, she knew that this man would have a sig- nificant role in her life. She knew what it meant to attend a “special school,” and she didn’t want any- thing to do with that. She genuinely didn’t feel that she had any real problems, but everyone else seemed to believe she did. Given the way her mother answered the questions, it was possible that even she felt this way. Maybe, Gillian thought, they were right. Eventually, Gillian’s mother and the psychologist stopped talking. The man rose from his desk, walked to the sofa, and sat next to the little girl. “Gillian, you’ve been very patient, and I thank you for that,” he said. “But I’m afraid you’ll have to be patient for a little longer. I need to speak to your mother privately now. We’re going to go out of the room for a few minutes. Don’t worry; we won’t be very long.” Gillian nodded apprehensively, and the two adults left her sitting there on her own. But as he was leav- ing the room, the psychologist leaned across his desk and turned on the radio.19/446 As soon as they were in the corridor outside the room, the doctor said to Gillian’s mother, “Just stand here for a moment, and watch what she does.” There was a window into the room, and they stood to one side of it, where Gillian couldn’t see them. Nearly im- mediately, Gillian was on her feet, moving around the room to the music. The two adults stood watch- ing quietly for a few minutes, transfixed by the girl’s grace. Anyone would have noticed there was something natural—even primal—about Gillian’s movements. Just as they would have surely caught the expression of utter pleasure on her face. At last, the psychologist turned to Gillian’s mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.” I asked Gillian what happened then. She said her mother did exactly what the psychiatrist suggested. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was,” she told me. “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.” She started going to the dance school every week, and she practiced at home every day. Eventually, she auditioned for the Royal Ballet School in London, and they accepted her. She went on to join the Royal20/446 Ballet Company itself, becoming a soloist and per- forming all over the world. When that part of her ca- reer ended, she formed her own musical theater company and produced a series of highly successful shows in London and New York. Eventually, she met Andrew Lloyd Webber and created with him some of the most successful musical theater productions in history, including Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Little Gillian, the girl with the high-risk future, be- came known to the world as Gillian Lynne, one of the most accomplished choreographers of our time, someone who has brought pleasure to millions and earned millions of dollars. This happened because someone looked deep into her eyes—someone who had seen children like her before and knew how to read the signs. Someone else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down. But Gillian wasn’t a problem child. She didn’t need to go away to a special school. She just needed to be who she really was. Unlike Gillian, Matt always did fine in school, getting decent grades and passing all of the important tests. However, he found himself tremendously bored. In21/446 order to keep himself amused, he started drawing during classes. “I would draw constantly,” he told me. “And I got so good at drawing that I was able to draw without looking, so that the teacher would think that I was paying attention.” For him, art class was an opportunity to pursue his passion with aban- don. “We were coloring in coloring books, and I thought, I can never color within the lines. Oh, no, I can’t be bothered” This kicked up to another level entirely when he got to high school. “There was an art class and the other kids would just sit there, the art teacher was bored, and the art supplies were just sitting there; nobody was using them. So I did as many paintings as I could—thirty paintings in a single class. I’d look at each painting, what it looked like, and then I’d title it. ‘Dolphin in the Seaweed,’ okay Next I remember doing tons of painting until they finally realized I was using up so much paper that they stopped me. “There was the thrill of making something that did not exist before. As my technical prowess increased, it was fun to be able to go, ‘Oh, that actually looks, vaguely, like what it’s supposed to look like.’ But then I realized that my drawing was not getting much better so I started concentrating on stories and jokes. I thought that was more entertaining.”22/446 Matt Groening, known around the world as the creator of The Simpsons, found his true inspiration in the work of other artists whose drawings lacked technical mastery but who combined their distinctive art styles with inventive storytelling. “What I found encouraging was looking at people who couldn’t draw who were making their living, like James Thurber. John Lennon was also very important to me. His books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works, are full of his own really crummy draw- ings but funny prose-poems and crazy stories. I went through a stage where I tried to imitate John Len- non. Robert Crumb was also a huge influence.” His teachers and his parents—even his father, who was a cartoonist and filmmaker—tried to encourage him to do something else with his life. They sugges- ted that he go to college and find a more solid profes- sion. In fact, until he got to college (a nontraditional school without grades or required classes), he’d found only one teacher who truly inspired him. “My first-grade teacher saved paintings I did in class. She actually saved them, I mean, for years. I was touched because there’s like, you know, hundreds of kids go- ing through here. Her name is Elizabeth Hoover. I named a character on The Simpsons after her.”23/446 The disapproval of authority figures left him un- deterred because, in his heart, Matt knew what truly inspired him. “I knew as a kid when we were playing and making up stories and using little figurines—dinosaurs and stuff like that—I was going to be doing this for the rest of my life. I saw grown-ups with briefcases going into office buildings and I thought, ‘I can’t do that. This is all I really wanna do.’ I was surrounded by other kids who felt the same way, but gradually they peeled off and they got more serious. For me it was always about playing and storytelling. “I understood the series of stages I was supposed to go through—you go to high school, you go to col- lege, you get a credential, and then you go out and get a good job. I knew it wasn’t gonna work for me. I knew I was gonna be drawing cartoons forever. “I found friends who had the same interests at school. We hung out together and we’d draw comics and then bring them to school and show them to each other. As we got older and more ambitious, we started making movies. It was great. It partly com- pensated for the fact that we felt very self-conscious socially. Instead of staying home on the weekend, we went out and made movies. Instead of going to the24/446 football games on Friday night, we would go to the local university and watch underground films. “I made a decision that I was going to live by my wits. And by the way, I didn’t think it was gonna work. I thought I was gonna be working at some lousy job, doing something that I hated. My vision was that I’d be working in a tire warehouse. I have no idea why I thought it was a tire warehouse. I thought I’d be rolling tires around and then on my break, I’d be drawing cartoons.” Things turned out rather differently from that. Matt moved to L.A., eventually placed his comic strip Life in Hell with L.A. Weekly, and began to make a name for himself. This led to an invitation from the Fox Broadcasting Company to create short animated segments for The Tracey Ullman Show. During his pitch to Fox, he invented The Simpsons on the spot—he literally had no idea he was going to do this before he went into the meeting. The show evolved into a half-hour program and has been running on Fox every Sunday for nineteen years as of this writ- ing. In addition, it has generated movies, comic books, toys, and countless other merchandise. In other words, it is a pop culture empire.25/446 Yet none of this would have happened if Matt Groening had listened to those who told him he needed to pursue a “real” career. Not all successful people disliked school or did badly there. Paul was still a high school student, one with very good grades, when he walked into a University of Chicago lecture hall for the first time. He didn’t realize as he did so that the college was one of the leading institutions in the world for the study of eco- nomics. He only knew that it was close to his home. Minutes later, he was “born again,” as he wrote in an article. “That day’s lecture was on Malthus’s theory that human populations would reproduce like rab- bits until their density per acre of land reduced their wage to a bare subsistence level where an increased death rate came to equal the birth rate. So easy was it to understand all this simple differential equation stuff that I suspected (wrongly) that I was missing out on some mysterious complexity.” At that point, Dr. Paul Samuelson’s life as an eco- nomist began. It is a life he describes as “pure fun,” one that has seen him serve as a professor at MIT, become president of the International Economic As- sociation, write several books (including the best- selling economics textbook of all time) and hundreds of papers, have a significant impact on public policy,26/446 and, in 1970, become the first American to win the Nobel Prize in Economics. “As a precocious youngster I had always been good at logical manipulations and puzzle-solving IQ tests. So if economics was made for me, it can be said that I too was made for economics. Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play. This turns possible underachiev- ers into happy warriors.” Three Stories, One Message Gillian Lynne, Matt Groening, and Paul Samuelson are three very different people with three very differ- ent stories. What unites them is one undeniably powerful message: that each of them found high levels of achievement and personal satisfaction upon discovering the thing that they naturally do well and that also ignites their passions. I call stories like theirs “epiphany stories” because they tend to in- volve some level of revelation, a way of dividing the world into before and after. These epiphanies utterly changed their lives, giving them direction and pur- pose and sweeping them up in a way that nothing else had.27/446 They and the other people you’ll meet in this book have identified the sweet spot for themselves. They have discovered their Element—the place where the things you love to do and the things that you are good at come together. The Element is a different way of defining our potential. It manifests itself dif- ferently in every person, but the components of the Element are universal. Lynne, Groening, and Samuelson have accom- plished a great deal in their lives. But they are not alone in being capable of that. Why they are special is that they have found what they love to do and they are actually doing it. They have found their Element. In my experience, most people have not. Finding your Element is essential to your well-be- ing and ultimate success, and, by implication, to the health of our organizations and the effectiveness of our educational systems. I believe strongly that if we can each find our Ele- ment, we all have the potential for much higher achievement and fulfillment. I don’t mean to say that there’s a dancer, a cartoonist, or a Nobel-winning economist in each of us. I mean that we all have dis- tinctive talents and passions that can inspire us to achieve far more than we may imagine.28/446 Understanding this changes everything. It also offers us our best and perhaps our only promise for genu- ine and sustainable success in a very uncertain future. Being in our Element depends on finding our own distinctive talents and passions. Why haven’t most people found this? One of the most important reas- ons is that most people have a very limited concep- tion of their own natural capacities. This is true in several ways. The first limitation is in our understanding of the range of our capacities. We are all born with ex- traordinary powers of imagination, intelligence, feel- ing, intuition, spirituality, and of physical and sens- ory awareness. For the most part, we use only a frac- tion of these powers, and some not at all. Many people have not found their Element because they don’t understand their own powers. The second limitation is in our understanding of how all of these capacities relate to each other holist- ically. For the most part, we think that our minds, our bodies, and our feelings and relationships with others operate independent of each other, like separ- ate systems. Many people have not found their29/446 Element because they don’t understand their true or- ganic nature. The third limitation is in our understanding of how much potential we have for growth and change. For the most part, people seem to think that life is linear, that our capacities decline as we grow older, and that opportunities we have missed are gone forever. Many people have not found their Element because they don’t understand their constant poten- tial for renewal. This limited view of our own capacities can be compounded by our peer groups, by our culture, and by our own expectations of ourselves. A major factor for everyone, though, is education. One Size Does Not Fit All Some of the most brilliant, creative people I know did not do well at school. Many of them didn’t really discover what they could do—and who they really were—until they’d left school and recovered from their education. I was born in Liverpool, England, and in the 1960s I went to a school there, the Liverpool Collegiate. On

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